We’re just two days away from the Jets’ early-season showdown with the undefeated New Orleans Saints, so it’s time to get you up to speed on the key matchups heading into the contest. In honor of the Jets going for their fourth straight victory to start the season, here’s four burning questions I’ll be looking at during the game:
1. Can a banged-up Jets secondary contain the Saints offense? With Rex Ryan calling the plays, you know the Jets are going to relentlessly attempt to put pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. But what happens if Gang Green’s D can’t get to him in time? The task of stopping the multi-dimensional offense will fall on the battered Jets secondary. It’s still uncertain whether cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland will play on Sunday, which could potentially pose a major problem for the Jets defense.
Part of the reason they were able to stop New England’s prolific passing attack was the amount of defensive backs they had at their disposal. They dressed 10 in all for their Week Two victory over the Pats, but the injuries to Sheppard and Strickland make it nearly impossible to repeat that if they in fact do not play. If the Jets can’t get to Brees consistently, the defense could be in for a long day.
2. Can the sputtering Jets running game get it going? Things won’t get any easier for a Jets running attack that will square off against the fifth-rated rush defense in the NFL this Sunday in New Orleans. The ground game has averaged just 83 yards over its past two contests, which just isn’t good enough. In order to take the pressure off their young quarterback, the tandem of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington will have to be able to move the chains on the ground. The Saints will most likely stack the box with eight defenders throughout the game, forcing rookie signal caller Mark Sanchez to beat them. If the Jets can still run the ball, though, it will open the play-action passing game, something we’ve seen Sanchez excel at over his first three games. The rookie will one day be able to win games by himself through the air, but right now he needs a solid ground game to allow this team to win football games as he develops. The Jets establishing the run is one of the major keys to this game, so watch to see whether or not they can do so early on. It’s time for that high-priced offensive line to get some push up front, and give these guys some room to run.
3. Who will win the special teams battle? The battle of the number one offense in the NFL versus the number one defense isn’t the only intriguing battle taking place Sunday. The Jets’ special teams have been outstanding so far this season, never more so than their performance against the Titans in Week Three, when they forced two turnovers that lead to 14 points. But this isn’t Ryan Mouton lining up to return punts this Sunday – the Jets will have to contend with a guy you might have heard of, Mr. Reggie Bush. An All-Pro at the punt returner spot, Bush has the ability to take it to the paint every time he touches the ball. Gang Green’s punt and kick coverages have been tremendous so far this season, but this will be a major test for the unit. If they can limit Bush’s return yards, they will keep their defense out of compromising field positions, giving them more of a chance to work their magic against Brees and Company.
4. Will the offense be able to handle the crowd noise? Coach Ryan’s squad has been using artificial crowd noise throughout the week to try and simulate what the inside of the Superdome will sound like Sunday. Crowd noise hasn’t been a problem for these Jets so far this season – they were able to neutralize a normally raucous crowd in Houston because they were taking it to the Texans on the field. But if the Jets fall behind early, the crowd will become rabid, smelling a 4-0 start for their Saints. How the offense audibles, whether or not they use silent counts, and how they communicate with each other at the line of scrimmage are all things crowd noise can drastically effect. It will be up to the rookie Sanchez to manipulate his offense, and how he deals with the tremendous crowd noise will be a major factor in this game should the Saints find themselves ahead early.
Prediction: The Buffalo Bills attempted to make the Saints running game beat them last week, and that running game became the driving force behind their victory. Rex Ryan will not deviate from what he does – he believes in his system and has confidence it can stop anyone. The Saints will score their points, and Brees will get his touchdown pass. Both these teams can score points offensively, but I think the Jets score more. The defense does just enough to slow Brees down, and the momentum keeps on rolling for Gang Green.
Final Score: Jets 27, Saints 24.
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