Among the many cliches in football, perhaps the one that annoys me most is "every game is a must win". Its dumb, its irritating, and its almost always factually incorrect. However, the 2011 schedule of the New York Jets has caused me to contradict myself, because I have labelled all of the first three games as critical to our playoff chances. We are coming off another game against a sub-par opponent with a weak secondary, and anything less than a 2-0 record would quite frankly be very disappointing. This week, we should again be the favorites against the (1-1) Raiders, who are coming off a 38-35 meltdown against the Buffalo Bills. Winning this game would put the Jets at 3-0 and would give them a confidence boost before two difficult away games at Baltimore and New England. This game is a must win because we are the better team, while will likely be the underdogs against the Ravens and Pats, respectively. For the keys to the game, jump!
Shonn Greene & LaDainian Tomlinson: For a team that is supposed to rely so heavily on the run, the 2011 version of the New York Jets has not managed to get much going running the ball so far this year. Greene is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry, and LT has managed to do even worse, and has accumulated 24 yards on 11 carries (2.2 average). This might be a result of an inconsistent offensive line, and Nick Mangold's injury won't help matters. However, despite the lack of statistical support, I personally thought that Shonn Greene ran well last week. He ran hard and he ran with a purpose, and that should come in handy when facing the Raiders, who have given up 6.7 yards per carry so far this year (2nd worst mark in the league). Fred Jackson is a good running back but he looked like Jim Brown last week against the Raiders, and even CJ Spiller managed to rip off 63 yards on only 4 carries. Last year the Raiders were 29th in the league in rush defense, so this is a trend that is backed up by 18 games of data. The Jets RB's are overdue for a breakout, and this looks like their opportunity.
Bart Scott/ David Harris: The Raider's best offensive weapon is RB Darren "Run DMC" McFadden. The Jets need to control the line of scrimmage, so the big men up front are key as well. However, McFadden picked up 7 receptions for 71 yards and a score through the air last week. He has become a very capable receiver out of the backfield, and we all know how vulnerable the Jets are to screens and other passes to the RB when they blitz. Harris and Scott need to sniff out the screen passes, because McFadden can break off a big gain at any moment.
Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress: Last week, I claimed that these two WR's would be key in the Jets' victory over the Jaguars. Turns out, I was completely wrong, and they combined to catch 1 pass for 7 yards. However, they did contribute in other ways, as they opened up the middle of the field for Dustin Keller, who went on to post 101 receiving yards and a score. This Plaxico quote will better explain it:
"It’s like I told Dustin," a smiling Burress said after a game in which he had zero catches. "I said if teams want to line up and play us like that with split safeties, Dustin will just tear them to pieces."
At this point, you might be wondering why I chose Mason and Burress as keys once again, when they contributed next to no stats last week. The reason is that in the NFL, teams adjust. I am positive that the Raiders have seen what Keller did last week and will try to eliminate him from the passing game, and that is going to leave Plaxico and Mason open on the outside. At least one of these receivers is in for a big day, as the Raiders have given up 300 yards passing to Kyle Orton and 260 yards through the air to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Those guys are not All-Pros, so Sanchez should have similar success to what the aforementioned quarterbacks managed.
Khalif Barnes: The first two games have been moderately successful for Jason Campbell. Without many healthy receivers to throw to, Jason has still managed a QB rating of 99.7. The main reason for that is the stellar play of his offensive line, who have given up only 1 sack in two games (only the Lions have given up 0, for comparison, the Bears have given up 11). The Jets are going to try to pressure Campbell all game long, both up the gut and off the edge. Khalif Barnes is the RT for the Raiders, and he (along with the rest of the O-Line) will be key for the Raiders. If they can hold off the Jets pressure, the Raiders will have a good chance to upset Gang Green.
Sebastian Janikowski: Although I have previously said that Darren McFadden is the Raiders best offensive weapon, Janikowski gives him a run for his money. He has long been one of the best kickers in the NFL, and tied an NFL record with a 63 yard FG against Denver in week 1. It would be in the Jets' best interest to keep the Raiders out of Jet's territory, because Janikowski's field goal range is almost unlimited. If the Jets come out flat, it could become 9-0 in favor of the Raiders at the wink of an eyelid, all because of the Raiders' solid kicker.
Prediction: The Raiders are a good team, but the Jets are among the NFL's elite.