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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Panthers

Having fallen to 4-6 and in a major hole, the Jets will likely be entering evaluation mode and setting a realistic goal of finishing the season strong and trying to get back to 0.500. That journey starts this week as they welcome in the disappointing 4-6 Carolina Panthers who just one year ago were considered the 2nd best team in the NFC.

Jets Offense vs. Panthers Defense

The Panthers used to be known as a defensive team, but injuries and age have taken their toll. The Panthers problems begin right up front where DE Julius Peppers has been totally ineffective since breaking his hand against the Saints. If healthy Peppers is one of the elite players in the NFL, but he was relegated last week to just passing situations. Tyler Brayton will start at the other DE due to an injury to Charles Johnson and the ancient Hollis Thomas mans the inside of the line. The biggest injury of the year may have been to LB Thomas Davis who was a force in the run game. Without Davis the run defense has gone from bad to worse and teams that get to the outside are shredding them. MLB Jon Beason is an animal in the run game with great range and the ability to lay a big hit onto a ball carrier. He is becoming one of the top all around players at the position. Carolina’s secondary does a good job eliminating downfield plays and is very good at playing the ball in the air. Richard Marshall is having a good season at corner and rookie Sherrod Martin is making a statement that he is a ball hawk at safety. Since being put in the starting lineup Martin has had 3 interceptions and 4 passes defensed. CB Chris Gamble has some bouts of inconsistency but is a strong tackler once the reception is made.

Well it was another one of those bad weeks for Mark Sanchez and he will be looking to bounce back. Sanchez had his worst game yet, which is saying something considering how bad he was against Buffalo. At least in the Bills game there was the excuse of poor conditions, but there were no such excuses in New England. Sanchez made terrible decisions with the football and tried to do way too much. He never looked to be on the same page as his receivers whenever the receiver had an option as to where he would go and now he is bearing the brunt of the criticisms for the teams lack of wins. Is that fair? Probably not, but he has to begin showing signs of improvement to quiet the fans and media in the offseason. The Jets need to do more to try to protect their QB in the pocket. He did get roughed up last week by a team that does not usually get to the QB. Some of it is Sanchez’ fault, but the line play is spotty at times. The need for a true blocking tight end is becoming noticeable as both tackles could use the help at times. Ben Hartsock has been a poor addition due to the penalties which limit’s the time he can see on the field. If the hits continue the Jets may consider keeping two backs in on some passing downs to help with the pickups. Braylon Edwards had a quiet game last week and there are media folks speculating that he is starting to become unhappy in the offense. Edwards has opened the field up for both Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller, but the Jets will likely try to get Edwards more involved in the passing game to keep teams guessing. Keller has come alive these last few games and while he has some drops he looks to have gotten over whatever was making him play so poorly early in the year. Thomas Jones knows that this could be his swan song with the team. The closer the team moves to trying to evaluate the young talent the less carries he is going to get. Jones has not done great these past two games, but he is a safer option than Shonn Greene who has only had one big carry since the Raiders game. With the Jets potentially being in a position to draft a big time runner next year they have to see what they have in Greene before making that leap.

This is the same story we have seen over and over the last few years with this team and it makes you worry about what the Jets chances are on offense. Carolina is a team that you beat by running and having a controlled short passing game. That should play into the Jets offensive strengths, but every time we see them match up with this style of team they end up playing right into the strength of the defense rather than their own strengths. This is exactly what happened in the Bills and Jaguars games earlier in the year. Instead of attacking short, they immediately when on a deeper pass attack which saw Sanchez turn the ball over and the Jets lose the games. Even when they ran effectively against Buffalo they continued to take chances down the field in the original “it can’t get any worse than this” showing by Sanchez. What the Jets should do is utilize Keller and Jones in the passing game and try to hit their wide receivers underneath every now and then with the primary focus being on the run game. What they will do is a completely different story. If the Jets can vary the running game between the two backs and all different parts of the field they will end up having great success. The Panthers line doesn’t do a good job anywhere in holding their blocks and getting to the runner. If they can use Jones inside and try to use Greene outside while alternating the runs both left and right it should keep the Panthers from being able to cheat with their linebackers and pick up huge gains. The Panthers defense has given up big time runs this year and the goal should be to try to plug along until you hit that big play.

Jets Defense vs. Panthers Offense

The Panthers are built to run the ball behind the dynamic DeAngelo Williams and powerful Jonathan Stewart. Williams has the Barry Sanders like ability to make a big play happen at any time, while Stewart provides the bruising complement to Williams elusiveness and speed. Those two may be the best two back system in the NFL, but that has not been enough to overcome the passing problems. QB Jake Delhomme is about to throw his way not just out of a starting job, but possibly out of the NFL. His decision making and accuracy have become awful and when WR Steve Smith does not get huge separation the pass is always a cause for concern. Smith does not seem to have the same speed and burst he used to have, but still remains one of the better players at the position. There is little talent at the other receiver spots. Mushin Muhammad is big, but just barely hanging on after a long career in the NFL. Dwayne Jarrett is a total bust. TE Dante Rosario is nothing more than a handful of looks kind of guy. If Smith is contained there is little the passing game will do. The offensive line has become a big problem due to the loss of LT Jordan Gross. Gross was the teams best blocker both in the passing and running game and it has caused even more pressure for Delhomme. The team expects to get FB Brad Hoover back this week and he should provide some much needed blocking for the Panthers.

Was the Jets defense awful against New England? No, but they were not good either. They allowed Tom Brady and Wes Welker to eat them alive and Laurence Maroney to have a few big runs as well. Maybe they were depressed following Sanchez’ multiple interceptions but this was not the same type of effort they gave in the Saints game when Sanchez was throwing the game away. The one thing that did become clear in the Patriots game is that Darrelle Revis is unquestionably the best corner in the game. Brady made it his mission to hit Randy Moss deep and Revis basically held Moss to nothing. It is also clear that Revis is the only standout in a poor secondary. Kerry Rhodes’ play has gone down so far that the coaching staff has finally made the decision to remove him from his starting role. Rhodes signed a huge deal last year and has been a major disappointment since signing the deal. The way Sanchez gets the brunt of the offensive criticism, Rhodes gets it on the defensive side. He has given up game changing plays in two games this season and was embarrassed on national TV last week when the announcers picked on him for basically dogging it on the field. He has to improve or he will be off the team in 2010. The Jets defensive line has more or less held their own even with the loss of Kris Jenkins. They lack the backfield push without him, but are doing a very good job of slowing guys down at the line and holding their positions. Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito have both had good seasons in their roles. The linebackers continue to have problems getting to the QB. Calvin Pace is just hard to figure out. He’ll look unstoppable one game and then the next looks like he can not figure anything out. Bryan Thomas is likely playing for a job and may need to do more to make himself stand out to the coaching staff. The Jets may begin cycling in the Jammal Westermans of the world more often to see if they can be a factor in 2010.

Obviously the key for the Jets this week is to stop Williams in the run game and try to make Carolina one dimensional. Williams is one of those players that turns nothing into a big gain at the blink of an eye. His ability to break the big play rates behind only Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. The Jets have to do the job of stringing him outside and making sure the containment is there behind him to keep him from reversing direction and outrunning the defense. S Eric Smith, who will replace Rhodes, is going to have to be able to meet him head on and not get run over or around in the event he does break free. Smith is a big tackler that should be up to the challenge with the start being granted to him. This is one of those opponents where the Jets will likely not get the great run support from Revis, who will likely be matched up on Smith all afternoon. Besides the fact that Smith is dangerous he is also a terrific run blocker and going to do everything he can to keep Revis out of the play. That is a major disadvantage for the Jets. The interior linebackers and linemen have to do their part when they run Stewart inside. The key for the game is that the Jets have to realize that this is a big play offense they are facing. Carolina does a far better job scoring outside the 10 than they do inside the 10. They sometimes get way too cute, as they did last week versus Miami, and refuse to run once they get close and let the ball stay in Delhomme’s hand. If the team breaks a big play they have to keep them out of the end zone and force Delhomme to get it in on a short field. Expect the Jets to do their best to attack Delhomme whenever he drops back to pass. Delhomme is a turnover machine, especially when pressured, and the Jets have to get the ball from him. With all the criticism being leveled at Rhodes if there ever was a game made for him to get the fans off his back it is this one. He’ll be in the game and expected to make big plays when he is in there. If the defense wins the turnover battle for the team the Jets will win the game.

Special Teams

Carolina’s special teams have their share of problems. K John Kasay has had a few problems with field goals especially from longer range where his leg has slowed down. They use Rhys Lloyd on kickoffs in the hope of getting touchbacks which Kasay can’t do. When they fail to get the touchback the coverage teams are giving up huge returns. P Jason Baker has a decent leg, but has been unable to pin teams down. When his kicks are returned they go for big yards.

The Jets are going to have to look for a kick returner next season, but right now the Jets are going to have to try Justin Miller again in that role. Miller, who did not look great in his first game back, was quickly deactivated and only being kept around for financial reasons. He should get one last try this week to prove he can be explosive otherwise the job will fall to one of the receivers on the team. The Panthers kick coverage is poor when they fail to reach the end zone, which could be the case if it is a windy day at the Meadowlands. The Jets could get a big advantage in field position if it happens which could be a major factor in the final outcome.

Coaching

John Fox is coaching for his job. His Panthers teams have been like a yo-yo where they go from winning a division to a losing record seemingly every other year. He made the decision to stick with the QB and rely on him in key spots despite the fact that he can not play at a starters level anymore. His team defenses have slowly been getting worse and with the team looking like it is need of a major overhaul he may not be the person to do it unless he shows more of a willingness to look towards the future rather than the past.

Rex Ryan has finally admitted that he has to begin sitting in the offensive meetings and showing more support to that side of the football. Whether or not that is a good thing for this season , it should be a good thing for his coaching career. It has been a rough few weeks for the coach and finally had to basically admit that the choice to play Sanchez has everything to do with the future and not the present, something he has refused to admit from day 1. Ryan may have to take a more active role in getting Sanchez to learn from his mistakes and hopefully this is a start. Ryan will have a tough task this week of keeping his team focused with the playoffs now basically out of reach. By no means has Ryan lost the team, but he has to start to question their mental toughness and desire. They no showed the Jaguar game and Ryan admitted to them being flat for the first half of the Patriot game. Everytime he challenged them with a must win they failed to deliver and now he may have to challenge them for their jobs in 2010, something he started with the benching of his 33.5 million dollar safety.

Overall

This is an intriguing matchup between two teams that expected a lot but are both playing out the string. Carolina, after a 12-4 record in 2008, was anticipated to be neck and neck with the Saints this year, but got off to a horrible start. They tried to right the ship with a mid season surge, but have dropped two games in a row and are out of the race. The Jets created their own expectations with a 3-0 start to the season, but have since dropped 6 of 7 games and invented new ways to lose these games each and every week. It would be very easy for both teams to quit and just go through the motions here, leading to a very dull game that most people turn off at halftime.

Will this be a great home field advantage for the Jets? Probably not. Between the failure of the season and the hard feeling’s towards the PSL’s the Jets have become a terrible ticket. The team was giving tickets away to this game through various promotional offers and reduced prices for the military to $15 per ticket. That is a great gesture by the team, but you never saw them do such a thing before this season and its moreso trying to make the best of a bad situation than creating something good. Most likely the stadium will be half to two thirds filled with a lot of booing coming down on the home team whenever things go bad. If the Jets fall behind early it will be a nightmare for the home team.

Neither team gets good play out of the QB. Delhomme is consistently awful was Sanchez fluctuates from passable to horrendous. Sanchez has yet to put together back to back hideous games so maybe the Jets get the slightly better play at that position this week. Both teams are going to turn the ball over which should neutralize the turnover aspect. The game will likely come down to who executes and favors the running the game more. If the Jets can get Jones and Greene to control the clock and combine for 150 yards the team has a great chance to win. If the Jets can’t stop Williams and he has one of those 150 yard, 2 TD games it will be tough for New York to come back. The Jets special teams have to give the offense a big leg up by giving them a short field to work with.

Perhaps most important will simply be which team wants it more. A major difference here is that Carolina is a veteran laden club playing for a coach who may be fired at the end of the season while the Jets are a relatively young team with a brand new head coach that has another two years before they would think of removing him. Ryan already pulled out a trump card in benching Rhodes and sending the message that “I’ll be here in 2010 will you?“. Fox can’t do that. If anything players can send him the message that they don’t want him back in 2010. Veteran teams like Carolina often pack it up much quicker than a team with younger talent at key spots like the Jets and being away from home should make that decision much easier for the older players on the team.

The Jets find a way to stop the bleeding this week.

Jets 21 Panthers 16