When the Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars meet on Sunday at the Meadowlands, it will be a battle of two Marshall University quarterbacks. Jets QB Chad Pennington took Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich under his wing at Marshall and the two became good friends. However, it will be all business when the two meet on the field Sunday. Pennington won the last match-up between the two in 2003, leading the Jets on a 94-yard drive in the final three minutes as the Jets won, 13-10.
“We’ve had a great friendship for a long time and I admire him and what he was able to do at Marshall,” Pennington said. “I think he’s going to be one of the best QB this League has seen. He’s physically so talented and mentally, people don’t understand how well he understands the game and what type of student he is of the game. He does a great job and he’s a tough guy.”
Leftwich is looking forward to facing his former college teammate. “It’s going to be fun to go out there and compete against him,” Leftwich said. “Chad’s not going to bat any of my passes down, he doesn’t play defense. But it’s still going to be fun to go out there and have a chance to play against someone I’m real close with.”
After struggling in week one against Kansas City, Pennington showed much improvement last week, completing 19-of-30 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets 17-7 win over Miami last week. On the Jets late touchdown drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass to FB Jerald Sowell, Pennington was 7-of-7. What was surprising was the plays were not practiced during the week.
“Everyday I feel like I’m making progress,” Pennington said. “Everyday the plays are starting to become a little easier to me. It doesn’t necessarily seem like a foreign language anymore. While I’m going through this process, I’m trying to manufacture wins the best way I can.”
Pennington will have to be nearly perfect against the Jaguars defense which is ranked 11th in the NFL, surrendering 295 yards a game. They forced five turnovers in a week one victory over Seattle and held the high powered Colts offense to just 10 points last week but still lost, 10-3. “Last week is in our rear view mirror,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said in a conference call with the New York media this week. “We have a good football team that we are going to go up against up there in New York, so one hundred percent of our attention must be on going forward.”
In the victory last week, RB Curtis Martin strained his right knee and the Jets got good news this week as the MRI came back negative. Martin practiced Thursday and Friday and is probable for Sunday. “I feel obligated to be out there because of the role I play on this team, a leader,” Martin said. “I want to be out there. For me to not be out there would have to be drastic. It would have to be stupid for me to not be out there.”
The last time Martin missed a game was in 1998 and is looking to start his 110th consecutive regular season game. In the last five years, every time Martin has played the week after a serious injury, he has rushed for fewer than 50 yards. Martin will have to fight for every yard he gets as the Jaguars are letting up just 121 yards on the ground a game.
“I think if he feels he can help the team win, Curtis Martin is going to play,” head coach Herman Edwards said. “He's never going to put the team in jeopardy. He's not a selfish football player. He's the kind of guy mentally, that if he feels he can help this team win, he can play up to his expectations, he'll play. If not, then Curtis won't. That's always been his deal. That's always been our history together when he's been nicked up. That's always been our conversation. So, I don't think that has changed.”
Martin will most likely take the majority of the carries for the Jets, expect to see RB Derrick Blaylock get a lot of playing time. “That’s the backup role, to always prepare like you’re going to start,” Blaylock said. “That’s how I always prepare, like I’m a starter and I’ll be ready if that opportunity comes by.”
“He is a good change of pace runner,” Edwards said. “He has a little burst in the hole, quick feet, and can get outside. So he's a guy that obviously will be involved in our offense a little bit more. He needs to be because he's a good change of pace for Curtis.”
The Jaguars have two big defensive tackles in Marcus Stroud (6’6, 312) and John Henderson (6’7, 328). “They are big, strong, athletic guys,” Del Rio said. “They are two of the better Dt’s in the game and we lean on them quite a bit. They do a good job disrupting things and we count on them to do that.”
Jacksonville’s secondary took a big hit when strong safety Donovin Darius tore his ACL in his left knee last week and was placed on injured reserve. “The biggest thing that he has brought to our team is his toughness and his physicality and his leadership skills,” Del Rio said. “His teammates elected him as defensive captain this year, so we’ll miss him with the leadership and his physicality.” Deke Cooper will take Darius’ place.
“I think it’s impressive what they have done over the last couple of weeks,” Pennington said. “I think the most impressive thing, as you watch the JAX defense, is that they play together. They play well as a unit and it seems like they’re always in unison with each other. They understand cohesiveness and how to play team defense. They have great team speed and they’re very physical. When they play against most offenses in this league, they set the tempo. That’s why they’re successful.
After an embarrassing week one loss at Kansas City, the Jets defense came back strong last week, holding the Dolphins to seven points. After allowing 198 yards rushing to KC, the Jets held the Dolphins to just 66 yards on the ground last week. Jaguars RB Fred Taylor has rushed for 261 yards in his two career meetings with the Jets. Taylor spent the off-season rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee and is off to another good start with 157 yards on 36 carries. “I think you always have to stop the running game before you can stop the pass,” DE John Abraham said. “We watched a lot of film, we know what they like to do and keep them from running the ball and give us a chance to apply some pressure to the QB.”
Besides trying to contain Taylor, the Jets will also have to keep an eye on WR Jimmy Smith.
Leftwich was 16-for-29 for 198 yards in last week’s loss and injured his groin. He practiced today and was upgraded to probable for Sunday. “Watching those guys on film, they’re playing real fast and doing a lot of different things,” Leftwich said of the Jets defense. “I think they do a great job of mixing up and having a lot of different pressures to try and make the QB make some mistakes. We have to do a great job of preparing and I have to do a better job of not making mistakes.”
Abraham has been a standout for the Jets this season but feels the defense still has a way to go. “We still have a lot we can improve on,” Abraham said. “We haven’t played a good game. We definitely know there are some other little things that we can work on and make a little better.”
-The Jets trail the all-time regular season series record 2-3.
-Curtis Martin has carried the ball 51 times, tops in the AFC.
-Jets P Ben Graham is tied for the conference lead with a 41.6 average.
-The Jaguars have not turned the ball over this season.
-Former Jets TE Kyle Brady is on the Jags roster.
-The Jags were just 6-15 on third down last week.
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THREE THINGS THE JETS MUST DO TO WIN:
STOP THE RUN
The Jets did a much better job stopping the run last week and will have to find a way to contain Fred Taylor, who has rushed for 261 yards in the two previous match-ups against the Jets. If the Jets can hold Taylor under 100 yards, they will be in good position for a win.
The Jets offensive line needs to keep the Jaguars defense off of Pennington and allow Pennington to have time to make reads and complete his throws.
RUN THE BALL
Rushing yards will be hard fought for on Sunday. Even though RB Curtis Martin will probably play, he will still be in pain. RB Derrick Blaylock will need to step up when he’s in the game.
JETS OFFENSIVE LINE VS. JAGUARS DEFENSIVE LINE
The Jets o-line will have its work cut out for them on Sunday. They need to protect Pennington as well as pushing the Jaguars defensive line back and opening up holes for the Jets running backs.
Earlier this week, Jets G Pete Kendall said a shoot out on Sunday is as likely as a snowstorm. Both teams feature good defenses but Pennington will continue to grow more comfortable in the offense and lead his team to victory.
RB Curtis Martin (knee) practiced for a second straight day and is probable for Sunday. FB Jerald Sowell (ankle) also practiced and is probable. S Erik Coleman (thumb) practiced and is still questionable. FB B.J. Askew (ankle) did not practice and is out. WE/LB Trevor Johnson (head) practiced but is doubtful.
-FB B.J. Askew (ankle): Out
-WE/LB Trevor Johnson (head): Doubtful
-S Erik Coleman (thumb): Questionable
-FB Jerald Sowell (ankle): Probable
-RB Curtis Martin (knee): Probable
The game can be seen at 1 p.m. on CBS and heard on ESPN Radio 1050 am. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for full coverage and photos of the Jets-Jaguars.