The Jets will be favored against the longtime disappointments of the AFC West, but they must be careful not to overlook this downtrodden team, especially given the events of the past two weeks. After lighting up the starting defense of the world champion Seattle Seahawks in the preseason finale, the up-and-coming rookie quarterback Derek Carr will get the starting nod at quarterback over the fading veteran Matt Schaub.
The Raiders are not a uniquely talented team, but they are flying in from Northern California with a full head of steam after Carr's three-touchdown performance.
However, the Jets are entering this game with a fair amount of momentum in their own right. Quarterback Geno Smith played arguably the best football of his career in the preseason game against the New York Giants, suggesting that the former West Virginia star may be turning the corner after all.
As winnable as this game looks for New York at this juncture, they must be careful in their approach to avoid being on the wrong side of what would be one of the upsets to start the season.
Work the Slot
The Raiders are one of the few teams that can compete with the Jets when it comes to woes in the secondary. With 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden set to start the season on the PUP list, the Raiders find themselves precariously thin at corner, particularly when going further down the depth chart.
Hayden's injuries have forced Carlos Rogers, who is much better suited for the slot, into one of the starting positions opposite Tarell Brown. This gives the Raiders two adequate veterans on the outside, but the No. 3 job is still a mystery.
According to Bill Williamson of ESPN, either rookie seventh-round pick T.J. Carrie or CFL castoff Neiko Thorpe will play in the slot. While Carrie turned heads early in training camp, Thorpe had the upper hand in preseason performances. According to Pro Football Focus, Thorpe was the 33rd-best NFL corner during the preseason. Carrie ranked 142nd.
|T.J. Carrie vs. Neiko Thorpe (2014 Preseason)|
|Player||Targets||Receptions||TDs||QB Rating Allowed|
|Pro Football Focus|
No matter who lines up (the job figures to be largely by commission to start the season anyway), the Jets have to be salivating at the idea of working against either a rookie or a player who was in the CFL just a few months ago.
Both players have exceeded career expectations simply by being key components of this upcoming matchup, but asking them to stick with Jeremy Kerley all afternoon will be a tall task.
Not much has been said about Kerley this offseason, but the pieces are adding up for him to have a breakout season in 2014. Finally surrounded by a reliable No. 1 target who can take attention away from him (and can be relied upon to dress for more games than not, unlike Santonio Holmes) and a quarterback who is showing real development in his second season with a proven offensive coordinator calling the shots, there is no reason why Kerley cannot build upon his 523-yard 2013 campaign (assuming he stays healthy).
The Raiders are going to do everything they can to take away Geno Smith's No. 1 option, Eric Decker, who figures to be enough of a handful for Brown or Rogers to handle. If Decker can garner enough attention from safeties Charles Woodson or Tyvon Branch, throwing to Kerley will be as easy playing catch in the MetLife Stadium parking lot.
Get David Carr off His Game
The most dangerous weapon the Raiders wield in this game is the confidence Derek Carr has coming off his surprising, outstanding performance against the Seahawks' starting defense. The rookie completed 11 of 13 passes for a 152.1 quarterback rating.
With Carr in the game, the Raiders looked like a brand new team—it is Rex Ryan's job to ensure the Raiders look like the incompetent group of old once again, at least for Week 1.
There is a lot to like about Carr's game beyond his "moxie" and confidence. Carr has a great, almost underrated arm and can be deadly accurate...under the right conditions.
The best way to get a rookie quarterback off his game is to speed up the game up and, as a result, his thought process, causing him to make uncharacteristic errors. Constantly mixing coverages to keep Carr guessing will be key.
Specifically, the Jets need to apply pressure on the first-year QB—or at least the illusion of pressure. He is at his worst when the pocket starts to become muddy, evidenced by his up-and-down play in his final season at Fresno State in 2013.
If the Jets' defensive front plays anywhere near its potential, it should have no problem getting past the Raiders' new-look offensive line (featuring former Jet Austin Howard at guard). However, Ryan would be wise to throw in as many wrinkles as possible to keep Carr on his feet and out of a comfort zone.
Pre-snap looks like this "mirror" alignment will make it extremely difficult for Carr and his offensive line to determine from where the blitz is coming, especially without a lot of reliable game tape to use in their preparation.
Test Khalif Barnes
Lost in the ever-changing quarterback situation in Oakland are the unanswered questions that surround the offensive line. Not only will they be working in two new starters, including left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Austin Howard, but they will be heavily reliant on Khalif Barnes to hold down the right tackle position.
Barnes was able to hold off disappointing rookie Menelik Watson for the starting right tackle job, but Barnes has not had a strong preseason to speak of. According to Pro Football Focus, Barnes was actually significantly worse than Watson after allowing three hurries and a hit in four appearances.
If the preseason is any indication, right tackle figures to be a bit of a revolving door for the Raiders this year. Regardless of who starts at right tackle, this is a weak link in the offensive chain that the Jets must attack.
For the Jets, "attacking" a player essentially means lining up any defensive end or outside linebacker not named Calvin Pace opposite him on passing downs.
On passing downs, Barnes should get a heavy dose of Jason Babin, the Jets' most proven speed-rusher. Lining up Quinton Coples on earlier downs against Barnes will ensure the Jets have a mismatch at the position no matter the situation.
Technically, Week 1 is never a "must-win" game, especially when referring to a non-divisional game—but the Hulk-like strength of the Jets' schedule (featuring games against the Broncos, Patriots, Chargers, Packers and Bears) over the next six weeks makes this winnable matchup as important as any.
As prone to being overaggressive as Ryan is, he cannot prepare his team with the expectations that the Raiders will lose this game on their own. That may have been possible with a worn-down Matt Schaub under center, but this new-look Raider team is a different animal.
Under Carr's watch, the entire team has elevated its play, doing things like making circus catches that Schaub may not have inspired from his receivers.
The longer this game stays close, the greater the odds are of the Jets finding a way to drop a game they need to win. Ryan needs to put this game away early so this matchup becomes more of a "learning experience" for Carr than a continuation of his unexpected success.
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