Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) celebrates in front of wide receiver Eric Decker (87) after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets vs Raiders game promises to be a good one. The second-place NY Jets (4-2) travel to Oakland this weekend to face the red-hot Raiders (3-3). Expect a tough, hard-fought battle between two famed franchises on the fast track back to prominence.
Sunday’s 30-23 letdown to the Super Bowl champion Patriots displayed the Jets’ shortcomings. They are clearly lacking an elite-level quarterback, an experienced head coach, and that all-around special team competence to play with the big boys. Tom Brady‘s 3rd-and-17 4th quarter completion and Brandon Marshall‘s botched touchdown reception both still sting.
With that arduous Foxboro loss behind them, the Jets now face one of their toughest games of the year, in a major road showdown against the rebounding Raiders in hostile Oakland Coliseum. This is not your laughingstock JaMarcus Russell Raiders. The silver-and-black have returned in large part because no-nonsense head coach Jack Del Rio has quickly and completely transformed the franchise’s post-Al Davis culture.
The Jets will have plenty to focus on, starting with the Raiders’ rekindled offense featuring second-year Fresno State flamethrower Derek Carr tossing to shoo-in Offensive Rookie of the Year Amari Cooper, and complemented by bruising Latavius Murray‘s bursts up the middle.
Raiders Nation has been revitalized after last weekend’s 37-29 blowout of their AFC West nemesis San Diego Chargers. That complete team victory was fueled by a nasty, young defense led by defensive ends Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards, Jr., outside linebacker Aldon Smith, and cornerback DJ Hayden, and anchored by future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson, now in his 18th season.
Here are the top 5 factors to deal with in order to achieve a NYJ road win — all titled for songs popularly performed by Bay Area legends, the Grateful Dead.
Next: 5. Dancin' In The Streets
Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets quarterback
(14) throws a pass against the New England Patriots during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
5. Dancin’ In The Streets
However, the bearded one’s greatest challenge continues to be his week-by-week consistency. Success for the hard-throwing and at-times-erratic Harvard alum requires his receivers to display a level of execution and aggression that has been somewhat lacking to date.
What the Jets really don’t need is another boneheaded move or brain-locked moment by self-proclaimed #1 receiver Brandon Marshall. Sunday’s taking the blame with an “It’s all on me” media moment will only work this one time. Expect to see plenty of quick outs to Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley, and endless runs up the middle by Chris Ivory. Last week, the Jets even tried to include one-time Fightin’ Illini WR-turned-TE Jeff Cumberland in the flow, but the sixth-year big man once again played small at showtime.
On the other side of the field, Derek Carr has already surpassed the familial achievements of his older brother, David Carr, the #1 overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft. Derek has proven himself to be everything that fellow 2014 selection Geno Smith is not: a focused, mature, well-prepared leader of men.
If Carr has what it takes to pick apart the Jet secondary, the Raiders and their felonious fans will be dancin’ in the streets of Alameda County. If not, expect the victorious Jets to waltz out of their locker room for the return flight home.
Next: 4. The Golden Road
Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with defensive end Chandler Jones (95) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) after throwing a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Golden Road
After this grueling game, the rest of the schedule offers plenty of opportunities for a winning streak. Other than December games at MetLife against the undefeated Patriots and Meadowlands rival Giants (4-3), every team they face has a current record of .500 or below.
There’s still a slew of games to be played, and there’s certainly plenty of roadblocks and trap-games ahead. But there are also many reasons to believe that the Jets can make some serious inroads on the AFC playoff picture.
Thankfully, these Todd Bowles-directed Jets are wise enough to play one game at a time. They know that this Sunday is gonna particularly brutal, and they are not dumb enough to give blackboard material to the opposition — like some certain potty-mouthed “player’s coach” currently calling the shots up in Buffalo.
Other than having to concern themselves with the Raiders’ new-found on-field excellence, there is also that hostile East Bay battery to contend with. Jet fans in attendance wearing the green-and-white should be careful since they are indeed an aggressive bunch. Just be careful and be aware of your surroundings at all times if you wear anything bearing a Jets logo.
Frankly, the Raiders deserve to lose every single Sunday for nurturing and indulging such a fan base. Sad but true, such pseudo-gangsta isms will be the legacy of the NFL’s leper messiah, Al Davis.
Next: 3. Truckin'
Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) is tackled by New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Statistically speaking, the Raiders have the #18 overall offense in the league, ranking #12 in the passing game and #23 in the rushing game. The Jets currently have the #8 rated offense in the NFL, #16 in passing and #3 in rushing. Oakland rates #26 in total defense, dead-last #32 against the pass but a tough #3 against the run. New York rates #2 in total defense behind Denver, #4 against the pass and #1 against the run.
If the game was based on stats alone, the Jets would win decisively. That’s why stats are for nerds and fantasy-ists, and the games get played by real men.
If the Jets wish to improve on their strong start, they must continue to build on what they’ve developed. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is adding new twists to the team’s offensive arsenal. Bowles has been tweaking his Arizona-style blitzing defense to play to the roster’s strengths. These are all very positive signs moving forward.
On Sunday afternoon, the Jets must overcome a laundry-list of injuries — add Patriots game casualties All-Pro center Nick Mangold, killa cornerback Buster Skrine, rookie receiver Devin Smith, and seek-and-destroy safety Calvin Pryor — that already includes scat-back Bilal Powell and the recently waived/injured safety Jaiquawn Jarrett. But any gridiron insider will tell you that injuries are part of game.
One subplot to follow is the possible Jets debut of former Pats star running back Stevan Ridley from the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List. The NYJ need all the running help they can get to win this battle of fierce defensive fronts.
Next: 2. Touch Of Grey
Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (91) celebrates with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) after a sack against Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
2. Touch Of Grey
Young talent is a football franchise’s lifeblood, but the Jets’ offseason free-agent signing frenzy means that this team was built to win now. GM Mike Maccagnan has surely benefited from a mix of inherited veterans like Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris, and his own expensive acquisitions such as Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Marshall.
But these players will never be content to wait around for the team’s 2015 draft crop to reach fruition. They absolutely expect to win now. And with the talent being displayed after four Jets wins in six games, they certainly have shown they have what it takes.
But let’s face it, despite what the numbers say, the Jets’ defense has been solid but not dominating. The past two games have raised more questions than answers. Like, are Muhammad Wilkerson, Snacks Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams really one of the most intimidating front-fours in the NFL? Is Rex Ryan’s pet Quinton Coples the most inefficient big-money sack machine in the game? Is 13-year veteran Calvin Pace really still their most productive pass rusher?
And when you scan the field and see cornerbacks like Darrin Walls, Marcus Williams and Dexter McDougle, and hear chatter about the impending return of forgotten 2013 #1 pick Dee Milliner, does your brain flash back to that 19-minute-rant press conference of ex-GM John Idzik? More importantly, with third safety Jaiquawn Jarrett now gone, have the Jets finally entered the Rontez Miles era?
Next: 1. Dark Star
Dec 1, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets kicker
(2) misses a fourth quarter field goal against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
1. Dark Star
The Jets’ black hole is their special teams. They are at a distinct disadvantage in every facet of the kicking game, facing legendary Raiders booter Sebastian Janikowski, now in his 16th season, and Fort Valley State’s greatest NFLer, punter Marquette King. Stand-in punter Steve Weatherford was so terrible last Sunday against the Patriots that the team is anxiously awaiting the return of the mediocre Ryan Quigley. Since he’s back, Weatherford was promptly cut from the team.
Both teams have a Taiwan Jones in their organization: the Raiders one is a lethal kick returner; the Jets one learns the game on the practice squad. And speaking of practice squadders, former Jet and recent Bills castoff Walter Powell may be returning punts for the home team.
New York’s players and coaches are saying all the right things about their upcoming West Coast foes. But this will be an incredibly difficult game for the Jets. With the 49ers struggling, all Bay Area eyes are back on Oakland.
The Raiders’ core is young and hungry, and they will have a loud and rowdy crowd unified behind them, especially those dressed in even scarier Halloween costumes to prove they’re home of “The Black Hole.” The Jets’ veteran offensive line seems to have hit a few potholes, and their big-time defensive line did not dominate the makeshift injury-depleted O-lines of Washington and New England like they should have.
It’s hard to feel good about a West Coast road win this Sunday. The Raiders have an awful lot going in their favor. Oakland is loaded with young stars who are starting to believe the hype.
If the score is low, take the Raiders off Janikowski’s kicking leg, like 20-13. But if Fitzpatrick can thread the needle to his four horsemen, Marshall, Decker, Kerley and Owusu, through the Oakland secondary — a facet of the game the Jets have a distinct advantage — go with Gang Green like 35-24.
New York will really have to play a turnover-free offense. The defense must be relatively shut-down in that Cooper must endure a lonely first visit to Revis Island. The Jets must at least be competitive in special teams, especially in terms of the battle for field position, decisively lost last week in New England.
Most importantly, everyone on the roster must fully buy into coach Bowles’ mantra, all about a Raiders-esque “Commitment To Excellence.”