Last week, I outlined the keys to the Jets season opener against the Cowboys, in a FanPost entitled Keys to Game 1. Well, many of the key Cowboy players that I highlighted did indeed have successful games against the Jets, but Gang Green was able to pull out a victory in comeback fashion. Since the first FanPost inspired 88 comments and 4 rec's, I decided to follow up with a second entry. This week, the Jets are matched up with the Jaguars, who pulled out a 16-13 victory last week after leading 13-0 late in the third quarter. For the key players and matchups this week, jump!
After watching film on the Jaguars game last week, I determined that not much could be learned from the messy affair with the Titans. Maurice Jones-Drew is coming off an injury and had his carries limited (as John B. outlines here). I considered it a handicap that the Jags bravely overcame until I realized that the Titans' own star running back, Chris Johnson, was given only 9 carries because he missed the entire preseason, and couldn't handle a full workload yet. Therefore, we don't know much about the Jaguars' run defense or the workload that MJD can handle this week. What we do know of the Jaguars is that they were extremely poor in pass protection last year, and gave up 136 yards and two scores to Kenny Britt last week. This leads into the first key matchup of the game:
Rashean Mathis is the Jaguars' best corner, and is probably their best defensive player as well. While I don't expect him to completely shut down Santonio Holmes, I believe that the Jets should look to exploit Jacksonville's #2 and #3 cornerbacks. Derek Cox started 16 games during his rookie year, but found himself on the bench early last season. This year, he is set to cover opposing teams #2 guys, and on Sunday, he will likely find himself across from Plaxico Burress. Plax had a successful debut after missing 2 years due to "other commitments", catching 4 passes for 70 yards and one big touchdown. He will have 4 inches on Cox (and 8 inches on Drew Coleman), so the Jacksonville corner will have a very difficult time trying to contain him. Derrick Mason will also find himself in many favorable matchups, as the Jags lack depth in the defensive backfield. He is a wily veteran and should be able to free himself easily if he lines-up opposite of Drew Coleman. The Jaguars are going to have to provide double coverage and/or safety help on one of Burress and Mason. The one that finds himself in single coverage will be able to change the flow of the game.
Maurice Jones-Drew: I could write a long paragraph about why containing Maurice Jones-Drew is the most important thing for the Jets defense, but John B has beat me to it, and did it much better than I would have. You can find it here.
Mark Sanchez: I personally thought that the game against the Cowboys can be used to perfectly describe Sanchez' career to this point. He can be brilliant for one play and incredibly stupid on the next, but he is a winner and the Jets often win because of him, not in spite of him. Come January, guys like Tony Romo will probably have more yards and more touchdowns, but we have seen time and time again the importance of having a QB who is cool under pressure. This week, Sanchez will be able to take advantage of a Jaguars secondary that is just as bad as the Cowboys'. After another week of practice with his WR's, look for him to take a step forward and complete a higher percentage of passes against the Jaguars. I fully expect 300 yards and 2 TD from the Sanchize on Sunday, and will be surprised if he doesn't reach it.
Jets O-Line: The Jets O-Line scared me last week, but I'm hoping that was more of DeMarcus Ware being a monster than anything else. This week, they need to keep Matt Roth away from Mark Sanchez, a much easier task. If they look as bad as they did last week, Jets fans will have reason to worry.
Creating Turnovers: Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the second worst team in the NFL with a -15 turnover difference, compared to the Jets +9 (good for 5th in the NFL. Luke McCown only has 9 touchdown passes in his career, but has thrown 10 interceptions. Losing the turnover battle this Sunday could doom the Jets, because it would mean that they failed to take advantage of the Jaguars' biggest flaw.
Marcedes Lewis: Jacksonville's #1 receiver, Mike Thomas, is a good player but would be better suited playing a supporting role. The Jaguars' other receivers are inexperienced and are unlikely to break through against the Jets secondary. Actually, Luke McCown's best target appears to be tight end Marcedes Lewis, who caught 58 passes and 10 TD's last season. Jason Witten burned Eric Smith last week, so the Jets absolutely need to look into doubling and bracketing Lewis. He is the most dynamic player in the Jacksonville passing game, and if he is taken out of his rhythm early in the game, the Jets can focus all their attention on stopping MJD.
**Note: The Jaguars #3 receiver is a guy named Cecil Shorts, the Third. If that is not the best name in the NFL, it is definitely up in the top 5.
**Note #2: I don't know if this has been mentioned, but the Jaguars are basically a collection of Jets' castoffs. Looking over the depth chart, I saw many familiar names: Drew Coleman, Dwight Lowery, C.J. Mosley, and Matt Turk. I wish good luck and good health to all these guys, except this week.
All in all, the Jets go into week 2 as the overwhelming favorites. However, games aren't won on paper, and Jacksonville's playmakers can steal this one away if Gang Green comes out flat or sloppy.
One last thing: If you guys liked the first two editions of "Keys to the Game", I can do it every Tuesday. Let me know in the comments..