The New York Jets face the toughest test of their season on Sunday as they host the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium.
The two teams have met 11 times, the Saints currently lead the series 5-6. They last met in 2009; the Saints won 24-10. Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions.
Here are three keys to the game for the Jets:
Coverage, Coverage, Coverage
Last week against the Bengals the Jets couldn’t cover anyone — Andy Dalton threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Rex Ryan joked after the game, that if the Jets secondary didn’t improve, Drew Brees would throw for 700 yards against the Jets. That may be an exaggeration, but the Jets need to at least hold up the Saints’ receivers for a moment to allow the defensive line to get in the All-Pro’s face. Brees is slightly smaller than the prototypical NFL QB at 6-feet tall, so if you can collapse the pocket around him, and close his throwing lanes, his options are drastically diminished. Brees and head coach Sean Payton both like the vertical passing game, which requires deeper drops from the quarterback. This style of offense will aid the Jets defense, as the deeper drop-back will allow more time for the Jets pass rush to get close to Brees.
Contain Jimmy Graham
The Saints tight end, Jimmy Graham, is one of the best receiving tight ends in the league — he leads the league in both touchdowns (8) and yards (630). Graham is big, strong, physical and has incredible vertical range, which makes Brees’s job easy. Graham is suffering from a partially torn plantar fascia muscle in his foot, but anyone who thought the excruciating pain would slow him down was severely mistaken last week — Graham caught two touchdowns in the Saints victory over the Bills.
The Jets have hinted that they may use cornerback Antonio Cromartie to cover Graham. Cromartie usually matches up against the oppositions best receiver, and although Graham is technically a tight end, he is the Saint’s biggest weapon.
In reality, the Jets will likely use a combination of both Cromartie and safety Antonio Allen to defend Graham. Allen covered Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski when the Jets played the Pariots two-weeks ago, and he did a reasonably good job. The Patriots recently used a similar tactic against Graham by using their best cornerback, Aquib Talib, to cover Graham. Talib shut down Graham — zero catches on six targets. Whoever they elect to cover Graham, the Jets need to contain the tight end in order to stall Brees and the high powered Saints offense.
Move the Ball
It doesn’t matter how they do it — throwing, running, or even the wildcat — but the Jets need to move the ball. In last week’s blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, aside from the Jets defense being unable to cover a JV offense, part of the problem was that the offense wasn’t able to muster any sort of ball movement — they finished the first quarter with 1 yard. The Jets best all around game this season was against the Atlanta Falcons. They moved the ball early and often, and scored on each of their first half drives. The Jets might need to score on every drive to win this game, but at the very least, they need to move the ball and give the defense a chance against Brees.
Sudfeld’s Opportunity to Shine
The Jets are missing both of their starting tight ends this week, Kellen Winslow Jr. is serving the final game of his four game suspension, and Jeff Cumberland will likely miss the game due to a concussion. That leaves Konran Rueland, and Zach Sudfeld as the Jets only healthy tight ends. Between them they have a combined 64 snaps, hardly a recipe for success. One of these two has a big opportunity to make a statement within the Jets offense. Rex Ryan said this week, “One guy [Sudfeld] probably has a little better skill set as a receiver, one’s probably a little bit better blocker. So if Konrad starts, expect a run. If Sudfeld starts, expect a pass.” It clearly won’t be as black and white as that, but it might be Sudfeld that makes the biggest difference. Geno Smith has relied on his tight end’s this season — Jets tight ends have caught 35 passes for 434 yards and 4 touchdowns, 23% of the Jets offensive production. If Sudfeld can prove to be a valid contributor in the passing game, he could become a big factor in the Jets offensive success against New Orleans. As the Saints have proved with Jimmy Graham, the tight end can be an extremely valuable asset.
The Jets have their backs against the wall in this game, and are the big underdogs. However, when the Jets have had their backs against the wall they have performed the best — see the wins over New England and Atlanta. Regardless of the Jets ability to win the unexpected games, Brees and the Saints don’t lose often, and without a freak last second throw by Tom Brady they would still be unbeaten. The Jets need a miracle.
Prediction: Saints 35 Jets 13