Minnesota Vikings (1-2) at New York Jets (3-1)
Monday, October 11, 2010. 8:30 PM.
New Meadowlands Stadium
After back-to-back division road wins, the Jets will come back home underneath the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Joining them will be old friend Brett Favre, who will hope a bye week and the addition of Randy Moss can fix his team's offensive woes. As Minnesota adds Moss, the Jets have some reinforcements of their own, as Calvin Pace, Santonio Holmes, and Darrelle Revis will all return to action tonight. It's scary to think how good this Jets team can be now that their top pass rusher and cover corner as well as the Super Bowl MVP from two years ago will add to a team already playing extremely well. But the Vikings are a very talented veteran group, and with an extra week to rest and prepare, this could be a difficult game for the Jets.
When the Vikings have the ball...
Brett Favre has been in the news all week for off-field issues, but when he's between the white lines under the white lights of Monday Night Football, he's right where he belongs. Favre's career is a fascinating one, but the way he has played so far seems to indicate he might be at the end of it. He's thrown just two touchdown passes to six interceptions this year after having perhaps the best year of his career last season. A lot of that has to do with his receiving corps missing Sidney Rice. His receivers have failed him all season, leading to the acquisition of Moss.
The Moss-Revis battle should return this week, but with the improved play of Antonio Cromartie, Rex Ryan may mix it up a little more. Percy Harvin is what makes this Vikings' offense go through the air, as he is a big play waiting to happen. His elite speed and shiftiness make him a tough matchup, so the Jets may try to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Moss probably won't know the playbook, and he's never played with Favre, but you can bet they will try a few deep shots with Moss, just to test out their newest toy. Moss is as good a receiver in the NFL at getting a jump ball. And facing a cornerback who has called him out numerous times in Revis for a brand new team, Moss should be motivated to show he's still got it, just one week after he didn't catch a pass on Monday Night for New England.
While Moss is the flashy new name, the motor of the Vikings' offense is still Adrian Peterson. He's a bona-fide superstar with a power-speed combination matched by no one in the NFL. He's averaged 130.7 yards-per-game so far and 5.6 yards-per-carry, so he is a force the Jets will have to stop. However, the Jets have the best defense in the league against the run so far, so if anybody can stop Peterson, it's the Jets. Look for the Vikings to try to get the ball to him and Harvin out in space, trying to put the ball in two of their best playmakers and take advantage of the Jets' blitzing.
When the Vikings get into the redzone, Visanthe Shiancoe becomes a major factor. He's been one of the most prolific touchdown scorers over the past few years, and Favre loves throwing to his tight ends. Through three games, Shiancoe is the Vikings' leading receiver, although he was held to just one catch in his last outing. Bernard Berrian, who started before Moss's arrival, is solely a deep threat, and he hasn't developed chemistry with Favre so far.
The key will be whether the Jets can get pressure on Favre and not let Peterson dominate the game. Favre has been sacked six times in the first three games and turned the ball over seven times. With Pace coming back, and Revis helping out in coverage, the Jets' pass rush will be as vicious as ever, and it could knock Favre around and force him to make mistakes. If the Jets shut down Peterson and put Minnesota in third-and-long situations, it could be a long day for the Vikings' offense. But Favre has pulled magic on Monday night in the past, and even though Moss might not know the playbook, that might not matter the way Favre likes to play football. Moss also should open things up for Harvin underneath and possibly even for Peterson. Unless, of course, the Jets are confident Revis is in fact 100%, and put him one-on-one against Moss a lot.
Just how much the Vikings' early offensive struggles were on Favre and how much they were on him having nobody to throw to remains to be seen. So does exactly how the Vikings will deploy Moss. The Vikings should be able to move the ball, but look for the Jets to create some turnovers, as the Vikings shoot themselves in the foot as much as any team in the NFL.
When the Jets have the ball...
Has Mark Sanchez arrived? We will find out a lot about Sanchez this Monday night. Minnesota has one of the best run defenses in the NFL, led by tackles Kevin and Pat Williams. But their secondary is vulnerable, and their pass rush has been non-existent. Jared Allen remains one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, but he has just one sack this year. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the best pass blockers in the NFL, so that battle will be one to watch, as Sanchez has clearly become the Jets' most indispensable player.
The way to beat the Vikings is through the air. Dustin Keller has been Sanchez's number one option, but that may change as Santonio Holmes comes back from a four game suspension to make his Jets' debut. Back in training camp, Ryan called him possibly the best player on the field offensively, so the Jets will definitely want to get him involved. Braylon Edwards has also played well all season, providing a big, physical presence at receiver and avoiding the drops that have plagued him throughout his career.
The Jets still want to be a run-first offense, and with LaDainian Tomlinson playing with fresh legs, the running game has been great. Look for the Jets to try to run the ball outside with Tomlinson, avoiding the Williams Wall. Brian Schottenheimer will also get him involved in the short passing game. The Jets' offensive line has been strong in clearing running lanes this season, but the Vikings may provide their toughest test. Shonn Greene may struggle finding places to run to inside, but if the Jets get ahead in this game, he will probably be the guy they use to wear down the Vikings' front seven.
And, of course, Sanchez needs to be smart with the football. With 8 touchdowns and 0 turnovers this year, he's defied all expectations so far. That needs to continue, as the Jets' attack needs to remain balanced to beat a tough team like Minnesota.
The Jets will throw more often on first down this week to try to create easy third downs for Sanchez. With Holmes in the fold, Minnesota will have a tough time defending Keller, Tomlinson, Edwards, Cotchery, and Holmes when the Jets decide to throw the ball. It's tough to find a passing offense that can match those weapons for a quarterback. If Sanchez is truly arriving as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, the Jets have more than enough playmakers to be one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, including on Monday night. Minnesota has too many good players on defense for the Jets to go crazy, but aided by some good field position from potential Favre turnovers, the Jets could put up some points in this one.
The Jets' offense is firing on all cylinders and is adding another great player. They will put up points, even against a good defense like the Vikings. The only problem could be pass protection if Slauson can't handle the Vikings' tackles or if Jared Allen has a big game. The question is what will Minnesota do offensively and how Moss will do. An offense with Moss, Harvin, and Peterson is dangerous, but how will it do less than a week after acquiring Moss? And with Favre's struggles, the Vikings just have too many questions. Coming off a bye week could help, but the Jets come in well-rested after destroying Buffalo last week combined with the extra day before a Monday night. Bottom line, the Jets should win the turnover battle, and that will give the Jets enough to win.
Jets 27, Vikings 21