Preview: Battle For New York

Florham Park, N.J.- Rewind to the day the 2011 NFL schedule was released and your eyes first scanned the week 16 matchups to see the Jets versus the Giants in their shared stadium in only it’s second year of existence and on Christmas Eve to boot. “Good Lord that’s going to be a big game,” you undoubtedly thought to yourself. Now fast forward to present day and laugh at how this game has turned into a much bigger event than you could have possibly imagined when the schedule first came out.

With both teams in the midst of disappointing seasons and facing the very real possibility that the loser of this game will miss the playoffs, this game has become much bigger than the ‘Battle For New York,” bragging rights among friends and boasting and trash-talking among players and a certain coach. A matchup between these two teams smack dab in the middle of the season would never reach this magnitude of importance. Sure the winning side would revel in victory and taunt the losers unmercifully, but we would have had the rest of the season to play out to determine the overall fate of both teams’ seasons and neither side would be able to say that they put the finally nail in the coffin that was the others 2011 season. Now we are staring at the very likely scenario where the victors of this game go, not only, the spoils and to the playoffs, but they can also take glory in knowing they were responsible for burying their cross-town rivals. Which is pretty much the exact definition of having your cake and eating it to.

Aaron Maybin has been an x-factor for the Jets all season and there's no reason for that to change now with a matchup that plays right into his hands. (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

If you strip away the geographical proximity between these teams, forget about the level of disdain between the fans and take the trash-talk between the players with a grain of salt, what you have is two teams, that are both drastically different and frighteningly similar at the same time, fighting for their playoffs lives. It’s all this that adds to the high level of intrigue about the game even to non-Giant and Jet fans. Both teams are consistent in only one thing, their inconsistency and both teams play their best when everyone doubts them and play their worst when everyone is on the bandwagon. It’s absolutely maddening to follow and somehow we have two of these teams located in the same stadium. But where they couldn’t possibly be more different is the style of play they employ to win games.

The Giants have an elite pass rush with a horrendous secondary while the Jets have very little pass rush but the best cornerback tandem in football. The Giants air it out and launch deep ball after deep ball, while the Jets seemingly never throw the ball more than 20 yards down the field. These teams couldn’t play much differently, but they both stick to the same script of playing like two bipolar teams, which helps make this game even more fascinating and almost impossible to predict, but unfortunately that won’t stop me from trying.

WHEN AND WHERE: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Saturday @ 1:00 p.m. EST (TV-Fox/Radio-1050 ESPN)

INJURY REPORT (12/23)

Jets - QUESTIONABLE: DB Marquice Cole (knee), RB Joe McKnight (shoulder/elbow)/ PROBABLE: WR Plaxico Burress (illness), DL Mike DeVito (knee), OL Vlad DuCasse (knee), RB Shonn Greene (rib/shoulder), LB David Harris (not injury related), WR Santonio Holmes (hip), WR Jeremy Kerley (illness), OL Brandon Moore (hip), DL Ropati Pitoitua (hand), QB Mark Sanchez (neck), OL Caleb Schlauderaff (knee), DB Eric Smith (knee).

Giants: OUT: TE Jake Ballard (knee), LB Mark Herzlich (ankle), DE Osi Umenyiora/ DOUBTFUL: WR Mario Manningham (knee)/ QUESTIONABLE: RB D.J. Ware/ PROBABLE: C David Bass (neck), TE Travis Beckham (chest), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), S Derrick Martin (back), TE Bear Pascoe (ribs), WR Devin Thomas (neck).

GAME KEYS:

Neutralize Giants Pass-Rush/Exploit Secondary - If the Jets offensive line can give Sanchez enough time he should be able to pick apart the Giants secondary like every other team in the league has been able to (Giants rank 29th in passing yards allowed with 257.5 yards a game, 25 passing TDs to 17 picks and allow an average of an 88.4 QB rating). But that’s much easier said than done, the strength of this Giants team lies with their pass rush, while one of the Jets biggest weaknesses is protecting their quarterback. Right tackle Wayne Hunter has had a rough season to say the least and his worst games have translated into the Jets worst games, the Giants will send multiple different pass-rushers Hunter’s way and if Hunter can’t get the job done it’s up to Brian Schottenheimer to give him the help he needs and the other players on the line to come through for their teammate in his time of need.

One way to effectively neutralize a dangerous pass-rush is to have success running the ball and executing screen plays, much like the Jets did against the Chiefs just a couple weeks ago. With the Giants rushing defense allowing a whooping 127.6 yards per game (at 4.5 yards per attempt) the Jets will need to once again lean heavily on Shonn Greene and LT to keep the defense on their heels and open up the secondary for Sanchez to make plays down the field. As good as the Giants pass rush is, the secondary and linebackers are really weak units and a playoff team should have no problem winning this matchup.

Stop Bradshaw and Capitalize Off Mistakes - When the Giants have won they have done so by riding the shoulders of Eli Manning and the deep ball, but the Jets would be wise to stay focused early on clamping down Bradshaw, especially on screens, to take away the threat of the run and make Eli throw 40 plus passes. Manning leads the NFL in passes completed over 40 yards with 15, but he has a tendency to throw a bunch of floaters up for grabs in each and every game he plays which is part of the reason he has thrown 15 picks on the season. With the Giants leaning so heavily on the deep ball, it sets up perfectly for Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to prove just how good they are and while the Giants receivers were busy shooting off at the mouth this week, they might want to concern themselves with their ability to catch the ball considering they have the second most dropped passes of any team in football with 28.

As for that trash talk from the Giants receivers Cromartie said, “I hope they keep talking. I hope they talk on Saturday too on the field.

“Man, me and Darrelle we’re going go out and do our job no matter what. I mean you can talk trash, you can do whatever, but that’s all in the paper. We do our job on the field. We let our play speak for itself and we go out there and dominate and do the things in between the white lines and let that take care of itself.”

“I mean their passing game, they’re vertical, they throw the ball down the field.” Revis said, “Eli does a great job, I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. So their passing attack is attacking down the field.”

But Cromartie thinks he knows why the Giants have had success down field and that’s exactly why he thinks they won’t have the same success on Saturday. “I mean they do some good stuff but they get a lot of free release. We don’t do a lot of free release in our defense.” Cromartie said, “We come in and get in your face, make sure we jam you and do the things we need to do.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it and me and Darrelle are definitely looking forward to the opportunity to get at least a pick or two.”

If Manning has to throw the ball more than 40 times there’s a very likely possibility Cromartie will get his wish (and Jet fans will get their wish of seeing the classic Eli Manning-pouty face). Manning can throw a beautifully placed deep ball, but he can also follow it up with a gift that falls right into the hands of the defense. If the Jets can take advantage of Manning’s mistakes by creating turnovers and have the offense capitalize by scoring points they will control this game.

Protect Sanchez, Protect the Ball - On offense the concern for the Jets is fairly simple, protect Sanchez and don’t turn the ball over. When the offensive line has protected Sanchez and opened up holes in the running game the Jets win and when they don’t it gets ugly, fast. As we’ve seen with this year’s Jets once things start going wrong early they can very quickly snowball out of control, if the line holds up and the turnovers are limited or non-existent the Giants defense will have a hard time getting the Jets off the field and with the Jets having the best Red Zone offense in the league this sure sounds like a recipe for a lot of points for Gang Green.

X-FACTORS:

Wayne Hunter - As stated earlier when Hunter has a terrible game the Jets get crushed. With all the different pass-rushers the Giants can throw in Hunter’s direction it’s not enough to just hope he can hold up. Schottenheimer has to have a plan if Hunter starts to get abused, keep extra blockers in to chip and help Hunter and make sure there is a stable of quick slants, screens and out routes in the arsenal to go to if Sanchez finds himself with little to no time to make a throw.

Aaron Maybin - Maybin has flashed some impressive skill during his time here, but he has also been a non-factor in a few games. This matchup is absolutely perfect for him though and if he really wants to win over Jets fans he might just have his best day in the green and white uniforms. With the Giants deep passing attack the non-mobile Manning needs time to wait for his receivers to get down field and that gives Maybin the chance to rough up Manning and leave him looking like he did on the Jets defensive playbooks all week.

Plaxico and Holmes - Santonio Holmes has been nothing but clutch throughout his career and his time here with the Jets, but last week was probably the worst performance he ever had in his life. Can Holmes bounce back and respond with a big game to get back in the good graces of Jets fans? His teammate and good friend Burress sure thinks so, as he said he expects Holmes to be, “the best player on the field on Saturday.”

You already know everything about the Burress story line, a reunion against his former team for the first time since he was released from jail, what we don’t know is how it will turn out. But if you’ve followed Burress’ career you know he has a knack for playing his best in the biggest games and it doesn’t get much bigger than this one.

Prediction:

At the beginning of the week I struggled to figure out how this game could possibly turn out. I went back and forth, but was leaning towards the Giants because of the pass rush with Hunter’s performance last week still freshly burned into my memory. As the week went on I started to see more reasons why the Jets could, and should, win this game. Then the Giants receivers started yapping their gums and I was reminded of the Patriots uncharacteristically sparring verbally with the Jets. At the time it was clear the Jets had gotten into the Patriots head and it sure seems they have done the same to the Giants, this doesn’t mean the Jets will win but it certainly helps.

With these two dysfunctional teams I think it’s next to impossible to predict what type of game we will see tomorrow or what the score will be (seriously I just threw some random numbers up), but I feel stronger than I have all week that this matchup, with the Giants missing their starting tight end, favors the Jets and somehow, someway the Jets will get the W to give to their fans on this Christmas Eve for the perfect present.

27-23 Jets

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