28 degrees in the snow and wind against one of the most feared front-sevens in the National Football League, in their building.
Your erratic second-year quarterback will be playing with a sore right throwing shoulder and has passed for one touchdown, tossed five picks, and coughed up the football five times in the past four games. Oh and by the way, this game has playoff implications.
Rex Ryan most likely didn’t fantasize about this back in Chicago. Mercy mercy me (that Murciélago).
And so goes the script for the 2010 “It’s never easy” campaign of the New York Jets: Another week, another likely dogfight. Legit canines wouldn’t have much of a shot against the Chicago Bears linebacking core of Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the newest bully on the block, defensive end Julius Peppers.
“Julius Peppers is an unbelievable player,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, earlier this week. “It’s ridiculous. A guy shouldn’t be that fast and that athletic. I guess he’s right there in the discussion of the Defensive Player of the Year. He is every year. He is a tremendous player and you certainly need to know where he is every snap. No question about it.”
The indomitable 6-foot-7, 285 pound Peppers is the weapon of choice for a Chicago defense which boasts one of the most impressive arsenals in the NFL. Lovie Smith’s defensive unit has returned to prominence this season under the direction of Rod Marinelli. Through Week 15, the Bears find themselves at the top of nearly every defensive category: 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.3), 8th in total yards allowed (310.9), and third in rush defense (89.8).
The secret of Chicago’s defensive revival lies within their ability to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While Peppers has only registered eight sacks on the season, his presence on the field goes beyond the numbers. The need to double-team Peppers has drawn one-on-one matchups for fellow end Israel Idonije and defensive tackle Anthony Adams all season. The success of the Bears Cover 2 zone defense hinges on this pressure.
The Jets offensive line, thought to be the team’s strong suit before the season started has been a picture of inconsistency all year. Another underwhelming performance on Sunday could end in disaster. Despite their public denials, Briggs, Urlacher and Peppers are licking their chops, primed for a diabolical assailment of the right shoulder of Mark Sanchez.
If the pass protection is up to the challenge, the Jets have a fighting shot as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is likely to employ an offensive gameplan similar to last week in Pittsburgh. A steady diet of short passes and a consistent running attack. Patience.
The ultimate weakness of the Cover 2 zone that Chicago rolls out is its susceptibility to passes in the deep middle zone and the underneath zones, three to four yards past the line of scrimmage. The ‘dink and dunk’ attack is best suited for Sanchez, rather than force a big play and put the second-year quarterback in a position to make a bad decision.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears aren’t quite as intimidating. Mike Martz’s offense is the statistical inverse of the defense, ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category. As inconsistent as the offense has been, quarterback Jay Cutler remains a formidable threat with his cannon right arm. The 27-year-old Cutler has been impressive this season, limiting his turnovers considerably from years past (13 interceptions in 2010).
Jets linebacker Bart Scott has taken note of Cutler’s improved play this season. “He’s streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on, says Scott. “He can fit the ball into a hole. We like to say that he can probably sink a battleship. He’s strong enough. He has that type of power. He can throw the ball off balance. He’s playing well.”
The Jets defense, who have stepped up their pass-rush in recent weeks, must look to expose the Bears offensive line which has struggled with protections all season.
PREDICTION: BEARS 17, JETS 9
In the cold, and likely snow, the Jets will struggle to move the ball against the Chicago defense. Whether Sanchez can play and how effective he can be with the sore shoulder are too big of question marks right now. Especially in the arctic conditions. D’Brickashaw Ferguson will be the ultimate key for Gang Green on the offensive side of the ball. If he can keep Julius Peppers in check and off Sanchez, there’s hope for Schotty’s unit.
The Jets can clinch a playoff berth win or tie in Chicago Sunday. Gang Green also clinches with either a Jacksonville loss or tie ( at home against Washington) or an Indianapolis loss or tie (at Oakland).
A Jets playoff berth would mark only the fifth time in franchise history that the team has qualified for the postseason in consecutive seasons.
Sunday’s tilt at Soldier Field marks the tenth meeting between the two teams, with the Bears holding a steady 6-3 all-time advantage. Chicago also currently holds a two-game series winning streak against the Jets. Sunday will mark a return to the state of Illinois for the Jets, where the team hasn’t played since 2002. In ‘02, Gang Green fell to the Bears, 20-13, at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, during the renovation of Soldier Field.
Last time they met…
Brian Urlacher and the Chicago defense blanked the Jets in a 10-0 victory at the Meadowlands in November of 2006. Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was intercepted twice on the day, once in the red zone. The knockout blow for Gang Green came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when then-rookie corner Drew Coleman tripped up while in one-on-one coverage on Mark Bradley, leading to a 57-yard touchdown reception for the Chicago receiver.
For the Jets, defensive end Trevor Pryce (hip) and right tackle Damien Woody (knee) have been ruled out for the second straight week. Safety Eric Smith (concussion) was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. Safety James Ihedigbo (knee/ankle) is listed as questionable. Corners Drew Coleman (groin), Darelle Revis (hamstring), and Antonio Cromartie (groin) are all listed as probable, along with center Nick Mangold (shoulder), quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), and receivers Santonio Holmes (turf toe) and Brad Smith (hand).
Listed as probable for Chicago are receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee).
Broadcast Info: Sunday, 1:00 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)