By Steve Silverman
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The start of training camp can’t come soon enough for football fans. By the end of July, stories of training camp battles throughout the National Football League will be plentiful and it will be just a few days after that preseason games will be on the horizon.
The Jets open training camp July 26 and when Rex Ryan brings his team together, you can be certain that he will talk plenty about the New England Patriots and finding a way to supplant them in the AFC East.
You know that Ryan is obsessed with beating the Patriots and Bill Belichick. Ryan will be the first to remind you about the Jets playoff win over the Patriots a couple of years ago. But the NFL is not really about rivalries. Stories about the hatred between teams like the Bears and Packers, Chiefs and Raiders and Jets and Patriots are no longer relevant and they haven’t been for a long time.
The Jets can’t let themselves get overly concerned about beating Tom Brady and New England because they only play the Patriots twice this season and they have 14 other games to be concerned about. Paying extra attention to your perceived rival means you are not giving the rest of your opponents enough attention.
Therein lies the problem. When the Jets travel to Foxboro in Week 7, their season will already have quite a bit of definition. The idea of preparing a team to beat one opponent can cause problems.
Those problems could come to the surface in Week 1 when the Jets open the season at home against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills got off to a solid 5-2 start last season before their inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks doomed them to a 6-10 record. However, the Bills addressed that weakness in the offseason and should be quite a bit stronger than they were.
Defensive end Mario Williams was one of the prizes of free agency and he chose to sign with the Bills. Williams certainly wanted to get paid, but he recognized the Bills as a team on the rise. When Williams lines up at left defensive end, the Bills’ defense is going to be able to cause havoc.
Williams should flourish in Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 defense, because he can use his athleticism, strength and quick first step as he puts his hand on the ground and fires out against bigger and slower right tackles. The first right tackle he will see is the Jets’ Wayne Hunter.
Hunter, you may recall, was paid plenty of attention by the officials. He was flagged 11 times last year. Even though the Jets’ blockers may get better because offensive coordinator Tony Sparano excels at coaching up offensive linemen and improving their technique, it would take a miracle if Hunter could handle Williams by himself.
That’s not going to happen. The Jets are going to have to provide plenty of extra help to slow down Williams in his first game with the Bills. He is going to be charged up to make an impression on his coaches and his teammates.
Once the season gets underway, the Bills may be every bit as good or perhaps even better than the Jets. The Jets may not have to worry about the Patriots because they may be looking up at the Bills for most of the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback is a better option than Mark Sanchez at this point, especially with Tim Tebow looking over Sanchez’s shoulder. The Jets are going to find some kind of role for Tebow, but he is a quarterback. As long as Tebow is on the roster, life is going to get unpleasant for Sanchez.
The way the Jets can overcome the adversity of last year’s 8-8 disappointment is to get back to the ground-and-pound mentality. No matter who lines up behind center, the Jets are not going to be able to throw the ball around like the Packers, Saints or Patriots. They should not even try.
The Giants demonstrated last year that defense in the NFL is not dead. The Jets must be true to their personality and take an unsexy approach by running the football with Shonn Greene if they want to avoid disappointment this season.
Should the Jets back some of their focus off the Patriots? Be heard in the comments below…