Sunday, December 15, 2013

Four Point Stance: Jets at Panthers


Two weeks ago, the New York Jets were down and out, having lost three straight and all but taken themselves out of playoff contention.

But after a decisive victory over the Oakland Raiders last week, the Jets are now very much alive in a convoluted mash of near-.500 teams vying for the final Wildcard spot. And with their backs against the wall and no room for error, the Jets get maybe their toughest test to date -- a road trip to the surging Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers (9-4) lost last week for the first time in two months but have been red hot this season, thanks to an extremely stout defense and efficient play from quarterback Cam Newton.

This one features the league's top-two run defense, so an air show may very well be in the plans.

When the Jets have the ball:
Santonio Holmes said earlier this week that the Panthers' secondary was the "weak link" of their defense. He wasn't wrong, but that's only because the front seven is so good. The Jets will look for tough yards on the ground via Chris Ivory, but Holmes and the passing offense will need to do its part against the fifth-ranked passing defense in the league. That will require offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to get rookie quarterback Geno Smith on the move, as Gang Green's offensive tackles will have their work cut out for them against Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, both of whom make regular appearances in opposing offenses' backfields.

When the Panthers have the ball:
Speaking of quarterbacks on the move, the Jets will have their hands full in containing Newton, who has been more conservative this season but still has a knack for the game-changing big play. The Jets' first task will be to flex their league-best run defense muscles in order to force Newton to the air. Carolina has completed the fewest passes of 20 yards or more in all of the NFL, so the more the Jets can dictate the Panthers to do what they don't do well, the better. New York will need a big game from its stout defensive front to get the ball out of Newton's hands quickly, as the Jets' secondary is banged up and hasn't been very good to begin with.

Jeremy Kerley. When Kerley is healthy, the Jets win. When the third-down machine is on the sideline, the Jets lose. Smith will look to Kerley early and often both in the middle of the field and on out routes, leaning on his most reliable target in order to neutralize a Panthers defense that ranks near the top of the league in interceptions.

The Jets are 3-2 all-time against the Panthers, having won the teams' most recent meeting -- a 17-6 decision at home. Gang Green picked off Jake Delhomme four times in that contest, including a strange bounce that resulted in a 67-yard touchdown return by Darrelle Revis.

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