Breaking Down the Jets vs the Lions
After the post bye week blues got the best of the Jets for the second year in a row, the team will head out on the road and try to turn the tide back in their favor as they face the surprisingly explosive Detroit Lions.
Jets Offense vs. Lions Defense
While nobody is going to mistake the Detroit Lions for a good defense, they have finally begun to make strides after years of being a laughingstock. The change has been sparked by the play of DT Ndamukong Suh, the most promising prospect at the position since Warren Sapp. Suh is a physical beast at the point of attack and already has 7 sacks on the season, an unheard of number for the position. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch has given the team an edge rusher that teams have to account for on every play. Detroit likes to use the versatility of their linemen to try different formations up front to confuse the offensive line and get to the QB. This pass rush is really the key to the entire Lions defense. The secondary is a patchwork group of young players who failed elsewhere that is led by CB Alphonso Smith. Smith, who came over in a trade from the Broncos, is a good athlete that has the ability to be a playmaker when he catches the ball. He can also get outmuscled by bigger receivers and sometimes will take chances that he should not take leading to big plays for the opposition. Former Falcon CB Chris Houston is an average coverage player while the backups such as Jonathan Wade have been poor at times. The Safeties give the defense limited help. The run defense is a big problem. The line is not great at filling the running lanes and is often found out of position on plays as they go for the QB and watch a runner go right by them. None of the linebackers do well to read plays and make stops at the line, often making stops while going back rather than moving forward. They hope to get a boost from the return of MLB DeAndre Levy from injury. The left side is in a state of flux with the team trying to find a starter between Ashlee Palmer and Bobby Carpenter. In general the defense will do as well as the defensive line does. The Lions will attempt to focus on the run early and hope that they will be successful to force teams into a pass first offense. Once teams fall into that trap, the Lions bring the heat with the front 4 and have a good chance at creating a turnover and putting the team in a position to win the game.
If the Jets players are smart they need to take last weeks game and simply throw it out as one of those days where nothing goes right. The Jets were due for a game like that after weeks of putting up way more points than their offensive output suggested. Just like how the Jets may not have been as good as the 26+ PPG average showed they are nowhere near as bad as last weeks shutout effort. The only real concern is where is the head of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez had a bad game last week and with the interception count beginning to pile up the press has finally taken notice that his accuracy has been awful this season. There are some people just waiting for the 5 interception implosion at this point. This is a very important stretch of games for the young QB to show some improvement and keep those interception totals low. He needs to work with the coaching staff on how to spread the football around. Since WR Santonio Holmes has returned to the lineup, the passing game seems to go through these streaks where Sanchez exclusively targets a receiver for a few plays and then never looks his way again. The receivers are all having problems catching the football and that is a lack of concentration on their part. The biggest disappointment of the season has been WR Jerricho Cotchery who looks nothing like the player that became a big fan favorite in 2006. Last week may have been his worst week yet with multiple crucial drops in the game. He has been so bad the Jets should think of taking him out of games more until he figures out whatever his problem is. The talent is there in the receiving corps. but the results are just not there. The running game has shown some bad signs these last two weeks and it will be interesting to see how RB LaDainian Tomlinson rebounds. After a really fast start, Tomlinson has started to look a tiny bit slower these last two weeks and if he has one or two more games like this people may begin to wonder if the miracle run is over. The team should consider using RB Shonn Greene, who has basically become a 8 carry per game player, more to make sure he is prepared to take over if LT falters.
If the Jets go into this game with the same plan as last week the offense could be in for another rough week. The Jets have to make a conscious effort to establish the run against the Lions to take the pass rush out of the game. If the Jets decide to pass the ball 40 times Sanchez is going to have a hard time unless the offensive line plays out of it's mind. There will be a number of interesting battles in the trenches this week. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson is playing as well as any tackle in the NFL and is familiar with Vanden Bosch from all the games against the Titans since his rookie year. Detroit is probably going to try to use Vanden Bosch in some different ways to get him away from Ferguson, possibly lining him as an OLB at times hoping that a running back or TE is forced to pick him up. The Lions will be very active moving Suh around to match him up against many different players. One would assume their key matchup is Suh vs. LG Matt Slauson and the Jets must be aware to run away from that every time the matchup occurs. The Jets will need a better game from C Nick Mangold who was flagged twice last week and has not been the same dominant player this year, perhaps due to a lingering shoulder injury. Sanchez also needs to be more decisive with the football and make his reads quicker. He is getting himself in trouble by hoping for a play to develop down the field and then when its not there the Jets end up gaining nothing and putting themselves in a bad position on the following play. He needs to focus this week on Edwards and Keller rather than Holmes and Cotchery. The Jets should try to get Tomlinson to the edges early in the game to see where he is in terms of speed and ability to turn the corner. If he does not look like he will be the player from the first four games of the season they have to find out early and then proceed to use a 50/50 split between he and Greene the rest of the way. The run game has underperformed two weeks in a row and if it happens for a third week against another poor run defense the warning light is going to go off. The offense will need to score at least in the mid 20s to win this game.
Jets Defense vs. Lions Offense
Somewhere along the way the Lions have become an offensive machine putting up more points than any team in the NFC. Having the best wide receiver in the game certainly has helped in that regard. WR Calvin Johnson is a huge target that is a monster play threat on every single snap. Johnson is built in the mold of Randy Moss and looks to be the heir apparent to Moss as the next “greatest WR to play the game”. Johnson catches everything, can be very physical, and normally draws two or three in coverage. He has 7 touchdowns in his last 4 games. Besides Johnson the offense really has nothing of name value. Their second leading receiver is TE Brandon Pettigrew, who is strictly an underneath receiever, and their third best receiver is another TE, Tony Scheffler. WR's Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson are disappointments that contribute little. Though rookie RB Javid Best started out with a few touchdown runs early in the year, the running game is non existent. Best is a good receiver and one of the favorite check down targets in the offense. The offensive line is nothing special, and picks up a number of penalties trying to protect the QB. The team is still waiting to see how far QB Matt Stafford, the number 1 pick in the 2009 draft, has come in his second season. Stafford is a tough player that completed a game last season with his arm basically dangling off his body, but he has the look of being a major injury risk. Stafford missed 6 games due to injury as a rookie and has already missed 5 games this year from an injury suffered against the Bears in week 1. Stafford has a very strong arm, but right now is being told to play it very safe unless he sees Johnson in limited coverage down the field. The team claims they will open the offense more, but as long as they continue to have success by converting in the red zone and scoring points they will likely keep the offense safe for the young QB.
For the first time this season the Jets defense looked like the group that dominated the NFL last year. The Jets have had two big weaknesses this year, and the primary one was the issue of giving up the untimely big passing play. Last week was the first week the Jets, who are consistently holding opposing QB's to well below their norms in completion percentage, eliminated those big plays, which resulted in the Packers only scoring 6 actual points during the game. CB Darrelle Revis claimed to be 100% and did look far better last week. The Jets eventually trusted him enough to play man on man against WR Greg Jennings and the Packers rarely looked his way once that happened. The secondary is getting contributions from a number of players including CB's Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery. Both players looked to be very buried on the depth charts when the season began but both are valuable contributors in the pass defense. If Revis is healthy and CB Antonio Cromartie continues his strong play it is likely the Jets defense will shave a least a field goal off their points against average. The run defense continues to be stellar and is led by the contributions of ILB's Bart Scott and David Harris. Both players really have a nose for the football, read run plays perfectly, and are very aggressive when meeting the runner head on. The linemen have all played wonderful football and the Jets are rotating players in and out to keep players fresh and the opposition off balance. DE Trevor Pryce has actually been a welcome surprise in his contributions thus far. The other issue that plagues the team is their lack of pass rush. The OLB group of Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Jason Taylor all need to play better. Pace and Taylor's jobs are to pressure the QB, but neither has done anything the last two games. The Jets may be tinkering too much with where they are lining up, specifically Taylor who seemed to be over the center very often last week, but they have to find someone else to rush the passer. Harris seems to be getting more leeway to spy on pass plays and then attack when he sees the opening.
If the Jets can bring the same physical presence that they brought to the game last week they will have a major advantage in stopping the Lions. Detroit does not do well against teams that simply push them around and play hard aggressive football. Their weakest games have come against the Bears, Vikings, and Giants all teams that hit hard and have ways to get to the QB. It is doubtful that the Lions will run much in the game so the Jets have to use that to their advantage and get the blitz packages ready. The complex blitzing is something that the Lions have not seen much of and loading up the left side will take advantage of the biggest weak areas on the Lions line. Of course the most intriguing matchup will be Revis taking on Johnson. This is the type of matchup that put Revis in the headlines last season. If Revis is back to form he will be holding Johnson to something like 2 catches with an interception. However, if Revis does not look like he can handle the physical Johnson the Jets will need to put the egos aside and put Cromartie on him with help over the top. With the Lions often utilizing two pass catching Tight Ends the Jets may even consider using Cromartie there rather than on Burleson. Though the TE coverage has been much better since S Brodney Pool returned to the lineup, there could be some concern about covering two players out there, especially since S Jim Leonhard is so small compared to these players. The Jets defense has to set the tone early this week and let the Lions know that they are not going to settle for a shootout. The Jets need to let them know they are in for a war this week and see if Lions decide to back down.
The Lions will field one of the better special teams squads when they meet the Jets on Sunday. Their coverage teams are very good and 40 year old K Jason Hanson is extremely reliable especially in the dome. Stefan Logan is a deadly return player. He has one kickoff return for a TD and nearly broke a punt return as well. His numbers place him right near the top of the NFL in both categories and has been a major factor in the Lions success this year.
Special teams was a nightmare for the Jets last week which started with a terrible decision by P Steve Weatherford to try an ill advised fake punt deep in his own territory. K Nick Folk badly missed a field goal that would have given the Jets a good chance to at least tie the game. The coverage teams were not great and the Jets failed to flip field position with their punts or their punt returns. KR Brad Smith continued his streak of good play and was the lone bright spot on a bad day.
Jim Schwartz has the unenviable task of turning the Lions franchise around and looks to be on the right track to doing just that. They have already matched their win total from last season and are very competitive in most games. His players do not quit on him and they don't quit on themselves if they fall behind in games. His teams are heavily penalized, but he is still working with a group of players that would not start on many other NFL teams so that is not entirely his fault. He will be trying to use comments made by the Jets head coach as motivation for a team that is coming off a high from a big win last week.
Rex Ryan was embarrassed by last weeks game, but has to keep his emotions in check this week and let the game come naturally to the team. Ryan has already proclaimed that there is no way the Lions offense is putting up a lot of points on his defense, a motivational ploy used to draw attention from his poor offensive performance and make people focus on the defense. How well that works remains to be seen. Ryan has had a week to look over the poor in game decisions he and his staff made last week from challenges to in game adjustments and will hopefully be better prepared this week when unforeseen circumstances arise.
Perhaps one of the big stories going into this game is just where is the Sanchez' head after the last game. Is he losing his confidence or is he able to let the pressure and media criticism bounce off him? Sanchez is going to have additional pressure on him this week as he matches up against the one QB taken above him in the draft and he knows if he is outplayed in the game what the beat writers will be saying about him. Rex Ryan has put a ton of pressure on Sanchez to perform and he needs to bounce back as he did against New England after the teams last loss.
The one thing that would worry me about the game is if the Jets come into the game arrogant. Arrogance is the one thing that hurt the team last season when things got bad. Rather than giving some credit to the opposition or taking some blame on themselves they went into games thinking they would steamroll a team and ended up losing the game. They have seemed like a different team this year, but this was the first time where Ryan started with the “were better than the team we lost to” type of speeches and that did not work that well last season. There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance and the Jets often walk a fine line between the two.
Just like last weeks game against a NFC opponent you can't call this a must win game, but its an important game for a number of reasons. The Jets have to keep pace with New England, who now has to be considered the favorite in the AFC East. The team can't afford to have to make up an extra game against the Patriots. This is also a game of major importance to psyche of Sanchez and maybe a few others on the team who were not here for last years run. Despite the fact that the Lions are a better team than they have been in years past there is still a stigma attached to them. A loss to the Lions is mentally like losing to one of the worst teams in football. If Sanchez loses this game the consequences could be large in the future.
The bye week problems should be behind the team this week. The Jets are the better team and one loss does not change the fact that they are one of the better teams on the NFL. The Jets are too physical for this Lions team. Look for the team to look to jump up early and force the Lions to play from behind and beat the Jets defense. All the negativity of this past week will disappear on Sunday.
Jets 31 Lions 13