As you may have heard, the (6-5) New York Jets are far from dead. Their playoff push will take them to Landover, Maryland to face the (4-7) Washington Redskins. The Skins are all but eliminated from the postseason, but will doubtlessly cherish the role of spoiler. Gang Green is the more talented team, but I have a feeling that we'll be in for another dogfight, given our recent play. Key players and matchups after the jump.
The Washington Redskins are about as tough a matchup as the Jets can have. I'm shocked that I just wrote that, so I expect many of you to disagree. I don't anticipate their offense being very effective, but anything is possible when an athletic pass catching tight end like Fred Davis matches up with the 2011 version of the Jets D. I'd expect the Jets defense to hold up, but I am very concerned about Mark Sanchez. For a team that just snapped a six game losing streak with a win over an equally lowly Seattle Seahawks, the Skins have a very talented defense. To go from 31st overall on D last year to 11th overall this year is not an easy task, and that is a testament to the development (and infusion) of young talent like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. These two pass rushers represent exactly the type of players that the Jets have had problems with this season, and they will be out to wreak havoc come Sunday. This leads into the first key..
- Wayne Hunter: According to Stats.com, Wayne Hunter has allowed 5.5 sacks this year. DeMarcus Ware beat him twice, and Von Miller managed to hit Sanchez four times on his way to 1.5 sacks. Both of these guys are athletic edge rushers, and the Redskins' Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are built in the same mold. Both already have six sacks, and the two have combined for six forced fumbles. Washington typically lines up Kerrigan on Wayne Hunter's side, but I'd imagine that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can get creative and interchange the two. Regardless, the Jets need a huge game from Hunter, or Sanchez will be on his back all game long. The Redskins have the third best pass rush in the NFL (33 sacks), but their pass coverage is lacking (giving up an 86.4 opposing QB rating, 11th highest in the league). Sanchez is notoriously horrid when faced with a pass rush, but is an above average QB when given time. If the Jets' offensive line holds up, Sanchez can go to work. If the battle in the trenches is lost, this game will be difficult to salvage.
On most plays, Kerrigan came from the left and Orakpo from the right, but sometimes they switched sides. Another time, Haslett sent both outside linebackers from the right side to overload the Seahawks.-Mike Jones, Washington Post
How does this benefit the Redskins? More than anything, it gives them more flexibility and less predictability. An offensive tackle will get a feel for one linebacker after going against him play after play. When Washington throws the switch at a lineman, it can throw him off balance and keep him from getting comfortable.
Uh oh...I can already imagine Wayne Hunter's guilty smirk after he gets confused by a linebacker blitz.
- Vladimir Ducasse: This idea comes straight from a comment by Gang Green Nation super-commenter Crackback. Vlad "The Impaler" Ducasse is not a popular name around this site, largely because of his failure to produce right away (and his early round selection in the draft). However, his struggles do not mean that he is a totally useless player. In fact, he has been used by the Jets in jumbo packages as an extra tight end, and has played very well. Matt Mulligan is usually the second tight end (and is a very effective run blocker), but he is poor in pass protection and contributes nothing as a receiver. Obviously, Ducasse wouldn't be a threat to catch passes either, but his huge 6' 5'', 325 pound frame can deter edge rushers much better than Mulligan's comparively slender physique. All Vladimir Ducasse would have to do is provide help to Wayne Hunter, and slow Orakpo and Kerrigan. Football is a game of seconds, and the few seconds that Ducasse will generate for Sanchez can be the difference in the game.
Note: Check out "bobdolethesnapplelady's" well written article about Big Vlad the Impaler.
- Joe McKnight: Joe McKnight was one of my keys last week, and he came through with three first downs despite only getting seven touches. His touches might decrease even further with LaDainian Tomlinson's impending return, but that would be an unwise decision. There are multiple reasons to use McKnight versus the Redskins. Firstly, the way to make an overaggressive defense pay is with screen passes. Orakpo and Kerrigan will be going full tilt after Mark Sanchez, and a screen pass to a speedy back like McKnight can gain big yardage. Even if its unsuccessful, trying a screen pass would give Orakpo and Kerrigan something to think about, and would hopefully force them to hesitate a little. Anything that takes pressure off of Wayne Hunter this weekend should be considered. Secondly, the Redskins have a very stout rush defense. They give up 4.1 yards per carry (12th best in the NFL), but that number is skewed by the large number of big runs that they have allowed. They have given up ten rushes of 20 yards or more (10th worst in the NFL), and two of 40 yards or more (9th worst in the NFL). The ground and pound approach is great, but the Jets need someone to break a long run this week. Shonn Greene has had 454 in his career, and the longest that he has mustered has been 33 yards (in his rookie year). If anyone can burst through for a long gain it'll be McKnight.
Note: I understand that Tomlinson is better in pass protection. I think that there is much more potential for a big gain with McKnight in the game, but I wouldn't be unhappy to see LT on passing downs.
- Fred Davis: The Redskins' best receiver this year has been their tight end, Fred Davis. He leads the team in receptions, yards, and TD's, and figures to be a match up problem for the Jets' safeties. Brodney Pool is going to receive some of Eric Smith's playing time, which should help. However, we have all seen what an athletic tight end can do to the Jets defense, and Fred Davis is as talented as they come. If the Redskins hope to win this game, they will need a great day out of their standout tight end.
Player(s) to Watch: Aaron Maybin and Dustin Keller had big games last week, with the former contributing 2 sacks and the latter racking up 2 TD's. Both have a chance to contribute in a major way this Sunday. Maybin is going up against a Washington offensive line that has given up 31 sacks and 79 QB hits (8th and 3rd most in the NFL, respectively), and a quarterback in Rex Grossman that is very turnover prone. The Redskins are dead last in the NFL with a -11 turnover margin, and Maybin can force Grossman into some horrible decisions. On the other side, Mark Sanchez will likely face heavy pressure all day. Keller is his security blanket, so he should see increased targets his weekend. If he can help his quarterback have a big day, the Jets can walk away with an easy victory.
Prediction: This game has the potential to become a disaster, but I have faith that Rex Ryan will ready his troops for battle. Obviously the most important key is how they protect Mark Sanchez. If Sanchez faces heavy pressure all day, this will be a close, low scoring game, in which anything can happen. If Sanchez has time, the Jets offense will be able to take advantage of mediocre Redskins secondary. I predict that Sanchez throws for 200 yards and 1 TD (no interceptions), and the running backs combine for 120 yards and a score. Throw in a field goal by Nick Folk and a pick six thrown by Rex Grossman, and the Jets become one step closer to materializing their postseason aspirations.