New York Jets: 10 Jets to Watch in Week 4
With Revis out for the rest of the year (no matter what claims Rex Ryan makes about his one-in-a-million chances at a Super Bowl return), just about the entire Jet team comes under scrutiny. The rest of the secondary will need to step up to replace him, the rest of the defense will need to step up to support the weakened secondary, the offense will need to step up to support the weakened defense, etc.
The task ahead for the Jets is improbable though not impossible, and this season will provide the Jet administration with an opportunity to truly evaluate several components of this team. It will be interesting who, if anyone, helps fill the gaping void left by Revis' injury.
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This team belongs to Mark Sanchez now. The only Jet star (in more senses of the word than just football) who was bigger than Sanchez is out of the picture for the rest of the year.
The Jets can no longer afford to play the brand of conservative football that has led to considerable success under Rex Ryan, as they simply cannot assume that their defense is going to shut teams down week after week. They have no choice but to roll the dice with Sanchez.
Sanchez has made some big plays in his fourth season but remains inconsistent, as has often been the rub against him over the course of his career. Sometimes his indecision has been the result of fear of making a mistake; perhaps the lowered expectations for the Jets as a result of the Revis injury and the need to take more chances will lead to a better, more comfortable Sanchez.
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The Jets continue to search for a quality receiving option across from Santonio Holmes, and Kerley is the new frontrunner for the role.
After two consecutive weeks without any production, Stephen Hill has been declared doubtful for this week's game. Taking his place in the starting lineup will be Kerley, who produced two huge plays last week with a long catch-and-run as well as a short touchdown.
Kerley has traditionally performed his best out of the slot, so it will be interesting to see how Tony Sparano uses him as a No. 2 receiver. Regardless of where he is lined up in the field, Kerley will need to have a good week for Sanchez and the Jets to compete with San Francisco.
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It appears Dustin Keller will be ready to go Sunday, and if so that will be a huge boost for the Jet offense. Keller, one of Sanchez's most reliable targets over the years, has not played in a full game this season.
Keller adds another dimension to the Jet offense as a mobile tight end who can attack defenses down the middle of the field. He is a popular third-down target and will be crucial to the Jets' ability to control the ball against San Francisco and keep their new defense off the field.
While Jeff Cumberland struggled at times in Keller's absence, it is still likely that the Jets will turn to more two tight end sets this week. The Jets have not yet been able to employ two true pass-catching tight ends this season, so opposing defenses will have a new look to prepare for.
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Establishing the run will provide a huge boost to Mark Sanchez against the difficult San Francisco defense, and Nick Mangold will have to play a major role.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are probably the best inside linebacker tandem in the league. It falls to Mangold, the best center in the league, to lead the charge of neutralizing them. Look for the Jets to try to get Mangold to the second level on running plays to take on one of these two players.
Most people believe that Mangold has always been the second-most valuable player on the Jets, behind only Revis. Now is the time to prove that.
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Even with Alex Smith's recent emergence, the 49er offense is still centered around their running game. If the Jets can disrupt San Francisco's early-down runs, they have a good chance to succeed on defense.
Wilkerson has to be considered the center of the Jet run defense after the way he has played to start the 2012 season. The defensive end completely shut the Steeler running game down in Week 2, and New York's linebackers have shown that they are not as sharp against the run as they once were.
If Wilkerson can notch a few tackles for loss as he did in the Pittsburgh game, Smith's rhythm may be disrupted just enough for the Jets to capitalize on a few mistakes.
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Tight end Vernon Davis is a critical component of the San Francisco passing game, and he is a tough cover for any linebacker.
The Davis assignment will likely fall to Harris, who is one of the best linebackers in pass coverage in the NFL right now. Though Harris should have some safety help, extra help for Kyle Wilson may mean that the Jets are unable to play the consistent bracket coverage that a team would usually employ against a tight end of Davis' caliber.
This is a perfect example of the trickle-down effect of Revis' injury. Harris is one of many players who will be tested immediately, and he is also a team leader who can do his part to mitigate the challenges the Jets face.
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Just another day at the office for the NFL's second-best cornerback, right?
Cromartie will attempt to step into Revis' position this week, and there were certainly more difficult potential opponents than the 49ers. Michael Crabtree is a good receiver but he is not elite, so Cromartie Island may actually show up on a few New Jersey maps this Sunday.
Though Cromartie needs to improve his consistency, he does serve as a reminder that there is still a lot of athleticism in the Jets' back four. Sunday will be the first of many tests for him.
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Landry is another freakish athlete in the New York secondary, and he can go a long way to plug the Jets' defensive holes if he plays up to his potential.
Landry has looked very good so far as a Jet, forcing two turnovers in three weeks and returning a Ryan Tannehill interception for a touchdown to swing the momentum of last week's game. He possesses exceptional closing speed and can be an elite free safety as long as he continues to improve his instincts.
Cromartie is the most capable of stepping into Revis' role, but Landry is the player who is most capable of making this defense great despite Revis' absence. A lot of small mistakes can go unnoticed when a great safety is there to clean things up.
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The Jets announced this week that McKnight will primarily be a defensive player going forward. While McKnight was not thrilled with being "traded," he has an opportunity to be a valuable asset to this team regardless.
One of the bigger secondary impacts of the Revis injury is the effect it has on the Jets' cornerback depth. New York has traditionally liked to play as many as seven defensive backs in certain situations, and suddenly the shaky Ellis Lankster is their third corner.
If McKnight can contribute in nickel and dime packages, he will be a very important member of the defense. Add that to his abilities as a kick returner and he is providing much more value than he ever did on offense.
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As much as the focus should be on the players on Sundays, it's hard to ignore Rex Ryan's role in the Jets' pending defensive shift.
Ryan has shown the abilities to dramatically alter his defensive schemes before, most notably when New York played a variety of zones while defeating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks in the 2011 playoffs.
The Jet Head Coach has taken some criticism recently, with pundits saying his defenses have only been successful because they were designed around Revis. This is unfair to Ryan, as he should get credit for building a scheme around the players he had.
There is reason for Jet fans to believe Rex will come up with something, as they have always had an effective defense under his reign. But his job certainly got more difficult this week.