By Tyson Rauch
On Sunday the New York Jets (4-4) face their biggest challenge to date as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (6-1) come to MetLife Stadium. The Jets are coming off of an embarrassing performance against the Cincinnati Bengals while the Saints continue to roll after beating up the Buffalo Bills.
All Brees, all the time
Statistically the New Orleans Saints offense is one of the best units in the National Football League. The Saints are averaging 28 points (5th) and 396 yards a game (6th), which is supported by a passing attack that averages 310 yards (3rd) a week.
The New Orleans offense is engineered by quarterback Drew Brees, a phenomenal player that always puts his team in a position to win. Brees does an excellent job of spreading the ball around to all of his weapons and he takes advantage of mismatches in the secondary.
If the New York Jets are going to have any type of success on Sunday, the secondary must clean up their coverage issues and prevent receivers from running free down the field. Antonio Cromartie must return to his Pro Bowl caliber level of play with Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson contributing on a consistent level. Rookie defensive back Dee Milliner should see limited action until he gets his confidence back and his level of play warrants a return.
New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham (40 catches, 630 yards, 8 tds) is a match-up nightmare for the Jets as he has the size and speed to take over a game. Rex Ryan and his defense must find a way to play physical with Graham and prevent the big plays over the middle of the field. Gang Green used Antonio Allen on Rob Gronkowski and could use the young safety again on Sunday.
Running back Darren Sproles has to be considered one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Sproles is a very dangerous threat out of the backfield and in the return game. The Jets defense and special teams units must account for Darren at all times and get the Saints running back to the ground upon initial contact.
Establish the run
The Saints defense under Rob Ryan is much improved as the unit ranks amongst the league leaders in points allowed (4th), sacks (6th), and against the pass (9th).
The New York Jets have to get back to their ground and pound ways in order to slow down a very aggressive New Orleans defense. This approach starts with very physical offensive line play and a true commitment to the run. Don’t be surprised to see Chris Ivory get a ton of carries against his former team.
Utilize all resources
Far too often the Jets passing game does not effectively utilize the short to intermediate passing game. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg must come up with a game plan that gets the ball into his playmaker’s hands. Whether that means screen passes to Jeremy Kerley or Josh Cribbs, or slant patterns to David Nelson and Stephen Hill, something has to be put into place to get the air attack in rhythm.
As mentioned earlier the Saints defense can get to the quarterback as evidenced by their 24 sacks on the season. The Jets have to play physical at the line of scrimmage and must improve on blitz pick up. Gang Green cannot afford to have defenders running in untouched on Geno Smith.
Daunting task for the Jets
Gang Green is clearly going to have their hands full on Sunday. The Saints are explosive on both sides of the ball and could blow out the Jets if the team does not come out and play fundamentally sound football. New York must play smart and physical and control the time of possession. If the Jets can get to Brees and make some plays on defense they have a good chance to pull off the upset. If the team that showed up against the Bengals comes to MetLife on Sunday it is going to be a very long afternoon in East Rutherford.
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Tyson Rauch is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.