- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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On paper, this screams, "Bad matchup!"
The New York Jets (4-4) are coming off one of the worst defensive performances of the Rex Ryan era and the New Orleans Saints (6-1), who have rediscovered their pre-Bountygate mojo, are producing crazy numbers on offense.
"This is the New Orleans Saints, so this is about as good as it gets in the NFL," Ryan said. "So if we find a way to get a win here, it would be huge. This is an outstanding football team. Again, we expect to win, but we also know it’s a huge challenge. There’s no doubt, it’s going to be a huge challenge."
Huge, but not impossible. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:
1. The Rebound Effect: If the Jets continue with the script -- 4-0 in odd weeks -- they should pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season. OK, now let's get serious: The odd-week thing is an anomaly, but there's no denying the Jets' resilience. They have a knack for rebounding from ugly losses. After getting blown out by the Tennessee Titans, they won impressively on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. After being pushed around by the Pittsburgh Steelers, they responded by stunning the New England Patriots.
It's a good quality to have, but it's a dangerous way to play a season. It can be mentally taxing on a team, and there's always the chance of doubt creeping into the psyche, especially after a stinker like the 40-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals -- the season's largest margin of defeat in the NFL. We'll learn a lot about the Jets in this game.
2. Geno vs. Rex's evil twin: Rookie QB Geno Smith faced a Ryan-coached defense every day in training camp; now he gets to play against Rex's identical twin, Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator. Rob, who inherited one of the worst defenses in history (you can look it up), has turned the Saints into a playmaking unit. Led by DE Cameron Jordan (six sacks) and CB Keenan Lewis (three interceptions), the Saints have registered 24 sacks and 15 takeaways. They've allowed fewer than 20 points in six of seven games, and we all know the Jets have been held under 20 in five of eight games.
Rob Ryan isn't blitzing at an unusually high rate, but his blitzes are effective. In fact, the Saints' sack rate when sending five or more rushers is 14.5 percent, the best in the league. You can bet he will try to confuse Smith with new looks, forcing him to hold the ball. He can't fall into the trap of throwing late on sideline passes; he got burned twice last week on those, resulting in pick-sixes. Smith's turnover total is up to 16, the second-highest in the league.
3. Just run, baby: Rex and Rob look alike and sound alike, but their defenses are the exact opposite. The Jets defend the run better than any team in the league and the Saints are allowing a league-high 4.8 yards per carry. No doubt, the Jets will try to exploit that weakness. If they can control the clock and shorten the game by running the ball, they have a chance to win. This could be a big day for Chris Ivory, who should be highly motivated against his former team.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, hurting at tight end, will have to get creative with his approach to running the ball. He might want to use some of the wrinkles he employed against the Falcons -- a three-back formation, sprinkling in some Pistol looks. The trick is keeping it a close game. If the Jets fall behind and have to start throwing, they'll fall into the Saints' wheelhouse. And that won't be pretty.
4. Get physical with the receivers: The Jets' secondary was atrocious last week, in part, because the corners were passive at the line, giving too much cushion. Whatever happened to bump-and-run coverage? DE Muhammad Wilkerson, usually not one to speak out, said the corners have to do a better job of holding up the receivers, allowing the pass rush to get home.
The spotlight will be on struggling rookie Dee Milliner, who will be targeted by Drew Brees the moment he steps on the field. Ryan stuck his neck out by talking up Milliner, predicting a strong second half of the season. It was a transparent attempt to bolster the kid's sagging confidence; let's see if it works. The Jets also need a better game from Antonio Cromartie, who could be involved in coverage plan for TE Jimmy Graham. Cromartie needs to be more aggressive in press man. If the secondary has a bad day, it'll be a 400-yard passing day for Brees, who averages 327 per game.
5. A Mo better effort: The pass rush, frustrated by Andy Dalton's quick throws, stunk last week. There will be sack opportunities because Brees likes to push the ball downfield, meaning he's willing to hang in the pocket. He knows what he's doing, because he leads the league with eight touchdown passes of 20 yards or more. On the flip side, he hasn't faced a defensive line this good. Brees' pass protection is suspect -- already 18 sacks -- so this is a chance for the Jets' pass-rushers to redeem themselves after last week's no-show. Brees may not have his best lineman, standout G Jahri Evans (hip). If Brees gets in trouble, he can check down to super-quick RB Darren Sproles, a matchup nightmare for the Jets.