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Jets-Jaguars game preview and analysis: Two sub-.500 teams with a lot on the line

jets_optBY SAM HITCHCOCK
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez went 10-for-21 passing, with three first-half interceptions in 45 plays last Sunday. The beleaguered signal-caller helped produce only 139 yards of offense against the Arizona Cardinals, and got pulled in the third quarter for third-string quarterback Greg McElroy.

Meanwhile, the Jets’ opponent this upcoming Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars, lost their last contest 34-18 to the Buffalo Bills in humiliating fashion. The embarrassment stems from the Jaguars surrendering 232 rushing yards on a sloppy, rainy day that made passing extremely difficult. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick only managed to complete nine throws. There lies no mystery as to why Jacksonville’s run defense is ranked 31st in the NFL.

When McElroy subbed in, he helped lead New York to a 7-6 win by generating the game’s only touchdown. The overall reaction from the game was that it looked more primordial than the first game of football ever played, which took place between Rutgers and Princeton not far down the road. (Rutgers won 6-4 on a plot of ground where the present Rutgers gymnasium stands according to the Rutgers athletics site.)

The Jets were not only grisly on offense in victory against Arizona, but they could only harass the statue of Cardinals’ quarterback Ryan Lindley seven times in his 33 drop-backs. And that was against the worst offensive line in the NFL.

In their loss to Buffalo, the Jaguars went 1-13 on third- and fourth-down conversions, moving them to a 2-10 season record. The Jaguars have now lost eight of their last nine contests.

On Wednesday, the Jets announced that they will be sticking with Sanchez, and while that may seem unfathomable given that he has a 7.3 sack percentage, 28.4 QBR, and -17.6 DVOA (sack percentage and DVOA is per Football Outsiders and QBR is ESPN’s quarterback rating metric), it makes sense when considering New York owes Sanchez $8.25 million next year in guaranteed money.

Sanchez got an extension over the 2012 offseason from General Manager Mike Tannenbaum. But in the NFL, what counts is how much of your contract is in guaranteed money. Initially, Sanchez had $6.75 million in non-guaranteed money for the 2013 season, but that was changed to $8.25 million guaranteed. (When factoring in Sanchez’s bonuses remaining from his rookie contract to the $8.25 million guaranteed, No. 6 will account for more than $12.8 million in cap dollars next year.)

On the road this Sunday, Sanchez will be given the chance to regain a vote of confidence from the Jets organization, and it may well benefit him to get away from the booing in New York -- plus, he will be facing a ghastly team with a slew of injuries.

Jaguars Quarterback Chad Henne has replaced starter Blaine Gabbert, who was put on IR with a shoulder injury. Jacksonville is now down to their third running back choice, Garden State native Montell Owens (Rashad Jennings suffered a concussion against Buffalo and Maurice Jones-Drew has a foot injury).

Henne has been very solid deputizing Gabbert’s role as signal-caller, finding quick chemistry with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. But Shorts was also a casuality of the injury bug in their loss to the Bills, suffering a concussion (his status is questionable).

Comically, during last weekend’s Jets game, play-by-play Thom Brennaman and color Brian Billick sounded like they were experiencing agonizing pain from the low level of execution on the field, and it seems the stage is set for another round of futility.

Here are some relevant issues for Sunday.

Shonn Greene is Running For His Future

All season Greene has been getting crushed in these weekly columns, getting labeled a change-of-pace, secondary runner posing as a primary running back. Greene can feel a bit vindicated that he has risen to 29th in ProFootballFocus’s run ratings for half backs, but he still fails as a downfield-running, home-run threat and his pass rating is 52nd for his position (he also grades negatively in blocking). His biggest strength is carrying the ball through the tackles, and he is even mediocre at that.

To his credit, in the last game against Arizona he ran hard. He even made the heads-up play of falling down on the 1-yard line to seal the victory. Greene resisted the easy touchdown that would have given the Cardinals the ball back in a one-possession game.

With Sanchez’s psyche more fragile than chinaware, Greene and Bilal Powell will need to help catalyze the offense with consistent, positive yardage and manageable third-down opportunities. Despite the Jaguars’ pickup of recently released defensive end Jason Babin, Jacksonville’s pass rush is weak (they have an NFL-worst 13 sacks), so Sanchez will have time to throw, especially if they can able establish the ground game against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses. This even opens the door to extend the field with the play-action pass. Right?? Maybe.

The Jaguars Can’t Run (Seemingly), So Will They Be Able To Pass?

Jacksonville is last in the NFL in rush offense, and while the Jets’ rush defense is very capable of getting gashed, they have enough pride to look strong against inferior competition. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was once again sensational stuffing the run for Arizona, and the Cardinals were only able to engineer 81 yards rushing. If the Jets’ front seven can fill the gaps and seal the edges, then Henne will be forced to go to the air.

The big question of how successful the Jaguars will be at passing depends on Shorts’ health. Blackmon had one monster game against the Texans in Week 11, and followed that with a decent showing against the Titans in Week 12 before getting shut down in Week 13. If Shorts is inactive and Antonio Cromartie is assigned to cover Blackmon, the Jets’ very talented cornerback should fare excellently.

Cromartie excels in marquee matchups, and is rated fourth among cornerbacks for the Coverage statistic according to PFF. If Shorts is healthy, slot corner Kyle Wilson or Ellis Lankster will likely be given the duties to cover him, and that could be very problematic.

Turnovers and Special Teams

Can lightning strike twice? It seemed like the Jets or Cardinals were destined to have a defensive touchdown (Cromartie and Patrick Peterson were both involved), but alas it did not. Sanchez has 18 turnovers this season, and Henne accounted for both Jaguars turnovers in his last start. High-percentage passes from both quarterbacks, and ball security from those wielding the pigskin, will be of tremendous significance.

The Jets’ special teams have been particularly vexing of late, but they followed through with a much overdue good performance against the Cardinals (they were very effective against the highly-potent Peterson in return coverage). Jeremy Kerely and Joe McKnight have dynamic ability to break a long gain, and in a matchup that will be largely decided by field position, special teams will play a much more magnified role in this game.

PREDICTION: Jets 13, Jaguars 10

 

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