New Orleans Saints vs. New York Jets: Crucial Matchups to Watch
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The Saints (6-1) are a week removed from an impressive 35-17 home victory over the Buffalo Bills. The 4-4 Jets, on the other hand, weren't nearly as fortunate last Sunday, as they suffered a 49-9 thrashing at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here is a glimpse at some of the all-important one-on-battles that are most likely to affect the outcome of this midseason contest.
Saints Wide Receiver Kenny Stills vs. Jets Cornerback Dee Milliner
In place of the departed Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie draws the opposition's top wide receiver every week, and he answers the challenge more often than not. This week Cromartie will match up with the Saints' No. 1 receiver Marques Colston. Both of these accomplished players will win some battles over the course of the game.
Jets rookie corner Dee Milliner, meanwhile, has struggled this season. Just last week Milliner was torched by Bengals No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones.
This Sunday, Milliner will face off against New Orleans rookie Kenny Stills. If Milliner can keep up with Stills in single coverage, it will afford the Jets the opportunity to focus their efforts on stopping prolific New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham.
This assignment will prove quite the daunting task for Milliner, however, as Stills has piled up 193 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the last two games. Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees are well aware of Milliner's struggles, and Brees will assuredly attack the first-round pick out of Alabama at every opportunity.
Saints Defensive End Cameron Jordan vs. Jets Offensive Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson
With rookie Geno Smith under center for New York, there's little doubt that Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will send pressure in a number of ways.
Smith will again be without top target Santonio Holmes, and Ryan will give the young quarterback a variety of looks.
But if the Saints can harass Smith while rushing just four defenders, then the Jets will be in for a long day. Sure, Ryan will keep the Jets offensive line on its heels with blitzes, but he'll also want to see if his defensive line can whip the Jets up front.
With six sacks, Jordan is enjoying a fantastic season at defensive end for the Saints. Ferguson is a quality left tackle, but he'll undoubtedly have his hands full on Sunday.
Since New Orleans runs a 3-4 defense, the Jets offensive tackles will often have an outside linebacker to deal with as well. But there will be plenty of instances where Ferguson will square off against Jordan.
Saints Guard Ben Grubbs vs. Jets Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson
A good portion of the football-watching world is aware that Sean Payton prefers to throw the football. But when the Saints can run between the tackles, thus giving them balance, their offense is as close to unstoppable as any unit in the NFL.
The Jets lead the league in rush defense, and Richardson will serve as New Orleans' chief obstacle in establishing a ground game on Sunday. The rookie out of Missouri has performed admirably this season, registering 37 tackles. Richardson is also a capable pass-rusher and has proven his worth with 2.5 sacks thus far. If New Orleans can neutralize him, it can most likely manage the rest of the Jets' defensive front.
As left guard for New Orleans, Grubbs will draw this challenging assignment. Saints tackle Charles Brown will chip in and provide help on some plays, but Grubbs will see Richardson on the majority of snaps. The more success the Saints have controlling Richardson, the more effective their passing game will be when they elect to go downfield.
Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan vs. Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan
Much of the national focus for this game is centered on the brother-versus-brother matchup of Rex Ryan against Rob Ryan.
It goes without saying that these two defensive gurus know each other's preferences and tendencies quite well. As a defensive coordinator, Rob is 0-2 against Rex with the latter as head coach, and Rob will no doubt be looking to change that on Sunday.
There's also some good-natured banter when they square off, as can clearly be seen in the clip below, which was taken when Rob was defensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2010.
While the Ryan brothers command much of the attention, this contest will still be largely decided by the players on the field. The Saints are huge favorites and rightfully so. But if the Jets can win some of the key individual matchups discussed above, they will greatly increase their chances of pulling the upset.
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