Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carolina Panthers at New York Jets Preview

Carolina Panthers (4-6) at New York Jets (4-6)
11/28/09, 1:00 PM – FOX

After losing to New England, the Jets’ focus is no longer on the playoffs, but simply winning a football game and developing Mark Sanchez. The rookie quarterback has been up and down, with far more valleys than peaks recently. Carolina, like New York, lost what they considered a must-win last week and now must regroup. However, in the NFC, the Panthers have a little more hope for the playoffs and may have more motivation. This is a matchup of the #2 and #3 rushing offenses in the NFL with inconsistent at best passing games.

When the Jets have the ball…

The Jets’ offense continuously shoots itself in the foot with turnovers every week. Mark Sanchez has been very turnover-prone, and it’s been a big reason why the Jets are 1-6 in their last seven games. Carolina’s defense is not that good, but it’s not the secondary’s fault. They have 11 interceptions on the season and have been strong all year against opposing quarterbacks. Braylon Edwards remains a deep threat, but he really hasn’t had a big statistical impact at all yet. He needs to be more consistent, like his counterpart Jerricho Cotchery, who is the true Jets #1 receiver.

Sanchez must protect the ball because the Jets will get their yards on the ground in this game. The Panthers lost their starting nose tackle in the preseason and have been gashed on the ground most of the year. Brian Schottenheimer must take advantage of that and call a conservative gameplan, at least early in the game. Give the ball to Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. Don’t get cute. Stick with your strengths and attack the opponent’s main weakness.

While I’d like to give the Jets the edge here because they should be able to run the ball at will, Sanchez’s play is such a wild card at this point that it’s impossible to give the Jets an edge except against hopeless defenses.

Edge: Push

When the Panthers have the ball…

The Panthers are just like the Jets in that they want to run the ball and hide their quarterback. Jake Delhomme had 13 interceptions in his first six games, but he has improved since then. Still, the Panthers don’t want to be throwing the ball that much with the runningbacks they have. Also, Steve Smith was added late in the week to the injury report with sore ribs. It’s sort of a mystery injury, likely suffered in practice this week, so no one knows outside of Carolina how serious the injury is. Questionable could mean anything.

Smith’s injury means that the Jets picked a good week to bench Kerry Rhodes. Eric Smith is a much bigger hitter than Rhodes, and he could make the receiver think twice about going over the middle. Rhodes will still play, and how much and how well will be big stories throughout the game.

However, the Panthers’ bread and butter is handing the ball off to DeAngelo Williams and watching him run. Even though their LT Jordan Gross is out, Williams and Stewart had no trouble running behind RT Jeff Otah against Miami. The loss of Kris Jenkins will be felt most in this game, as he would be playing against his former team, who would love to run right by him. The Jets have started off slowly defensively the past few weeks. Carolina is the one team you do not want to start slowly against, as their entire team is built around getting ahead early, running the football, and hiding their quarterback and run defense as much as possible.

Even if Smith plays, he’ll be blanketed by Darrelle Revis all game. Delhomme’s other weapons have not stepped up, so the Jets’ shaky cornerback depth won’t be tested that much. Dwight Lowery and Donald Strickland will not play. The Jets will load the box, blitz and run blitz like crazy, put Revis on Smith, and dare the Panthers to beat them on offense. My guess is the Jets win this battle, but if this is a game where they inexplicably forget how to tackle, Williams will kill them. He’s a big play waiting to happen.

Edge: Jets

Special Teams

The Jets will be using Brad Smith and David Clowney on kick returns, after Leon Washington and Dwight Lowery got hurt and Justin Miller was released after missing a team meeting. Jim Leonhard’s injury is forcing Jerricho Cotchery to return punts. Rookie Tyrell Sutton recently got the return duties in Carolina, but in his first game as kick returner, all five kicks were touchbacks. John Kasay has had his worst season of his career so far. Both he and Jay Feely don’t have big legs, so they struggle from 50+ yards, though to be fair, the Jets don’t give Feely many chances.

Edge: Push

Prediction

Hard to get a feel on either one of these teams. The Jets are in a serious slump and desperately need a win to improve morale, and just to show they can still do it. Carolina has faint playoff hopes still, but if they fall behind in this game, they could struggle. Both teams want to run the football. The Jets will be better at stopping it, and they should pull off a tight victory.

New York 17, Carolina 13

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