By Tyson Rauch
On Sunday the New York Jets (6-7) try to keep their postseason hopes alive as they take on the Carolina Panthers (9-4) at Bank of America Stadium. The Jets are coming off of a promising victory over the Oakland Raiders while the Panthers are still smarting from an embarrassing loss to the New Orleans Saints.
One of the best in the NFL
Statistically the Carolina Panthers defense is one of the best in the National Football League. Linebacker Luke Kuechly leads a unit that is ranked first against the run, fifth against the pass, and first in points allowed (14.5 a game). The key to the Jets success starts in the trenches where the offensive line must find ways to handle a defense that is going to apply a tremendous amount of pressure.
Carolina is going to attack the line of scrimmage in an effort to stifle the running game and to force the Jets offense to become one-dimensional. The Jets line must remain consistent in terms of blocking while avoiding mental mistakes and blown assignments. The running backs and tight ends have to do an excellent job disarming the blitz in order to buy Geno Smith time in the pocket. Keep an eye on New York’s handling of defensive ends Charles Johnson (8.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (7.0 sacks).
The Carolina offense is built around their running game which is ranked ninth in the NFL. DeAngelo Williams (662 rushing yards) is the feature back and he shares time with Mike Tolbert (six touchdowns) who helps Carolina consistently move the chains.
Quarterback Cam Newton is a dangerous threat to run the ball as the Panthers signal caller has gained 495 yards with six touchdowns. The New York Jets defense, which is ranked second against the run, has to find a way to slow down the Carolina ground game. Gang Green’s front seven must get consistent pressure without having to utilize exotic blitz packages. If the Jets fail to slow down the ground game they will surely be exposed in the passing game.
Smith continues to shine
Wide receiver Steve Smith (681 receiving yards) remains an explosive playmaker for the Carolina Panthers. The Jets secondary, which has struggled against speed receivers, must double Smith and prevent yards after the catch. Keep an eye on the status of defensive back Antonio Cromartie as he continues to deal with symptoms of a concussion. If Cromartie is unable to play the Jets may have to use either Kyle Wilson or Darrin Walls on Smith.
Tough task for the Jets
You can make a good case that the Carolina Panthers will be the toughest team that the New York Jets will play in 2013. The Panthers play physical, aggressive football that can overwhelm a team that does not play fundamentally sound in the trenches. The Jets will have to embrace an “us against the world” mindset that will match the intensity and physicality of the Panthers. Gang Green must be willing and able to go toe to toe with one of the best teams in the NFL. Failure to do so will end the Jets dreams of making the postseason.
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Tyson Rauch is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.