Coach Rex Ryan was right when he said earlier this week that this Sunday’s battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars is essentially a playoff game. Both clubs are 4-4 and may need the head to head tie breaker at season’s end against each other to gain what appears to be the Jets only reasonable path to the postseason; a wildcard berth.
The Jets arrived at 4-4 by falling from the top of the mountain. Once 3-0, two losses to the hated Dolphins combined with an expected loss to the undefeated Saints and an unexpected loss to the then woeful Bills, have changed the mood in Florham Park. This stretch has, for the time being, grounded Gang Green’s early season dreams of a magical run through 2009. The Jets trail the first place Patriots (6-2) by two full games and are just 1-3 in the division.
For the Jags, 4-4 is a welcome place considering the club’s 1-3 start.
Coach Jack Del Rio’s club will look to make it four out of five on Sunday while the Jets, coming off of their week nine bye week, hope to avoid a slide that has sunk them into the quagmire that envelops a host of other AFC clubs fighting for those precious few post season invitations.
If the Jets hope to be playing playoff football in 2009, they’ll need two things to happen. First, rookie QB Mark Sanchez will have to protect the ball as he has done over the past two games, unlike the previous three prior, that included a dismal five interception performance. Secondly, the Jet defense, a unit that was poised to become one of the top units in the NFL before the season ending injury to NG Kris Jenkins during the OT loss to Buffalo, has to create turnovers, field position, and points.
Running back and Special teams All Pro Leon Washington is also gone for the year, thanks to a broken foot suffered out in Oakland. Rookie RB Shonn Greene filled in beautifully against the hapless Raiders with two TDs and 149 yards, but fumbled on a play that Dolphins DE Jason Taylor took back for a key TD in the 30-25 loss to Miami two weeks back. A game that still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Jet players and fans thanks to Ted Ginn Jr’s improbable two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the third quarter. Greene will need to be a factor if the Jets want to continue their place atop the NFLs best rushing teams.
Jacksonville’s pass defense is ranked 23rd in the NFL. Sanchez and prized acquisition, former Browns star WR Braylon Edwards may be able to get loose on Sunday. Second year TE Dustin Keller had 76 yards and a TD in the 30-25 loss to the Fish. Provided that WR Jerricho Cotchery, hampered by hamstring issues over the past month is healthy, this may be the first time that this current WR corps is working on all cylinders in ’09. Add speedster David Clowney into the mix after the departure of slot WR Chansi Stuckey to the Browns ,and perhaps the Jets, a team that possesses the league’s number eight rusher in the NFL in Thomas Jones, can provide some quick strikes and scores via the air at the Meadowlands
To beat the Jaguars you have to stop Maurice Jones Drew, the quick bulldozing running back who leads all NFL rushers with eleven TD’s. WR Mike Sims-Walker is blossoming into one of the leagues best at 16 yards per catch. Jets CB Darrelle Revis will have his hands full as the Jets aim to pressure QB David Garrard with their new rotation at nose guard of Mike Devito, Howard Green and Sione Pouha. Drew is also sixth in the NFL in rushing yards so attention must be kept on him at all times.
On paper, the blueprint week in and week out these final eight games for the Jets will be simple. A ball controlled ground and pound game plan on offense that strikes when the opportunities are there, combined with an attacking defense looking to create the turnovers and drive ending sacks that have eluded them so far. This despite the constant pressure on quarterbacks, and a physical aggressive presence that has helped redefine the unit’s personality since the departure of former mundane head coach Eric Mangini.
This week’s challenge against the Jags kickstarts that blueprint, as the Jets look to become a consistent mistake free, opportunistic club, that backs up the tough talk it has come to be known for.
THREE KEYS TO THE JAGUARS GAME:
TURNOVERS: The Jets must keep them to a minimum and start to create some themselves. The offense, which may led by two rookies in Sancez and Greene from here on out, will undoubtedly be aided by big plays made by special teams and defense. An element that LB Bart Scott, a former Raven, admitted was key to both Baltimore and then rookie QB Joe Flacco’s success in 2008.
THOMAS JONES VS MAURICE JONES DREW: The team with the lead running downhill in the fourth will be in the driver’s seat. Thats because Drew is sixth and Jones is eight in the NFL in rushing this year. The back with more yards on Sunday will be the back on the winning team.
MIKE SIMS-WALKER vs DARRELLE REVIS: Again the Jets will call on “Revis Island ” to slow down a top flight wideout. Keep Walker quiet and the Jags quick strike ability becomes seriously hampered.