Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bears
After the big win in Pittsburgh the Jets travel to Chicago where they can clinch their sport in the playoffs.
Jets Offense vs. Bears Defense
Playing the Bears is not significantly different than playing the Steelers in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Like the Steelers they rush the QB well and they have one of the best run defenses in the NFL. They give up a number of passes underneath but guard the long ball well and live off their ability to create turnovers in the secondary caused by pressures up front. The defensive play begins with all pro DE Julius Peppers. Peppers is one of the most dominant players in the NFL. He is one of those players that requires two and sometimes three people to watch on every play. He can do anything in the game from run defense to dropping back and picking off a pass in addition to delivering crushing hits on a QB. Everyone benefits from his presence. DE Israel Idonije is having a career season with 8 sacks while the DT tandem of Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams do a fine job of collapsing the middle and forcing runners to change directions. The player most associated with this generation of Bears defense is LB Brian Urlacher, now in his 11th season with the team. Urlacher is still an excellent tackler with extremely good football instincts. He is being used in some blitzes this season as well and remains one of the better MLB's in the league. There will be two question marks surrounding him as both OLB's Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa are injured. Briggs hurt his shoulder in last weeks game but is likely to play this week. Tinoisamoa has missed the last three games and is more likely to be sat down for this game. The secondary is pure cover two players. You will never see a defender anywhere near the receiver. They will be dropping back into zones and trying to read the QB and jumping on the ball when its in the air. The best coverage player is veteran CB Charles Tillman who is a savvy player that can come up with big plays on the football. He isn't dangerous like he once was but he knows where to go once the ball is in the air. S Danieal Manning and S Chris Harris are the safety valves that provide the deep support and makes sure nothing goes too far. Harris has come on very strong of late with 4 interceptions in his last 6 games.
The Jets players really needed a game like the one they had in Pittsburgh. While they did not score a high number of points they moved the ball well and played a much more efficient game than we had seen in recent weeks. This week might be tougher as the offense is battling some injuries, in particular QB Mark Sanchez who has suffered a cartilage tear in his shoulder. These type of injuries are particularly troublesome to Jets fans because of the long history of shoulder problems faced by former Jet starter Chad Pennington. It is the type of injury that Sanchez should be able to play through with minimal, if any, short term effects but the concern is going to be long term prognosis which probably will not be known until after the season ends. Sanchez played a gutsy game last week and did an excellent job of quickly passing the ball to his wide receivers. The Jets are going to be very cautious with Sanchez and if he has a problem warming up prior to the game he will likely be replaced by veteran QB Mark Brunell. Brunell is long removed from being effective, but with a game to play with the Jets will take their chances rather than play with Sanchez health. Sanchez was helped immensely last week by the play of his offensive line, who, as a group, had their best game since the Viking game. Sanchez went virtually untouched on the day and most importantly they created opportunities for RB Shonn Greene and RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson still has that burst when there is a hole that allows him to cut to lead to a big gain, while Greene will grab a consistent four or five yards when he has an opening. WR Braylon Edwards had a career type day in his hundred yard effort against the Steelers. He took some hellacious hits over the middle of the field but held onto everything and was the MVP of the game. It was the kind of game that would probably have reminded people of Keyshawn Johnson in his Parcells years with New York going up and making tough grabs over the middle of the field in addition to blocking down the field in the run game. If the Jets can get that type of production out of Edwards these next few weeks they have a chance to make noise in the playoffs. With his size he is an impossible cover over the middle of the field. WR Santonio Holmes is the other injury concern. He has turf toe which will not impede his ability to suit up and play, but could hamper his ability to make sharp cuts when he grabs the football. TE Dustin Keller is having another rough end to the season and needs to find his way open more often.
Clearly the key matchups here come on the offensive line. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has not given up many sacks this season but has been credited with allowing some pressures and will have the tough task of matching up with Peppers most of the afternoon. If Peppers dominates Ferguson the way DE Mario Williams of the Texans did late in their game against New York it will be a long afternoon for the Jets. Because of the injury to RT Damien Woody the Jets were using some unbalanced line formations and shifting a lot of help towards that side of the line, which may be tough to do this week because of Peppers. That is going to put a great deal of pressure on T Wayne Hunter to play well. If the DE's of the Bears collapse the pocket it will be a tough day for NY. While Sanchez has been good at evading pressure all season, Peppers is an entirely different player and it will not work against him. The defense could be confusing to Sanchez and pressures will probably lead to picks. The teams that have done well against Chicago are those who are decisive with the football and quickly make their reads. If Brunell gets the nod, the question is whether or not he can physically play at the NFL level anymore. Being a lefty it would also put significantly more pressure on Turner to block his blindside. If Holmes can play close to 100% he is the guy to really look for in the passing game. He is going to be left open underneath and if the Jets can hit him on the move it is not going to be easy to catch up to him once he gets his legs moving. Holmes worked a lot in the preseason with Brunell so they are also familiar with one another in the event of the QB switch. He should be the Jets biggest advantage on offense. Edwards can be used as a possession receiver but probably will not make the deep play impact that is typical with his game. The important point is that the Jets quickly figure out where the front of the zone ends and the back zone begins so they can maximize their chances for yards after the catch. The Jets are probably going to be leaving in extra players to block which means Tomlinson, Keller, and WR Jerricho Cotchery will probably not be very active in the game. In the run game look for the Jets to attack Idonije especially if the Bears do not play their usual line backing group. This is a week where the fullback position could play a bigger role off draw plays where FB Tony Richardson will be asked to meet Urlacher head on.
Jets Defense vs. Bears Offense
The Bears are certainly not going to scare anyone on the offensive side of the football. The offense is really built around the talents of one player and that is QB Jay Cutler. From a physical standpoint Cutler is extremely talented. He has a cannon for an arm and can make every throw in the book. However, he is still grasping the concept of playing winning football. He struggled for a few years in Denver learning how to win and last season was a catastrophe in Chicago, but he is slowly settling into the role of being a leader of a winning team. Cutler does not handle pressure well and is very mistake prone in those situations, but things have together for him better these last few weeks where he is being asked to manage the offense rather than carry the load. RB Matt Forte is the real workhorse of the offense. He has been on a tear of late, averaging over 6 yards a carry in his last three games, but is normally not a big play threat. Forte is the type of player that the Bears will run at you over and over again and he is a consistent yardage, but not a big play, guy. Forte is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. RB Chester Taylor will receive about a third of the carries and normally is no concern. His career has been in a tailspin for two seasons. The wide receiving group is among the least imposing in the league. While they do have speed there is no size in the group and no real number 1 or even number 2 talent. Johnny Knox is the leading receiver and one of the faster players in the NFL, but there is nothing special about him. He is usually good for one big play a game. Devin Hester is famous for his kick return skills but he has yet to develop into a wideout or find ways to use his speed in the open field. Earl Bennett has the best hands of the group and is the most polihed player. He is coming on in recent weeks. TE Greg Olsen is the teams check down option. The biggest problem with the Bears has been the offensive line which may be the worst in the NFL. It is well known that the team runs a scheme that can be a QB killer and that has been the case this year. In 8 of Cutlers 13 games he has been sacked at least 3 times. The starting tackles are the worst in the NFL. LT Frank Omiyale has already given up 13.5 sacks while RT J'Marcus Webb has allowed 9.5. The line has played a bit better of late, specifically in the interior run game. They have also adjusted the offense to feature shorter drops by the QB to get the ball out of his hands before he can get hit.
The only thing to say about the Jets defense is that they are very inconsistent. A week after dominating the Miami Dolphins they were shredded by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Third down continues to be a major issue for the team. They generate no pass rush and the coverage breaks down which allows a team to convert 3rd and 10 as if it was 3rd and 1. Last week also represented the first time in the season where the run defense went south, which is hopefully just a one week aberration. The one thing that is clear is that the Jets lack speed on the outside and depth across the line. Without the services of DT/DE Trevor Pryce the Jets were forced to used DE Shaun Ellis on a far greater number of plays and start bumping down guys like LB Bryan Thomas back onto the line. Not only did it not work but the players looked slow and unprepared for the added work. OLB Calvin Pace just looks slow on the outside. Maybe it is due to injury, but that penchant for taking plays off is a knock that followed him back in Arizona. OLB Jason Taylor shows his age, but is the best option they have to take a number of snaps at the position. Generally the play of the secondary has been good when they are in man coverage, but they seem to be easily confused in zone. The opposing QB numbers are consistently poor, but in key spots the secondary is breaking down. The weak link is CB Drew Coleman in the slot along with whomever lines up at safety. Last week there were also tackling problems by both CB Antonio Cromartie and CB Darrelle Revis. Revis has completely rounded into form and is no longer thrown on, with teams deciding to play 10 on 10 rather than worry about Revis picking off a pass. If the Jets make the playoffs it will be interesting to see how teams with elite level QB's treat him.
Many of these Jets should be familiar with Cutler. He is the guy that began the derailment in 2008 when he came into the Meadowlands and stuck it to the Jets. He was a very cocky player then and this will be a chance for some payback for some of the players. The Jets are going to be preaching 3 keys to this game. The primary one is to rush the passer. The Jets can not afford to keep playing these teams and never touching the QB. Right now the team is in a position where their best pass rush is coming from the secondary, which is fine for a few plays but will never generate the consistent pressure needed to rattle the QB. Not only does front 7 pressure lead to sacks and hurries, but it also leads to big holding penalties against poor offensive lines such as this one. You have to hit Cutler if you want to beat him. Taylor and Pace have to have better games this week. It is a necessity. The second key goes hand in hand with the first and that is to capitalize on mistakes. Cutler may have the worst ball security skills in the NFL. He gets hit and the ball will come out. The Jets have to make sure they aim for the ball and then pick it up when it hit’s the ground. Cutler also makes awful decisions under duress. People compare him to Brett Favre for a number of reasons and one is that desire to try to prove he can make every throw. The Jets do not create turnovers in the secondary and have to start doing it. This is a good week to get some chances. Finally the Jets have to constantly keep one set of eyes on Forte. LB David Harris has been phenomenal in his pass defense against running backs and he will have a big test this week when matched against Forte. If you eliminate Forte from both the passing game and running game it becomes strictly a game of field position and turnovers. Because the Bears don't have the same level of offensive talent as many other teams the Jets have faced they may be able to blitz more and generate pressure that way. If there is a game where you can bring in DE Vernon Gholston and just let him have a go at the QB it is this one. Maybe he can finally get his one sack. Revis could make a difference this week. With Cutler's sometimes arrogant behavior and the offensive coordinators belief that he can outsmart anyone it could be a situation where they actually throw on Revis. This is one of those games where Revis should just lineup on Cutler's strong side and challenging the team to just avoid one half of the field. Revis has been waiting on a big play this season and Cutler could give him the opportunity.
It does not get much better than the Chicago Bears. There is nothing that can be said about Devin Hester that has not already been said. He the greatest punt returner in the history of the NFL. What he has done is amazing. Most great ones are either consistent for years or have that one outstanding season with a number of returns for scores and then never reach that level again. Hester is consistent for years and every year has those outstanding returns for touchdowns. Why anyone even kicks to him is a big question. Hester is also dangerous on kick returns, but most of those go to S Danieal Manning who is also excellent in his own right. Manning is a bit like the Jets Brad Smith in that he does not have that “wow factor” but always seems to come up with these returns that end up at the 40 or 50 yard line. K Robbie Gould has a leg has the ability to make long field goals, but is a bit inconsistent. P Brad Maynard has the weakest leg in the NFL. The Bears coverage teams, specifically on kickoffs, is poor.
The Jets special teams had an outstanding game last week. Smith began the game with a score which probably helped the Jets offense play with a lot less pressure. P Steve Weatherford was a game changer with his punts and the coverage units did an outstanding job of downing punts deep inside Steeler territory. Even K Nick Folk did his job with no concerns last week. A real battle in this game will be the Jets punting and kicking game versus the Bears return game. Weatherford's ability to pin a team deep is a major part of the Jets strategy, but this may be a game where he has to avoid the field of play due to Hester. Folk has to find a way to get better distance on his kickoffs this game. The Jets can ill afford the Bears getting to play the game beyond the 35 every time Folk kicks the ball off. Expect Smith to get at least one big 30+ yard return on the day to put the offense in good position.
Lovie Smith is one of the more conservative coaches in the NFL, but realized his job was in danger and decided to bring in his old friend Mike Martz to design a more daring offense to utilize Jay Cutler. Though the offense still has major problems, overall it has worked for Smith who is the first coach to clinch a division title in the year. Smith knows that people doubt his team due to the fact that they have four bad losses and have faced one of the easier schedules in the NFL Smith will have the task of keeping the team focused on these next two weeks and the potential for a bye week by winning out. After beating the Vikings last week and the Packers on tap in week 17, this has all the makings of a trap game that Smith has to avoid.
Nothing is ever quiet on the Jets coaching front it seems and this week was no different with Rex Ryan being taken to task for some videos he and his wife had placed on the internet years ago. The story has to be a distraction for the coach whose personal life is being blasted across major media outlets. While it does not likely effect his players it certainly is reasonable to think it will hurt his preparation for the game. His team only needs one more win to make the playoffs and it will probably be up to him on if it is worth starting Sanchez this week or putting it all on the line at home in week 17 against the Bills. There were clearly changes made last week on offense in regards to the gameplan which most fans are curious to see if they were permanent or just a one week gameplan.
While the odds are now strongly in favor of the Jets making the playoffs regardless of the outcome of their next two games I believe it's a big positive to earn your way into the playoffs off a win to help build your confidence up. That is exactly what sparked the Jets last season when they manhandled the Bengals and with potential trips to Indianapolis or San Diego you want to go into the playoffs playing your best football of the season.
A win this week also takes some pressure off of Ryan due to his off the field matters. No matter what the reason for the loss the finger will be pointed on Ryan not being prepared for the game. If he has his somewhat normal game mistakes, such as the ten men on the field penalties or the poor use of timeouts, their contribution to the loss will be magnified in the press. Reporters will be hounding players about the prep work for the week and if they felt the coaching staff did not put them in the best position to win. At that point it goes from an embarrassing personal moment to a team wide distraction.
This is certainly a winnable game for the Jets. One of the reasons the Jets won the game last week was because they kept the football out of the hands of the Steelers defense. That facet of the game is so important to Pittsburgh that it becomes very hard for them to win games when they do not get those turnovers. The Bears are the same way. If Sanchez or Brunell play a mistake free game the Jets should win the game. If they can take advantage of the Bears mistakes they should win it without those last minute worries of a team driving the field for the winning score as time expires.
11 wins would be a big number for the franchise. While they will likely be eliminated from winning the division it still gives the team a chance at 12 wins, which would tie the most wins in franchise history and be the best record in over a decade for the franchise. While the goal was set for the best record in the NFL, getting to 12 wins on the year is the sign of a pretty good season. 12 wins is often the total for teams that have the best chance at the Super Bowl and in such a parity filled league a pretty big accomplishment. If this is a goal for the Jets you will see it early in this game.
Expect a very close to the vest game by both teams, especially the Jets if Sanchez is out, that is going to come down to special teams and turnovers. As long as the Jets are smart enough to punt away from Hester they should have the advantage in both categories which gives them the slight advantage this week as they clinch their wildcard spot and get ready for the playoffs. Happy Holidays everyone.
Jets 20 Bears 16