New York Jets: W2W4

W2W4: Jets vs. Packers

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
3:00
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- That Rex Ryan, he's crazy like a fox.

Instead of his usual bravado, Ryan took a gallows-humor approach this week as the New York Jets (1-0) prepared to face the heavily favored Green Bay Packers (0-1). He said he'd rather play Delbarton (New Jersey) High School and how the best game plan for Aaron Rodgers is to "hope he gets sick." It was Ryan's way of feeding/mocking the public perception that the Jets have no chance Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Behind closed doors, it was a different Ryan, of course. It was vintage Ryan, hammering home the belief the Jets are a tougher team than the Packers and will out-physical them in the trenches. He's right -- they are and they will -- but will that be enough to overcome the brilliance of Rodgers? Probably not, but this is a house-money game for the Jets: No pressure. Maybe they can use that to their advantage.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Jets could have problems trying to cover the fast, physical Jordy Nelson.
Kickoff is 4:25 p.m. ET. The top storylines:

1. On the road again (uh-oh): Coaches don't like to look back -- we get it -- but it's unavoidable in this case. The Jets were brutal on the road last season, and this is their first chance to start a new trend. They were 2-6, with the worst point differential (minus-102) and the worst turnover margin (minus-12) in the league. In most games, they started poorly, got rattled and stayed down. A lot of it can be pinned on Geno Smith, who was exceptional in the two wins (Atlanta and Miami) but awful in the other games. All told, he had five touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. The Jets never will be considered a legitimate contender until they start winning on the road.

2. Expect the full Rodgers: The Packers didn't look like the Packers in their Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Their offense was bland and tentative. Concerned with the legendary Seattle crowd noise and its impact on their no-huddle, the Packers stayed in a basic three-receiver set for much of the game, using no motion at all. They didn't throw at All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, basically eliminating one-third of the field. Now, in the friendly confines of Lambeau, the Packers are expected to use the full playbook and the full field. Their goal this season is to run 75 plays a game, so look for Rodgers to keep his foot on the gas pedal. Pre-snap communication will be important for the Jets, whose depth also will be tested by the up-tempo attack.

3. Help for secondary: Cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to play after missing four weeks with a high-ankle sprain, but his presence doesn't fix the secondary problems. Basically, Milliner is re-starting training camp. He'll need a few weeks to get into football shape and he's the type of player who needs reps to be at the top of his game. Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen will remain the starters, with Milliner rotating with Walls. The Rodgers-Jordy Nelson tandem poses a huge challenge. They've developed great chemistry over the years, especially on sideline routes -- the back-shoulder fade, in particular. Nelson, targeted 14 times last week, could run circles around Allen, who's still learning the position. Let's be real: They all could have problems covering Nelson.

4. Ground & Pound (and keep pounding): You'd like to believe the Jets won't overthink their offensive game plan. They ran for 212 yards last week and the Packers allowed 207, so the approach seems rather obvious: Just run, baby. The Packers' run defense was a hot mess in the opener. Their tackling was poor (17 misses) and their run fits were sloppy. The Seahawks spread them and ran wild against the Packers' nickel personnel. Jets right tackle Breno Giacomini acknowledged that "we might take a few things here and there" from the Seattle game plan. They should be able to gash the Packers with the inside-outside talents of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, respectively. The idea is to play ball control and keep Rodgers on the sideline.

5. Memo to offense: Finish drives: Last week's performance in the red zone (one touchdown, four trips) was flat-out unacceptable. The Jets ran 11 plays inside the 21-yard line, producing a net of minus-39 yards. Chalk it up to sacks, penalties, missed blocks and questionable play calling (see: Michael Vick package). The focus has to be sharper, and it starts with Smith, who needs to do a better job of managing the game. As coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said, "We have to become situational experts."

W2W4: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
5:00
PM ET
Season five of the Rex Ryan era ends Sunday in Miami. In reality, it could be the final act of a wonderfully entertaining run. The following day, Black Monday, the New York Jets are expected to announce whether he will return for 2014.

The players have spoken. The media have spoken. The embattled Ryan (41-38) has received a groundswell of support.

"It's not like 'Survivor,' where I'm trying to get their vote or something like that," Ryan cracked.

In an attempt to motivate the Jets (7-8), who were eliminated in Week 15, Ryan has made this game a referendum on their entire season. He's playing the "team-on-the-rise" card, hoping to validate his opinion with a season-ending win. Funny, but he's never ended a season with a victory. There were playoff losses in 2009 and 2010, and three-game losing streaks to close the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Ryan might not be coaching for his job -- upper management probably has made a decision -- but he could be coaching for his next job. The Dolphins (8-7) need a win, and some help, to claim a wild-card berth. Kickoff is 1 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium. What to watch for:

1. Manufactured motivation: With no shot at the playoffs, the Jets have lowered their sights, trying to accomplish mini-goals. An 8-8 record would mean avoiding their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1995-96, the Rich Kotite years. A win would provide a small measure of satisfaction after a brutal season on the road; the Jets are 1-6 away from home, including four losses by at least 16 points. A victory also would ruin the Dolphins' playoff hopes, giving Ryan some redemption against a mediocre division rival that has tormented him. He's 3-6 against the Dolphins.

2. Which Geno will show up?: Geno Smith was terrible against the Dolphins in Week 13, resulting in a halftime benching -- the lowpoint of his up-and-down rookie season. Since then, he has played reasonably well, producing six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and only two interceptions. The Dolphins' defense is always a tough matchup for the Jets, so this won't be easy. If Smith can finish with another encouraging performance, it could impact how the front office tackles the quarterback situation in the offseason. It certainly would reduce the need to pick a quarterback in the first or second round of the draft. It also would reinforce the belief that Smith is developing in Marty Mornhinweg's system.

3. Many farewells: Several starters could be playing in their final game with the Jets. The top unrestricted free agents are RT Austin Howard, OLB Calvin Pace, TE Jeff Cumberland, RG Willie Colon and PK Nick Folk. Potential salary-cap casualties include CB Antonio Cromartie ($14.98 million cap charge in 2014) and WR Santonio Holmes ($10.75 million), an absolute goner after another injury-plagued season. S Ed Reed and TE Kellen Winslow, one-year rentals, also will be bidding adieu after this game. Turnover is part of the NFL, but it will hit hard for the Jets as they enter phase II of John Idzik's rebuilding program.

4. Keep an eye on the kids: Smith has been the focal point of the rookie class, but it's important that others finish on a positive note, especially CB Dee Milliner. The oft-criticized first-round pick is coming off his best game, and now he faces another challenge. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are trying to become the first Dolphins receiving tandem since Mark Clayton and Mark Duper (1991) to record 1,000-yard seasons. Milliner got roughed up in the previous matchup, as did Cromartie, so this will be a good test to gauge improvement. Struggling LG Brian Winters is in the same boat as Milliner. If Winters plays well, the Jets should be able to run against the Dolphins' 25th-ranked rush defense.

5. What happened to the 'Sons'?: Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are the main building blocks in the front seven, but their sack production has gone south in recent weeks. In fact, they've combined for only a half-sack over the past four games. They should feast on Ryan Tannehill, the most-sacked quarterback in the league -- 58 sacks. He was overwhelmed last week by the Buffalo Bills, who killed the Dolphins with DB blitzes from the slot. Tannehill (knee) showed up on the injury report and was seen limping in practice throughout the week. His beleaguered offensive line could have a new starter, with Nate Garner likely to replace rookie Sam Brenner at left guard. It should add up to a big day by the Jets, but we also thought that last time and they barely got a hand on Tannehill.

W2W4: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
5:00
PM ET
It's Week 15 for the NFL. It's Elimination Week 1 for the New York Jets.

Holding the ninth position in the AFC playoff standings, the Jets (6-7) could be eliminated by the time they go to bed Monday night. A loss to the Carolina Panthers (9-4), coupled with a Baltimore Ravens victory over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, means the Jets are done for 2013.

Who are we kidding? If they lose to the Panthers, it's pretty much over.

The Jets are capable of pulling a major upset -- see New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- but the difference with this game is that it's on the road. And the Jets stink on the road, which might be putting it kindly. They're 1-5 with a minus-14 turnover margin, the worst in the league and tied for the worst in franchise history. That encompasses a lot of bad football, so ponder that stat for a moment. Hey, maybe they can set a new mark with a shovel-pass interception. That would be fitting, considering the locale.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium. The top storylines:

1. Statement game for Rex: If Woody Johnson and John Idzik are undecided on coach Rex Ryan's future, they'd have to be impressed by a win over one of the best teams in the league, especially on the road. The Jets are an 11-point underdog (not that we pay attention to that sort of thing), and you don't see too many double-digit point spreads in the NFL. They received a confidence boost last week, beating the Oakland Raiders, but questions remain about the team's mental toughness on the road. The Jets tend to shrink at the first sign of adversity, which explains why they've been outscored in their last three road games, 105-26. For the sake of his own job security, Ryan needs a spirited effort.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesGeno Smith will face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL when the Jets play the Panthers.
2. I, Geno: Geno Smith offered a rather candid evaluation of his recent slump, saying he was playing like a robot. He played well last week, but this will be an entirely different, and tougher, challenge.

Unlike the Raiders, the Panthers (No. 2 in total defense) don't blitz much at all. They send five or more rushers on only 26 percent of the dropbacks, 27th in the league, per ESPN Stats. They create havoc with a four-man rush, dropping seven into coverage. It's a fast-flow, high-energy defense, led by MLB Luke Kuechly. Those play-action rollouts that worked against the Raiders probably won't succeed against the Panthers. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to come up with a new wrinkle, perhaps some misdirection to exploit the Panthers' aggressiveness. This is Smith's most daunting assignment of the year.

3. Loose lips: The Jets unwittingly provided bulletin-board for the Panthers -- as if they needed it. Santonio Holmes' "weakest link" comment about the Panthers' secondary was accurate, but ill-advised. All he did was make things harder for his rookie quarterback, who could bear the brunt of the consequences.

Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson didn't take any shots at the Panthers, but his remark about how he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in a re-draft is sure to raise eyebrowns in the Panthers' locker room. They, too, have a promising rookie defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, who is battling Richardson and Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Richardson and Lotulelei were drafted 13th and 14th, respectively. Richardson has been more productive, but Lotulelei could have a bigger game, especially if he's facing struggling rookie left guard Brian Winters.

4. Ivory tower: The Jets' best player on offense is running back Chris Ivory, who has rushed for 524 yards since Week 7 -- fourth in the AFC over that span. To pull off an upset, Ivory needs a big game. Unlike the Jets, who haven't faced the Panthers since 2009, Ivory is familiar with them from his NFC South days as a member of the Saints. His career average in four games is 5.7 yards per carry, including a 127-yard performance in the 2011 finale. But the Panthers' defense has improved a lot since then. They own the league's top-ranked run defense. In fact, they've allowed only one 100-yard rush and four rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of 2012. Starting running backs are averaging only 44 yards per game in that span. Good luck, Mr. Ivory.

5. Where's the D?: The Jets have allowed 836 total yards in the last two games, the highest back-to-back total in the Ryan era. This is no time for Ryan's defense to fade, but it looks like they're running out of gas. They've been vulnerable against the run, and they can expect a heavy dose from the rush-oriented Panthers. They have a well-balanced, if not explosive offense. The key is containing quarterback Cam Newton, who is making better decisions than in previous years. The Jets should be able to get plenty of licks; Newton has been hit (throwing, running, sacked) more than any quarterback in the league -- 122 times, per ESPN Stats. Obviously, it hasn't affected him too much. The Jets' beleaguered secondary will take a hit if Antonio Cromartie (concussion) can't play.

W2W4: Oakland Raiders vs. New York Jets

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:00
PM ET
Contrary to what Kellen (The Greek) Winslow believes, the games still matter for the New York Jets.

Despite a three-game losing streak, the Jets (5-7) still are mathematically alive. The bigger issue, though, is the future of Rex Ryan, who has four games to convince his bosses he's the right man for the head coaching job.

Ryan can't afford a loss to the Oakland Raiders (4-8). If the slumping Jets can't defend their home field against the league's worst road team, it'll put a significant dent in Ryan's bid for a 2014 return. Under Dennis Allen, the Raiders are 2-12 on the road. They've lost 12 straight in the Eastern time zone by a combined score of 379-198. They're playing a backup quarterback, rookie Matt McGloin. They have injury concerns at running back. Their roster screams "rebuilding," as they dressed 16 undrafted players in their previous game.

And yet this game could be problematic for the Jets, who never have lost four straight under Ryan. After all, it's hard to win when you can't score.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:

1. Mettle detector: The Jets invested so much emotionally last week, in what they called a must-win game, that you have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Ryan's teams have always played hard for him, but this will be a gut check. Ryan spent the week trying to boost morale, commending the team's practice performance and lavishing praise upon his draft picks. There was a players-only meeting, with David Harris and D'Brickashaw Ferguson addressing the team. It might have been too little, too late, but we'll see. It would be a mistake to underestimate the Raiders. For all their issues, the Raiders usually come prepared. They have a plus-45 point differential in the first quarter, second in the league.

2. The Gang's all here: For the first time since Week 4, the Jets will have their regular offense intact. The return of WR Jeremy Kerley provides another option in the passing attack, especially in the short and intermediate zones. WR Santonio Holmes is healthier than last week (so they say), so he might actually play more than two snaps. We know the Jets aren't the Greatest Show on Turf, but they're rolling out the best they've got. They have no excuses. "Let's see how we close this thing out when we're healthy," Ryan said.

If they can't break the slump against the Raiders, it could last another two weeks because points will be at a premium next week at the Carolina Panthers. The Jets have gone eight quarters without a touchdown -- 114 plays, an elapsed time of 129 minutes, 36 seconds. They treat the end zone as if it's radioactive. There will be plenty of one-on-one opportunities on the outside, as the Raiders like to blitz and play man-to-man coverage. They've rushed five or more on 44 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, the third-highest rate in the league. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg streamlined the offensive game plan, focusing on the plays they do best -- slim pickings. The Raiders have struggled against slant passes, so look for that.

3. Clock ticking for Geno: The decision to stick with QB Geno Smith, despite his historic struggles, indicates the organization is determined to get a complete evaluation of the rookie. General manager John Idzik doesn't think anything positive can be gained by sitting him. So on we go. Mornhinweg took a different approach this week, imploring Smith to play loose and let his natural instincts take over. Don't be surprised if Mornhinweg calls more designed runs for Smith, who can create a spark with his mobility. He will get blitzed -- a lot. The Raiders will test Smith's recognition skills and the Jets' pass protection.

4. The In-and-Out Corner: Rookie CB Dee Milliner needs a big play in the worst way. He will remain in the starting lineup despite being pulled last week in the third quarter, his third in-game benching. If the coaches continue to yank him, he'll show up on the injury report with a case of whiplash. Milliner, drafted ninth overall, is a key part of the Jets' future. He needs to finish the season on the upswing, providing some evidence to the organization that it didn't swing and miss. You can bet the Raiders will go after him, but their receiving corps is thin. Their top playmaker in the last game was Andre Holmes, who surpassed his career totals in one afternoon. McGloin is fairly effective when throwing deep. Hear that, Ed Reed?

5. Replacing Josh Cribbs: Cibbs, placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, wore a lot of hats and it will take more than one player to replace him. Newly-signed Darius Reynaud will return kickoffs and punts, with Bilal Powell and Kerley expected to handle the Wildcat role on offense. Reynaud has dealt with ball-security issues in the past, especially on punt returns.

W2W4: Dolphins vs. Jets

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
5:00
PM ET
Not many expected the New York Jets to be playing meaningful football in December, but here we go: A game that could define their season.

A win over the Miami Dolphins means they enter the fourth quarter of the season in prime position for a wild-card berth. A third straight loss would signal yet another late-season collapse, triggering the Rex Ryan Watch.

"All these teams are fighting their tails off to get a seed," said guard Willie Colon, alluding to the six teams vying for the final wild-card spot. "If we don't start moving the train, it's not going to be the outcome we want."

Both the Jets and Dolphins are 5-6. This amounts to a knock-out game, a 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:

Let Geno play: It'll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg plays this. Instead of coaching not to lose, he needs to entrust Geno Smith with an aggressive game plan that accentuates his downfield passing ability. Will he? Probably not.

Based purely on the stats, the Jets probably will opt for a conservative, run-oriented attack. The Dolphins still have some talented big bodies up front, but their run defense has slipped this season (4.2 yards per carry, 20th in the NFL) -- an invitation for the Jets. The Dolphins are better when the ball is in the air (14 interceptions), so Mornhinweg probably will be hesitant to let the turnover-prone Smith sling it too often. Plus, they could be without injured wide receivers Jeremy Kerley (elbow) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring). Mornhinweg had better be prepared to adjust, though, because the Dolphins will load the box, daring him to throw. They'll blitz, too. Why not? Smith's QBR against five or more pass rushers is 13.0, second-lowest in the league.

If Smith can't shake his funk, could we see Matt Simms? Possibly. There's an outside chance third-stringer David Garrard could dress as well.

Jets secondary vs. Mike Wallace: The Jets don't need Fireman Ed in the stands; they need their future Hall-of-Fame safety to be Fireman Ed on the field. Ed Reed, yet to make an impact, has a vital role, especially if CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) doesn't play. Wallace, the Dolphins' $60 million wide receiver, was a disappointment for 10 games, but he produced a season-high 127 yards and a touchdown last week against a good Carolina Panthers defense. Turning point or aberration?

The Dolphins will go after the Jets' embattled secondary, which has struggled against the deep ball. They need Reed to step up and put out the fire; that's why he's here. He's familiar with Wallace from their days in the AFC North. QB Ryan Tannehill has two dangerous options in Brian Hartline and Wallace, whose average target distance is 15.0 yards, the second-deepest among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. The Dolphins are out to prove that the Tannehill-to-Wallace connection isn't a bust; the Jets can't let that happen.

A post-Thanksgiving feast: The Jets' defensive line should dominate. Tannehill, playing behind a second-rate offensive line, has been sacked a league-high 44 times. The return of C Mike Pouncey will help, but they're still down two starters -- LG Richie Incognito and RT Jonathan Martin, the two principles in the bullying scandal. The Jets already have 32 sacks, two more than last season.

This should be a showcase for DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who has a career-high 10 sacks. He also has forced opposing blockers to commit five penalties for 50 yards, according to NewYorkJets.com. The problem is, there have been games in which the defensive line was dominant (see last week), but the Jets still lost because the secondary failed to hold up its end. You can bet the Dolphins will try everything (i.e. quick throws) to neutralize the pass rush.

Battle of the Bookends: The offensive line struggled last week against the Baltimore Ravens' edge rushers, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. They face another formidable outside tandem in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, each of whom has 6.5 sacks. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and RT Austin Howard will have to bring their A game. They also need to keep an eye on Jets killer Randy Starks, who has been known to wreck Jets' screen passes. The big fella has four career interceptions, including two of Mark Sanchez in 2011. It would help if the Jets' backs stepped up in pass protection.

Who will choke? You have to figure this will be a close game. Consider: Four of the Jets' five home games have been decided by seven points or less. (They only get blown out on the road.) The Dolphins' entire season has been built on tight games. In fact, they've had eight games decided by four points or less, only two shy of the most in a single season over the past 10 years. They're 4-4 in those games. Chances are, this will come down to the fourth quarter, with perhaps the game -- and each team's season -- riding on a single play. The team that functions best under those circumstances will win.

W2W4: Jets at Ravens

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
4:00
PM ET
Let's call it like it is: The New York Jets stink on the road.

They've dropped 15 of their last 21, including 1-4 this season. Their minus-12 turnover margin is by far the worst in the league. They've been outscored in the first quarter, 34-6, suggesting they're not mentally or physically ready to play. Their shortcomings were on full display last Sunday in Orchard Park, where the Jets were embarrassed by the struggling Buffalo Bills, 37-14.

Here's the crazy thing: The Jets used to be a terrific road team under Rex Ryan, going 11-5 in his first two seasons -- plus four playoff wins. Those were the days.

On Sunday, the Jets (5-5) visit the Baltimore Ravens (4-6) at M&T Bank Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and this game has a scary look to it. The Ravens are 36-8 at home under John Harbaugh, whose defense tends to dominate on its own turf. They've allowed only 12.8 points per game in four home games.

This has the makings of a rough day for the Jets. What to watch for:

Smith
1. The Geno-scope: Geno Smith is one bad performance away from being involved in a full-blown quarterback controversy. He was pulled in the fourth quarter of the previous two losses, both blowouts, and he'll end up on the bench again, perhaps permanently, if he doesn't stop committing turnovers. The turnover count is up to 20, including 13 in five road games. The Jets want to make it work with Smith, especially with no viable veteran on the bench, but there comes a point where you have to say, "Enough is enough."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to do something to get Smith -- and the entire offense -- out of this funk. Naturally, he will try to feature the running game to take some pressure off Smith, perhaps incorporating wrinkles in the Wildcat and read-option packages. Unfortunately for the Jets, the Ravens allow only 3.7 yards per rush, No. 6 in the league. Mornhinweg should impress upon Smith the importance of looking for his check-down options. He too often stays locked on his No. 1 read, forcing the ball into coverage. Against the Bills, he targeted his backs only four times.

Holmes
2. Someone help the kid: Naturally, Smith took the brunt of the criticism for last week's mess, but he got no help from his receivers, who struggled against man-to-man coverage. That was a point of emphasis in practice; let's see if it works. Stephen Hill, branded a disappointment by Rex Ryan, received the good cop, bad cop treatment from Mornhinweg and Ryan, respectively. His starting job was threatened, but he'll still end up playing a lot. Santonio Holmes' hamstring still is an issue, so who knows how much he can contribute? Mornhinweg should feature his tight ends, as the Ravens' safeties are suspect in coverage, especially ex-Jet James Ihedigbo.

3. Secure the edges: This is a big game for the Jets' tackles, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard. The Ravens bring plenty of heat on the edges, with rush linebacker Terrell Suggs (nine sacks) and situational rusher Elvis Dumervil (8.5 sacks). Smith took a beating last week, starting from the very first series, and he's at a vulnerable stage in his development. If he gets hit hard and early, he's liable to turn skittish. The Ravens pounded Mark Sanchez in 2011, and there are some who believe he wasn't the same after that beating. The Ravens' pass rush is particularly effective at home. Since 2011, they've record 67 sacks, tied for second in the league.

Reed
4. Homecoming, Part Deaux: This should be a special day for Ravens icon Ed Reed, except he already did the homecoming thing in Week 3 as a member of the Houston Texans. That didn't go particularly well. His team lost, 30-9, and his performance was non-descript. That, too, was the case last week in his Jets debut. Now, more than ever, the Jets need Reed to turn back the clock. A big play by the future Hall of Famer, especially in his old house, would be an enormous spark for the Jets, who have allowed an alarming number of long completions.

Joe Flacco likes to throw deep, especially to Torrey Smith, whose vertical speed could cause problems for struggling CB Antonio Cromartie. The good news for the Jets is that Flacco, he of the Super Bowl MVP and $120 million contract, is having a subpar season -- especially on deep balls. In fact, he has only two touchdowns and five interceptions on throws of longer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

5. Rising Sons: The Jets' defensive line -- a.k.a. Sons of Anarchy -- should dominate the line of scrimmage. The Ravens' offensive line is really struggling, especially C Gino Gradkowski. Their running game showed signs of life last week against the Chicago Bears, but it has been a major disappointment, especially Ray Rice, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. It would be an absolute shock if the Jets, with the best run defense in the league, allow more than 75 yards. In theory, they should turn the Ravens into a one-dimensional offense, allowing them to devour Flacco, who already has 33 sacks. But, as we've seen a few times, it doesn't work out that way because of the problems in coverage.

W2W4: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:00
PM ET
It would be so typical of the New York Jets to lose this game, wouldn't it?

They're well-rested after the bye week and healthier than they've been in more than a month, facing the struggling Buffalo Bills (3-7), losers of three straight. Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have owned the Bills, having won seven of nine meetings.

With so much in their favor, the Jets should improve to 6-4 with a workmanlike victory, but we all know that's not in this team's DNA -- not yet, anyway. After upsetting the New Orleans Saints, they became only the second team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses through their first nine games, joining the 2005 New England Patriots. If they lose in Orchard Park, they'd be the first to do it through 10 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This is their best chance to break the trend, winning two in a row.

"I think it’s time for us to start doing that," quarterback Geno Smith said.

[+] EnlargeEd Reed
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger vis USA TODAY SportsThe Jets will look to use newly acquired safety Ed Reed in their Week 11 game at Buffalo.
This game will tell us a lot about the Jets. Kickoff is 1 p.m. ET at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here are the top storylines:

1. Raising the bar: The perception of the Jets has changed since the win against New Orleans. For two weeks they've been listening to playoff talk, people telling them how they're one of the biggest surprises of the season. On Thursday, they signed future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed, a message from management that the future is now. This is heady stuff for the young Jets, who have 10 first- and second-year players in the starting lineup. They've proven they can handle failure, rebounding from some tough losses, but the mark of a good team is the ability to handle success. Can the Jets do it?

2. Fireman Ed: Despite only two days of practice, Reed is expected to make his Jets' debut. The coaches have been cagey about his role, but if the Bills play their usual spread offense, there should be plenty of opportunities for Reed to be on the field. They signed him, in large part, to solve the problems against the long ball. Thing is, the Bills operate a dink-and-dunk passing attack, especially with rookie EJ Manuel at quarterback. He relies too much on his checkdowns, meaning there might not be a lot of ball-hawking chances for Reed in the deep middle. The Bills will have problems throwing the ball, especially with their starting receivers -- Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods -- out with injuries.

3. The Reinforcements: Unless WR Santonio Holmes aggravates his hamstring injury walking off the team plane -- hey, you never know with him -- he'll be in the lineup for the first time in six games. TE Kellen Winslow will be back, too, having served his four-game suspension. TE Jeff Cumberland also is expected to return from a concussion. WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow) is out, but all things considered, the Jets' offense is in pretty good shape. In theory, that should mean a balanced attack. The problem could be chemistry -- or lack thereof, as Smith hasn't had much practice time with Holmes and Winslow.

The Bills are healthier, too, especially in the secondary. In the Week 3 meeting, they played without ballhawking S Jairus Byrd and CB Stephon Gilmore. They're both back, as is CB Leodis McKelvin, who was injured early in the first game. It was "a little chaotic" on the back end, according to S Jim Leonhard. Sticking with man-to-man coverage despite a secondary filled with second- and third-stringers, the Bills were torched by Smith, who passed for a season-high 331 yards.

4. The Rookies: Some day, Smith versus Manuel might be a marquee quarterback matchup. But not now. The two rookies, the highest-drafted passers last spring, have experienced a serious case of NFL growing pains.

Smith is 1-3 on the road and he has only one touchdown pass and five interceptions in his last four games. The Jets have been trending toward the running game in recent weeks. In fact, Smith attempted only five passes longer than 10 yards in the last two games; he averaged 12 such passes per game over the first seven, per ESPN Stats & Information. Don't expect them to veer too far from the recent approach even though Smith's supporting cast is almost whole. When he throws, it could be off play-action, as the Jets hope to exploit Mike Pettine's aggressive defense. Manuel, who returned last week from a knee injury, was a rusty mess against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was rattled by the Jets' pass rush in Week 3, resulting in eight sacks.

5. The key to victory: Without their starting receivers, the Bills have to rely on their running game, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. That plays to the Jets' strength, as they're allowing only 3.1 yards per attempt -- best in the league. Only one team has rushed for more than 100 yards against them -- the Bills, who ran for 120, including 59 on a fluke run by Jackson. The Jets thought he was down and let up, allowing him to escape a pile-up. The front seven takes a lot of pride in the run defense and it's looking for some payback.

W2W4: Saints at Jets

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
6:00
PM ET
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:

[+] EnlargeRyan
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsRex Ryan has shown the ability to get his team to bounce back from ugly performances.
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.

[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsChris Ivory and the Jets running backs could have a big day against the Saints defense, which is allowing a league-high 4.8 yards per carry.
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.

W2W4: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
6:00
PM ET
The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent enters this game coming back-to-back game winnners, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Jets

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
4:00
PM ET
Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.

It would help if they could hold on to the ball.

That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.

What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith had a rough first game against the Patriots, going 15-for-35 passing with three picks.
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.

2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.

3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.

4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.

5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.

W2W4: Jets vs. Steelers

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
3:00
PM ET
This game screams "letdown" for the New York Jets.

Before we get into the particulars, let's pause for a moment to consider the incongruity of the previous sentence. That we're talking about the Jets in that context, not the Pittsburgh Steelers, is crazy. But crazy is reality in Week 6 of the NFL season.

For the surprising Jets (3-2), it has all the ingredients of a trap game: an emotional win Monday night ... a short practice week ... a winless and well-rested opponent, the Steelers (0-4), coming off their bye week ... and the first-place New England Patriots looming ahead.

What's more, the Jets don't know how to handle prosperity. Over the last 24 games, they've compiled only one two-game winning streak -- Weeks 13 and 14 last season. There's no rule against winning two in a row, Rex Ryan has told his players.

We'll see if they listen. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:

The rookie vs. the master: Geno Smith attended school in Morgantown, W.Va., only a couple of hours from Pittsburgh, so he knows all about the Steelers' venerable defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau. Giving a quick scouting report of LeBeau to reporters, Smith mentioned the coach's famous recitations of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." That's called doing your homework. LeBeau won't be in the holiday spirit for this game. His once-formidable defense has turned pedestrian, and he'll be looking to change things by unleashing his creative genius on the young quarterback.

This is a scary combination: LeBeau has had two weeks to tweak his defense and cook up new stuff to throw at Smith. And Smith lost a day of preparation because of the Monday night game. He'll see the usual array of fire-zone blitzes from LeBeau, but there will be new looks that will force Smith to think on his feet. He'll be tough to beat if he plays with the poise he demonstrated against the Atlanta Falcons.

Not the Steal Curtain: Perhaps the most mind-blowing defensive stat of the season is the fact that the Steelers have yet to record a single takeaway. Consider: no interceptions and no fumble recoveries in four games. That would be hard to fathom for any team. Because it's the Steelers, who have arguably the greatest defensive tradition in the league, it's even tougher to explain. No team in history has taken an oh-fer for the first five games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. This is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are off to their worst start since 1968.

Why the takeaway drought? The Steelers have been playing from behind, reducing the opportunities for turnovers. They also have an ancient secondary, led by S Ryan Clark (34), CB Ike Taylor (33) and S Troy Polamalu (32). The once-vaunted pass rush has turned benign. LeBeau is blitzing a decent amount (35 percent of the drop-backs, 14th in the league), but there are only four sacks to show for it. In other words, Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson has as many sacks as the Steelers.

Big Ben is big assignment: The Jets' chances of winning will hinge on how they defend one player -- QB Ben Roethlisberger. With no running game, the Steelers are more Roethlisberger-reliant than ever. He's putting up big numbers -- 308 passing yards per game -- but he's also had a handful of "Geno" moments -- four lost fumbles, five interceptions and 15 sacks. He'll hold the ball longer than most quarterbacks, trying to make a play. Sometimes it works, sometimes it leads to careless ballhandling. The Jets are aware of it, and they will be focused on ball stripping.

Coverage is key: The Jets view the Steelers the way they did the Falcons: It's all about containing the passing game. If Jets CB Antonio Cromartie (knee) doesn't play, the degree of difficulty will increase. If they don't have Cromartie to cover WR Antonio Brown, who's averaging eight catches and 103 yards per game, it'll put tremendous stress on the rest of the secondary. Just watch, Roethlisberger will throw 45 times for 350-plus yards in this game. We know they can't run the ball, as the Steelers are averaging only 58 yards per game. The return of rookie RB Le'Veon Bell has helped, but the offensive line -- sans star C Maurkice Pouncey -- is a jumbled mess. Mike Tomlin benched struggling LT Mike Adams in favor of Kelvin Beachum or recently acquired Levi Brown. The Jets' front seven should be able to control the line of scrimmage.

Act like grown-ups: This game will test the Jets' maturity level. They're feeling good about themselves, but this team is still young and tends to lose focus (see the turnovers and penalties). This won't be a walkover. The Steelers are a proud, physical team that recognizes the urgency of the moment. Tomlin set the tone by benching a couple of starters and banning games in the locker room. They've been outscored by 10.2 points per game, the third-largest margin in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Steelers are better than that; the Jets should prepare for a street fight.

W2W4: New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
5:00
AM ET
The New York Jets (2-2) return to the prime-time stage for the second time in 25 days, facing the underachieving Atlanta Falcons (1-3) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." This is a tough spot for the Jets.

They've lost four straight on the road, dating to last season, with a staggering minus-14 turnover margin. Under QB Matt Ryan, the Falcons are 34-6 at the Georgia Dome.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsJets coach Rex Ryan hasn't been shy about tossing his challenge flag this season.
Ah, but life isn't peachy in the peach state. The Falcons are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2007, before Ryan and coach Mike Smith arrived. They've already lost as many games as they did last season, and they realize a loss to the Jets could cripple their Super Bowl dreams.

In other words, the Falcons are desperate, and desperate teams with talent are dangerous. They're going into their bye week, and no team wants to sit on a three-game losing streak for two weeks.

What to watch for:

1. House money: There's no pressure on the Jets; it's all on the Falcons, who know there's only a five percent chance of a 1-4 team making the playoffs. No one is giving Rex Ryan's team much of a chance, but he's at his best as the heavy underdog. He spent the week talking up the Falcons' offense and Ryan, saying he's a notch below Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but it's hard to believe he actually believes that.

2. QBs on the hot seat: Geno Smith needs to steady himself -- and the team -- after an awful performance in Tennessee. Unfortunately for him, he's not at MetLife Stadium. In two road losses, he has only one touchdown pass and seven turnovers, unraveling in both cases after his first turnover. If the Falcons get to him early, it could be a long night for the Jets. Smith has to be smart and protect the ball, a huge emphasis in practice. His turnover count, already at 11, is growing faster than the national debt.

Believe it or not, Ryan is feeling some heat from a frustrated fan base in Atlanta. His passer rating is an impressive 97.7, but they're averaging only 23.5 points per game, largely because of persistent problems in the red zone. In two of their three losses, Ryan had the ball inside the opponents' 7-yard line at the end of the game, with a chance to pull out a win. The results: An interception and loss of possession on downs. Ryan, criticized for not being able to win the big one, apparently can't score the big one, either.

3. A 2012 feel at receiver: Without Santonio Holmes (hamstring), the Jets will start Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, who suffered a concussion only eight days ago. You can win with that tandem, but there are questions beyond them. Clyde Gates (knee) is questionable, and neither David Nelson (signed last Tuesday) and Michael Campbell (promoted from the practice squad) has played a down this season. And, let's not forget, TE Kellen Winslow (knee) is questionable. You have to think Winslow will tough it out on his bad knee, but he missed a lot of practice time, as did Hill. That impacts continuity, especially with a rookie quarterback who needs reps.

4. Marty under the microscope: This game will tell us a lot about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. His quarterback is struggling with turnovers and his receivers are nicked up, so the logical plan of attack is to feed Bilal Powell, who began Week 5 as the AFC co-leader in rushing. Then again, Mornhinweg isn't a Ground & Pound kind of guy and he probably will try to exploit the Falcons' suspect pass defense. They're allowing 301 yards per game, including four plays of 40+ yards. The possible return of CB Asante Samuel (thigh) will help the Falcons, but they're vulnerable in the slot. Nickel back Robert McClain has allowed a 149 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Bottom line: Don't expect Mornhinweg to radically change his approach.

5. Secondary revenge: The Jets' secondary should be in an ornery mood after getting carved up last week by Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They allowed four touchdown passes and a 129.8 passer rating, and now here comes WR Julio Jones, who leads the league in receiving yards and ranks second in yards-after-the-catch. Ryan has completed 73 percent of his throws to Jones, who is adept at using his 6-foot-3 frame to overpower corners. If the Jets can neutralize Jones, they win the game. The question is, how? He routinely beats double coverage.

The Jets will have to provide over-the-top help with a safety, but that would impact their ability to defend TE Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field. Rex Ryan has to play the Falcons' tendencies, knowing which player to double in certain situations. You can bet he'll double Gonzalez in the red zone. He'll go to school on how his brother, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, defended the future Hall of Fame in Week 1.

W2W4: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Mirror City in the Music City.

There are many similarities between the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, who play Sunday in a 4 p.m. kickoff at LP Field in Nashville: Both teams are a surprising 2-1. Both began the season with coaches on the hot seat. Both have young, developing quarterbacks. Both play aggressive, man-to-man schemes on defense. And both are highly penalized. For the Jets, it's their third straight opponent that won the previous week in the final seconds.

What to watch for:

1. Statement game: If the Jets want people to take them seriously, they need to go on the road and beat a middle-of-the-road team like the Titans. Folks are getting a bit carried away by last week's win; remember, the Jets almost always beat the Buffalo Bills, the ideal punching bag. See the 2012 opener, the ultimate mirage. This is a very winnable game for the young Jets, who can show the skeptics that maybe, just maybe they can do something this season. They have to win these swing games because the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. If they can hit the quarter pole at 3-1, it changes the complexion of the season.

[+] EnlargeNew York's Geno Smith
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith passed for 331 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions last week against the Bills.
2. Big-play Geno: Geno Smith made the Buffalo Bills pay dearly last week for putting eight in the box and playing man-to-man on the outside. He'll see a lot of the same looks from the Titans, who decided to change their defensive philosophy after allowing a franchise-record 471 points last season. But the difference is that the Titans' cornerbacks, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, are better than the scrubs rolled out by the depleted Bills.

In other words, it'll be a challenge for the Jets' wideouts, Stephen Hill in particular, to get clean releases and into their routes on time. The X factor could be tight end Kellen Winslow, especially in the red zone. The Titans had some trouble last week with San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, so don't be surprised if Marty Mornhinweg tries to feature Winslow in the passing game.

3. Beware, the blitz: The Titans will bring pressure out of their 4-3 front. They've blitzed on nearly 50 percent of their passing downs, significantly higher than last season. Call it the Gregg Williams factor. The disgraced former coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (see: Bounty Gate) doesn't call the plays, but there's no denying his presence has made an impact on the Titans' defensive mentality.

Outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are fast, active players, sometimes used in zone-blitz situations. The front four is led by defensive end Derrick Morgan, who will be matched against right tackle Austin Howard. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a strong interior pass-rusher. The Jets' offensive line played a clean game last week (no sacks), but this will be a tougher challenge, especially on the road.

4. Make him the 'Hurt' Locker: Jake Locker is a great athlete still learning to play quarterback (only 11 career starts), but his confidence is soaring after last week's come-from-behind win in the final two minutes. Folks in Nashville are saying it could be the turning point in his career. Really? Locker remains a limited passer who, somehow, has managed to avoid turnovers. That's right, no turnovers in three games, compared to seven for Smith. The Jets aim to end Locker's streak. Rex Ryan has been preaching takeaways from the minute last week's game ended. (The defense has only one takeaway, which is unacceptable.)

The trick is keeping Locker in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. His passer rating actually is significantly lower when he has extra time in the pocket, according to ProFootballFocus. If he breaks contain, watch out. He rushed for 68 yards last week, including a brilliant, 39-yard scramble. You might recall he scored a rushing touchdown against the Jets in last December's debacle.

5. Avoid the killer breakdowns: Each week, the Jets suffer one or two defensive lapses that result in a big play. It usually shows up in the form of a busted coverage, which happened in Weeks 1 and 2. Last week they fell asleep and let Fred Jackson escape a pile-up for a 59-yard run. They can't do that when Chris Johnson has the ball in his hands. To reinforce the point, Ryan can show the clip of last year's meeting, when Johnson turned a routine, off-tackle play into a 94-yard touchdown. He leads the AFC in rushing (256 yards), but there haven't been any splash plays. The Jets need to keep it that way.

The Titans are a ground-and-pound offense (where have we heard that before?), running behind their two new guards, free-agent addition Andy Levitre and No. 1 pick Chance Warmack. The center is ex-Jet Rob Turner, whose shotgun snaps have been shaky. They've had some problems with inside stunting, something the Jets might try to exploit. Levitre, Turner and Warmack already have allowed 26 pressures, per PFF.

W2W4: Jets vs. Bills

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
5:00
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After a 10-day break, the New York Jets (1-1) play another AFC East game, facing the Buffalo Bills (1-1) Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Kickoff is 4:25 p.m., ET. The top storylines:

1. The Rookies: This could be the first of many meetings between Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Chances are, one team will be able to sit back at the end of Sunday and say, "We picked the right guy." After two games, Manuel has been more efficient than Smith, but he's also being used differently. At 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, Manuel is an oversized point guard, leading a fastbreak offense. (The Bills average one play every 22 seconds, the fastest offense in the league.) He's basically a dink-and-dunk passer, having completed 75 percent of his throws under 10 yards (39-for-52), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manuel doesn't stretch the field that often.

The Jets should take that approach with Smith, who has struggled on downfield passes. In fact, three of his four interceptions have come on throws of at least 15 yards. This is a big game for Smith, who encountered his first taste of adversity last week in New England. Will that affect his confidence? He says no, but that's what they all say. We'll find out Sunday. For trivia geeks, this mark the second game in Jets history with two rookies starting at quarterback. The first occurred during the 1987 strike, when replacement players David Norrie and Kevin Sweeney (Dallas Cowboys) faced off in an forgettable battle.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsMike Pettine spent 11 years with Rex Ryan before becoming the defensive coordinator in Buffalo.
2. Rex vs. Rex Lite: This game could be decided by which defensive play caller (Rex Ryan or former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine) does a better job of creating misery for the opposing rookie quarterback. Ryan and Pettine, who spent 11 years together, are likeminded coaches in that they like to bring pressure and create confusion at the line of scrimmage.

Manuel is a cool customer -- an 88-percent completion rate under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus -- but you can bet Ryan will hit him with something he's never seen before. The knock on Manuel coming out of Florida State was that he's a one-read quarterback. In other words, shut down his first progression, make him hold the ball and he's liable to make a mistake. Meanwhile, Smith has demonstrated poor pocket presence at times. If Pettine can muddy the pocket, it'll probably lead to bad decisions by Smith.

3. Marty's dilemma: Conventional wisdom says the Jets should protect Smith by emphasizing the ground game, hardly the strength of the Buffalo defense. But Marty Mornhinweg is infatuated with the pass (he actually thinks a pass-run ratio of 63-37 is a lot of running in his offense), and he will be tempted to attack a beat up Bills secondary. They won't have cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and there's a good chance safety Jairus Byrd will miss the game as well. This could be a breakout game for Santonio Holmes, who unlike some of his fellow receivers, can actually catch the ball.

4. Austin needs power: Right tackle Austin Howard, in his first start for the Jets, made defensive end Mario Williams look pedestrian in last season's opener. In fact, Williams was held sackless in two games against the Jets. Ah, but now he's coming off a career game (a team-record 4.5 sacks) and he'll be looking for payback. Howard needs to eat his Wheaties because this will be a power-on-power matchup.

Williams used his bull rush last week, abusing Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell. Williams finished with 11 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus, but he also received help from excellent coverage. Three of the five sacks were coverage sacks, with Cam Newton holding the ball for at least five seconds on each play. Memo to Geno Smith: Don't do that or else you'll be on the ground. A lot.

5. Here comes Spiller: The Jets' run defense, a problem last season, has improved considerably. In the first two games, they held Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley -- both 1,200-yard rushers in 2012 -- to a combined 105 yards and 2.6 per carry. Bills running back C.J. Spiller presents a different challenge because ... well, he's so damn fast. The Jets know all about Spiller, who produced 325 yards from scrimmage against them last season. He will test their perimeter run defense and he could be a major headache when he's split out as a receiver.

Speedy linebacker Demario Davis could play a huge role in their plans to contain Spiller, who has only two rushing touchdowns in his last 12 games -- a curious slump. The Jets can't forget about running back Fred Jackson. The Bills are gashing defenses (7.6 yards per rush) when running Jackson out of a one-back, three-receiver spread formation. In those situations, Davis and fellow linebacker David Harris will have to excel in space.

W2W4: Jets vs. Giants

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
10:00
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's that time of the summer, the annual preseason game between the Jets (1-1) and Giants (1-1). The Jets lead the preseason series, 23-20-1, having won 13 of the last 17 games. This is what we'll be watching:

1. The Geno show: Jets Nation has been waiting for this moment since late April, when the team drafted Geno Smith in the second round. Smith will start and play into the third quarter, if his tender ankle holds up. Can he win the starting job? He wouldn't be starting the most important game of the preseason if the coaches didn't think he had a chance. Everyone will analyze his stats, but the coaches will be looking at the subtle aspects to his game: His ability to communicate plays in the huddle, his cadence, his footwork, the depth of his drop-backs, etc. They also will try to gauge the "It" factor and whether he has the ability to inspire his teammates. This should be compelling stuff.

2. Defensive intensity: The Jets came out flat last week, letting Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert have his way with them. They tried to use the bad game as a learning tool, especially their struggles against the no-huddle. LB David Harris said they emphasized the no-huddle in practice, "so we don't get caught sleeping again." They'd better get used to it because they'll see plenty of no-huddle in the AFC East. CB Antonio Cromartie set a tone in practice by blasting WR Stephen Hill. Cromartie caught some grief from his offensive teammates, but maybe it served as a wake-up call for the slumbering defense.

3. Battles rage on: Aside from quarterback, three starting jobs are legitimately up in the air -- left guard (Vladimir Ducasse vs. Stephen Peterman), free safety (Antonio Allen vs. Jaiquawn Jarrett) and punter (Robert Malone vs. Ryan Quigley). Ducasse and Allen will start this game, hoping to nail down jobs. Quigley has outkicked Malone and should be closing in on the job. There's also competition at kickoff returner between Joe McKnight and Clyde Gates. McKnight, finally healthy, will make his preseason debut, trying to convince the coaches he's worth the aggravation.

4. Replacing Q: Garrett McIntyre is expected to replace Quinton Coples (fractured ankle) at outside linebacker in the base defense, but you could see a committee approach with Ricky Sapp and Antwan Barnes joining the party. They also could experiment with 4-3 fronts. Hey, why not? Watch for DE Leger Douzable; he could have an expanded role as he makes a bid to make the roster.

5. The kids are all right: When you're not watching the quarterbacks, keep an eye on the other rookies, namely: FB Tommy Bohanon, trying to secure a starting job; LG Brian Winters, making his preseason debut after missing two games with an ankle injury; undrafted WR Ryan Spadola, trying to nail down the fifth receiving spot; and DT Sheldon Richardson, attempting to build on a terrific game last week. CB Dee Milliner (calf) isn't expected to play.

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