Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What to Watch Answered: Jets

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer


What to Watch Answered: New York Jets

1. Favre’s Flubs

THE SITUATION: Rams coach Jim Haslett has been around the NFL for a long time. And for his money, there’s not been a better player to suit up than New York quarterback Brett Favre.

Even though Favre has a reputation as a gunslinger who will make risky throws that can lead to turnovers, Haslett says he’d take his chances.

“I think he may be the best player that ever played the game at least the most competitive player that ever played the game,” Haslett said. “I love the guy. If I was building a football team and somebody said you could have one player, I guess you could go back in history, that’s the guy I would take because I love his competitiveness, his arm strength, his mobility, the guy, I don’t even know how old he is now, 39, and you can still see it. Does he throw the ball up once in a while? Yeah, that’s just because he’s competitive. The guy’s a great leader, you see him jumping around on the sideline, he’s everything you want in a quarterback.”

Even in his advanced age with a new team, Favre has found a way to adapt to his new surroundings. Jets coach Eric Mangini has asked Favre to manage the game and take fewer risks.

That has worked in some instanced but Favre has still thrown 12 interceptions to his 15 touchdowns.

For the Rams to have a shot to win on the road Sunday, they must find a way to get Favre to make some of those mistakes and take advantage when he does put the ball up.

In 2006, the Rams got a win in Green Bay when Leonard Little forced a Favre fumble in the closing moments so there are plenty of players on the roster aware of what can happen with a risk take like Favre handling the ball.

“A couple of years we were admiring who he was and he coughed up that fumble for us to win the game,” guard Richie Incognito said. “It’s great to play guys like that but it’s better to go out and get a win against a legend like that.”

THE ANSWER: The Rams had so many problems stopping the run that it almost made Favre obsolete. But on the few occasions where Favre did put the ball up for grabs, the Rams simply didn’t make the plays. The Rams blew some coverages for big plays for tight end Dustin Keller and Fakhir Brown and Jason Craft dropped easy interceptions. The Jets had no turnovers as Favre finished with 167 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-19 passing and most important zero interceptions.

2. An Anonymous Duo

THE SITUATION: It’s a near certainty that running back Steven Jackson won’t play against the Jets because of continued complications from a thigh injury.

Injuries to Antonio Pittman and Travis Minor have left the Rams to rely on little known Kenneth Darby and Samkon Gado.

Gado has more experience but just signed on Tuesday and Darby has two carries in his NFL career.

“Whoever goes this week, we think we have capable guys,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on our line to make those holes and we might have to simplify the game plan a little bit, but I think they are definitely capable.”

The Jets have one of the league’s best rush defenses, ranking fourth in the league at the halfway point of the season. Most teams play against Jackson and the Rams with an eighth defender in the box but that isn’t likely to happen with the Jets because of the injury to Jackson.

Most likely, the Jets will protect against the pass, daring the Rams to run.

“If we can’t run the ball versus Cover 2, then that presents a big problem, because they can double both outside guys and we can’t run,” Bulger said. “It’s not a good situation, so when they are in Cover 2; we have to be able to run the ball.”

THE ANSWER: The Rams surprised some by starting Pittman, who bounced back late in the week and practiced. But there wasn’t much room to run for any of the Rams’ backs against New York’s No. 4 rush defense. As a team, the Rams rushed for 80 yards on 21 attempts. Darby looked the best running the ball, carrying four times for 32 yards but he coughed up a pair of fumbles, one of which the Jets recovered and turned into points. Pittman had 13 attempts for 28 yards and Gado carried twice for 4 yards.

3. Air Saunders

The SITUATION: Earlier this week, Haslett jokingly referred to the Rams offense without a running game as ‘Air Saunders.’ Last week when the Rams ran out of running backs, that description wasn’t too far off as offensive coordinator Al Saunders had to dial up pass play after pass play.

This week, it’s clearly going to be difficult for the Rams to run the ball but no matter what type of defensive game plan the Jets have, they must find a way to stretch the field and give Bulger time to throw the ball.

“You have to simplify it for our young guys, but at the same time you can’t go too simple because we don’t know if they’re going to put eight guys in the box, we don’t know if there are just going to say, ‘Hey, they have young guys at running back, we’ll play Cover Two and stop the run and be able to stop the pass.’ There are a lot of things you have to be ready for,” Bulger said. “I think with Steven (Jackson) back there, you know that it’s going to be eight in the box, pretty much every week. With one of these guys, like I said, we’re not sure, so it’s going to put a lot of responsibility on our line. If we can get our running game going, you can dictate the defense a little bit, but it’s going to be up to us to prove that we can get more than two yards a carry against them.”

If indeed the Rams are able to create some running lanes and at least keep the Jets honest, there should be some more opportunities for speedy young receivers Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton and Derek Stanley to make plays down the field. This could also be the type of game where a precision route runner like Torry Holt could finally break loose for a big game. The Jets are vulnerable in pass defense.

THE ANSWER: The lack of a running game and the large early deficit made the Rams take to the air earlier than they would have liked but it didn’t matter much as they continued to struggle to complete passes and protect the quarterback. Bulger finished six-of-13 for 65 yards with an interception in the first half before giving way to Trent Green. Green fared better, going five-of-10 for 70 yards but threw a costly interception deep in New York territory.

4. Monster in the Middle

THE SITUATION: Of all of the offseason acquisitions the Jets made this year, none was bigger in a literal and physical sense than mammoth defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

The Panthers gave up on Jenkins as an overweight malcontent but apparently Jenkins didn’t take kindly to being dismissed for the low price of a third and fifth round draft choice.

Now, Jenkins is making the rest of the league pay.

“I think probably based off what I see; he’s probably one of the most dominant guys in the league right now,” Haslett said. “The guy is an unbelievable force, two, three guys can’t block him, stays in on passing situations, he’s quick, he’s powerful, to me he’s one the best players in the league right now that I’ve seen.”

Jenkins is the anchor in the middle of New York’s 3-4 defense and has a propensity for taking on multiple blockers and allowing the other defenders to run free.

But Jenkins also has the ability to make plays and push the pocket. At 6’4, 349 pounds, Jenkins is more athletic than he looks and has found a way to compile 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks while taking on two or three blockers at a time.

The mission of slowing Jenkins falls to the interior line where Incognito, center Nick Leckey and left guard Jacob Bell reside.

Incognito has been playing some of his best football since Haslett took over and relishes the chance to face some of the bigger, more imposing defensive tackles. Bell and Leckey are on the small side and don’t match up as well with Jenkins.

“Jenkins is a great player,” Incognito said. “He’s playing dominant football right now and there’s no better test of where we’re at as an offensive line than going up against a stud like him.”

THE ANSWER: Maybe it didn’t show up in terms of tackles (he wasn’t credited with any in the unofficial press box stats), but Jenkins was stout in the middle, taking on multiple blockers and allowing the guys behind him to make tackles. Was a major force in limiting the Rams’ rushing attack.

5. Sturdy Special Teams

THE SITUATION: The Rams special teams has been the most consistent unit on the field for most of the season and the coverage units have been especially strong in recent weeks.

Helping matters has been the lack of top tier returners they’ve had to face but this week they will face one of the best returners in the league in New York’s Leon Washington.

Washington returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2007 and is fourth in punt returns and sixth in kick returns this season.

If the Rams can control Washington and find a way to win the field position battle, they will have a much better chance of pulling off the upset.

THE ANSWER: Perhaps the only area in the game where the Rams didn’t struggle. Coverage was good and Washington didn’t get loose for any significant returns.

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