After dominating the Chiefs for their third consecutive victory, the (8-5) New York Jets have regained control of their own destiny. Winning their remaining three games would guarantee a playoff spot, and their recent success allows them some leeway over the final weeks of the season. With that being said, a loss would make the playoff picture much muddier, and the next few games won't be cakewalks. This week, the Jets will travel to the City of Brotherly Love to battle the disappointing (5-8) Eagles. Don't let their record fool you, the Eagles are not lacking in talent. Problems with chemistry and scheming sabotaged their season very early on, but Philadelphia has play-makers at almost every position. If the Jets take this game lightly, the Eagles' arsenal of game-changers have the potential to put the game away in a hurry. For the key players and match ups, you're going to have to jump!
In many ways, the Philadelphia Eagles' season was over before it began. They were the big winners in free agency, inking superstars Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, and Cullen Jenkins. They even signed two big name players as second stringers: running back Ronnie Brown and quarterback Vince Young. Everything appeared to be golden in Philadelphia, if not for a seemingly minor gaffe by management. Instead of looking for an established defensive coordinator, Andy Reid promoted offensive line coach Juan Castillo and gave him the reigns to the defense. More importantly, Eagles management disregarded the need for leaders, a decision that they have come to regret. In fact, five of their eight losses have come after taking a lead into the fourth quarter, a travesty that a player like Brian Dawkins would never have allowed. It has gotten so bad in the 4th quarters that 49ers running back Frank Gore accused the Eagles of not "want[ing] to play no more". This is a team that is screaming out for a veteran to steady the ship when things are going wrong. If the Jets can break the Eagles' spirit early, they will have the game in hand. This leads into the first key...
- Tom Moore vs. Brian Schottenheimer: The New York Jets have been notoriously slow starters, typically putting up atrocious first halves before responding with stellar second halves. With offensive consultant Tom Moore in the house last week against the Chiefs, the Jets proceeded to score 28 first half points. That is the most points that they have scored in the first half since October of 2001. Chances are Tom Moore had something to do with it. Putting up points early will be essential in this game, for multiple reasons. Firstly, Michael Vick is capable of scoring in bunches, and it will be important to keep up with him. If the Jets defense can contain Vick and his cronies, the offense will be able to deliver an early knock out punch. If Schotty returns to his usual game-calling, the Eagles have a great chance to win the game.
- LeSean McCoy: During the Eagles' success of the early 2000's, quarterback Donovan McNabb was often regarded as Philadelphia's best player. However, it can be argued that running back Brian Westbrook was the catalyst, and the reason for the four consecutive NFC Championship Games. When injuries derailed Westbrook's career, NFL "experts" claimed that the star was irreplaceable. Surprisingly, 3rd year running back LeSean McCoy has already surpassed the man he replaced. McCoy can legitimately claim to be the best running back in the NFL, as he leads the league in rushing touchdowns and is second in the NFL in yardage (he only has 50 less yards than Maurice Jones-Drew, despite having 35 less caries). Furthermore, he has developed into a major threat out of the backfield, as he caught 78 balls last season and already has 45 catches this year. Mike DeVito is likely going to play this Sunday, and he (along with Sione Pouha) will need to turn in superb performances to slow down this superstar running back.
- David Harris: Make no mistake about it, David Harris' performance this Sunday will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game. It will be important to get some pressure on Michael Vick, but forcing him out of the pocket could lead to some huge gains. This is where David Harris comes in. I expect that he will be used as a QB spy from time to time, and his role in containing Vick will be critical. Also, Michael Vick tends to be fumble prone, and David Harris is as big a hitter as anybody on the team. Lastly, Harris will need to lend his services in run support, as the defensive line will need all the help that they can get against LeSean McCoy. If David Harris turns in a big game, Gang Green is likely to emerge victorious.
- Michael Vick vs. Michael Vick: Michael Vick is pivotal in any game that he is involved in, simply because he has the potential to be unstoppable. His injured ribs may slow him down, but Vick is still one of the most dynamic players in the game. Michael Vick is his own worst enemy, as no team is capable of stopping him when he is firing on all cylinders. He rarely does play up to his potential though, and has been very mediocre this year. The Jets are doubtlessly praying that "good" Michael Vick doesn't show up, because that would put a giant damper on the Jets' playoff hopes.
- Brandon Moore vs. Jason Babin: The Eagles' Jason Babin is second in the league with 15 sacks, and he will be looking to get after Mark Sanchez all game long. Babin usually lines up on Brandon Moore's side, so the Jets' right guard will have his hands full all game. Moore is an extremely solid lineman (he has only given up 1 sack all season), but he will need to step up this Sunday to keep his quarterback on his feet. The other members of the Jets offensive line are also in for tough days, as the Eagles defense has the second best pass rush in the NFL (led by Babin's 15 sacks and Trent Cole's 9 sacks). We all know that Sanchez is a sub-par quarterback when faced with a constant pass rush, so the play of the Jets' offensive line will be pivotal this Sunday.
- Mark Sanchez vs. Nnamdi Asomugha: Despite having the luxury of an elite pass rush, the Eagles secondary has been very pedestrian. They have allowed the 7th highest opposing QB rating in the league, and the 4th most passing TD's. If the offensive line keeps him upright, Sanchez has the potential to make the Eagles' secondary pay. Nnamdi Asomugha is a supremely talented cornerback, making this a match up worth watching.
Player to Watch: When the Jets struggled earlier this season, it became apparent that Nick Mangold is the most irreplaceable member of the team. Now that he is back at full strength, the running game has improved by leaps and bounds, averaging 133 yards during the 3 game winning streak. The Eagles are mediocre against the run (allowing 4.4 YPC, 11th worst in the league), and Nick Mangold will be essential in opening up holes for Shonn Greene:
"We’ve done a much better job of execution up front and making sure we’re doing the right things," Mangold added. "You only have to give Shonn a little bit and he’ll make a good amount. That excites us up front. We’re going to continue to keep working to try to give him as much room as possible."
Keep an eye on Nick Mangold this Sunday, as he will likely be responsible for many of Shonn Greene's big runs.
Prediction: Despite their superior record, the Jets are three-point underdogs this Sunday. They have never won in Philadelphia, and are going against a team with all the talent in the world. With that being said, I think that the Jets will step up with their backs against the wall. They clearly have more at stake than the Eagles do, and have generally been the more disciplined and mature team. Mark Sanchez will throw for 200 yards and 2 TD's, continuing his streak of games without an interception. Shonn Greene will run for 80 yards and LT will contribute as well, allowing the Jets to pull away in the fourth quarter.