Heading into their match-up Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jets find themselves in a various amount of holes. First they are 1-4 on the season, coming off its most recent heartbreaking loss to the cross-town rival Giants 35-24. It was a game that the Jets had the lead up until the fourth quarter before everything fell apart.
Then there is that cloud in the form of a quarterback controversy that is hovering over the team. Starter Chad Pennington has made some crucial mistakes in the last two games, including throwing an interception to Giants CB Aaron Ross that was returned for a touchdown, thus giving the game to the G-Men. It is because of those problems that people everywhere are calling for back-up Kellen Clemens to come in and take over the starting role.
Head Coach Eric Mangini, though, remains very steadfast like he has been all season and adamantly said that Pennington is still his starter.
�I think Chad has done some outstanding things,� he said in his press conference. �He�s the starting quarterback.�
Meanwhile, the Eagles are also dealing with a rough start to their season. They are 1-3 on the year and are coming off a bye last week after being soundly beaten by the Giants at the Meadowlands the week before. Their defense has been hampered by injuries to key players such as S Brian Dawkins and CB Lito Sheppard. The offense is also dealing with injuries to RB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith.
While there is no quarterback controversy down I-95, Donovan McNabb has been struggling. Most of his stats do not look conspicuously atrocious, but what is glaring is that he has been sacked 17 times, which, along with Atlanta QB Joey Harrington, makes him the second-most sacked quarterback in the league, including the 12 times he was sacked against the Giants. McNabb has taken notice of his struggles as well.
�I�m not excited about the way I�ve played in the four weeks,� said the veteran McNabb. �It wouldn�t matter if I had completed 80 percent of my balls and 4,500 yards passing in four games. We still sit at 1-3 so there is no way you could possibly be excited. I�m not playing bad, but I�m not playing great either.�
Regardless of Philly�s struggles, it�s a lot easier to get a cheese-steak in South Philly than to take the Eagles for granted. Along with teams such as New England and Indianapolis, and for an inconsistent NFC, the Eagles have been a model for consistency. Since 2000, Philadelphia has been the NFC East Champion five times in six years. Given their track record, the Jets know what they are capable of.
�[Westbrook] is everywhere. He is a guy that when the ball gets in his hands he has a lot of big-play potential. He has great vision and is real elusive,� said LB Victor Hobson. �And looking at [McNabb] on film, I don�t really see the injuries that he has had. I see a great quarterback who makes a lot of plays and drives that offense.�
The strengths don�t end with just their impact players, either.
�They have a complementary group of skill players,� said Mangini. �Correll Buckhalter when he comes in, impressive amount of yards per carry. They have a really big offensive line across the board. That will be a challenge.�
Clearly this is a game between struggling teams who are looking to give themselves, and their rabid fan-base, hope in a season that is all but lost. When this game is over, the winner will get that hope, while the loser will have plenty of question marks to figure out.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Offense: The Jets must absolutely establish the running game. Although the Jets have struggled mightily in that department and near the bottom of the league, it hasn�t been used on a consistent basis. As Coach Mangini preaches consistency, he must institute it in the run, although the task will not be so easy. The Eagles are sixth in yards allowed per game in the rushing defense, and third in rushing yards allowed. If that does not work, then the passing game must be put into effect. Although the Eagles� pass defense hasn�t done well recently, the Jets can ill afford any mistakes in the passing game, regardless of who is the starting quarterback. Either way, they would love nothing more than to have a field day with the Eagles� passing defense, considering the possibly of them playing on without Dawkins or Sheppard.
Defense: In order for Gang Green to give the Eagles another Meadowlands nightmare, the Jets must get to McNabb. Although he has weapons in Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett, the offensive line has allowed 19 sacks, which is second in the league behind Detroit. However, like the Giants� Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, the Eagles� one-two punch of Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter can cause problems. Philadelphia is 11th in offensive rushing. If the Jets can contain Philly�s run game, then they can force the Eagles to go to the air. There, they can be able to give McNabb another bad dream in East Rutherford.
Sunday�s game between the Jets and the Eagles will feature a lot of connections between the two teams. Jets G Adrien Clarke was Philadelphia�s seventh-round draft pick in 2004 and spent two seasons there. DL Kimo von Oelhoffen, who spent the 2006 season with New York, signed with the Eagles after being released by Gang Green this past preseason.
The connections aren�t limited to former players of either team. Eagles TE L.J. Smith is a Jersey guy, being born in New Brunswick and played for Highland Park H.S. Smith was also a standout at Rutgers, ranking second in the school�s history among tight ends with 122 receptions, 1,458 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jets LB Victor Hobson is a native of Mt. Laurel, N.J., and was a star at St. Joseph�s Prep in Philly.
Some of the players on both of those teams know each other well. Punters Ben Graham of the Jets and Sav Rocca of the Eagles are former players on the Australian Football League, marking the first time that two former AFL players have played against each other in an NFL game.
There will also be a Florida State presence in this game. RB Leon Washington and WR Laveranues Coles of the Jets, and DT Brodrick Bunkley and T William Thomas of the Eagles are Seminole alumni. Washington and Bunkley were teammates from 2002-2005, while Coles and Thomas played together from 1997-1998.
Better Luck This Time?
There has only been one team that Gang Green has never beaten in its history, and that team is the Eagles. The Jets are 0-7 in the all-time season series against Philadelphia. Would the Jets do better this time around against the Eagles? It could be a possibly, considering that Philly is also struggling this season.
Strong After A Bye
If facing the Eagles wasn�t enough of a problem for the Jets, given their history, facing the Eagles coming off of a bye week will be a daunting task. Since 1999, the Eagles sported an 8-0 record after the bye week. LB Jonathan Vilma, while impressed with the stat, doesn�t �put any stock into it.�
�They must be doing a good job of resting, taking care of themselves and getting ready for the last stretch of the season,� Vilma replied.
Full participation in practice: FB Darian Barnes (thigh), TE Jason Pociask (back)
Limited participation in practice: T Anthony Clement (thigh), S Erik Coleman (concussion), WR Laveranues Coles (knee), DE Shaun Ellis (foot), WR Justin McCareins (ankle), QB Chad Pennington (ankle), DT Dewayne Robertson (knee), S Eric Smith (thigh)
Full participation in practice: CB Lito Sheppard (knee), TE L.J. Smith (hernia), RB Brian Westbrook (abdomen)
Limited participation in practice: WR Greg Lewis (ankle)
Did not participate in practice: S Brian Dawkins (neck), G Todd Herremans (knee), T William Thomas (knee)
Game time is at 1:00PM on Sunday, local TV on FOX 5 and local radio on 1050 ESPN radio and WCRN 104.3 on Long Island. Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com after the game for a complete recap!
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