Archive for September, 2008

Gang Green Can Make a Statement in AFC

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Last Sunday in Miami, the Jets found a means to escape redemption. As Dolphins QB Chad Pennington drove Miami down the field in the final minutes of the Jets’ 20-14 victory, he crept closer to handing his former mates a most embarassing defeat. But just as the Jets’ defense began to bend as Miami drove to the Jets’ 18-yard line, CB Darrelle Revis prevented the unit from breaking with a interception in the endzone. As Revis came down with Pennington’s toss and the referee signaled offensive pass interference on WR Ted Ginn Jr., it was safe to say that Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini and every other Jet standing in the Florida sun breathed a huge sigh of relief.

With the season opening victory against Miami, the Jets began 2008 with a step forward. Then again, the final minutes made that far reaching step seem more like a crawl. But most importantly, the Jets found a way to win and jump ahead in the AFC East.

As if last week the Jets took their prep test last week, Mangini and his players will be greeted with their mastery exam tomorrow when the New England Patriots stroll into the Meadowlands. While the Jets will not have to worry about 2007 NFL Most Valuable Player Tom Brady creating headaches for their defense, a young but confident Matt Cassel will attempt to fill the void.

Surely the season is still young and a team’s fate could change instantly with a key break, (just ask the Patriots) tomorrow’s game will go a long way toward making a statement in 2008. Last year the Patriots embarassed the Jets 38-14 in the opening weekend and never looked back. Now with QB Brett Favre leading Gang Green, the Jets can prove to Randy Moss who the real “team to beat” is. Surely Belichick will have his team confident and prepared for their rivals, but that confidence can change to gloom if the Jets are able to hand Cassel his “welcome to the NFL” moment and jump out to the lead. The Patriots have yet to experience what life is like without Brady under center.

With that in mind, here are some key matchups that could decide tomorrow’s victor:

Patriots’ offensive line v. Jets’ pass rush- In Cassel’s season debut last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England offensive line held strong, allowing only two sacks. It was safe to say the rookie quarterback was not rattled. However if the Jets are to leave the Meadowlands tomorrow 2-0 on the season, they will surely have to pressure Cassel. Pressure leads to “happy feet” and error-prone decisions for most young quarterbacks.

Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan v. Jets’ defensive line- With Brady threading defenses last season with his All-Pro arm, having a reliable backfield was a luxury for New England. Now with Cassel under center, the Patriots will surely provide more touches for their running backs. Assuming that Cassel is not a shell of the MVP quarterback who can connect with his targets at will, the Patriots’ backfield will need to take some pressure off the rookie. If the Jets are able to limit the elusive running backs, Cassel may need to carry the offense on his shoulders.

Patriots’ WR’s Randy Moss and Wes Welker v. Jets’ DB’s Darrelle Revis and Dwight Lowery- While Cassel remains an unproven commodity for New England, the talent of Moss and Welker is no secret. With smooth hands, spectacular leaping ability and surprising speed, Moss can make any quarterback’s afternoon pleasant. Combined with Welker who can run all over the field, and the Patriots can cause nightmares for a lot of defenders. However, if Lowery and Revis can stick tight with both receivers, Cassel will need to make several impressive throws to leave the Meadowlands victorious.

Jets’ RB Thomas Jones v. Patriots’ defensive line- A running back can often become a quarterback’s best friend. Just as Maroney, Morris and Jordan can take the pressure off Cassel by gaining several critical yards, Jones can make Favre’s afternoon easier. Jones picked up the Jets’ offense last week, as he gained 101 yards on 22 carries, including a six-yard touchdown run. If Favre and the Jets’ offensive line struggles with the New England pass rush, Jones will need to lift the offense with his legs.

Jets K Jay Feely v. the Meadowlands- Tomorrow surely will not replicate the windy December conditions that creates nightmares for kickers, but that does not mean the afternoon will be smooth sailing for Feely. With Mike Nugent sidelined for the Jets, Feely is expected to step in and help…right now. Many games end up being decided on special teams and if the Jets want to remain undefeated, Feely will be an integral part.

Favre’s History vs. the Patriots

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Tomorrow will mark the sixth time QB Brett Favre has faced the Patriots in his illustrious 18-year career. In the previous five matchups, all of which came as a Green Bay Packer, Favre was 3-2 against New England. The crowning moment in Favre’s Hall-of-Fame career came against the Patriots on Jan. 26, 1997, when he led the Packers to a 35-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXI. The win marked Favre’s lone NFL championship, and the Packers’ third title in team history.

Here are Favre’s game-by-game statistics against the Patriots:

*11/19/06: 5-for-15, 73 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (35-0 Loss)

*Favre left the game late in the first half with a right elbow injury. He did not return.

10/13/02: 17-for-27, 147 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT (28-10 Win)

10/27/97: 23-for-34, 239 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT (28-10 Win)

*1/26/97: 14-for-27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT (35-21 Win)

*Super Bowl XXXI. Favre’s two-yard touchdown run with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter put the Packers ahead for good, 27-14.

10/2/94: 25-for-47, 294 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT (17-16 Loss)

Thomas Travels the Road to Improvement

Friday, September 12th, 2008

After totaling a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2006, OLB Bryan Thomas shed the “bust” label that followed him since being drafted 22nd overall in 2002. As a reward for his punishing pass rush, he inked a five-year, $20 million extension shortly after the season. Last year…Thomas again hit a detour in his road to the quarterback.

Thomas struggled mightily last season to meet the lofty expectations attached to his mega-deal, as he recorded just 2.5 sacks and in week 14, he was replaced by David Bowens in the starting lineup. Back in May, he admitted to reporters that he become “too complacent” last year and his work ethic suffered as a result.

“I’m not saying the effort, I’m saying the extra things after practice,” Thomas told reporters this afternoon in explaining his film study and football techniques. “I did those things, but not as much. Some days I would say ‘OK, I’ll get it tomorrow.’ I just feel there were some things I did after practice that I didn’t take the extra initiative to do.”

But not was all lost for the former first-round selection, as Thomas re-dedicated himself this offseason to his post-practice work regimen which included spending additional time on the practice field and in the film room studying his next opponent.

“This year, I felt I put a lot more effort into it. Hopefully it’ll show throughout the season,” he said.

Thomas’ head coach, Eric Mangini, has taken notice.

“Bryan had a very good offseason, in the weight room, in the classroom, all those different areas,” said Mangini. “That’s not to say that the year before he had a bad offseason, but he was able to go back, objectively look at his performance, objectively look at the things that he did and be really honest with himself. That’s what you’re always asking.”

Jets Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton has seen similar improvements in Thomas’ preparation away from the field.

“He’s done a really job to prove himself from a knowledge of understanding standpoint from his position. He’s becoming more of an expert at it and that’s really a lot of credit to him,” said Sutton.

In last Sunday’s season opening win over Miami, Thomas provided a return for his hard work, as he sacked Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Pennington twice in the 20-14 victory. Thomas also contributed four tackles to a stout run defense, which limited Dolphins’ running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to a combined 47 yards on 16 carries.

Thomas’ early success as a run defender has stood as a glaring improvement, one in which Mangini is fortunate enough to enjoy.

“He’s been very good in terms of the running game, being stout in the running game, being able to control the end of the line of scrimmage,” said Mangini.

Thomas certainly has faced a difficult task, aside from the challenge of rushing the quarterback. After lining up at defensive end during his college career at Alabama-Birmingham and in his first four years with Gang Green, he switched to outside linebacker in Mangini’s patented 3-4 defense before the 2006 season. Three years later, Thomas is still trying to polish his role in the system, where improvements have been made.

“I think that his level of understanding of the defense continues to get better,” said Mangini. “It was a real position switch for him, and he had stood up some, but part of being a linebacker, there’s just three years into it, where a lot of linebackers come into the league and they played it in pee-wee, high school, college and he’s making that transition, and I’ve liked his approach.”

Whether Thomas lines up at outside linebacker or defensive end, he knows his mission is simple: get to the quarterback. However, the seventh-year linebacker is no longer content with turning in just one solid performance. The rigourous workout regimen that proved so successful for last week’s opener will remain constant, no matter what happens.

“If I didn’t have any sacks the previous week I am going to prepare the same way I have been preparing since OTA’s and training camp,” said Thomas. “There is no difference if you get two sacks or none. I am going to go out there and practice the best I can, prepare the best I can in the classroom.”