The first place Jets return home this Sunday for a sandwich game with the St. Louis Rams. The Rams, currently sporting one of the worst records in the league, seem like an easy opponent. However, the Jets need to avoid a letdown for this winnable home game. It is the most dangerous kind of contest. New York is coming off a huge road win at Buffalo and has another critical division game coming up on Thursday at New England. This has all the makings of a combination hangover-look ahead game.
The Jets are officially in the mix. By virtue of tiebreakers, they are leading the AFC East. This game is a chance to make a real statement. Real contenders dispatch cupcakes like the Rams when at home.
The last time these teams met was on the final week of the 2004 regular season. In St. Louis, the Rams beat the Jets to clinch a Wild Card berth. The Jets lucked into a Wild Card spot of their own when the Steelers JV unit beat the Bills in Buffalo.
The Rams looked like they were primed to challenge their fellow Missouri residents, Kansas City, for the title of worst team in the league during the early part of the season. There appeared to be a mutiny at hand on coach Scott Linehan. Since Linehan's firing, however, the Rams have turned the corner to a degree. St. Louis is short on talent, but former Saints head coach Jim Haslett has them playing hard. This team won two in a row, followed by a close loss at New England. The Rams are, however, coming off a beatdown at the hands of the Cardinals, a team the Jets drubbed earlier this year.
Marc Bulger is still the starting quarterback in St. Louis. While Bulger has a solid statistical track record, he has never been a big winner at the position. It has been four years since the lone Playoff win of his career. He has followed up his worst season with one not much better. His 57% completion percentage is the lowest since joining the Rams in 2001. He has averaged a miniscule 6.5 yards per passing attempt and owns a pedestrian 6 touchdown to 5 interception ratio. His subpar play convinced Scott Linehan to bench him for a game in favor of geriatric Trent Green, and probably was the final straw for the former head coach. Tory Holt could be a future Hall of Famer, and rookie Donnie Avery has put together some good games. Still, this is not the kind of passing game that will strike fear in an opponent.
The Rams have also struggled to run the ball this year, picking up only 94.1 yards per game. Stephen Jackson is a quality runner and a receiving threat out of the backfield, but he has been hampered by a leg injury. His backups, Antonio Pittman and Travis Minor, have also been banged up.
Things are not much better on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams. They rank in the bottom five of the league against both the run and the pass. The team does have a foundation up front with Chris Long and Adam Carriker. The versatile duo should present problems for NFC West defenses for the next decade. However, there is not much striking about this defense aside from its mediocrity. Untested Quentin Culberson will start at one of the outside linebacker spots for the injured Chris Draft.
With Dante Hall out for the year, the Rams lost any danger their return game brings, but their kicker, Josh Brown has been very accurate. Punter Donnie Jones has an average of right at 50 yards, a good thing considering how inept his offense is.
Key Matchup: Chris Long vs. D'Brickashaw Ferguson
Anybody who follows this team knows that Brett Favre has just decided to start flinging the ball off his back foot when he feels pressure. The third year tackle from Virginia needs to keep the second pick of this year's Draft away from Brett and protect his blind side.
Keys to Victory:
1. Short Drops: The Jets found success against the Bills giving Brett Favre quick reads. That forced him to get the ball out quickly and kept the opposition from getting pressure to him. His pick six was on a seven step drop when he felt pressure and threw it up for grabs. That seems to be a pattern. Brett is comfortable with the short passing game. He became a Hall of Famer in the West Coast offense. Gang Green needs to eliminate routes taking long to progress from its playbook.
2. Help Bowens: David Bowens had a lot of trouble in pass coverage last weekend. The Rams have a quality tight end in Randy McMichael. Bob Sutton should use his safeties to provide assistance covering the tight end.
3. Contain Avery: Donnie Avery has developed into a homerun hitter for the Rams. Even though Tory Holt is established as an star, the Jets should stick Darrelle Revis on Avery and give him help. Big plays are the only way the Rams can win this game because their offense has not shown an ability to put together drives.
4. Substitute Liberally: The Jets are a better team and have a short week coming up. Eric Mangini should use his reserves more than usual to get his go to get his guys a bit fresher for next week.
5. Watch a Lot of Tape of St. Louis-Dallas: Just to avoid complacency.
Best Case Scenario:
The Jets come out with a ton of confidence coming off their big win and blow the Rams out of the Meadowlands.
Worst Case Scenario:
Favre mistakes and secondary breakdowns combined with complacency spark a Rams upset.
What Will Happen:
Nothing can even be easy with this team so I expect a lackadaisical performance in which Favre throws two interceptions and allows the Rams to hang around until the Jets finally wake up and put it away in the fourth quarter.