Keys to Game 13: Jets @ Jaguars

Nick Laham

Week 14 is upon us, and a new era at quarterback may be in the works.

Much like the snooze-fest against the Cardinals, this game pits two highly ineffective offenses against each other in an attempt to create the first 0-0 tie in the NFL since 1943. However, this may be the perfect storm regardless of who is chosen to start at quarterback this Sunday. For Greg McElroy, this would be a good opportunity to gain experience against a team that has allowed a passer rating of 90 against opposing QBs. For Mark Sanchez, playing a team that has sacked the quarterback a total of 13 times (worst in the NFL) would be a nice place to start rebuilding his confidence. For Tim Tebow? Well, at least he'd be playing in Florida in front of a crowd that loves him. An emerging Jets defense that ranks 4th against the pass should be able to handle a revitalized Chad Henne, and the Jaguars running game may be down to their fourth-string RB after injuries to Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele. If the Jets score 17 points, the defense will take care of the rest. This leads into the first key...

  • Shonn Greene: All signs point to the Jets starting Greg McElroy, so the War Machine's workload should increase to protect the inexperienced QB. The Jaguars aren't particularly stout defensively (2nd most rush yards allowed in the NFL), so opportunities to score will be plentiful for the Jets. After a painfully slow start, Shonn has picked up his game in the last few weeks and is now on pace to once again surpass 1000 yards rushing. Greene has averaged 84 yards per game over the last seven contests, with 4.4 yards per carry. Those numbers aren't elite, but they are nothing to sneeze at either. Bilal Powell has seen more than 10 carries in each of the last three games, which has seemingly rejuvenated Greene and kept him fresh for the second half, giving him a leg up on defenses that are usually tired by that point. Whoever is under center, Greene should be in for an increase in carries against a team that allows 4.3 yards per carry and has already allowed 16 rushing touchdowns (2nd worst in the NFL).
  • Quinton Coples vs. Cameron Bradfield: To put it mildly, the Jaguars offensive line has struggled a great deal this season. They have given up 38 sacks (3rd most in the NFL), 5 of them attributed to right tackle Cameron Bradfield and 3.5 attributed to left tackle Eugene Monroe. Mohammed Wilkerson has been a revelation in an otherwise disappointing season, and his production should continue as such. Who I really want to see step up is young Quinton Coples, who in limited snaps has registered two sacks (sadly, he is only .5 sacks from taking over the team lead). However, both of his sacks came against the Colts in Week 6, and he hasn't made any sort of impact the last two weeks. The Jets like to move him around the line, so he'll probably be matched up against Bradfield or Monroe throughout the game. If he is to become the monster defender that we expect him to develop into, he must take advantage of a struggling line and pounce like a shark that smells blood. I believe in Quinton Coples, and this week is as good an opportunity as any for him to live up to Jets fans' expectations. Ricky Sapp is also a name to remember.
  • Chad Henne vs. LaRon Landry: For a team that is 2-10, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been oddly adept at limiting turnovers and have forced their own fair share of takeaways, leading to a turnover difference of 0 (good for 5th best in the AFC). If Maurice Jones-Drew is unable to go due to a foot injury (he is listed as very questionable) and Rashad Jennings is ruled out with a concussion, the Jags will feature a running game that has a combined 21 career carries between them. If Henne is forced to pass, he will likely be without his favorite target in Cecil Shorts III, who dealing with a concussion of his own. Given such favorable conditions for Gang Green, the Jets defense must force turnovers and Laron Landry is the most likely to do so (4 forced fumbles and 2 picks already on the season). If the Jets lose the turnover differential battle, the Jaguars will have a good shot of eking out a victory.
  • Rex Ryan: This is a huge week for Sexy Rexy, as who he decides to place under Nick Mangold's behind will likely dictate his coaching future with the New York Jets. Most people that spend $100,000 on a flashy Maserati do so intending to enjoy driving a top of the line model for the next ten years, rather than the Honda Civic that they picked up for a fraction of the price. I may be the first person that has ever compared Mark Sanchez to a Maserati, but the analogy stands. Sanchez is the most talented quarterback on the roster, but when his head isn't right, he'll do you as much good as a Maserati with a broken transmission. In keeping with the analogy, Greg McElroy is practical and smart like the Honda Civic. He won't wow you with any superstar plays, but from what I've seen of him he'll also limit the mistakes and let the defense and running game handle its business. At this point, Greg McElroy is the safe decision.Sanchez has played awful and has lost his confidence completely, leading to throws that are seemingly always either rushed or late. Sanchez' benching last week lit a fire under the team that has played sloppy all season long. All of a sudden receivers (ahem, Stephen Hill) are catching balls and Jets defenders are finishing off tackles, two basic areas that Gang Green has struggled with all season long. Maybe this team needed a change at the most critical position to wake them up, however late in the season it may be. In that, going to McElroy last week was a great move by Rex Ryan. Going back to Sanchez this week is a dangerous decision that could backfire completely, but Sanchez has seemingly always played well under adversity (hence the 94 passer rating, 61% completion and 9 TD/3 INT in the playoffs). Sanchez is the more talented quarterback than McElroy when his head is right, but how often has his head been right over his Jets tenure? Regardless, now that you've benched Sanchez, don't you want to see how your one-time "franchise QB" responds? McElroy deserves a chance this week and will likely get it, but you have to figure that Sanchez' time in New York is not over given the money that he is still owed. Rex has hitched his wagon to Sanchez previously, and this may become a case of a captain going down with his ship. If you had a totaled Jaguar, would you try to fix it, or would you toss it aside and pretend it never happened? That's the decision that Rex needs to make this week, and its not an easy one.

Players to Watch: Shonn Greene needs to step up this week, and will get an opportunity to do so against a porous Jaguars defense. The passing game (regardless of who the QB is) will be much better if the running game gets going early and often, and Shonn Greene has been showing signs of life lately. Sanchez has often been criticized for going to his check down option too often, but McElroy may do so even more while learning the intricacies and the speed of the NFL game. Watch for Greene to put up some big numbers this week. If he doesn't, the Jets may be in trouble.

Prediction: At 5-7, there is still a slight mathematical chance that the Jets could sneak into the playoffs. They are facing a team that has gone through injuries and ineffective play on their way to a 2-10 record and a shot at the #1 pick in the upcoming draft. The Jets should win this game, but that is always a dangerous statement to make about Gang Green. If they take each game for what it is, they may soon find themselves with a realistic opportunity, especially given the soft schedule that awaits them. It appears that Rex understands the situation:

It's just about finding a way to beat Jacksonville. That's where it is. We're a sub-.500 team, so we're just trying to scratch and claw our way back into it. Obviously, you want to be playing at the end of the year for an opportunity to get in (the playoffs). It's hard to get in the playoffs, but you want to fight like crazy to get in there if you can.

-Rex Ryan

This has all the makings of a low-scoring game, especially because the Jets defense perfectly matches up with what is left of the Jaguars offense. However, the Jets offense may be revitalized following Sanchez' benching last weekend, so I predict that they will play with a little more vigor and than in weeks past. Shonn Greene rushes for 115 and a score, the QB (whoever he is) limits the mistakes and throws for a score, and the defense returns one turnover for a touchdown.

Jets: 24

Jaguars: 9

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