The Jets’ recent two-game winning streak hasn’t been pretty, but the NFL Playoffs aren’t awarded on beauty.
As long as Gang Green continues to get timely plays by their perimeter players on offense, and make the necessary stops with their bend-but-don’t-break defense, then head coach Todd Bowles can live with winning ugly.
It’s a far better option than losing with style points.
“Nothing has really changed, but I’d say that we’re just playing better,” Bowles reasoned. “We’ve had mistakes here and there … [but] we’re just playing a little better in the second half.”
The reason for the improved play is due to a running game that’s been grinding out chain-moving possessions and timely receptions in the passing game. Bowles has admitted there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and added doing just enough may not cut it against a Dolphins (3-4) squad that’s also won two in a row and has seemingly found its rhythm on offense.
“We’ve tried to [get offensive balance]. We still mix it up, but we try to make sure that we get it [run game] going first. I think we’ve got it going a little better then we have in the past,” said Bowles, who added he’ll need the offense to step it up and match quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s and running back Jay Ajayi’s recent excellence. “They’ve played well the last two weeks. They beat Pittsburgh and they beat Buffalo. They’ve kind of found what they want to do on the offense. He [Tannehill] still throws the ball very well. They give him time. They’ve got a running game to go with it now, so I think that’s taken a lot of pressure off of him.”
The Jets (3-5) will need to apply that pressure early and often if they hope to leave Hard Rock Stadium with its third-straight victory.
Metro takes a look at key storylines to follow, as the Jets look for its fourth-straight win over the Dolphins, including a victory at London’s Wembley Stadium, last season.
What to Watch:
1. Stop Ajayi – The burgeoning back is well rested coming off the bye week, and he needed that luxury considering he’s likely to carry the football at least 20 times, if things go right for Miami. Ajayi has had two-straight games in which he’s totaled over 200 yards rushing – just the fourth running back to do so consecutively in the Super Bowl era. Bowles knows how important it is for the Jets to slow down the red-hot Ajayi and make the Dolphins a one-dimensional offense.
“He’s a good back. He’s hitting it pretty good. He’s powerful and he’s fast. He’s got great vision and he’s got a low center of gravity. He can cut at the drop of a dime, [and] knows where the blocking is and understands his run fits very well,” Bowles said, giving props to the rejuvenated offensive line as well. “They’re playing very good. They’ve got [rookie first-round pick Laremy] Tunsil, they’ve got [offensive tackle Branden] Albert back. Those guys gel together. It looks like they’re doing a good job ... I’m sure they’re going to run the ball, but they’re also pretty good as far as mixing.”
2. Dominate up front – Bowles was effusive in his praise of Miami’s offensive line – well, effusive for him, anyway. But the Jets have a great counter in their star-studded defensive line. Pro-Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been dealing with an ankle issue for a couple weeks and his status is up in the air. But even without him, the Jets’ front line is full of very good players. Defensive end Sheldon Richardson has picked up the slack in recent games and has been a terror. Not to mention second-year lineman Leonard Williams and nose tackle Steve McLendon have upped their performances as well. This trench battle has all the makings of being the best game-within-a-game matchup. Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers is thrilled at the way his line has been playing and likes Gang Green’s chances up front.
“Sheldon has really stepped up,” said Rodgers, saving his real praise for Williams. “I thought Leonard has been solid all year. You see it every day in practice. He’s constantly working on winning one-on-ones … he said this is one thing he wanted to improve on [in the offseason] and he’s kind of taking it to the game. He just keeps working and working, and it’s truly pleasing to see where he is right now. This guy is still not even tapping where he can be, in my opinion.”
3. Gauntlet thrown – Another chess match will be how wideout Brandon Marshall does against Miami’s top corner, Byron Maxwell. Marshall, a former Dolphin, has made waves this week calling out both the team for dismissing him and the corner who he claims has cover skills that are a little too close for comfort.
“I played against him last year and he just held every single play," Marshall said, recalling their encounter when Maxwell was on the Eagles. “Every single play he held. That was tough … I’m excited [for the rematch], because I owe him one. They traded for him to stop me, so I’m excited for this matchup.”
Marshall is also still perturbed by the Dolphins, who traded for him with the Denver Broncos in 2010, only to quickly turn around and trade him to Chicago after just two seasons on South Beach, despite consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. This will be his first game at Hard Rock Stadium since the trade, and he is looking forward to the return, because he believes he was treated unfairly by the media and fans in South Florida.
“All over the radio they were asking me to come down there, begging me to com