Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can the Jets Finally Win in the West?

Among the many themes to the New York Jets' season has been the inability to capitalize on opportunities. Eric Mangini's squad has failed on numerous times to take advantage of chances to secure a place in the postseason.

But the Jets know the story now. Their backs are against the wall, yet they control their own destiny. Travel to Seattle and beat the 3-11 Seahawks, and then come back home and face the Dolphins, in what could be the biggest regular season game in their history.

Think about it. Chad Pennington, dismissed as the Jets' quarterback because the front office felt that he couldn't win a championship, coming back to face his former squad with everything on the line.

But before they get there, they must take care of business in Seattle.

It's Mike Holmgren's last home game as coach of the Seahawks, so even at an injury-ravaged 3-11, his team should be motivated. They are coming off a win, albeit against St. Louis, and they'll want to send their coach out with a win in what could be the final home game of a great coaching career.

Offensively, Seneca Wallace will again replace the injured Matt Hasselbeck. Wallace is mobile and has played a lot better the last two weeks, including a 3 touchdown performance against the Patriots two weeks ago without throwing an interception.

The injury bug hit the receiving corps the worst, but both Deion Branch and Bobby Engram are healthy and playing again, so Wallace has some weapons to throw to. Branch particularly has 164 yards in his last two games.

Still, the weapon the Jets will most worry about is tight end John Carlson. The rookie has led all first-year tight ends in receiving yards and touchdowns. The Jets have been prone to allowing big games from tight ends, so Carlson must be a priority, especially on third downs.

Maurice Morris has received the bulk of the carries the last two weeks ahead of former starter Julius Jones. Morris has waited a long time for his chance, and his slight emergence has eliminated the possibility of the Jones brothers (Thomas and Julius) starting against each other. The Jets' run defense has been surprisingly lax recently. Kris Jenkins claims he is healthier and more well-rested, and that could mean good things for New York.

The Seahawks offense as a whole has awful numbers, and their offensive line suffered yet another blow last week as starting left tackle Sean Locklear will miss this week's game. On paper, this would seem like a game the Jets could get back on track against. After all, they are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

But traveling across the country has been a problem for the Jets all season. On their three previous trips out to the other coast, they lost to Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco. Losing to Seattle suddenly does not look out of the question the way they have been playing.

Brett Favre needs to pick apart a secondary that has struggled to stop the pass for most of the season. They have improved in recent weeks, but if the Jets want to be a playoff team, they need to be able to put points up on the Hawks.

Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, and Dustin Keller have not all put it together in the same game with Favre. This is the final tune up before the Miami game, so there are no more excuses for this receiving corps. They need to get open, and Favre needs to deliver them the ball. Both sides of that exchange have faltered too often.

The bread and butter for the Jets all season has been their running game. Thomas Jones has had a career year with 13 touchdowns and 1222 yards. He receives the vast majority of the carries, and while he is productive with him, Leon Washington must touch the ball more often. Every time the team needs a big play, they turn to the 5'9" sparkplug. But he needs more than two touches, which is all he received against Buffalo on offense.

The Jets need this football game. There is no doubt about that. Baltimore's win over Dallas Saturday night all but assures that. Seattle is a bad football team. Luckily, this is probably the last time Gang Green travels west, but they must solve that curse. Expect the Jets to start off strong, but not put the clamp down on a fired up Seahawks squad. The Jets will sweat it out, but they will come out ahead.

Jets 24, Seahawks 20

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