Breaking Down the Jets vs the Vikings
After a blowout win against the Buffalo Bills the New York Jets have put themselves at the top of the best of the NFL discussions. The last time that happened was back in 2008 when Brett Favre led the team into a December swoon that saw the Jets not even make the playoffs. Now Favre comes back to the Meadowlands with the Minnesota Vikings as he looks to take part in ruining another Jets run.
Jets Offense vs. Vikings Defense
While the Vikings may be 1-2, none of the blame should be placed on the defense who have not allowed more than 14 points in a game thus far this season. The defense is led by perhaps the most dominant front four in the NFL. Mammoth Defensive Tackles Pat and Kevin Williams anchor the middle of the line and provide the best interior run defense in the NFL. DE Jared Allen has had over 14 sacks each of the last three years and is one of the few elite pass rushers in the NFL while DE Ray Edwards came on strong last season specifically in the playoffs where he had a three sack game against the Cowboys. It is this group that makes the entire defense go. They have three players that can pressure the QB and when they break loose they greatly improve the pass defense. The teams secondary is in a bit of a state of flux as they have players coming back from injury and being inserted into the starting lineup. The biggest name player is veteran CB Antoine Winfield, but the team will look to use him to cover the second and third receivers on the field as he is no longer a top cover guy. CB Cedric Griffin just returned from an ACL injury while 2nd round draft pick Chris Cook also just returned from a knee injury. Both are more physical than Winfield but will also be tested more often. Former Jet corner Lito Sheppard is also on the roster, but will likely not see any playing time against the Jets. Neither safety position is in great position though the team is high on SS Husain Abdullah who plays with a lot of energy. He has had some problems with deep route help. The Viking line backing corps. is led by Chad Greenway who is a strong tackler with a good nose for the football. MLB EJ Henderson is coming off a big injury suffered at the end of the 2009 season but has looked decent thus far. Henderson has decent range but is always injured and he has been a target when he is in coverage this season.
As it stands right now the Jets are coming into their own as an offensive powerhouse. The team scored 28 points against the Patriots, 31 against the Dolphins, and 38 against the Bills, a number that could have been much higher if the Jets wanted to run up the score. What is most impressive is the manner in which the Jets are doing this. This is no longer a run only offense. It has become a balanced attack that has seen RB LaDainian Tomlinson lead the big plays on the ground while QB Mark Sanchez is connecting on big throws with TE Dustin Keller and WR Braylon Edwards. Thus far those have been the four most important players on offense and all four are having major on the field turnarounds from last season. Tomlinson was written off as washed up by the San Diego Chargers last season and is now the odds on favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year while taking over the role of starter in the offense. Sanchez, who was prone to bad turnovers and poor decisions, has yet to give the ball to the opposition and is showing the poise of a seasoned veteran. Keller had bouts of inconsistency and seemed to get forgotten at times in the offense has now become the most targeted of Sanchez' while also becoming a capable run blocker. Edwards could not catch a ball last season and his primary contributions came as a run blocker. Now Braylon seems to make one long bomb touchdown every week and the drops are a thing of the past. Even the most optimistic Jets fan could not have expected this great of a turnaround from these players. Now the offense looks to be even more dangerous as they will get WR Santonio Holmes back from suspension for this game. Holmes is a deadly receiver over the middle or deep down the sidelines and should make for an interesting tandem with Edwards once he works his way into football shape. The offensive line played much better last week than they had in the past and finally looked like the 2009 unit that was among the best in the NFL. LG Matt Slauson had his first game as a pro while LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson looks to have figured out whatever issues he had the first two games of the year where he looked terrible.
While it may be a bit cliché to say the game likely comes down to the offensive line vs. defensive line, in this case that is exactly what will drive the offensive performance of the Jets this week. The Viking defense is built solely on the ability of their defensive line to push the line into the backfield and make like miserable for the QB and RB's. This will be a major test for the offensive line. It is one thing to dominate the Buffalo Bills and an entirely different thing to contain the Vikings. Ferguson will have his hands full with Allen, but in the past has shown the ability to deal with elite rushers. If he falls back into the mode he was in early in the year and starts jumping offsides and grabbing holds it will be a long day for New York. C Nick Mangold, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, is going to have to deal with the pain and contain one of the Williams'. RT Damien Woody is going to have to keep up with the faster Edwards. If any part of the front five of the Jets breaks down the run of big point games is going to came to a screeching halt. The Jets are going to try to establish the run by hitting the outsides and hoping they can get Tomlinson out into the open where he can make the linebackers miss. There are two ways to approach the passing game. It is probably best to let Sanchez throw some three step drop timing patterns that usually he does very well on to start the game as they gauge how the Jets line will do. The key is to stay out of third and long situations which allows the Vikings to just tee off on Sanchez. While the three yard check to Tomlinson or five yard comeback to Keller may not seem like much, in this type of game it means a lot. Those plays set up the playaction that Sanchez is so good at and should begin to open up the rest of the field where Edwards and Holmes can take advantage of inferior players and begin going vertical. What may be a mistake is if the Jets allow Sanchez to try pump faking or take deep drops early on as those are the kind of plays where a collapsing pocket likely leads to a fumble. If its possible the Jets will try to save RB Shonn Greene to drive the game home in the 4th quarter. The one weakness for Minnesota up front is that the two tackles are older and there is not a ton of depth along the line. If you win the TOP they tire out and the more physical Greene should be able to pound out the tough late game yardage to seal the win.
Jets Defense vs. Vikings Offense
Minnesota seems to have banked the entire season on QB Brett Favre playing as he did at the end of last year rather than how he played at the end of 2008 with the Jets and thus far they can not be happy with the results. Favre has looked terrible with two touchdowns and six interceptions in three games. At times he has looked like he is going through the motions on the field and the teams wide receiver problems seem to have gotten to him. Minnesota has been doing everything in its power to appease Favre, who likely behind the scenes has made it well known that he does not want to play with this group of receivers. The Vikings first went after WR Vincent Jackson of the Chargers and just today traded for WR Randy Moss of the Patriots. Jets fans are familiar with Moss' game and when he is motivated he is among the best in the NFL. Favre has wanted to play with Moss for the last five years and now finally gets his opportunity to do so. Moss had pulled his unhappy disappearing act with New England, something he has done in the past with Oakland and the Vikings, and some think he will do the same with the Vikings unless he receives a new contract. Considering how he played with the Patriots at the start of his run in New England he should not be a problem and certainly will look to have a big game against the Jets corners this week. Moss should help WR Percy Harvin go over the middle and shake the double coverage he often received. Harvin is a good player with excellent speed, but is not a number 1. He can thrive with Moss in the game. WR Bernard Berrian has been a major disappointment and the arrival of Moss probably relegates him to the bench. WR Greg Camarillo, who came over from Miami right at the start of the year, has yet to become a factor in the offense. He would seem to be a good fit in the slot, especially with Moss on the team, and maybe during the bye week they worked more on getting him involved in the offense. Favre has also been hurt by the poor play of his offensive line this year, specifically on the right side where the team has been overwhelmed by the pass rush. The Vikings are at their best when they use RB Adrian Peterson as the primary offensive weapon. Peterson is a gifted physical runner that is tough to bring down and is always capable of the big play. He has run for 145 and 160 yards in his last two games and is also a factor in the passing game. He is one of the best all around players in the league, but how much the Vikings trust him due to his fumbling issues and inconsistency, especially around the goal, may limit his use.
If there was any question about the return of CB Darrelle Revis it was probably answered once this trade went down. Revis has been dealing with a bad hamstring since week 2 and there was some speculation that the Jets would hold him out until they reached their bye week, but that was before the Vikings ended up with a number 1. Revis injured his hamstring chasing Moss down a few weeks ago and will likely push for the assignment this week. The Jets should also get back LB Calvin Pace this week which should be an immense help for the pass rush. The addition of those two should only make a very good defense even better. The defense is coming off a big effort against the Bills and the confidence level should be extremely high. The front 7 dominated the Bills offensive line, constantly getting into the backfield and controlling the line of scrimmage. It has been a strong season for almost everyone involved, though the injury bug is always concerning. DE Shaun Ellis has a slight knee strain and may be rotated with recently signed DE Trevor Pryce more than the team would like. LB Jason Taylor, arguably the best pass rusher, has his elbow so wrapped that it looks like he is carrying a weapon for an arm. The Jets can not afford to see these players get injured for the long haul. The Jets secondary looks to be in the mode of up a week down a week. They were awful in week 1, very good in week 2, awful in week 3, and great in week 4. CB Antonio Cromartie has played far better since the Ravens debacle to open the season. He basically had WR Lee Evans man to man last week and shut him out. He dominated Moss in week 2 when he was pressed into duty. If he can stay consistent it should really improve the pass defense once Revis is 100%. CB Drew Coleman had a nice game against the Bills and has likely earned significant time this week, especially with the struggles of rookie corner Kyle Wilson. Wilson was better last week, but the Jets are not going to trust him against a veteran QB like Favre. The Safeties continue to be a problem in coverage and at this point it has become a concern because every team seems to exploit them. Related to that is the one area the Jets have to improve on defensively and that is the two minute drill. Baltimore, New England and Buffalo sliced through the defense at the end of the first half as if it did not exist and Miami did the same late in the 4th quarter of their game. The Jets have allowed 24 points at the end of the first half and nearly blew the game against Miami late. That has to change.
This should be an interesting matchup on a number of levels. Many of these Jets defenders were here when Favre was the QB and you get the feeling there was no love lost between them at the end of the 2008 collapse. They blamed him for playing careless and putting them in a terrible position drive after drive. There is nothing that would make the old veterans like Ellis happier than sending their old QB out with a loss. The addition of Moss, who one would expect to play a large number of snaps, makes this a very intriguing matchup. Prior to the trade the strategy would have been to load up on Peterson and force Favre to throw, but now the defense has a bigger headache to worry about on the field, one that is going to need over the top help. The Jets run defense has been superb this year, but Peterson is a different type of runner than anyone they have faced. He has the ability to go 20 carries for 70 yards and then break a 60 yard run off anywhere on the field. He is not the type of player where the Jets can fool around by shuffling in the Vernon Gholston types onto the field. The Jets need able tacklers who can change directions and wrap him up. If they try to arm tackle Peterson he is going to slip away. The Jets have likely been working on stripping the football moreso this week since Peterson is a known fumbler. Ideally the Jets would want to see someone like Bart Scott get in front of Peterson to slow him down while Harris comes from behind to jar the ball loose. The pass defense should focus solely on Moss. Everyone knows Favre's history in big games on a big stage. He wants to throw the ball and he wants to throw the ball far. With Moss on the team Favre is going to want to throw all day to him regardless of the coverage. That is what he does in these situations and the Jets have to realize that. It is better to use two or even three guys on Moss to put yourself in the best position for an interception. In a normal game a defense may feel that doing that would leave the rest of the field unprotected, but to Favre triple coverage is no different than a guy running wide open down the field. The Jets should switch up Revis and Cromartie on Moss the whole game. Revis is likely not 100% and Cromartie is the more spectacular player in terms of picking the ball off and running with it. Favre is going to give him a lot of chances for a pick 6. If Pace is healthy he should be a huge plus for this game. He and Ellis coming through the right side of the Viking line is going to make for a long day for Favre, especially is Jason Taylor matches up with LT Bryant McKinnie who has issues with players like Taylor who can spin around the block. A strong pass rush and well placed defenders have the potential to lead to a multiple turnover day for the Vikings.
Minnesota has a good kicking tandem in Ryan Longwell and Chris Kluwe. Longwell has always been one of the more accurate kickers in the NFL while Kluwe is one of those players who makes it impossible to return the ball on. The coverage team is relatively solid, though they have given up a few longer kickoff returns. The return game for Minnesota is among the worst in the NFL.
Special teams had the first problem game last week in Buffalo, though it was not a major issue. P Steve Weatherford, who has been excellent this season, wasn't getting the same hang time on his kicks and it allowed the punt coverage to be a bit exposed by the Bills. While that would not be a concern this week hopefully Weatherford bounces back to his usual self. K Nick Folk misses a chip shot and with his history any miss is worrisome. He has been solid thus far, so he should get a pass, but a lot of eyes will be on him this week. Brad Smith continues to do well in his role returning kicks and will get an opportunity to bring one back beyond the 40 this week. Kickoff coverage this year has been really good as the Jets are getting contributions from everyone on specials.
You have to wonder who really controls the Vikings team. Is it Brett Favre or is it Brad Childress? The coaches offseason approach to Favre more or less told his team that they can not win without him. He sent players to basically beg Favre to return rather than practice with the rest of the squad during training camp and seems to defer to Favre at almost every turn. Despite the attention it seems well known that Favre is not a fan of the offense Childress runs and has made the offense question the coach, despite Favre's public denials about it. The Jets saw him do the same thing in New York and he has done that in the past in Green Bay as well. Childress makes some head scratching call on offense where he seems to get wrapped up in the lure of Favre rather than the reality of scoring points. His coaching decisions against Miami cost the team the game. Despite a contract extension his seat is going to get very warm if they do not turn the season around and Favre starts pushing behind the scenes for a new voice. Childress is undefeated off bye weeks.
Rex Ryan is pushing all the right buttons this year. He gets more out of his players collectively than anyone else in the league would be able to do. Unlike last season he does not seem to get nearly as caught up in the emotion of the game and other than a few mistakes in week 1 has far better control of the sideline than he did last season. The defensive substitution problems look to be a thing of the past and he and the offensive staff seem to be on the same page this year with how they want to approach the game. He handled the very delicate Edwards situation perfectly and made some very tough personnel decisions these last few weeks such as starting Coleman over Wilson and seemingly decreasing Greene's role in the offense. Ryan is proving that he will do whatever it takes to win and looks out for the best interest of the team.
This is the Jets third prime time game of the season and another opportunity for the team to show a big audience that they are the best team in the NFL. In the Jets first game they had the chance to showcase how good the defense could be, even in a loss. In the second game they showcased the growth of Mark Sanchez and how exciting the offense could be. This is going to be the opportunity to show how good the team can be when both units put together a great game as they did in Buffalo last week. That is the message Ryan will be sending to his team. He is going to remind the team of Favre's history and how everyone is now assuming this Favre to Moss connection is going to blow up the rest of the league. The Jets play well when they have something to prove and now they have something extra to prove by shutting down the HOF connection.
One of the questions everyone is going to have is how do the Vikings come off a bye week. ESPN is going to rehash the stats all the way thru the end of the game about how Favre is exceptional since 2002 off a bye week to the point where people are sick of hearing it. What they will not tell you is that the combined record of those opponents is 54-73-1 and the best team they faced was a 9-7 Minnesota Vikings team. That said, these bye weeks give Favre, who has become a notorious slow starter due to never taking training camp seriously, the practice time he usually needs to get up to speed on the season. So while expecting Favre to light up the stat sheet may be overdoing it he should be better than he has been thus far, unless he just tries to push the ball recklessly down the field.
This will be a big test for the Jets offense. They were bad against the Ravens to open the year, but that was admittedly a terrible gameplan brought on by a coaching staff that had far too much respect for the opponent. This will, however, be the first good defense the Jets have faced since week 1 and if they can put up a big score on this team it will validate the offense as being for real.
While its true that if there is a game to have a letdown in it is against an NFC opponent, the Jets need to win this game. The Jets need to build on their home win against New England and keep the crowd into the game. They also want to avoid going into Denver, an extremely hard stadium to play in, next week in a must win type of game. 4-1 maintains a position of dominance in a conference that looks to be without a great team, especially now that Peyton Manning and the Colts no longer look like the 13 win team of years past. 3-2 puts you right back with the rest of the pack.
Expect this to be a defensive struggle with neither team able to establish a big presence on offense. The Jets have the better special teams unit and should be able to constantly win the starting field possession battle because of it and in a game like this every extra few yards is going to help the offense. If the Jets can stop Peterson, Favre will call all the shots and that will be the difference in the fourth quarter when he tries to force the ball to a receiver that just is not open. Cromartie has a good chance to seal this game late and send the Jets to a 4-1 record.
Jets 17 Vikings 7