Hello and oogity-boogity, Jets fans. Happy Halloween. Stephen Haynes back with you this week for the seventh installment of GDL. We've got stats, updates, miscellaneous stuff and, of course, the useless pre-game analysis. So, join us, won't you.
What we have today is a meeting of teams that were among the preseason darlings, both favored by many to make deep playoff runs and possibly emerge from their respective conferences. So we can name this one the “Maybe-Might Be Super Bowl Preview” game.
The Jets, thus far, have left little room for doubt about their prospects. As is, they’re one of the top three teams in the AFC and still have areas in which they can (and probably should) improve. Mark Sanchez has been solid, but the passing offense can become more consistent, if not explosive, if Santonio Holmes finds a rhythm and gets comfortable in the system. The defense, top-rated last year, has the talent to improve greatly on its ranking (22nd against the pass giving up 229 yards per game). There might be progress on both of those fronts with the Jets coming off a bye: extra time for Holmes and extra rest for Darrelle Revis. The cornerback, who’s dealt with a nagging hamstring since Week 2, said he’s now fully recovered. If Revis can remain healthy and approximate his performance last year, there’s no reason the Jets’ pass defense can’t be elite - even without much of a pass rush, which should also pick up going forward with Calvin Pace’s improved health.
The Packers, off to a 4-3 start, have disappointed somewhat and they’ve lost three games by three points. Aaron Rodgers has been good, but his season to this point hasn’t been as good as the previous two (he’s already thrown more interceptions than last year). Running back Ryan Grant is lost and Green Bay’s offensive line, again, has started the season struggling with pass blocking. Their defense, which relied heavily on big plays last year, hasn’t been getting as many turnovers. Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, 34, hasn’t been as much of a playmaker and murmurs about him being moved from cornerback to safety have started again - though that’s unlikely to happen this year. Actually, their problems are kind of like the Saints’. The Packers are fortunate the Vikings and Bears have fallen short of expectations, leaving the division wide open for them. And regardless of what they’ve shown to this point, Green Bay is loaded and capable of giving it to any team.
[Blogger’s opinion: I do expect the Packers to play well today and I think it’ll be a close game with both offenses in the 20s, despite the swirling winds.]
The Jets are riding a five-game winning streak. The last time they won six in a row was the 1998 season.
The Jets and Packers last squared off in December 2006 and the Jets won, 38-10. How different were the teams? Cedric Houston led the Jets with 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Brett Favre (214 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) had 33 yards on the ground.
Both teams are jockeying for leverage against rivals in their divisions and could get some help. The Patriots can help the Packers bury the Vikings in the NFC North and Minnesota can help the Jets maintain or extend their lead in the AFC East. The Patriots are also 5-1 but the Jets beat them head-to-head.
Sanchez is coming off a shaky performance against the Broncos; a game which the Jets were lucky to win. The quarterback made some poor decisions and threw his first two interceptions of the season (and could’ve had another). He’s very analytical and has probably gone over that film a bunch during the time off, looking to learn from the mistakes. It’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back from that. Something else to look for will be how he handles the whipping Meadowlands winds. It’s quite autumnal today. In his first experience with the high winds last year, a 16-13 overtime loss at home to the Bills, Sanchez had balls sail high or get blown off target. He was 10-for-29 with 119 yards and threw a career-worst five interceptions. How will he and Brian Schottenheimer adjust?
The Packers and Rodgers are more used to playing with gusts and chills (in Green Bay and Chicago). If their offense is clicking like it can, is the Jets’ offense now able to adapt and keep up?
From the “duh!” department: run effectively and fairly often. Against an offense that can score a lot, and quickly, the Jets should try to slow the game down and hog the ball like the big kids in the schoolyard. As well, it would limit the number of times they have to attempt throws against the wind. The Packers are giving up 5.12 yards per carry off the left side of their 3-4 defense. That's at defensive end Jarius Wynn and left outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The other defensive end, Cullen Jenkins, is hobbled with a bad calf. Green Bay is letting up 4.43 YPC up the middle, which looks favorable for the Jets behind center Nick Mangold. But B.J. Raji is a massive nose tackle at 340 pounds, so Mangold will have his work cut out for him. Look for the Jets to attack the edges and have Mangold do some pulling around the ends.
LaDainian Tomlinson, averaging 5.3 YPC this season, last went against the Packers in 2007. He was held to just 62 yards on 22 carries (2.8 YPC), but did have 33 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.
Just an educated guess, but the Jets might look to limit the number of downfield throws to the outside because of the wind. Go easy on the deep comebacks, 12-yard hitches and deep corner routes. They might work the middle of the field more and throw underneath (slants, crossing patterns, intermediate in-routes, short curls). That could also pose a challenge since the Packers’ linebackers, even without Nick Barnett, are a fast and athletic group. Outside linebacker A.J. Hawk isn’t an ideal fit for their 3-4, but he has good speed and can run with Dustin Keller. Look for Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery to work the slots on some short passes.
Sanchez will have to be conscious of getting rid of the ball on time. Green Bay’s defense is third in the league with 22 sacks and LOLB Clay Matthews - one of those edge rushing hybrid LB/DEs in the DeMarcus Ware mold – leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks. He’ll pose a challenge for RT Damien Woody and the backs/tight ends assigned to chip him or stay in for pass protection.
The Packers have, if not the best, then certainly the deepest wide receiver group. Donald Driver has been slowed by a quad injury and his streak of consecutive games with a reception was snapped last week. Still, there’s Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, all of whom have big-play, yards-after-catch ability. And let us not forget that, before JerMichael Finley (now on IR) emerged and usurped him with his off-the-chart talent, Donald Lee was a budding star at tight end. They’ve also got talented rookie Andrew Quarless (Uniondale) at the position, who caught a touchdown last week against the Vikings. Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin are aggressive play-callers. The Jets secondary will have to be on-point and mix up the coverages.
Rookie Bryan Bulaga is starting at right tackle in place of the injured Mark Tauscher. The Jets should be able to attack him with Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor.
Rodgers isn’t a scrambler, but he is mobile (can run for a couple first downs) and likes to break the pocket and roll to his right. They’ll have to watch out for that.