December 22, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Harrington Mistakes on the Jets' Christmas List
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
December 22, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/45626

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The Jets will be in Miami for Christmas, facing one of their biggest rivals in a game with playoff implications. Does it get any better than this? Both teams are surging, winning four of their last six games, but these are clearly two teams heading in opposite directions. The Dolphins will end the season facing more questions about their offense than they had at the beginning. The Jets, by contrast, seem to have turned things completely around in coach Eric Mangini's first season. Here's a look at how the two teams will match up.

JETS (8-6) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-8) (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Chad Pennington threw for a career high 339 yards against the Vikings last week. Receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 18 catches and 200 yards against an overmatched Minnesota secondary. The trio won't find things quite so easy Monday night against the Dolphins, who feature the league's third-stingiest pass defense.

Miami's relentless pass rush has caused fits for opposing quarterbacks all year. They've had at least three sacks in each of their last seven games, and Jason Taylor is making a strong bid for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He leads the team with 12.5 sacks, is tied for the team lead in interceptions, and creates disruption on nearly every play.

The Miami run defense has also been tough, holding opponents to just 3.5 yards a carry. They're very strong up the middle, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Keith Traylor and middle linebacker Zach Thomas. The Dolphins biggest weakness has been the secondary. It's a problem that has been masked by the effective pass rush, but the unit has not played well. Cornerbacks Will Allen and Andre Goodman are both just 5-foot-10, and they've struggled to cover taller receivers. The Jaguars attacked them by throwing the ball short and having the receivers come back, a move the Miami defenders seemed powerless to defend. Safeties Renaldo Hill and Yeremiah Hill are big hitters, but most of their bone-rattling blows come after they've allowed a big pass play.

If the Jets can't get more production from their running game, Miami won't have to stack the box and can give their beleaguered defensive backs some extra help. Coach Eric Mangini seems to have settled on Cedric Houston has his main rusher, but the second-year back has struggled since returning from a mid-season knee injury. He's averaged just 2.6 yards a carry over the past two games. One solution might be to get Leon Washington more involved. His speed to the outside could force the Dolphins linebackers to stay up, even if he just gets five or six carries. At this point, pounding the ball inside with Houston is just a futile exercise.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL

The Dolphins have learned what the Li ons already knew: Joey Harrington isn't an effective NFL quarterback. Since taking over for injured starter Daunte Culpepper, Harrington has done the same things that cost him his job in Detroit. He makes bad decisions in the pocket. He forces balls into tight coverage. His timing is off. He's not accurate on deep throws.

All those problems were evident last week in Harrington's nightmarish per formance against the Bills. He completed just five of 17 passes for 20 yards and threw two interceptions, both of which set up Buffalo touchdowns.

If there is a ray of hope for Miami it' the expected return of running back Ronnie Brown, sidelined since Thanksgiving with a broken hand. Brown is a power runner with great speed who can also be effective out of the backfield When these two teams met in October Brown pounded the Jets for 127 yards on 22 carries. With him back in the line up, the Dolphins will refocus their offense on the ground attack and limit Harrington's role as much as possible.

Gang Green's run defense looked much improved last week. They held the Vikings to just 62 yards on the ground, allowing just six first downs in the first three quarters. It was simply a matter of better execution, not necessarily any coaching adjustment. That bodes well for another good performance against Miami.

KEY TO THE GAME Harrington has thrown at least two interceptions in 6 of his 10 starts this season. The stingy Dolphins defense will make it hard for the Jets to move the ball, so they'll need to force Harrington to make mistakes and take advantage of turnovers.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 1310

December 22, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version