Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rex Ryan's Message to a few rowdy Dolphins fans


At a Strikeforce MMA event on Saturday night in Miami, Rex Ryan was in the crowd. As usual, the cameras were right there with him, and he told the Dolphins fans in attendance, "Everybody in Miami, we're coming to beat you twice next year."

So much for not picking fights with the Dolphins anymore.


As for the picture? That's Ryan responding to a group of Dolphins fans. ProFootballTalk.com has two reports, one saying Ryan faced "extreme provocation" and another saying Ryan said another vulgarity to the group in quesion. Either way, while Ryan was surely being verbally harassed by rival Dolphins fans, he needs to be the better man. Still, it's fun having a coach who likes to mix it up, especially if he can back it up on the field.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five coaches gone, but don't expect too many other changes

Assistant defensive backs coach Doug Plank was fired, while assistant quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, special teams coach Kevin O'Dea, and defensive quality control coach Brian Smith will not have their contracts renewed. Lastly, pass rush specialist Chuck Smith left to become the new defensive line coach at the University of Tennessee.

Plank's firing is the most interesting part of this. As a player, he was a staple of the 4-6 defense, but obviously the Jets think they can do better. O'Dea and DeFilippo's roles were redundant, while Smith was asked to stay on the whole year after helping out during training camp.

With Brian Schottenheimer likely staying put and Mike Pettine not on the coaching radar just yet, there may not be much more turnover in the coaching staff. Runningbacks coach Anthony Lynn was briefly a candidate for the Texas Tech head coaching job that ended up going to Tommy Tuberville.

Meanwhile, just as the core of the staff will likely remain intact, so will the core of the team. Assuming next season is uncapped as so many people expect, the Jets will not be able to sign free agents worth more than the ones that leave the team. So look for Gang Green to build off this past year and hope Ryan and Sanchez's second year is even better than the first.

The key free agents for the Jets coming up this season are as follows.

Restricted
QB Kellen Clemens*
CB Drew Coleman*
WR Braylon Edwards*
DT Howard Green*
OT Wayne Hunter*
S James Ihedigbo
DE/LB Marques Murrell
S Eric Smith*
WR Brad Smith*
RB Leon Washington*
WR Wallace Wright
* means that if a new collective bargaining is reach, these players would become unrestricted free agents

The key players on that list are Edwards and Washington. The Jets have already made it clear they want to keep Edwards another season and will probably give him the maximum tender. Leon Washington is a more interesting case, but he'll probably earn the same as the Jets won't want to lose him. Both Smiths, Brad and Eric, Hunter and Wright very well could return as well.

Unrestricted
DE Marques Douglas
K Jay Feely
ILB Ryan Fowler
TE Ben Hartsock
ILB Larry Izzo
FB Tony Richardson

Douglas was a key component of the top ranked defense as he was very solid. However, he's not a difference maker, and defensive end is a position that the Jets need to get younger at, and they need to get someone who can push the pocket and get to the quarterback more. Look for Douglas to return, but my guess is the Jets will draft or sign someone to push or replace him as a starter. Feely should return, but you never know. The Jets should try to bring back Richardson, but at 38, he could choose hang it up. The others are probably gone.

The ironic thing is that some of these players may not be wanted back by the Jets for the sole reason that if they sign a contract with another team, the Jets can then sign a free agent for that money. So the new CBA could hurt some role players whom teams will be glad to see leave just so they could sign someone else or give someone else more money.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Colts end Jets' Super Bowl Dreams 30-17

The magical run comes to an end one game short of its ultimate goal.

The Jets gave a valiant effort but Peyton Manning's brilliance overwhelmed the defense, and the offense simply lacked enough firepower to keep up.

Gang Green jumped out to a 17-6 lead after a 48-yard field goal by Jay Feely split the uprights. But when Manning got the ball with a chance to score with 2 minutes left in the 1st half, he took full advantage, finding Austin Collie for two big plays to cut the lead to 17-13 at halftime.

At halftime everything looked great for the Jets. Mark Sanchez had two touchdown passes, the defense had contained the Colts twice in the red zone, and they had the lead getting the ball. But after Shonn Greene ran for a first down to start the 2nd half, he left the game with a rib injury and did not return. Thomas Jones continued his struggles, and the Jets' run-first gameplan quickly proved that it would not work without Greene or any other halfback on the roster besides Jones.

Greene's injury killed the Jets offensively, and the defense never gave them any big plays to set up points. The defense then could not hold up against Manning's multi-faceted attack, led by Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. The two receivers burned Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman all day, and the Jets didn't even bother using Lito Sheppard much in the 2nd half after being burned a few times early.

The Jets' magic number on defense all year has been 20. Allow 20 or less, and the Jets can win. Allow more, and the Jets are in deep trouble. It was a tall order for the offense even with Greene in the game. Without their rookie back, they had no chance. After taking a few hits early, Manning picked apart the Jets' defense in the 2nd half.

Give the Jets a lot of credit, but they needed to play a near-perfect game to win, and it was clear from the start that wasn't the case. Feely missed a 44-yard field goal on the Jets' first drive, and he missed a 52-yarder later in the game. Neither kick was easy, but had both gone in, the Jets would have been right there until the end.

The Jets are too over-reliant on their defense at this point. Mike Pettine's crew is good enough to beat the vast majority of offenses, but Peyton Manning is too good and dissected everything the Jets wanted to do. When Donald Strickland got hurt early in the game, the Jets simply lacked the talent at defensive back to hold up against Manning and his variety of weapons. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne did very little in this football game. It was all the secondary receivers.

The tackling also was not very good in this game. The Colts ran the ball effectively for 98 yards on almost 5 yards per carry. If you told me that the Colts would outrush the Jets in this game, I would have thought that Indianapolis would have won by 30.

Sanchez held up very well in his first AFC Championship game. This may have been the best game of his young career. He made a couple of rookie mistakes taking risks throwing the ball away, but they didn't end up hurting him. He threw a perfect strike on a deep ball to Braylon Edwards after pump faking to keep Dwight Freeney from killing him. He threw his other touchdown pass right as he was getting hammered. The kid played tough. His final numbers were 17-30 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Both Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, who played a very good game making plays on 3rd down, had 100 yards on the game.

The Jets had the Colts right where they wanted them. It's the 2nd consecutive AFC Championship game for this team where they have blown a double digit lead, making this tough to swallow. In this game the injuries to Greene and Strickland turned the Jets' two strengths into weaknesses in the 2nd half, so Jets fans can always play what-if with this game. The Jets dressed just three runningbacks, so when Greene went down, Jones and fullback Tony Richardson were all they had, and that was not nearly enough to wear down this fast and effective Colts' defense.

But the Jets have a very bright future. The Jets desperately need a pure pass rusher and another cornerback or two if they want to make this defense elite, but bring back Leon Washington and Kris Jenkins, draft another piece to the defense, and watch Sanchez mature, and this team will be one of the early favorites in the AFC next season.

AFC Championship Prediction

Today is the day you've all impatiently been waiting for. I couldn't handle the anticipation, so I went down to Atlantic City to play poker all day because I couldn't think of anything else to take my mind off the game because I would just go nuts.

But enough about me, because I'm sure all of you have been thinking about this game all week. Sixty minutes to the Super Bowl. Sixty minutes to validating everything the Jets have done this season. Sixty minutes until proving that a non-conventional, old school football team can still win in this league. Sixty minutes to finally shutting up all the doubters who have constantly ragged on this football team (Mike Francesa and half of ESPN, I'm talking to you). Just sixty minutes.

Or more if there's overtime. But let's not think about that just yet. It will be hard enough to beat Peyton Manning and company for sixty minutes, much less more.

Look for this game to play out like most of the Jets games lately against high quality teams, meaning they will probably get off to a slow start. The Jets' gameplan is to keep the score down, control time of possession, and win the game late after grinding down the Colts' defense. The dome will be rocking early, so expect the offense to take time to feel its way into the game, just as it has lately.

The key will be surviving the first half within a score. Stay in the game. Keep that doubt in the Colts' heads. Remember, all the pressure is on them. They need to win this game to validate the asinine decision Bill Polian made to take out their key players the last two weeks of the season and cost the Colts not just a chance at a perfect season, but momentum as well. And Peyton Manning has lost many big games in the past: his postseason record rests at just 8-8, including a 41-0 blowout at Giants Stadium in the 2002 playoffs against the Jets.

If the Jets can stay within a score and head into the half with a score something like 13-7, the Jets will be ecstatic. Chances are, they will get the ball in the 2nd half, and from there, they will need to make a big play to swing the tide of the game and field position. Steve Weatherford's punt inside the five followed by Jim Leonhard's interception had that effect last game, and from there, doubt crept into the players' and fans' heads, and the Jets manhandled the Chargers from there. Gang Green will want to follow the same blueprint.

The chess match between Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine and Peyton Manning will be fascinating to watch. Manning was effective the first time around between these two teams, so the Jets will try to confuse him more this time around. It's almost impossible to sack him regularly, but you know the Jets will throw a bunch of different looks at him to try to force a turnover.

Offensively, Mark Sanchez is facing a Colts' defense which is good but not great. It held the Ravens to 3 points last week, but starting cornerback Jerraud Powers is doubtful, and Sanchez may be playing at a higher level than Joe Flacco, though not by much. Maybe the Jets take a shot deep against the rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey. We all know Braylon Edwards has the ability to get open deep, the question is whether or not he can catch the ball when it's thrown to him. The Jets also run the ball better, and they are committed to it. The Ravens managed over 4 yards per carry last week, but they got behind big early and had to abandon the run. If the Jets can stay in this game close enough where they can keep running the ball, they should have success there, especially late in the game.

One player who really needs to step up is Thomas Jones. Shonn Greene has gotten a ton of publicity lately and deservedly so, but Jones was the lead back all season, and he'll get a lot of carries in this one, and he needs to be better than he has been in the past two games. Greene will get his fair share of carries, but both backs need to be effective for the Jets to win this game.

And when it comes down to it, I do expect the Jets to win this game. There are such positive vibes around the Jets right now. They believe they can win, and they've been proving it lately. Indianapolis will be their toughest task all season, but they played them tough in week 16, and they've proven they're a 4th quarter team now. Why can't they pull out another late win? They're playing with much more confidence and at a much higher level. And right now, as cliche as it sounds, they seem like a team of destiny. Is that a way for a homer Jets fan to justify picking his team to go to the Super Bowl? Perhaps. This team doesn't have much margin for error, but what they do have is a formula that has been successful, and if that formula can work against San Diego, a team that many felt was the AFC favorite coming in, then it can work against Indianapolis, too.

Jets 20, Colts 16

Saturday, January 23, 2010

AFC Championship Preview: When the Colts have the Ball

When the Jets are on defense...

Stop the legend: The Indianapolis Colts revolve around one player: #18. Peyton Manning is the Colts' offense and has been for almost his entire career. Manning has been unreal this season, and his dedication to film study has been well-documented. Manning threw for 33 touchdowns to 16 interceptions all the while playing with little running game. In week 16 in the Jets-Colts matchup, Manning was 14 for 21 for 192 yards, and you got the feeling it could have been even better, but he just missed a couple other open receivers. If Manning plays like that in this one, it will be hard to keep their offense from moving the ball, so it will be imperative to limit their scoring.

Make it ugly: If the game gets sloppy, the game is going exactly how the Jets want it. Chances are, Manning will move the ball against the Jets' defense. He won't be confused by any blitz the Jets throw at him. If the Jets could sack Manning and knock him down, he could get annoyed. He was clearly peeved at a few of his linemen and runningbacks for letting defenders hit him last game. The pressure is clearly on the Colts in this game, and if the Jets can somehow get to Manning, the whole team will feel it, as Rex Ryan said about San Diego. With Indianapolis, that statement applies even more to Manning than it did to Philip Rivers. However, there are reasons Manning has only been sacked 10 times all season: he has a quick release, his offensive line pass blocks well, and he'd rather throw the ball away than take a hit. Chances are, Manning will have time to throw, and if that's the case, he'll move the ball. Then the Jets must keep the Colts' score down, make their score ugly. In the first game, the Jets blocked an extra point and then stuffed the Colts on a two-point conversion, turning 17 points into 15 points. If they can do things like that, they can keep the score down and keep the pressure on Manning and the Colts, which is exactly what happened in San Diego.

Make the Colts one-dimensional: The Colts' running game has been almost non-existent this year. The Jets' gameplan on defense is the exact opposite is in on offense: don't let Indianapolis get good yardage on 1st and 2nd down, so they can get off the field on 3rd down. Also, remember, the Colts' two touchdowns last game were on the ground, not through the air. The Jets need to force the Colts to throw against the league's top-ranked pass defense. The Colts run the ball just enough to force the Jets to respect it a little. If the Jets can completely neutralize it, like they did last week against San Diego, it will make the Colts easier to defend against. Indy didn't run the ball well in the first matchup, but they had big plays when they needed them.

Fundamentals! Tackle the ballcarrier. Cover the receivers. Don't give the Colts extra chances by failing to take care of business. The Jets have been great at both these aspects all season, but the Colts are a whole different animal. Dallas Clark is not easy to bring down, as Donald Strickland found out in the first game. Strickland and others have to make tackles the first chances they get. And while coverage shouldn't be a big problem for Darrelle Revis, whoever is guarding Dallas Clark will have his hands full all game, whether it's Eric Smith, Kerry Rhodes, or Dwight Lowery. Also, Austin Collie burned Lito Sheppard a number of times in the first matchup. With Revis battling Reggie Wayne most of the game, Collie and Pierre Garcon will probably be Manning's primary targets at receiver. Manning is a legend at finding the open receiver, whoever it is, so it's up to the Jets to give him as little a window as possible.

Help out the offense: Unfortunately, for the Jets to win, not only is the defense burdened to prevent the opposition from scoring, but it must help out the offense as well. The Jets need to make a big play or two to win this game on both sides of the ball. Against Indianapolis in the first matchup, Brad Smith had a return touchdown. Last week, Jim Leonhard's interception set up the Jets in the red zone to take the lead. This offense needs help, and the defense needs to do something: force a fumble, intercept the ball, score a touchdown, do something to help the offense. All season, the problem with this football team was that the three units do not complement each other. That appears to have finally changed come playoff time, and now the defense will have its tallest task of the season.

Bottom line: Indianapolis is a pretty one-dimensional offense, but Peyton Manning is so good it hasn't mattered. His Colts are 15-0 when they've played all game, so this won't be easy. The Jets have the best pass defense in the league, and Manning is probably the best quarterback. This is strength vs strength, but I have to give a slight edge to Manning in passing offense vs passing defense. However, the Jets should be better in the redzone than they were last game against the run. Manning had 15 points in almost 2.5 quarters last game between these two teams. That'll probably be around what this offense will get in this one. Expect between 17 and 27 points from the Colts. Don't expect Matt Stover to miss two field goals this week, so don't be surprised if the Colts get above 20. Will that be enough for the Jets to win? Stay tuned for my prediction!

Friday, January 22, 2010

AFC Championship Preview: When the Jets have the Ball

This week, I'm going to stretch out the typical one long post at the end of the week that I make to preview a game into a couple different posts. This way I can focus more and more on each individual part of the game and provide more content.

When the Jets have the ball...
Gameplan: The Jets are going to do the same thing they have done all season: run the football early, and run it as long as the pace and score of the game allow them to. Rex Ryan wants to win games based on his defense and not let his offense mess it up. The offense shot the team in the foot over and over again, specifically Mark Sanchez, and now the offense is predicated on a "Ground and Pound" philosophy, where the Jets will want to run the ball over and over. If the Jets have their way, Sanchez will be throwing the ball 15 times again, and the Jets will run the ball 40+ times.

Ground and Pound: Shonn Greene's skillset and power has given him the de facto number one runningback role. Thomas Jones gets the ball to start the game, in situations where the Jets can't afford to fumble, and whenever the Jets need a steadying hand. Jones ran for over 1400 yards this season, but he hasn't been as effective lately. He's a veteran presence, better at holding onto the ball, pass blocking, and all the little things runningbacks have to do. But Greene is the key. He has the power to run over some of the smaller Colt defenders, and if he can get to the secondary, look out. The Colts' run defense is average, but like the Chargers, their offense masks some of the deficiencies. Still, the Colts might have the quickest defense in the NFL, so running to the outside will not be easy and getting to the second level will be easier said than done. The Colts got gashed the last two weeks of the regular season, when they played over a full game with their backup defense.  and by the Wildcat in week two against Miami, so their numbers are skewed up a little. Still, what the Dolphins did will be a blueprint for the Jets: run the ball like crazy and control time of possession. If they can do that, they have a very good chance to win.

The Rookie: Sanchez is one of the rare NFL quarterbacks who is not the focal point of his offense, and that's simply because he's an inexperienced rookie. He will have his hands full in this game. He was efficient and didn't turn the ball over in the first game against the Colts, but now Indianapolis will be at full strength and playing hard throughout. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are huge playmakers coming off the edge, and both love to strip quarterbacks. Ball security has always been key for Sanchez, but in this case, fumbles based on sacks rather than interceptions might be the bigger concern, especially if the Jets are able to keep it close and stay within their gameplan of running the ball, keeping it close, and wearing down the smaller Colts' defense in the 4th quarter. Still, the Jets will have to throw at some point, and it will be vital for the Jets to stay out of 3rd and long situations. The crowd will get into it, the Jets will have to throw the ball, and Mathis and Freeney are free to do what they do best. However, don't overrate the crowd factor. Sanchez dealt with the crowd in week 16 for a half, and QualComm Stadium was rocking last week. It's hard to imagine LucasOil Stadium surpassing the noise level in San Diego, even in a dome.

Little Margin for Error: The Jets are 10-0 when they win the turnover battle, so it will be vital for the rookies Greene and Sanchez to hold onto the football and force Peyton Manning to have long fields to score on. The key stats as far are third down conversion, red zone conversion, and turnovers. If they convert on 3rd down, they can keep Manning off the field and keep the score down, which is what the Jets certainly want. New York certainly is not a high powered offense, so converting touchdowns instead of field goals will be huge and of course turnovers will as well.

Can the Jets throw in this game? Braylon Edwards was brought in to be a big play guy. This is his type of game. The Jets need to score touchdowns in this game, so if Edwards can create opportunities by getting open deep and then completing the plays by actually catching the ball, the Jets will have a very good chance, and the running game will be opened up as well. Jerricho Cotchery is a very effective move-the-chains receiver who isn't easy to take down in the open field. Dustin Keller has been a weapon in recent games, and that needs to continue. He's had some problems with his hands at times, too, so it's imperative that he takes advantage of his opportunities. Sanchez was great when asked against Cincinnati, but last week he threw for just 100 yards on 23 throws. He needs to be better this week. The running game has consistently been better in the 2nd half than the 1st, so Sanchez may have to make a couple plays early to keep the Jets in it.

Will Brad Smith play a role? Brad Smith has had an inconsistent role this season. When you expect him to make a big difference, he usually falls short, but when you least expect him, he'll make some big plays. After back-to-back quiet games, Smith could see some more action from under center. It was effective for the Dolphins, so the Jets may be willing to try it as well. Also, with points at a premium, there's a chance that Ryan will opt for a fake punt, in which case, Smith is usually involved. It sounds crazy to try in an AFC Championship game, but the Jets have run a number of successful 4th down trick plays this season. It would take a lot of courage from Rex Ryan to put his special teams in such a situation, but Mike Westhoff's crew has come through in the past. Smith also had a 106-yard kick return for a touchdown for the Jets' first score in the first matchup between these two teams, so he's a threat returning kicks. The Colts' Pat McAfee has a booming leg, so Smith's chances will be limited, but when he gets a chance, watch out.

Bottom line: The Jets have the best offensive line in the NFL, and they have manhandled and worn down most of the defenses they have faced this season. Indianapolis is undersized, so there's no reason that can't happen again. However, that might not be good enough. Manning and company should put up more points than the Chargers, so if the Jets can't get a first down until halfway through the 2nd quarter like last game, the Jets could see themselves down double digits and in a situation they really can't afford to be in. How well the offense does has a lot to do with how well the defense does. How well will the defense do? That remains to be seen. Expect the Jets to score between 10 and 24 points. The key will be how much the defense can hold down Manning and how often the defense can give the offense easy scoring opportunities.

Coming soon... Colts' gameplan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kudos to the Jets' defensive line

Mike DeVito has barely gotten any recognition for the work he does from the general public, but he is a dynamic run stopper and effort guy. His non-stop motor will be put to the test Sunday with Shaun Ellis nursing a broken hand. Ellis is expected to play, but he will have a cast on his left hand. He'll have surgery next week, win or lose, since the extra week before the Super Bowl would be enough time for it to heal in case the Jets beat the Colts.

Ellis is the longest tenured Jet, having lasted here since 2000, and his passion to play in this game is evident, unlike the man drafted one spot behind him, John Abraham. After a disruptive wild card game over Cincinnati, Ellis was reduced to a rotational guy due to the injury. One play in particular, he had Philip Rivers in his grasp but couldn't wrap up due to the cast. Rex Ryan said they would find a way for him to play with a more workable cast. In any case DeVito will see a lot more snaps.

So will Marques Douglas, a versatile run-stopper with a knack for making plays in the backfield. He's not a big playmaker, but he's a steady performer who does his job, holds his gap, and stops the run well. He's a Ryan guy from Baltimore, and he's been a great under-the-radar signing for this defense.

Sione Pouha is another player who has stepped up in the absence of Kris Jenkins. Most people didn't think the Jets could replace Jenkins if he went down, but what Pouha lacks in pass rushing ability, he has more than made up for in his ability to man the middle and stuff the run. Pouha is almost irreplaceable for this team without Jenkins, and he is coming off a five tackle performance against the Chargers. Howard Green, a 320-pound nose tackle whom the Jets released earlier in the year, sees time as well, and he's been effective in spurts.

With most teams, I would have more defensive linemen to talk about. But the Jets often dress just five linemen, instead relying on a multitude of looks involving blitzing defensive backs and linebackers. The hulking Ropati Pitoitua is a project who was dressed for eight games this season, but he'll only be a factor in the next game or two if Ellis or someone else can't go.

This five-man rotation isn't particularly scary, and it won't grab the press headlines like the more high-profile linebacking corps and secondary, but they stuff the run and do all Ryan asks of them. Ellis's handicap will be another obstacle for this unit, but he'll give it a go, and DeVito has been up to the task whenever he gets in the game.

Monday, January 18, 2010

If Jets stay on track, no telling how far they can go!

Rex Ryan handed out a playoff itinerary that mapped out the Jets' schedule all the way up to the victory parade after winning the Super Bowl. Well, after a 17-14 win over San Diego, the Jets are now halfway home. Two more wins and they achieve the ultimate goal. Indianapolis will be a tall task next week, but the Jets were only down 5 in the 3rd quarter in week 16 before the Colts pulled their starters. There's no reason the Jets can't have a chance in the end.

For them to do that, they just need to stay on the course. Ryan's plan is simple yet difficult. For two games, the Jets were able to win primarily by running the ball, stopping the opposing team, getting a lead in the 4th quarter, and holding on from there. Doing that allows the Jets to play to their strengths of running the ball and stopping the opposition, and it's how they've gotten here so far. This is exactly what Ryan's plan has been. Run the ball, ugly it up with the defense, keep it close, and wear down the opposition late. The past two games are the blueprint.

As for this game, several players stood out as big reasons why the Jets won.

*CB Darrelle Revis was his typical briliant self, shutting down anyone around him and making a spectacular, if not a little lucky interception to swing momentum back in the Jets' favor in the 3rd quarter. Revis faced both Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson this past game. Next week, he'll be isolated more on Reggie Wayne the whole game.

*RB Shonn Greene showed why the Jets traded up in the 3rd round to draft him. His fresh legs have been a major difference on the ground, as he is able to make big plays by busting through tacklers in ways that Thomas Jones simply cannot. It's reminiscent of the Curtis Martin-LaMont Jordan situation. Martin was the steadier, more trustworthy back, but Jordan was the big play guy. Unlike Herman Edwards, Ryan is willing to make the switch to the more explosive Greene, and the rookie is paying off his coach's trust so far.

*S Jim Leonhard was all over the field. He had a key interception when the Jets desperately needed to take advantage of field position and score some points. The play was more a bad pass by Rivers than a great play by Leonhard, but nevertheless, Leonhard was 2nd on the team with six solo tackles, he defended one pass, and he almost had a fumble recovery in the 2nd quarter that was overturned by a questionable replay decision.

*David Harris led the defense in tackles with nine solo and one assisted. He defended a pass and led a sure tackling Jets' linebacking corps that also featured solid games from Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott.

*Mark Sanchez didn't do much, with just 100 yards passing, but he made a nifty play on 3rd and goal when the Jets ran play action, buying time and making a good throw to Dustin Keller who reacted to the ball and made the touchdown grab. The Jets converted six first downs through the air. Sanchez did throw an interception, but it was soon canceled out by Revis's pick, so it didn't hurt the team.

*Nate Kaeding led a Chargers' unit that was desperate to give the game away. Kaeding missed three field goals, two that were very makeable, bringing back memories of the 2004 playoffs in which Kaeding missed a field goal in overtime before Doug Brien kicked the game winner for the Jets. You can't simply say if you put those points on the board, the Chargers win the game, but it would have been much tougher sledding for Gang Green. San Diego also committed 10 penalties for 87 yards, hurting themselves on a few different drives.

*The Jets' defense was helped out by the Kaeding missed kicks, but they also missed a few opportunities. The Chargers had three fumbles, two caused by the Jets, but San Diego recovered all three. The Jets were a lost scrum or two away from having more chances to score.

In the end the Jets were handed chances to win the game by the Chargers and they ran with it. San Diego's 11-game winning streak is over, their season-long streak of 20 points or more is over, and their season is over. The Jets will try to follow the blueprint again next week.

And that's part of the problem why people like Mike Francesa can't say the Jets had no shot against the Colts. It was a 5-point game. This was a 7-point game. Yet, the Jets came back because their offense and defenses both seem to get better as the game goes on and after the opposition fires the first shot. This team believes it can beat any team in the league, and if they follow the blueprint, they can. It's easier said than done, and the 15-2 Colts will be a great test, but I believe the Jets have had a high profile upset over this franchise once or twice before, have they not?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Jets are going to the AFC Championship!

I'm speechless and have a pretty splitting headache right now, but the Jets beat the odds and conquered the Chargers 17-14. The defense held strong all game, and the offense did enough in the 2nd half to control the line of scrimmage and win. I'll have much more on this game later, but feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Divisional Round: Jets vs Chargers Preview

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
Sunday January 17, 2010, Qualcomm Stadium

The Jets are coming in riding a wave of confidence having won five of their last six, but the Chargers can one-up the Jets in the regard as they have now won 11 straight. Rex Ryan has been talking up this team all year, and a win this week would validate everything he said and put the Jets squarely on the map not just for this year but for years to come. Meanwhile, San Diego has been one of the better teams in the NFL for about five years now, but they can never get over the top in the playoffs. Marty Schottenheimer got fired for going 14-2 and losing in the divisional round. Norv Turner wants to avoid a similar fate.

When the Jets have the ball...
Focal Point: The Jets want to run the football. This is no secret in the NFL. Everyone knows the Jets want to run the football, so saying the opponent will put eight guys in the box and stop it is a fallacy. It's been tried before. Gang Green just keeps running regardless, and they do it at 4.5 yards per carry. San Diego allows the same average, and good rushing attacks have posted good numbers against them, so there's no reason the Jets' offensive line shouldn't be able to push the Chargers around a bit and move the football. The Jets will run until San Diego proves they can stop it, and while they should come out amped early, as the game moves along, the defense will be tested again and again, and the Jets should start to wear the defense down a little by the end of the game.

The Quarterback: Mark Sanchez has had his ups and downs last week, but he was extremely efficient last week against Cincinnati, and he hasn't turned the ball over in four of the last five games. The Jets want to hide him as much as possible, but he has shown he can make plays when he needs to, particularly in play action and while on the move. The key is to keep him comfortable by not putting him in 3rd and long situations. If the running game is as effective as it should be, Sanchez won't have to do a ton. His job is to make a play or two in the red zone to score touchdowns and to not turn the ball over and give the Chargers good field position.

Key Players: Shonn Greene is the flavor of the week at runningback while Thomas Jones ran for over 1400 yards in the regular season, but Greene is the much more explosive back, and his ability to run over and by defenders will be key. The Jets can get as many yards as they want, and the Chargers won't care unless those yards translate into touchdowns. That hasn't always been the case, and the Jets let a couple games slip away because of that. Greene is the Jet most likely to convert big plays and scoring plays, but Jones is reliable and has broken a number of long runs as well this year. If the Jets have a chance, one or both backs needs to play very well.

X-Factor: Braylon Edwards doesn't get thrown to a ton, but he is the one big playmaker in the passing game for the Jets. His ability to get open deep has led to many chances for points recently, but he hasn't always caught them. If he has an opportunity to score a touchdown in this game, he has to make the catch. If he does, the Jets' offense will have some balance and actually be able to put up some points. Edwards's presence has turned Jerricho Cotchery into the primary short receiver. Cotchery can make some plays, but Edwards has that rare size-speed combination that can make him uncoverable at times. Unfortunately, that's meaningless if he won't hang onto the football.

Don't Forget About: Brad Smith was the biggest factor in the Jets getting into the playoffs the last two weeks, returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the Colts and having a huge game taking direct snaps against Cincinnati week 17. He was pretty much irrelevant last week, so San Diego might not expect Smith as much this week, but he will remain part of the gameplan and get a few chances to make some plays. Also, the Chargers will actually put up some points against the Jets, so Smith will have more chances to return kicks. San Diego has given up some big plays on special teams, so it's not unreasonable to ask Smith to break a long one.

Everyone Else: Cotchery is an underappreciated receiver who just gets the job done. He has sure hands and moves the chain for the Jets. He's done everything the Jets have asked of him this season. Dustin Keller is a constant threat at tight end in the passing game. He had 99 yard and a touchdown last week, where he showed his great athletic ability.  David Clowney, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma, but he can get down the field, and when he's in the game, he's always a threat to go deep. Like Clowney, Danny Woodhead hasn't made an appearance in a while, but if the Jets get behind, he could be in on 3rd downs catching dumpoff passes.

Prognosis: The Jets are the better team in the trenches, so the Jets should be able to run the ball effectively. As long as the defense keeps the score down on the other end, the running game should be able to control the clock and put Sanchez in favorable 3rd down situations that he can pick up. If the Jets could do that against the Bengals' defense, they should be able to do it against the Chargers, who have been mixing and matching pieces on defense all season long. If the game is close late in the game, the Jets should be able to run the football well enough to either control clock or to give Jay Feely chances late to win the game.

When the Chargers have the ball...
Focal Point: San Diego wants to move the ball down the field. They average more yards per attempt than anybody in the NFL because they have physical specimens who catch the ball from a strong-armed, accurate quarterback. During their 11-game winning streak, San Diego has jumped on their opponents early, outscoring opponents 83-16 in the first quarter.

The Quarterback: Philip Rivers is the man in charge of this high powered offense. He loves to take chances down field to his tall targets. Rivers threw 28 touchdowns this season to just 9 interceptions, so it's not easy to turn him over. The key for the Jets will be to keep the number of deep passes to a minimum and to hold the Rivers and the Chargers to touchdowns not field goals. If they can force an interception or a fumble, all the better, but it won't be easy.

Key Players: Antonio Gates should be Rivers's main target with Vincent Jackson seeing a lot of Darrelle Revis across from him. Revis will probably be shifted around and see some Gates as well, but the Jets really don't have an answer for the future Hall of Famer. Revis, Kerry Rhodes, Eric Smith, Donald Strickland, and even Lito Sheppard will probably get chances, but it will be up to Rex Ryan to find ways to confuse Rivers and keep Gates from killing them. Jackson has the ability to make big plays at any moment, though he has disappeared at times. If he faces Revis most of the game, that could happen again.

X-Factor: When Rivers isn't chucking it deep, he'll be throwing plenty of screen passes to Darren Sproles. The undersized scatback is tough to corral in the open field, and with both David Harris and Bart Scott nursing injuries, they will have even more trouble covering Sproles. Rex Ryan loves to blitz, so the Jets need to not overcommit and let Sproles break big plays. Against Baltimore, a blitz-happy defense like New York, Sproles had 7 catches for 124 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. The Jets need to do whatever they can not to let that happen again and not overpursue because the speedy Sproles is a big play waiting to happen in the open field. He's someone to watch on special teams as well.

Everyone Else: LaDainian Tomlinson has clearly fallen a long way not to be mentioned until this part of the column. Norv Turner will try to feed him after seeing Cedric Benson's success last week, but the burst is mostly gone for LT, and the run blocking is subpar. He has 12 touchdowns, but the Chargers at times tried to feed him touchdown late in games when they were up big. Malcom Floyd is a distant #3 or #4 on the totem pole in the passing game, but he's a big receiver who can make plays down the field just like everyone else. Lito Sheppard should have the upper hand for the most part, but Floyd is dangerous if the Jets let him go. Legedu Naanee is the Chargers' third receiver, but with only 24 catches, his opportunities are limited. Mike Tolbert, the fullback, is another check down option, particularly in the red zone when defenses forget about him.

Prognosis: It is a tall order to stop the Chargers' gargantuan passing game, but if any team can do it, it's the Jets. With the NFL's premier shutdown cornerback in Revis, the Jets can focus most of their attention on Gates and Sproles. The Jets will blitz a lot to try to throw Rivers off his game, and it should work a little, but the Chargers' weapons are too talented for the Jets to completely shut them down. Look for Sproles to be a constant annoyance. The big question is, as good as the Jets have been statistically, can they stop Philip Rivers when he has a chance to win the game? Rivers has had a knack for the late comeback in his career so far, and the Jets allowed David Garrard, Chad Henne, and Matt Ryan all to score the gamewinning points to beat the Jets this season. If the Jets' defense wants the respect it deserves, they can't let Rivers add his name to the list of quarterbacks who have caused heartbreak for the Jets and their fans this season. If they can stop Rivers late, they can earn it on the field.

Prediction
San Diego will probably start with the ball, and their goal is to get ahead early and force Sanchez to throw the football. Turner might decide to slow things down and try to establish the running game first, given his history, so the Jets may be able to get a stop. Things may be a bit slow to start, but eventually, the scoring will pick up, as Gates will be able to exploit one on one coverage and the Jets will struggle to sack Rivers. However, the Jets should be able to score because there's no reason to expect the Chargers to stop the Jets' running game. Jones and Greene need to keep the ball out of Rivers's hands and win the field position battle, and they should be able to. Eventually, the Jets should be able to shut down the running game for the most part and force San Diego to be one-dimensional. It may be the case of the last team having the ball winning. But in the fourth quarter, the Jets will be able to run the ball if they're in the game and put San Diego in a tough position. It won't be easy, but I see the Jets winning this game and heading to the AFC Championship game on the strength of Greene and Jones and the defense making some key stops.
Jets 27, Chargers 20

NFL Picks - Divisional Weekend

This is the best football weekend of the year. Two days with two games a piece. After this, it's just the two conference championship games and the Super Bowl, so enjoy football while you still can. All four of these games look interesting with the potential for upsets as well, and Jets fans have something to root for at night as a Colts loss would set up a potential home AFC Championship game for the Jets.

Regular Season Record: 27-24
Playoffs Record: 3-1

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
Having only five days off before facing Drew Brees and the Saints offense is almost unfair. The Cardinals' defense allowed 45 points last week and there's no reason why there should be any difference this week on the road in New Orleans. The building will be going crazy, and the Cardinals could be gassed. Brees has pretty much all of his weapons available for him, and Arizona won't be able to keep up.
Saints 38, Cardinals 27

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were 14-0 this year for a reason: they are a really good team. Baltimore has their 4th consecutive road game with just five days of rest before facing Peyton Manning and the Colts. Like the Saints-Cardinals game, that is not a good recipe. The Ravens will run the ball, but the Colts won't let the Ravens score touchdowns, and Manning will be too much to overcome for this Ravens team. It will be close for a while, but by the 2nd half, the rust will be off, and the Colts offense will be working on all cylinders.
Colts 24, Ravens 16

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
The Dallas defense has been superb lately, the only one left in the NFC that is quality. Minnesota is a tough team to run up the middle against, but Dallas doesn't need to do that. Felix Jones can break any run on the outside, and he's a big play waiting to happen. The Cowboys have the advantage in the trenches on defense as well, so they should be able to keep Adrian Peterson in check. Favre won't play badly, but Romo will outplay him as Miles Austin should have a field day against the Vikings secondary. This will be a close game, but the Cowboys' defense is the difference.
Cowboys 21, Vikings 20

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
Preview Coming Tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Schottenheimer Likely to Stay in 2010

The curious case of Brian Schottenheimer has been a lot of fun to follow. For most of the season, Jets fans hated him, wondering why so many people viewed him as a bright offensive mind. So when news broke that the Buffalo Bills were interested in Schottenheimer, so much so that they would want to bring him in for a head coaching interview, that surprised many fans who were confused by Schotty's methods for most of the year.

However, while the Bills were interested in Schottenheimer, the feeling apparently was not mutual. The Jets' offensive coordinator said he would have no problem if he stayed in that position for several more years, and he put his money where his mouth was today by declining to interview for the Bills job.

Rex Ryan has stated several times he thought Schottenheimer would surely leave, but today's news is proof that he is happy in New York. He's called some good gameplans of late, and hopefully that continues as Mark Sanchez grows.

There were rumors briefly yesterday of former Rams' coach Mike Martz being the Jets' next offensive coordinator if Schottenheimer were to leave. To me, that would have screamed out PSL's and would have done little to actually help the team. Then again, it would have been fun to watch, because if you ever wanted a replay of a Ryan punching out his offensive coordinator, that combination might just provide it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Know Your Enemy: San Diego Chargers

Here's a quick little summary of the San Diego Chargers, since most Jets fans probably didn't follow their season closely given that the two teams did not play each other.

After a 2-3 start, the Chargers rattled off 11 straight wins. Let's take a look at who they've played this season.

at Oakland: Win, 24-20
vs Baltimore: Loss, 26-31
vs Miami: Win, 23-13
at Pittsburgh: Loss, 38-28
vs Denver: Loss, 23-24
at Kansas City: Win, 27-7
vs Oakland: Win, 24-16
at New York Giants: Win, 21-20
vs Philadelphia: Win, 31-23
at Denver: Win, 32-3
vs Kansas City: Win, 43-14
at Cleveland: Win, 30-23
at Dallas: Win, 20-17
vs Cincinnati: Win, 27-24
at Tennesssee: Win, 42-17
vs Washington: Win, 23-20

That's 11 straight wins to end the season for Norv Turner's team. As usual, they're entering the postseason very hot. How have they done in previous years?

*In 2004, the 12-4 Chargers lost at home to the Jets in the first round, 20-17.
*In 2006, the 14-2 Chargers lost at home in their first playoff game 24-21 to New England. This was Philip Rivers's first season as the starter.
*In 2007, the 11-5 Chargers beat Tennessee and Indianapolis before falling again to the Patriots in the AFC Championship 21-12. This was Turner's first season as coach.
*In 2008, the 8-8 Chargers beat the Colts at home in the first round before losing to Pittsburgh 35-24 in the 2nd round.

So San Diego has been a strong team for years but has yet to go to a Super Bowl. This team has much to prove in the playoffs, so the pressure will primarily be on them.

But what about this year's team? Here's a quick comparison of the Chargers and Jets statistically.

Offense
Rushing Average
Jets: T-5th

Chargers: 32nd


Rushing Yards
Jets: 1st
Chargers: 31st

Passing Yards
Chargers: 5th
Jets: 31st

Passing Average
Chargers: 1st
Jets: T-17th

Total Yards

Chargers: 10th
Jets: 20th


Third down Percentage
Chargers: 7th
Jets: 20th


Penalty Yardage Against

Chargers: 3rd lowest

Jets: 7th lowest



Time of Possession
Jets: 7th
Chargers: 15th


Fumbles Lost
Chargers: T-3rd
Jets: T-7th


Interceptions Allowed
Chargers: T-4th
Jets: T-28th


20+ Yard Plays Passing
Chargers: 1st
Jets: 25th


40+ Yard Plays Passing
Chargers: T-6th
Jets: T-15th


20+ Yard Plays Rushing
Jets: T-2nd
Chargers: T-23rd
    

40+ Yard Plays Rushing
Jets: T-7th
Chargers: T-29th


Defense
Points Allowed
Jets: 1st
Chargers: 11th


Passing Yards Allowed
Jets: 1st
Chargers: 11th


Passing Yards Average
Jets: 1st
Chargers: T-9th


Rushing Yards Allowed
Jets: 8th
Chargers: 20th


Rushing Yards Average
Jets: 4th
Chargers: T-24th


Sacks
Chargers: T-13th
Jets: T-18th


Interceptions
Jets: T-13th
Chargers: T-20th


Forced Fumbles
Chargers: T-8th
Jets: T-13th

Offensively, the Chargers are a quick strike offense, as evidenced by their being first in passing yards average. This is no surprise if you've ever seen them play: San Diego has three weapons who are 6'4" and above with athleticism to boot. Philip Rivers throws the ball downfield and lets his receivers try to make plays. The Jets answer with the top pass defense in the league, but it's hard to cover size. The secondary will have its hands full all game, as Rex Ryan will dial up blitzes and Rivers will test Lito Sheppard, Darrelle Revis, and Kerry Rhodes.


Meanwhile, the Jets should be able to run the ball quite well against a porous San Diego run defense. Jamal Williams, their Pro Bowl nose tackle, injured himself in the preseason, and they haven't been able to stop effective rushing games all season. For most teams, it hasn't really mattered because of the Chargers quick strike offense either making up for their defense's shortcomings or by putting the games out of reach early to get teams to throw the ball. San Diego's pass defense is above average, but Cincinnati's was better, so if Sanchez can throw on the Bengals, he should be able to do okay in his relative homecoming in San Diego.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bring on the Chargers

A lot of people predicted New England's demise this season, but this was still pretty stunning. Four Tom Brady turnovers led to a Baltimore Raven 33-14 win over the Patriots. Their win means they will be heading to face #1 seeded Indianapolis while the New York Jets will head to San Diego to face the Chargers.

Baltimore wants to do what the Jets are doing: run the football, hide the football, and play great defense. That formula worked great against New England, but Indianapolis will be a whole different animal, just as San Diego will be for the Jets.

As for the Jets, they are now the lone AFC East representative in the playoffs, but they will have to face the streaking Chargers, a team many penned as the favorite to win it all. Norv Turner's team has won 11 in a row to finish 13-3, primarily because of Philip Rivers and a quick strike offense.

Rex Ryan will have a tough time figuring out how to get pressure on Philip Rivers while protecting against the deep ball to 6'4" and above targets Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd. Jackson will see a lot of Revis, but Gates will be a tough matchup for this defense. And with Ryan's propensity to blitz, a one-on-one matchup against any of these tall receivers is not favorable.

However, the Chargers do have vulnerabilities. First of all, they can't run the ball: LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles have struggled to find holes all season long. Both, especially Sproles, are dangerous receivers coming out of the backfield though, so the Jets must keep an eye on him.

But the problem the Jets will most target is the Chargers' 20th ranked run defense. San Diego allows 4.5 yards-per-carry on the ground, so the Jets will pound away and try to bust open some big plays with Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones.

Make no mistake, the Jets have the advantage in the trenches on both sides of the football. The question will be whether the Jets can post touchdowns instead of field goals and whether they can prevent too many deep balls from Rivers to his playmakers.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jets advance to 2nd round, pound Bengals 24-14

The Cincinnati Bengals hadn't won a playoff game in 19 years, and they will have to wait one more as the New York Jets are going to the 2nd round! On paper, the primary edge the Bengals had heading into the game was at quarterback. Well, Mark Sanchez thoroughly outplayed Carson Palmer, and largely as a result, the Jets beat the Bengals 24-14.

Sanchez set an NFL rookie record with an 80% completion percentage. 12/15 for 182 yards and a touchdown isn't amazing, but he did everything the Jets asked of him. His numbers would look even better if Braylon Edwards catches a wide open touchdown pass in the first quarter. Edwards would have been the goat, and boy, did I want to kill him after he dropped that pass, but Sanchez, the defense, and Shonn Greene saved the day.

Greene, not Thomas Jones, was the Jets' lead back with 21 carries for 135 yards. Jones only had 34 yards on 15 carries, and the Wildcat was a non-factor, but Greene was a monster with the football, running over and past defenders en route to a big game. He is the 3rd rookie back to rush for 100+ yards in the playoffs, joining Jamal Lewis and Joseph Addai.

Dustin Keller was Sanchez's lead target with 3 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Keller had a phenomenal game, breaking open down the sideline for his first touchdown and making a big play in the open field to set up Jay Feely's field goal that essentially iced the game.

The defense only allowed 14 points, but Shayne Graham helped them out a lot by missing two short field goals. For the Bengals he is the primary goat, but he wasn't why they lost. Cedric Benson had a huge day with 169 yards on 21 carries. He was the only difference maker on offense for the Bengals, as Chad Ochocinco was completely shut down by Darrelle Revis. Revis was called for three penalties, but two were terrible calls, which is something the Jets had to deal with throughout the game, but they overcame it.

One of the subplots of the game was Jay Feely who was forced into punting duty as Steve Weatherford fell ill before the game. Feely only averaged 31.4 yards on his seven punts, but three were downed inside the 20. He made his only field goal of the game, something Graham couldn't do, and he would have made another long one if it hadn't been called back by not one but two penalties.

More reaction will come later, but what a fantastic game for the Jets. They're going to Indianapolis if New England wins and San Diego if Baltimore wins. If the Jets are facing Indianapolis, the game will be next Saturday at 8:15 PM. If the Jets go to San Diego, the game will be Sunday at 4:40 PM.

NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Round

After a 27-24 regular season, it's time for the playoffs. I was 2-1 last week, and I'm going to pick all four games this week and throughout the playoffs, so my record could change dramatically.

New York Jets +2.5 over Cincinnati
For my full preview click here. Take the points in this tight defensive battle. The Jets should have the better defense, and that will get them the win.
Jets 13, Bengals 9

Baltimore Ravens +3.5 over New England Patriots

This is a fun game. Baltimore played a lot of good games against great teams, including New England, but they continuously fell short for a variety of reasons. New England's defense is coming apart at the seams, and even though Joe Flacco is far from being a great quarterback right now, he should be able to make some plays against this secondary. But the key will be how well Ray Rice runs the ball. Wes Welker will be out, which is a huge blow for this Patriots team. This will be a hard fought game, and it could go either way. Take the points, it should come down to a field goal either way.
Patriots 28, Ravens 27

Dallas Cowboys -3.5 over Philadelphia Eagles

The Cowboys' January woes have been well-documented, but they are a team peaking at the perfect time. The defense is working on all cylinders, with back to back shutouts to its credit, and the offense is able to pound the ball with the running game and make plays passing the ball with Miles Austin and Jason Witten. They're balanced, and the Eagles have questions on how they can move the ball on a consistent basis. In a rabid atmosphere, the Cowboys should be able to pull this one out.
Cowboys 24, Eagles 14

Green Bay Packers (PK) over Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have a good football team, and normally I would jump at the chance to take them at this line, but I worry about them probably without Anquan Boldin. The Packers are a dangerous team with a bigtime offense with a strong aerial attack that the Cardinals will have trouble matching up with. The Packers' defense is led by DPOY candidate Charles Woodson who will be matched up all day with Larry Fitzgerald. Both teams run the football okay, so the better passing team will win, and I think that the Cardinals won't disrupt Rodgers enough and the defense will make a few plays, maybe force a Tim Hightower or Beanie Wells fumble, and win this game.
Packers 31, Cardinals 27

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jets vs Bengals Preview

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
Saturday January 9, 2010, 4:30 PM. Paul Brown Stadium. NBC-TV

In one of three week 17 rematches, the Cincinnati Bengals look to get revenge against a New York Jets team that smashed it 37-0 on Sunday Night. The Jets want to build off last week's momentum while the Bengals want to show last week was an anomaly, and this week, with a number of their starters back and in front of their home crowd with all the motivation in the world, they will win. These are two very good defenses, which should lead to a close, hard-fought game between two teams hungry to prove their critics wrong.

When the Jets have the ball...
While Rex Ryan says that the Jets are favorites to win the Super Bowl, it's hard to see them getting there because they still hide their quarterback. The Jets do have the #1 rushing attack in the league, and they will certainly pound the Bengals' defense as much as they can, but far too often, the excessive running has led to the Jets moving the ball pretty well but not putting up points.

Last week, the Jets were 6 for 6 on 3rd downs when they ran the football. That won't happen again. The Jets are a team that fights uphill for every first down against good defenses, and that won't change here.

Still, there's reason to have hope that the Jets can overpower the Bengals. While Cincinnati certainly played vanilla last week, the Jets were stronger in the trenches, and that led to big games for Thomas Jones and Brad Smith. Smith was effective out of the shotgun and behind center running the football. Ryan hinted that he might throw the ball this week, and as a former college quarterback, that's always a possibility. Like I said earlier, if the Jets can move the ball without putting Mark Sanchez at risk to make mistakes, they will do it.

At some point, however, Sanchez will have to make a few plays, and that includes on Saturday. He has some weapons to throw to in Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller. However, Edwards and Cotchery are matched up against one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, and Keller was often replaced in blocking situations last week, so Brian Schottenheimer needs to be creative to get his players open and in situations to make plays for Sanchez.

Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to load the box with 8, maybe 9 guys, and dare the Jets to throw the football. At some point, they will probably have to. The Jets could take a shot or two deep, as Braylon Edwards nearly had a long touchdown last game, but the enigmatic receiver jumped too early and couldn't come down with it. Gang Green doesn't have a big margin for error. If he has that opportunity, he has to make that play.

But the most important thing for this offense is to not turn the football over. The two rookies have struggled there. Sanchez has 23 turnovers this season, and even though he's been error-free the past two weeks, these cornerbacks are very good and can make plays if he makes mistakes. Shonn Greene fumbled last week, but it was overturned by an offsides penalty.

In the end, this is an offense that needs to make the most of its opportunities. The Bengals' defense is very good, but even though they bring back S Chris Corker, DT Domata Peko, and DE Robert Geathers, the injuries are starting to mount, with DT Pat Sims being lost last week. The Jets could be able to move the ball, but third-and-long situations and redzone spots could cause problems. Getting touchdowns instead of field goals will be paramount, and I'm not sure if the Jets will be able to do that.

Edge: Bengals

When the Bengals have the ball...


The Bengals are a much more balanced offense than the Jets, but they don't have a dominant unit. They're a run-oriented team with one big playmaker in the passing game but they lack explosion. That's a good matchup for the Jets.

Carson Palmer was 1-11 for 0 yards last week, and part of the reason why is Darrelle Revis can lock down Chad Johnson. Revis has shut down top receivers all season, and there's no reason why Johnson will break the mold. And if he does, he can go back to being Ochocinco. "It's easy to shut someone down when they can't cut," said Johnson, making excuses for his catchless performance. "This is going to be a whole new ballgame." We shall see.

Cedric Benson returns this week. He's a tough workhorse back who is good between the tackles. He will be fresh with a week of rest. He'll be back, and David Harris will be less than 100%, so that is a big swing in favor of the Bengals. Still, the Jets have a very good defense outside of Harris, so they should be able to help pick up the slack. Benson is a good back on third down and short, which will be a key for both teams.

The loss of Chris Henry hurts the Bengals on the field as well, as his size/speed combination was a constant deep threat teams had to worry about. Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell are solid possession receivers, but Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery can match up against them. The Bengals don't have a threat at tight end, so it's hard to see the Bengals moving the ball through the air against the #1 pass defense in the league. They looked overmatched in the first half last week, and while they'll be better Saturday, how much better will they be?

The Jets are the #1 pass defense in the NFL for a good reason. They are a great cover team, and Rex Ryan disguises blitzes to confuse quarterbacks. Palmer is a solid veteran, but he looked a bit off last week, and Ryan will work on doing that again this time around. They just need to be consistent. The Bengals are not a high-powered offense at all, but when they do get deep into Jets' territory, the Jets must keep them out of the endzone to protect their offense and not force them to put up a lot of points. For them to win, Gang Green must be the better defense. And they should be.

Edge: Jets

Special Teams


The Bengals have a slightly better return game, with Bernard Scott and Quan Cosby being effective returning kicks and punts respectively. Brad Smith had one big return against Indianapolis, but that has been the only memorable moment from the return game this season. The Jets also have punting issues, as Steve Weatherford has had hamstring problems the past week and a half. Weatherford punted well last week, but it's a situation to monitor. Jay Feely has been a great kicker this year, but he doesn't have a huge leg. The one wild card could be how well both teams snap and hold as well as kick. Jets fans all have tried to forget the Atlanta game week 15 where the Jets botched three field goals, but the Bengals have had their share of snapping and holding woes early in the season. In cold and possibly wet weather, these issues could flare up.

Edge: Bengals

Prediction

This is a difficult game to predict. The Jets are the better running team and the better pass defense team, and the run defenses are pretty even. The question will be how much will Carson Palmer outplay Mark Sanchez by. If Sanchez is completely ineffective in the cold in his first playoff game against a crowd hoping for its first playoff win since 1990, it wouldn't be surprising. But it would be surprising if Palmer had a big game against Revis and the Jets. This should be a close game, and in a close game, I'll take a better defense and running game, even in a tough situation.

Jets 13, Bengals 9

Jets can't complain about being disrespected

Jets fans constantly complain about being disrespected. 40-plus years without a Super Bowl will do that for you, and with a coach who talks up his team like no other, Jets fans want to believe. This has led to a ton of anti-Jet backlash in the media (Mike Francesa, anyone?), and a lot of angry Jets fans hoping their team can prove the team wrong.

But don't talk about what the Jets have done this year. As Rex Ryan said, the Jets haven't accomplished their goal. The playoffs are not where he wants to be: Ryan wants a Super Bowl winning squad. Now, this team needs to play perfect football to get to that level, but he wants to build a winning atmosphere.

Get the players thinking big now. Forget the losing atmosphere. He knows he has a rookie quarterback. Everyone knows that. When he matures, and once the team adds a couple more pieces, namely a big pass rusher, the Jets will be that caliber of team. Right now, they're a good team with a very good defense and a very good running game. The passing game isn't there, and with a rookie quarterback, it probably never was going to be.

Still, there's a very good chance the Jets can beat this Bengals team on Sunday. The Bengals are a team the Jets can beat. After all, the Jets scored more points and allowed less than Cincinnati this season. The Bengals aren't going to score many points against this defense, and if that's true, there's little reason the Jets can't win this game, or at least be in it until the very end.

And if they do win, we'll take it from there. What every Jets fan must be dreaming for is a win on Saturday and a Baltimore victory in New England. While it would be nice to face the Colts again and see what happens if both teams play all four quarters, the Chargers are a much more appealing matchup. They struggle stopping the run, which could mean the Jets can score some points to support their defense. Win there, and hope the Ravens can upset the Colts, a longshot, but not impossible, and the Jets play at home for the AFC Championship game.

Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away. But it's okay to dream big. That's what your coach wants you to do. Don't get too angry at a loss, but eliminate the defeatist mentality that has permeated this franchise for so long.

And don't think the team has accomplished anything yet, because 9-7 after beating two half-hearted teams the last two games is not much. It's a step in the right direction, but the Jets need a playoff victory to stamp this season a big success. That might not be enough for Ryan, whose bombastic claim that the Jets should be favorites in the "tournament" has caused waves throughout the league, but with a rookie quarterback, I think that would satisfy most sane fans' expectations.

As for on-field news, LB David Harris practiced Thursday after missing the previous two days. This hints even more at Harris playing Saturday, something that seemed to be the feeling around the team yesterday. His ankle is stiff, he says, but he'll give every effort to go on Saturday. Especially after Cedric Benson said he doesn't even know who Harris is.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No Practice for Harris, Still Expected to Play

*LB David Harris missed practice Tuesday, but he will play on Sunday according to Dave Hutchinson. Harris has a mild right ankle sprain suffered in the Bengals game Sunday. He'll probably be listed as questionable, but the early word is that he will start.

*And that's especially good news because his backup, LB Ryan Fowler, suffered a head injury, and we've seen how sensitive an issue concussions have been recently. He practiced, but he wore a red non-contact pinny, so it's unclear if he will play. If for some reason both Harris and Fowler are out, then LB Kenwyn Cummings would be pressed into duty.

*CB Donald Strickland participated in limited practice and could give it a go Saturday. He'll probably be questionable as well.

*The other injury situation to watch is again P Steve Weatherford. He pulled a hamstring last week and barely practiced before playing Sunday. The punting game didn't matter much then, but the Jets won't put up 37 points Saturday, so field position will be critical.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Jets are Going to the Playoffs!

After a crazy season full of twists and turns, the Jets had a chance to win their last game on Sunday Night Football and get into the playoffs against their would-be first-round opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals, and did they put on a show or what?

The Jets slaughtered the Bengals 37-0, running for 257 yards and showing early and often that they weren't going to let this game get away like so many others this season. But while the running game led by Brad Smith gave the Jets some offensive punch, the defense stole the show.

Zero is a great number for a defense, and the Jets put up an astounding number of them last night.

*Zero net passing yards from the Bengals
*Zero passing yards from Carson Palmer on 11 throws
*Zero receptions from the chatty Chad Ochocinco in a half of play. 

But most importantly, Zero points allowed by this defense. Sure, the Bengals were missing a few starters and playing vanilla, but for a half of football, this is still Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, and Andre Caldwell, the bulk of the Bengals' passing game. They did miss Cedric Benson, as well as their starting tight end. But the bulk of the offense played, and they couldn't do a thing against the top ranked Jets' defense.

Those of you who wondered if the Jets would remain the league's best defense in yards, passing yards, and points got your answer Sunday. They forced three turnovers, one against Palmer on an interception by Dwight Lowery near the end of the first half, and two on strip sacks of J.T. O'Sullivan.

The resounding victory sets up a rematch between the two squads Saturday at 4:30 PM. It will be the first game of the playoffs, so it will be a shorter week to wait in anticipation of New York's first playoff game in three years.

What can we take out of this game as far as how the teams match up with each other? It's a little hard to make definitive judgments. Cincinnati had every reason to play close to the vest, and they showed it by pulling their starters in the 3rd quarter. The Jets were clearly the motivated team, and they had a loud crowd to back it up.

Expecting a pounding like this again in Paul Brown Stadium is naive, but there are many reasons to be excited.

Gang Green led 27-0 at halftime, so critics can't even say the Jets pulled away against Cincinnati's backups. The Bengals' starting offense couldn't manage a single first down in the first half on their own. The Jets' pass defense matched up well on paper with the Bengals and it showed. Lock up Darrelle Revis on Chad Ochocinco, and make Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell beat you. And While both are adequate receivers, Dwight Lowery and Lito Sheppard are good enough to cover them. New York has proven time and time again how good its pass defense is, but this 37-0 game topped them all.

Offensively, there are still problems for the Jets. Against Cincinnati, they might be able to win by simply grinding out the football, running the ball with Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene, and Brad Smith behind a top-notch offensive line as they did. But at some point, they will need a passing game, and while Mark Sanchez did what was asked of him by not turning the ball over, the Jets do need to make plays in the passing game in case the defense isn't perfect and just to open up the running game. Still, Sanchez wasn't helped by Braylon Edwards missing a pass just short of the endzone that would have made his day look much better.

The Bengals were missing a few starters on defense, and the Jets figured they could win this game on the ground. Next week, it should be a little slower going, but the direct snap to Smith seemed very effective in this one. The Bengals will study it more, but they still have to tackle him, and the Jets still have yet to employ Smith's ability to throw the ball. That could be another wrinkle next week, which will be a struggle to score points on both sides of the ball.

But in the meantime, it's a day to enjoy the win, and enjoy the fact that the New York Jets were able to send out Giants Stadium in style, something their co-tenants can't claim. The Jets are going to the playoffs, and don't listen to the Mike Francesas of the world who say the Jets don't belong. They won the games they needed to win, and now they are in the playoffs. Sure, the Jets got lucky, and without the Colts laying down, there's a good chance the mood is quite different right now, but the Jets don't owe anything to anybody, and with the #1 ranked defense in the NFL, they can play with anybody in the NFL.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

NFL Picks - Week 17

Last week of the season! 25-23 overall after a 1-2 showing last week. At least the 1 was the one that mattered as the Jets took care of the Colts. Not displeased that the Jaguars got destroyed either. This last week is a bit hard to predict with how hard certain teams will play, but here goes nothing.

New York Giants +8 over Minnesota Vikings
The Giants were horrendous last week, but the Vikings are a mess right now. They picked it up late, but the Giants have a chance to get a winning season and show their fans that they didn't just completely mail it in. Many players will be playing for their jobs next year, and the Giants' passing game is good enough where they can put some points on the board against a reeling Viking secondary.
Vikings 31, Giants 27

Atlanta Falcons -3 over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons have even more incentive to climb over .500 despite being out of the playoffs. Why? Atlanta has NEVER finished back-to-back years above .500, and it's a weight that's been on their chest all year. Losing this game would mean they had to wait an extra year or two. Tampa Bay is coming off back-to-back wins, shockingly enough, but the Falcons won't lay down like their last two opponents.
Falcons 28, Bucs 20

Carolina -7 over New Orleans
The Mark Brunell show will not be pretty for the Saints. Two straight losses are a sign New Orleans is slipping, and Drew Brees on the sideline means the Saints bandwagon has crashed to a halt for now. The Panthers are physical, and they will pound away at the Saints. Matt Moore wants to prove he should be the quarterback next year, so he's plenty motivated. New Orleans would love to end their losing skid, but at this point, staying healthy is key, so the Panthers should roll.
Panthers 28, Saints 17

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Week 17: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets Preview

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets
January 3, 2010, 8:20 PM. NBC-TV. Giants Stadium.

The Jets will attempt to do what the Giants could not, and that is close out the old stadium in style. After a controversial win at 14-0 Indianapolis in which the Colts pulled their starters midway through the 3rd quarter, the Jets may be catching a similar break this week. Cincinnati will likely have nothing to play for except possibly the difference between a #3 and a #4 seed. If the Patriots win early, the Bengals are likely facing a rematch with the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, so they probably want to rest guys and not show too much to their potential first round opponent. As for the Jets, they just want to get in.

When the Bengals have the ball…


Despite a variety of weapons, the Bengals’ offense really hasn’t been too prolific this year. To put it in perspective, Mark Sanchez and the Jets have scored more points this season than Carson Palmer and the Bengals. But what the Bengals do well is have an offense that makes big plays in big situations, complimenting a very good defense very well. Palmer and company have had a number of huge 4th quarter drives to put games away.

Of course, Palmer might not get a chance late to bring his team from behind because Marvin Lewis should pull his starters early. The Bengals don’t have a whole lot to play for, so it may be in their best interest to treat this as a bye week and get ready for a potential rematch next week.

When Palmer is in the game, his primary weapon will be the chatty but talented Chad Ochocinco. The receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson has had a huge bounceback year with 72 catches for 1047 yards and nine touchdowns. As is always the case when a team has a clear-cut number one receiver, the Jets will counter with Darrelle Revis, a matchup Ochocinco has compared to Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao in boxing. Ochocinco is a difficult matchup, but it’s hard to bet against Revis in that one.

Palmer’s other main weapons are former Jet Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell. Coles has been working more out of the slot lately, and while he’s been a bit of a disappointment for the Bengals, you can bet he’ll be going all out against his old team to prove a point. Caldwell has had some big catches this season, but he’s more of a possession receiver and not a gamebreaker.

The Bengals’ bread and butter all season offensively has been the running game. Cedric Benson is one of the few true workhorses in the NFL, averaging 4.2 yards-per-carry for 1251 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He’ll be spelled a lot more in this game by former Chief Larry Johnson and third down back Brian Leonard. The Bengals want to run the ball on teams and control time of possession, just like the Jets.

Cincinnati is mostly a grind-it-out offense that gets yards when it has to. They don’t get a whole lot of big plays, even though Ochocinco is certainly dangerous. The Jets should match up well with them defensively, especially considering we will probably see a lot of J.T. O’Sullivan, Palmer’s backup. He’s turnover-prone, and this defense has made turnover-prone quarterbacks miserable (Curtis Painter, JaMarcus Russell, Jake Delhomme).

Edge: Jets

When the Jets have the ball…


This is it, folks. 15 games into the season, Mark Sanchez is no longer as green as he was when he began, and it’s time for him to help the team win. He did his job admirably last week, not turning the ball over and converting several key first downs when the team needed it. The Jets are a run-first team, but the passing game needs to be effective to take pressure off Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene, and the offensive line.

The Bengals’ run defense is 2nd in the NFL, but they took a hit losing starting linebacker Rey Maualuga last week. The Jets could target his replacement Rashad Jeanty with their two-headed rushing attack. New York is going to try to wear down the Bengals’ front seven, pounding them over and over again. The Jets have done most of their rushing damage in the 4th quarter against worn down defenses, and that very well may be the case again. Of course, the Bengals could make it easier by taking out a number of their starting players.

The Cincinnati defense also offers a pair of talented cornerbacks that can rival any tandem in the NFL in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. They will be locked up with Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards as long as they are in the game. The linebacking corps has also done a solid job against opposing tight ends this year as well, so it’ll be tough to move the ball on this Bengals’ defense through the air.

There’s a reason why the Bengals have won 10 games and are going to the playoffs, and it is their defense. They allow 16.9 points per game, 5th in the NFL, and they are 4th in the NFL in yards allowed. They win a lot of low scoring games based on their defense. The Bengals have 18 interceptions this year and have returned two to the house, and given Sanchez’s season-long struggle to not turn the ball over, you can bet that Hall, Joseph, and the rest of the Bengals are going to be salivating at the chance to score against a rookie quarterback.

The Jets just need to score enough to win this game. The defense should do its job, so not that many points should be needed. Still, Brian Schottenheimer is in a tricky spot. He can't put too much on Sanchez's plate or he might lose the game. But the Bengals' have a good enough run defense where they might need to throw the football to win. The Atlanta game is a perfect example of Schottenheimer's conundrum. The Jets moved the ball up and down the field, but he didn't put Sanchez in many opportunities to throw the ball, so the Jets only put up 7 points and lost the game. Of course, the Jets also missed three field goals, and the defense failed in the end, but the offense needs to put up more points. Schottenheimer is supposedly going to interview for the Bills vacant coaching position after the season, so he's going to want to put a good gameplan together, so he could maybe get that job.

Edge: Bengals

Special Teams


The Jets hadn’t been much of a threat returning kicks and punts until Brad Smith’s record-breaking 106-yard return to start the 2nd half last week. Like the Jets, the Bengals haven’t had much success returning kicks. Bernard Scott has taken one to the house, but he’s missed the last several games. He might return this week, and he could be a wild card to watch. Both Jay Feely and Shayne Graham are good kickers, but the Jets could have punting problems if Steve Weatherford is hobbled at all. The Jets opted not to sign a replacement for Weatherford, who is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Edge: Bengals

Prediction


The Jets are 9.5 or 10 point favorites for a reason. While the two teams match up pretty well to play a close, low-scoring game, Las Vegas does not expect the starters to stay in that long, and neither do I. And why would they? The Bengals can lose this game, get a scrimmage in against their first round playoff opponent, and keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. They have little incentive to play their starters in the 2nd half, where the Jets should be able to pound the football and win the game. It should be close early, but the Jets will pull away late, opening up criticism from the mass media that other teams let the Jets into the playoffs. Screw ‘em. The Jets can only play who is on the field.

Jets 20, Bengals 6

Friday, January 1, 2010

Strickland, Weatherford may not play Sunday

Enough top 10 lists for now, though I'll get back to them soon enough. Let's get some information for Sunday's must-win tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals, starting with some injury notes.

*CB Donald Strickland will miss Sunday's game with a quad injury. Last Sunday, Rex Ryan said Strickland's injury was the only one that might linger, and now he has been ruled out. Dwight Lowery, coming off one of his best games of the season against the Colts, will be the #3 cornerback behind Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard.

*P Steve Weatherford tweaked his hamstring in practice and is now listed as questionable. Weatherford has done a solid job as the team's punter after the Jets rotated guys in and out throughout training camp. The Jets should bring in a few players tomorrow just in case he can't go. The worst case scenario is that K Jay Feely would take the job.

*As for other injuries, DE Shaun Ellis is questionable with an illness but is expected to play as of now, while RB Shonn Greene, QB Mark Sanchez, and OL Robert Turner are all listed as probable and will play.

*One of my favorite stories this week is the back-and-forth between Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco and Revis. Ochocinco's conference call was one of the most hilarious things you will ever read. Ochocinco's offering most of the trash talk, but Revis is getting involved a little. It's all in good fun though. The two are good friends, and reading the conference call, you can see Ochocinco's respect for #24.

*Almost as interesting, Braylon Edwards is calling his shot, saying, "We won't lose this game. We want it too bad." I'll say this, he had better be right. Edwards has a lot to prove as a Jet, with 33 catches, 526 yards, and 4 touchdowns in his 11 games. 3 catches per game is not the impact he needs to make if he wants to earn the salary that he demanded with Cleveland. A lot of his issues have to do with how late he got here and the rookie quarterback tossing him the ball, but he needs to become a more consistent force.

Edwards definitely brings it on Sundays, as he is a load to carry with the ball. But there were a lot of bad things said about him when he left Cleveland, and a lot of them had to do with his practice habits. There's no reason a receiver with his physical skills can't put up numbers similar to what he had in his breakout 2007 season, but that hasn't happened yet. You can't write him off yet, but he needs to be a more consistent playmaker, not round off his routes, and actually catch the ball when it hits him in both hands.

*Now, with just one game left in the season, it's time to take a look at some statistical milestones the Jets can reach this season.

*RB Thomas Jones is 2nd in the AFC in rushing with 1324 yards and 12 touchdowns. He won't lead the league in either category, but he is just 11 yards away from his career high in yards, set in 2005 with Chicago, and he is one touchdown away from tying both his career high and his own single-season Jets record, both set last season with 13.

*QB Mark Sanchez is 119 yards short of 2500 in his rookie year.

*LB Calvin Pace, DE Shaun Ellis, and LB David Harris are battling for the right to be the team's top pass rusher. Pace has 7 sacks, Ellis 6, and Harris 5.5, so any of the three could lead. Pace missed the first four games, making his total more impressive. Harris leads the Jets with 126 tackles, 81 solo.

*LB Vernon Gholston needs one sack to have one in his career. What a bust.

*The Jets defense leads the NFL with 15.7 points allowed per game. Baltimore is 2nd with 16.5, so the Jets should win that category barring a miracle. Same goes for yards allowed, where the Jets are first in 264.3 yards allowed per game. Green Bay is 2nd with 290.9. Finally, the Jets are 1st in passing yards allowed per game with 163.9 yards per game. Denver is 2nd at 184.9.

*Offensively, the Jets' running game will face a stiff test for NFL supremacy. The Jets currently lead with 166.6 yards per game, but Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans are 2nd at 163.9. You can bet the Titans will give Johnson the ball early and often to try to get him the single season rushing record, so Jones and Shonn Greene will need to play well to hold off the Titans. The passing game isn't so hot, though, as only Oakland and Cleveland throw for less yards per game than Sanchez and the Jets. Thank goodness for Eric Mangini yet again.