Smashmouth is Jets' only hope vs. Saints

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets can upset the New Orleans Saints on Sunday -- yes, they can -- but they have to play the game on their terms. It has to be a street fight, old-school football, a game in the trenches. It can't be a basketball game, with Drew Brees leading the fast break, because the Jets aren't equipped to play that style.

The Saints are a finesse team, the model of what the NFL has become. The tenets that once shaped the game -- run the ball, stop the run -- don't apply to the Saints. They don't run it particularly well and they're giving up a league-high 4.8 yards per rush, but they're winning because they can throw it and catch it better than perhaps any team in the league.

The Jets recognize this. They respect the Saints, but they also believe they can knock them out of their comfort zone by playing big-boy football, smashing them in the mouth. Four weeks ago, they did it to the Atlanta Falcons, another team built around its skill players. The Jets see a lot of similarities between the Falcons and Saints, NFC South rivals.

[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsBruising back Chris Ivory of the Jets could do some damage against his former team.
"If we can handle Atlanta, we should, in theory, be able to handle New Orleans," linebacker Calvin Pace said Thursday.

It's not just a defensive thing. It's not just an offensive thing. It's an everything thing. The Jets have to set an early tone, on both sides of the ball, letting the Saints know it will be a two-chinstrap game, as coach Rex Ryan likes to say.

They can start by establishing a running attack, feeding Bilal Powell and ex-Saint Chris Ivory, who, no matter how much he downplays it, would love to rip a hole in his former team. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done a nice job in his first season with the Saints, as his twin brother has pointed out every day this week, but it's hard to ignore that big, fat rushing stat: 4.8 yards per carry.

That's an engraved invitation for the Jets to impose their will on the Saints. They have to shorten the game, keep Brees on the sideline and make those New Orleans pass-rushers get dirty in the trenches, defending the run. They don't like to do that.

"Honestly, I feel like with the guys we have up front, we should be able to run the ball on everybody," right tackle Austin Howard said.

Everything the Saints do revolves around Brees and their high-scoring offense. When they jump to a quick lead, it allows Rob Ryan to be more aggressive on defense. It's easy to be a swashbuckling playcaller on defense when you have a 14-point lead every week. The Saints have 15 takeaways and 24 sacks, with 13 different players in the sack column.

"I think my brother is the only one without a sack on that team," Rex cracked.

For the Jets, it's all about Brees.

After getting shredded by a Brees wannabe, the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton, it's fair to wonder if they have what it takes to handle the real deal. The front four couldn't get close enough to Dalton to see the whites of his eyes, but it should have more chances against the Saints because of their vertical passing attack. Brees, looking downfield, will take deep dropbacks and hold the ball. There should be enough time for Muhammad Wilkerson & Co. to get home against the Saints' suspect line.

"We've shown we have one of the most explosive fronts in the game," linebacker Demario Davis said. "If we can cover for two or three seconds, and he's still holding the ball, I'm pretty sure somebody will be in his face."

Brees' favorite target is Jimmy Graham. He's a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and the Jets can't let him run freely through the secondary. He already has eight touchdown receptions, the same number as the entire Jets team. They want to get physical with him, show him the Bronx, so to speak. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safety Antonio Allen could take turns on Graham.

"I just have to get my hands on him and beat him up," said Allen, echoing the theme of the game plan.

The Jets have to play the game in the trenches, not on the perimeter. It's the only way to beat the Saints, a new-age team disproving the time-honored doctrines of the sport.

"I think the game has changed a little bit, obviously," Rex Ryan said. "When you're that prolific throwing the football, as they are -- and New England and Denver are -- that's how you get away with it."

The Jets have to turn back the calendar and go old school on the Saints. It's their only chance.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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