Gang Green Can Make a Statement in AFC

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.

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