PREVIEW: PRESEASON GAME #1 COLTS (0-0) @ JETS (0-0)

After two weeks of training camp it is finally time to hit somebody else

August 7th marks the 221st day since Jet fans last saw their team play. Thankfully, that long wait ends when the Jets open up the preseason against the Indianapolis Colts.

It is fair to say that the Jets exceeded expectations last season, after a disappointing 6-10 season the year before, many predicted the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the NFL. In fact before week one, ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings had the Jets ranked as the worst team in the league.

The Jets proved their doubters wrong and were in playoff contention well in to December. Ultimately the team finished 8-8 after beating division rival Miami in the final week of the season.

The roller-coaster ride of a season was headlined by rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Smith had tremendous highs, like leading the team to a come from behind victory on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, and tremendous lows like when he was benched for fellow rookie Matt Simms in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins.

Smith however finished the 2013 season incredibly strong. Over the last four weeks of the year, his Total Quarterback Rating  (QBR) of 78.9 was second only to Peyton Manning.

2013 also saw the emergence of the defensive line. The young group, led by 2013 Second-team All-Pro selection Muhammad Wilkerson and 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson, quickly established themselves as one of if not the best defensive line units in the NFL.

Eric Decker has looked good so far during training camp and will be a key to the Jets success this season. (Jetsinsider.com photo)

During the offseason, the Jets made some much-needed improvements to their offense. The big splashes were signing former Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker to a five-year deal to bolster their receiving corps and adding running back Chris Johnson to strengthen an already impressive running game.

The team also drafted free safety Calvin Pryor and tight end Jace Amaro and added former Seahawk tackle Breno Giacomini.

But the addition that everybody was talking about was the signing of Michael Vick. Contrary to popular belief, Vick was not brought in to usurp Geno as starting quarterback but rather to mentor him and push him to improve from his first year.

With a revamped offense and a highly talented defense, the expectation among Jets’ players and head coach Rex Ryan is for the team to return to the playoffs.

The playoff push will officially be underway when the Jets kickoff against the Colts on Thursday and here is a preview of that matchup.

WHEN: Thursday, August 7, 2014 @ 7pm EST (TV-CBS, Radio-ESPN)

WHERE: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

INJURY REPORT:

JETS- INACTIVE S Calvin Pryor  WR Shaq Evans  RB Bilal Powell  WR Greg Salas  CB Johnny Patrick  OT Brent Qvale  OT Markus Zuesevics  LB Antwan Barnes

COLTS- INACTIVE WR Josh Lenz CB Vontae Davis S Laron Landry FB Stanley Havili RB Ahmad Bradshaw LB Andrew Jackson LB Kelvin Sheppard LB Josh McNary T Xavier Nixon WR Reggie Wayne

GAME KEYS/WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

Get the offense going- While they won’t play a lot, an interesting thing to be on the lookout for during this game is, can the Jets first team offense put points on the board against the Colts’ first team defense?

The Jets offense has struggled at times during training-camp and those struggles were evident during the Green and White scrimmage where they scored only six points. While some of that can be attributed to Gang Green’s staunch defense there were opportunities to score but the Jets couldn’t capitalize.

Rex Ryan said that he anticipates his offense to rebound from their poor scrimmage performance and “put up some points.”

The Colts had a pretty good defense last year, only surrendering 21 points per game, so it should be a good test for Geno Smith and company. With that said, the Colts’ defense has weaknesses which leads into the next key…

Ground and Pound- The Colts defense gave up an average of 125.1 yards per game last season which was seventh worst in the NFL. The three-headed monster of Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powel (who practiced Tuesday after missing time with a hamstring injury) should be able to find the holes in the defense and exploit them for big gains.

In addition to Johnson, Ivory and Powell, running backs Alex Green and Daryl Richardson should also be able to take advantage of the Colts defense. Both Green and Richardson had nine carries in the Green and White scrimmage so if one has a big game he can create a little separation from the other and inch closer to earning a spot on the roster.

Secondary Play/Put pressure on the quarterback- The secondary has been a position of strength in recent years but for the first time since Rex Ryan took over the team there are question marks. Antonio Cromartie, the teams best DB last year was a salary cap casualty, leaving Dee Milliner as the number one corner on the roster. Milliner, who struggled at times last year has looked good during camp, will get an early test against the Colts who bolster one of the better receiving corps in the NFL.

One way to cover up your weaknesses is to play to your strengths. The main strength for the Jets is their pass rush. If the Jets can put significant pressure on Andrew Luck and his backup, veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck, they won’t be able to find the holes in the secondary.

X-FACTORS:

Jace Amaro- Amaro has had a tough camp so far. He has dropped plenty of passes and has had trouble picking up Marty Mornhinweg’s offense. Yet by all accounts Amaro is hard at work trying to clean up his mistakes. When right, the 6’5” Amaro, is a matchup nightmare.

He is currently number two on the Jets depth chart behind Jeff Cumberland. Amaro should see plenty of action in this first game and with question marks at the wide receiver position, Amaro can serve as a safety net for not only Geno Smith and Michael Vick but for Matt Simms and rookie Tajh Boyd as well.

Matt Simms and Tajh Boyd- What preseason games come down to is how well the backups play. Geno Smith and Michael Vick probably won’t play a whole lot and the Jets defense whether it be the first, second or third team has looked great during camp. Therefore the game will come down to the play of the reserves on offense.

Boyd and Simms are competing with each other for the third-string quarterback role. Neither has stood out during camp. At times, Boyd has looked great. Rex Ryan praised Boyd saying that he “has a little bit of magic in him” and was also impressed with Boyd’s elusiveness and escape ability.  While Boyd has had his moments, he also has had struggles with interceptions. According to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg Boyd has been working incredibly hard and spending late nights with quarterback coach David Lee to fix his mistakes.

Simms has also had an up and down camp. He has a cannon for an arm but also struggles with accuracy. In the Green and White scrimmage he had an interception and only completed two of his six pass attempts. But Mornhinweg has been very complementary towards Simms saying, “Matt Simms has this thing [the offense] down, I have very good confidence in Matt. (If you) put him, in he’s going to run the show and do the right thing.

Neither Simms or Boyd got many reps in the Green and White scrimmage so this preseason game will be their first extended game action of the season and look for one of them to prove to the coaches why they deserve to be the third-string quarterback.

THE PICK- Preseason wins and losses don’t really matter. What the Jets want to take away from this game is valuable in-game experience and perhaps most importantly no injuries to their impact players. With that said I expect the Jets offense to rebound from their poor showing in the Green and White scrimmage and for the defense to continue their stellar play and slow down the Colts high powered offense.

Jets win 24-17

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