The Patriots and the Jets will renew their rivalry this weekend in the Meadowlands, with a late afternoon tilt. You may have heard that New Jersey has added a certain gunslinging geriatric who, nevertheless, can still wing it with the best young guns in the league. Since everyone already knows about him and what he can do, I'm going to focus on some of the other sub-plots in this drama.
This rivalry used to have more of a family picnic feel to it--at least among the fandom--as the legacy of the old AFL fostered some solidarity. With Namath, the Jets struck the first blow against big brother, and the intervening years saw the shared misery of mediocrity (and worse). No more.
As we will be constantly reminded this week, the Tuna made great waves, first by raising the Patriots from Patsies, then shopping himself down I-95 when he should have been preparing for the Favre-led Packers (one of Brett's two wins v. NE). That lit the fuse and the intervening years have been a pitched battle for AFC East dominance.
Although the Patriots have had the upper hand of late, rarely have we been able to take the Jets for granted. When we lost the back end of the yearly series in 2006, there were even rumblings that Belichick had been outcoached by his protege. It was not a pretty sight, as the Patriots were outplayed on both sides of the ball. The Jets were no match for New England last year, but with our key man down they look to regain the advantage, starting this Sunday. Here are some guys in green to keep your eyes on:
Cotchery and Coles: Cotchery and Coles are a recurring thorn in the side of the Patriots defensive backfield. Both have quickness and, though not huge recievers (both in the 6 foot range), they're taller than our corners. They both have big play ability and seem to make the key catches when needed. Though neither is a breakaway threat, they are both heady players and can make a young defensive backfield pay for lapses. With #4 slinging the rock, expect this tandem to test both Hobbs and O'Neal. With Meriweather in the game, expect Favre to try for a mismatch in coverages--these are two adaptable guys.
On the other hand, they still aren't exactly in synch with Brett. The combination of newness and Brett's occassionally reckless play should provide our D with some opportunities. Nevertheless, if you're seeing a lot of 3rd down conversions, you can bet one of these guys is on the other end.
Woody and Faneca: Patriots fans will remember Damien Woody as the classy, All-Pro center who helped the franchise transition from Bledsoe to Brady. He played his last for New England during the frozen playoff homestand against Tennessee in 2003. The following year he was banished to Detriot. There, he moved to guard. Now with the Jets, he's playing right tackle.
On the other side of the line, we find longtime Steeler stallwart, Alan Faneca. Faneca and Woody were part of an offseason spending spree designed to make the Jets into contenders rightnow. Certainly, with the fall of Brady, New Jersey feels the time is ripe. Woody and Faneca have by all accounts slotted in well with the rest of the Jets o-line, which might be one of the highest-profile lines in the league right now. Wunderkind D'Brickashaw Ferguson and nasty Nick Mangold round out a line that has four 1st round draft picks. Is this line for real? Certainly, given their play in the preseason and against a very raw Kansas City line, our defensive front 7 have their work cut out for them.
Nevertheless, the Jets o-line didn't completely dominate against a poor Miami unit. They're still getting to know each other and this Sunday our chances of victory have a lot to do with how we handle Woody, Faneca and the rest as they try to keep Favre on his feet, and open holes for this guy:
Thomas Jones: Jones doesn't get a lot of hype. But make no mistake--this guy is a pro. He's rushed for over 1000 yards in each of the last three seasons. He's a big, strong guy (think Eddie George), who labored in obscurity for the Cardinals his first three years in the league. Since the Bears made him their go-to back in '03 he has put up some decent numbers, though his per-carry rate has dropped slightly every year. Last week, though, he averaged 4.6 ypc against Miami. The Jets won't think twice about using him in short- and medium- 3rd down situations and although he didn't get a chance to show it last week, he is a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Not a game-changer, but a serious contributor.
Kris Jenkins: Of all the Jets' acquisitions in the off season, this is the one that worries me the most--more than Favre, certainly. Jenkins is a beast--exactly the kind of guy you want anchoring the middle of a 3-4 defensive line. At 6-4, he might be a little on the tall side for a true nose tackle--something that Mankins, Koppen and Hochstein/Yates/? will have to make the most of by staying low. But that height can be a problem for a young QB to throw through. He's mean and he's mobile--you may remember him from our tussles with the Carolina lines we battled in the past. As a new addition to the Jets defense, he's one to watch.
Barton and Harris: I'm following a line up the middle of the defense right now, with these two dynamic inside linebackers. Looking at our offensive line (and the hit to Brady) you may note that our middle feels a bit vulnerable right now. Harris is in his sophmore season out of Michigan, and if last year was any indication this kid could be a star for a long time in 'Jersey. He has north-south speed and is a good penetrator. Blitz machine, tackle monster.
Barton is the Jets' coach-on-the-field for the front seven. He's been one of the guys they've worked the new communication helmets with and his steady play holds down the middle of the defense. Barton, Harris and Jenkins: if we want to get Maroney and Morris going, we're going to have to account for these three guys on every play.
Rhodes and Lowery: Lowery is the kid. Rhodes is the veteran. Lowery is serious about football and a student of the game who can't be taken lightly. With starting CB Miller hurt, Lowery will see a lot of playing time. He's still young, though, and that's why Rhodes is important. Rhodes has been in the system for 4 years now and is building a reputation as a ball-hawk. If Matty lets one fly, chances are Kerry will get his hands on it. He's no stringbean, either, at 6'3", 220 pounds. Opposite Lowery is sophomore (all-rookie last year) Revis, so while it's a yound backfield and may be occasionally exploited, it's a smart group of guys. We will have to confuse them--and the Jets are stocked back there for the future.
Mike Nugent hurt himself, somehow, against the Dolphins. The Jets picked up Jay Feely. Feely is ordinary, by NFL standards, but this is a change up so I'm noting it.
As you buckle down for Sunday, these are the guys to concern youself with, in my opinion. We all know how Favre plays the game. As a long time vetern and a prima donna, you will see the Jets mold their offense to his strengths--not try to transfer the Pennington-focused precision-oriented passing attack to his arm. Last year, Green Bay was successful to the extent that Mike McCarthy and OC Joe Philbin were able to keep Favre focused. Judging by the way Mangini has been gushing about Brett, I don't see the same steady hand on the rudder here.
So while Brett will be Brett, if the Jets are going to be successful this year (and according to Mike Lombardi, they'd better be), the fellas I'm pointing out are the ones who will have to make that happen. Otherwise, look for Favre to throw more interceptions than touchdowns and leave New Jersey wondering where their money went.
Point-Counterpoint: 2008 New York Jets: Greatest team in the history of sports, or merely the greatest team in the history of the NFL?
Point: Greatest team in the history of sports—did you see the way they beat the Dolphins by six points? It takes the heart of a champion to let a team that went 1-15 last year hang around all game, then put them in a position to drive for the win, and then…WAM…intercept a fluttering pass in the back of the endzone as time expired to go home with a victory. That’s how the greats do it. Greatest team ever, in any sport. No wait, strike that: greatest thing ever. Even better than gravity.