The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders are a lot alike. They're rebuilding teams, slumping and struggling for answers at the quarterback position -- and yet they remain mathematically alive in the AFC wild-card race. Go figure.
The old AFL rivals meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Jets (5-7) have dropped three straight; the Raiders (4-8) have lost four of their past five, plus 12 straight in the Eastern time zone, dating to 2009. Jets team reporter Rich Cimini and Raiders team reporter Paul Gutierrez break down the matchup.
Cimini: Paul, let's start at quarterback. Terrelle Pryor got hurt, creating an opportunity for Matt McGloin. I bet casual NFL fans didn't know anything about him until recently, but he's actually put up decent numbers. He's Ken Stabler compared to Geno Smith. Tell me about McGloin and his game.
Gutierrez: Matt McGloin is your prototypical undersized, undrafted, chip-on-the-shoulder signal-caller who was invited to Napa, Calif., merely as a fourth arm, a "camp arm" who, through attrition, outlasted a fourth-round draft pick in Tyler Wilson, a purported big-money franchise quarterback in Matt Flynn and a new-jack, zone-read specialist in Terrelle Pryor for whom the term "moxie" was apparently invented. Whew ... hope that makes sense. Truly, though, McGloin is your standard pocket passer who is not afraid to step up in the pocket to make a throw and take a hit.
It's the skill set that Dennis Allen obviously prefers, and with a steady offensive line and sound running game, it's what works in this staff's offense under coordinator Greg Olson. Because what the offense loses with Pryor and his legs (remember that 93-yard TD run he had against the Steelers?), it gains in field vision. Many think it's actually a wash, though. Pryor, now that his sprained right knee, which he actually reaggravated on the MetLife Stadium turf against the Giants on Nov. 10, is healed, might give the Raiders a better shot against the Jets' defense. Allen has even said he wants to see Pryor on the field.
Let's stick with quarterbacks: Is Geno Smith the future in Gotham, or was his being named the starter -- again -- that vaunted kiss of death? And what about Mark Sanchez's prospects next year? Seems like the Jets have set themselves up for a QB controversy for the foreseeable future, with little to gain.
Cimini: It's "Groundhog Day," Paul. The Jets went through the same uncertainty a year ago. The names have changed, but it's the same story: The Jets don't have a definitive answer at quarterback. Smith was rushed into this job when Sanchez got hurt in the preseason, and after showing some early promise, he crashed back to reality. Smith has the physical tools, but he's overwhelmed. The game is too big for him, and he needs to spend some time on the bench to gather himself, but that hasn't happened because the Jets don't have a proven backup. Matt Simms is the Jets' version of McGloin, and David Garrard (remember him?) has been stuck in mothballs for three years.
So, basically, they're going to ride it out with Smith to see if he's the future. I think they already know the answer to that question; Smith is putting up some historically bad numbers. Sanchez, recovering from shoulder surgery, will be playing elsewhere next year. Hey, maybe he'll be in Oakland.
We're talking about two bad offenses here, but at least the Raiders saw some flashes from Andre Holmes. Is he for real and do they have playmakers to exploit the Jets' suspect secondary?
Gutierrez: I see what you did there with the Sanchize-to-Oaktown ploy. And, yeah, maybe a change of scenery back to his native West Coast would do him good. Well played, sir. Well played. As far as Andre Holmes goes, though, he might actually personify these Raiders -- that is, he's an undrafted player who washed out in two other spots and was thus undervalued (think of the Raiders' O.co Coliseum roomie, Billy Beane's Moneyball Athletics). Holmes looked legit against the Cowboys, his most recent team, in catching seven passes for 136 yards after coming into the game with five catches for 76 yards ... in his career. He's a big target at 6-foot-4 and not a burner from the days of Al Davis yore. But we're talking an extremely small sample size.
The Raiders' "playmakers" are guys who really have been either (A) phased out or (B) injured or (C) both. Paging Pryor, running back Darren McFadden and receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. McFadden, though, might actually get a lot of run in the Meadowlands (they still call it that, right?). At least they don't have to deal with Revis Island (I joke, I joke).
Still, the Jets' defense as a whole can be good and the Raiders are going to have to account for rookie defensive end Sheldon Richardson. Has he hit the "rookie wall" yet, or is that merely something for other rookies to worry about?
Cimini: Oakland's Holmes is doing better than the Jets' Holmes (Santonio), but that's a story for another day. As for Richardson, his pass-rushing production has dipped a bit, but he remains a good, every-down player. He plays the run very well, which has surprised many because that was supposedly the knock on him when he came out of college.
If I were Dennis Allen, I'd be more concerned about Muhammad Wilkerson, who has a team-high 10 sacks and deserves to be in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. At 315 pounds, Wilkerson is mostly an interior player, but he moves around. He lines up over the center, the guard ... anywhere. He's by far the best player on defense, probably the best player on the team. He's the key to the best run defense in the league.
Speaking of defense, I'm curious to see how the Raiders attack Smith. Most teams just load the box, overplay the run and dare Smith to beat them with his arm. Clearly, the Jets' receivers don't scare anyone. How do you see the Raiders playing this game?
Gutierrez: I see the Raiders sticking to their M.O. of blitzing with aplomb, racking up sacks early, building a quick lead and then trying desperately to finish out a game strong. That's been their formula (the jumping-out-to-a-lead part, not the blowing-leads bit) and I would imagine they would continue that line of thinking, but keeping someone to spy Smith, someone like a wily old vet in Charles Woodson, while being mindful of slant passes. That absolutely killed them against Tennessee.
The key for the Raiders on defense is to not get so worn down by halftime. It bit them in the season opener at Indianapolis, at home against Washington and Tennessee, and on the road against the Giants and Dallas. At least the Raiders will be coming off a long break, having last played on Thanksgiving, so a short week won't be readily available as an excuse this time, as it was against the Cowboys.