In the lead-up to the New England Patriots' week seven match-up against the New York Jets, I asked Scott Salmon of Gang Green Nation five questions on New England's division rival:
1. The Jets have had a brutal schedule thus far to start the season, but most thought they would be better than 1-5. What have the main issues been? Can they turn it around?
Salmon: It's been a little bit of everything. The quarterback has been making poor decisions and has been gun-shy, the wide receivers can't get open, the offensive line has been struggling, and the secondary can't stop a nosebleed. So a lot of it is on the Jets' side of the ball. That said, a lot of their problems also stem from the extraordinarily difficult level of competition. They've faced some of the best quarterbacks in the league, and yet have been competitive in every game except for the one against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite their struggles. The ball just isn't bouncing their way right now.
The team can still turn it around, as the schedule gets significantly easier after tonight, with only one remaining game against a team above .500 in the Patriots. They're going to need to start executing there and they can't afford to lose more than two games, but there's some chance at turning it around.
2. To the casual viewer, Geno Smith has been a mess in 2014. Have the stats backed up what you have seen on the field? Are there any reasons for optimism in his development?
Salmon: He started off the season strong, but he's definitely struggled since then. Part of the problem is that his wide receivers can't get open. He's afraid to pull the trigger, because he's trying to avoid turnovers. As a a result, his mechanics are shot and he isn't running the ball the way he did last year. When Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, and Jace Amaro are all on the field, however, things are significantly better. I think that's the real hope for optimism, as Decker gets healthier. Further, I think you would have to look to next year, when the team would presumably get him another serviceable weapon.
3. The Jets added a few playmakers to their offense this offseason in Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, and Jace Amaro. How have those additions panned out thus far?
Salmon: Chris Johnson started the year off strong, but he's faded quickly. He may be good for one burst a game, but that's really it. Eric Decker looks like the real deal, although he's been struggling with a hamstring injury that seems to be fine now. When he's on the field, he's one of Smith's favorite targets, and he's made several huge catches for the team. Jace Amaro, however, is the really great acquisition, in my opinion. His 24 catches are five more than the combined catches of the two tight ends drafted before him in Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. His last game, in which he caught ten passes, is the first such game for a rookie since 2002, when Jeremy Shockey caught 10+ passes twice during his rookie year. His playing time is increasing, and the team knows he's Smith's favorite weapon.
4. The New York secondary received another blow this week in the form of a season-ending injury to Dee Milliner. How will the Jets adjust, and can the secondary still back up the excellent defensive line play?
Salmon: The Jets have had some pretty bad luck in the secondary, with two of the top cornerbacks going down with injuries in Milliner and Dexter McDougle, and Dimitri Patterson going insane during the preseason. One thing the Jets have been doing is putting OLB Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples on the outside to jam receivers, then switching out with a cornerback that's in off-man. They haven't been as bad as many people think (http://www.ganggreennation.com/2014/10/14/6976267/ny-jets-pass-d-not-as-bad-as-you-think), but I expect them to have a similar game plan to last week against Peyton Manning, where they trusted the line to do its job, and flooded the zones with defensive backs.
5. Who is one player, on each offense and defense, that Patriots fans might not know very well, but will make an impact on tonight's game?
Salmon: On offense, get to know Jace Amaro. He set all kinds of records at Texas Tech when he had 106+ catches as a tight end, and some people are comparing him to a similar kind of player as Jason Witten. I really think the Jets got the real deal here.
On defense, get to know Demario Davis. He's become the leader of the defense, and he's had a pretty good season thus far at the inside linebacker position. You'll likely see him flying all over the field with his fantastic speed.