Friday, December 7, 2012
W2W4: Jets at Jaguars
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- This is all about survival.
The Jets (5-7), with the NFL's easiest remaining schedule, need to beat the struggling Jaguars (2-10) to keep alive their faint playoff hopes. QB Mark Sanchez, whose career flashed before his eyes this week, needs an efficient -- if not stellar -- performance to remain in the position he has held for nearly four years.
It probably won't be pretty. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at EverBank Field. What to watch for:
1. Tony's guys: The quarterback matchup features Tony Sparano's current project, Sanchez, against his old project, Chad Henne, formerly of the Dolphins. Remember the days, circa 2009/2010, when Sanchez and Henne were considered the bright lights in the future of the AFC East? Henne washed out with the Dolphins, took a backup gig in Jacksonville and ascended to the starting job when the disappointing Blaine Gabbert got hurt.
Henne (1-1) gives the Jaguars a puncher's chance because he throws a good deep ball. He has passed for 823 yards over the past three games, the seventh-highest total in the league. In Miami, he was 3-1 against the Jets, including two monster games. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine picked up some intel on Henne by consulting with offensive assistant Tony Sparano Jr., formerly of the Dolphins.
2. Pound the rock: The Jets will try to help the turnover-prone Sanchez by ... well, taking the ball out of his hands. Look for a conservative, run-heavy approach, featuring Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell. Makes sense. The Jaguars are 31st in run defense, coming off a game in which they allowed a season-high 232 yards. The Jets will attack up the gut, behind C Nick Mangold and Gs Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson. The Jaguars are vulnerable up the middle, as they've allowed a league-high 12 TDs between the center and either guard, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
3. Calling all playmakers: There won't be too many explosive players on the field. The offensively challenged Jets probably won't have TE Dustin Keller (ankle), and the Jaguars won't have star RB Maurice-Jones Drew (foot), who has missed the past six games. They could be down to their fourth running back, Montell Owens, who was extracted from mothballs last week. Big-play WR Cecil Shorts, who has three TD catches of 50-plus yards, likely will sit with a concussion. Two players who could hurt the Jets are TE Marcedes Lewis and rookie WR Justin Blackmon, whose production has increased with Henne at quarterback. CB Antonio Cromartie draws the Blackmon assignment.
4. Watch the safety: For the second straight week, the Jets will face a safety they traded away. This time, it's Dwight Lowery, whom Rex Ryan dubbed "The Closer" for his ability to make big plays in the clutch. Lowery has only one interception (a game-clinching pick-six two weeks ago), but he's a smart, instinctive player who knows Sanchez's tendencies. A week ago, former S Kerry Rhodes tormented Sanchez, intercepting two passes in the first quarter.
Ryan is familiar with the Jaguars' other safety, Dawan Landry, whom he coached in Baltimore. He's the older brother of Jets S LaRon Landry. The brothers have played a combined total of 170 games, but this will be the first time they've faced each other in the regular season.
5. Jason, the nightmare: DE Jason Babin, who torched the Jets for three sacks last season as a member of the Eagles, will make his second appearance for the Jaguars. They claimed him on waivers after his surprising release from the Eagles. Babin started last week at right end and played 40 of 65 snaps. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson should fare better against Babin than former RT Wayne Hunter, who was embarrassed in last year's matchup. Babin (53.5 career sacks) gives the Jaguars their only pass-rushing threat. No other player has more than two sacks this season. Sounds like the Jets, doesn't it?