In the season’s first two games, Miami Dolphins RB Reggie Bush had 241 rushing yards on 40 carries, a 6.0 YPC average. He seemed well on his way to the breakout year everyone had always hoped he could have, potentially the type of year where he could contend for the league lead in rushing, as he stated was his goal. In the Week 3 matchup against the New York Jets, the same Jets which Bush and the Dolphins will face in this week’s battle in the Meadowlands, Bush got off to another rousing start with 61 yards on his first 10 carries.
But on his tenth carry, a hit from Jets safety LaRon Landry knocked Bush out of the game with a knee injury. While there was no structural damage done and Bush would return for the next game to face the Arizona Cardinals, it was clear from the moment he stepped on the field in Arizona that Bush was not the same. Without his signature burst, Bush slogged through the Dolphins next three games, gaining only 132 yards on 48 carries for a very un-Bush like 2.8 YPC. Bush’s desire to answer the bell for every regular season game is extremely admirable, and is a huge reason why he is a great leader for this young nucleus, but it was clear that his performance was negatively affected by his injury.
Coming off the bye, Bush’s knee (and the hip he tweaked while compensating) should be fully healed and rested, and the Dolphins’ feature back should be as close to 100% as any RB can be this deep into a season. Ironically, the Jets are again the week’s opponent, in a game which is as meaningful as any the Dolphins have played since the magical 2008 season. There’s significant evidence that Bush is the kind of player who derives motivation from the doubts of others around him. When Bush was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Dolphins, virtually every pundit in America was convinced he didn’t have what it took to be a feature back in the NFL; something Bush has clearly proven false over the last season and a half.
The Dolphins and Jets have engaged in a vaunted war of words this week, with the main topic being the aforementioned LaRon Landry hit on Bush, which injured his knee. Landry himself has not been shy about speaking up, telling the media on Wednesday,
(Bush) will remember that hit. Every time he sees me, he will remember that hit…if I’m in the box or coming downhill. Just watch the way he runs on Sunday. I’m not going to over talk it or make it a story. - LaRon Landry, Jets Safety
Too late, LaRon.
While Bush will never say it, Landry’s comments are the type of gasoline that has historically ignited Bush’s fire. Landry may say he doesn’t want to make the story, but throughout his career he has shown a strong desire to BE the story, and he certainly is accomplishing that this week. If there is one thing that Bush has proven since he has been in Miami, it’s that he does not back down from a challenge. Bush will come into Sunday revved up and ready to exact revenge the best way he knows how – by running the ball down the Jets’ throats.
Subjective motivation aside, Bush may have an easy time winning the battle on Sunday. Despite their reputation as one of the league’s top defenses, the Jets are a stunning 30th against the run thus far in 2012, behind such defensive stalwarts as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts and ahead of only the atrocious defenses of the Saints and Buffalo Bills. While the sample size is small for that statistic, Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) also has them rated poorly, with a below-average 20th best run defense ranking. Throw in the fact that the Darrelle Revis-less Jets are relatively weak at CB, which should encourage teams to throw, and have been relatively competitive on the scoreboard in their games to date, which should discourage teams from trying to run out the clock, and this rating is even more shocking.
Bush averaged 6.1 YPC in the first half of his first game against the Jets this year prior to his injury, and that’s without the benefit of late game carries against a tired Jets front 7. With the Jets defense parting like the Red Sea all year and extra motivation brought on by the incessant mouth running of Rex Ryan and the Jets players, Bush is in prime position to get back on track to contending for the NFL rushing lead. Expect at least 100 yards on the ground and a score for the Dolphins leading weapon, and don’t be surprised if there’s much more.
- Coming off his worst game of the season where he put up a bagel against the St. Louis Rams, Brian Hartline draws a favorable matchup this week versus Jets CB Antonio Cromartie. While Revis shut down Hartline before tearing his ACL in the teams’ last bout, Hartline beat Cromartie down the sideline for a 41-yard reception in OT that should have set up the game-winning field goal. Cromartie is an above-average corner, but he makes his living jumping short routes and can be beaten deep. Hartline runs a preponderance of short routes, but mixes in a double move now and again to which Cromartie is highly susceptible. Expect Hartline to get open deep once or twice and generate a stat-line in the neighborhood of 3 catches for 80 yards and a score.
- WR Santonio Holmes was huge for the Jets in the Week 3 match-up, catching 9 balls for 147 yards. While a season-ending Lisfranc injury suffered versus the San Francisco 49ers keeps him out of this game, TE Dustin Keller is back for the Jets after missing the previous battle between these teams. The Dolphins for years have struggled against TE’s, and while some improvement has been seen this year, Keller represents the best TE the Dolphins have faced since Week 1 against the Houston Texans, when Owen Daniels caught 4 balls for 87 yards. Whether the Dolphins can contain Keller, who represents the Jets best, if not only weapon, will be the key to their defensive performance.
- The Jets have been impressive in their competitiveness over the last three weeks in spite of the aforementioned losses of Revis and Holmes. But moral victories can only carry a team so far, and the Jets have to be at least partially deflated after tough battles with the Texans and New England Patriots. The Dolphins on the other hand are well-rested and well-prepared coming off a bye; if they are to be competitive this year, they should smell blood in the water and seize the gaping opportunity before them. Prediction: Miami 24, New York 13.