The imminent arrival of the regular season means many things around these parts. One of these things, along with a pronounced spike in liquor sales in the Bayou City, is the return of our weekly in-season features. One of these in-season features is Pre-Game Recon.
Through SB Nation's network of blogs, we're fortunate to have a tremendous opportunity to pick the brain(s) of opposing fans each week. Week One brings us the J-E-T-S fanatics over at Gang Green Nation. John B was kind enough to field five (5) questions from me; I reciprocated and fielded five from him. You can find my answers over at Gang Green Nation. Here were John's responses to my queries:
1. Where else would we start? Let's talk Mark Sanchez. As a fan of the franchise that lived through the David Carr Experience, I'm dying to know what your expectations of Sanchez are, both for his maiden voyage against Super Mario & Co. and on the season in general. Give me a guess as to what his stats will be in Sunday's contest, as well as his numbers at the end of the year.
GGN: I think the Jets can put Sanchez in a better position than the Texans put Carr. Carr took over an expansion team with nothing in place, least of all an offensive line. He had to be "the guy" from the very start. The Jets have an elite offensive line-running back combo. On paper, the defense should be very good as well. I expect the Jets to lean heavily on their defense and running game and ask Sanchez to not lose the game. Anything else he does will be a bonus. This is essentially the model Rex Ryan's Ravens used with Joe Flacco a year ago.
Even if he's successful, I expect modest numbers both Sunday and during the season. The Jets should be a smash-mouth team, only throwing when necessary. I'm not expecting too many 300 yard games.
2. Historically, the Texans have not shown well against 3-4 defenses. That struggle has been due in no small part to the complete lack of consistency the Texans have displayed when it comes to containing the massive defensive tackles the 3-4 typically employs. I guess what I'm trying to say is--Kris Jenkins terrifies me. Is this fear warranted?
GGN: It depends on which Kris Jenkins shows up. For the first three quarters of 2008, there was no more dominant force in football. He was getting MVP talk after the 8-3 start. Even when opponents were double-teaming him, he was penetrating into the backfield and making plays. At the end of the year, he got banged up and worn down and became a non-factor. He was nursing injuries in camp so we'll see whether he's 100%. If Kris is 100%, it could be a long day for Houston's interior line. If not, Steve Slaton could be in for a big performance.
3. Staying on the subject of defense...the Jets ran a 3-4 under Mangini too. Besides what I'm guessing is a newfound creative aggression, what differences have you seen in the scheme since Rex Ryan rolled into town?
GGN: Creativity and aggression are indeed the two biggest things. Mangini rushed three more than any coach in football last season. When he did blitz, his schemes were unimaginative and ineffective. Ryan's calls are much more exotic, creating confusion by disguising blitzes and overloading one side.
Aside from that, I look to pass coverage as potentially the biggest difference. In 2008, there were two studs, Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes, in the secondary. The rest of the pass defense was very suspect. The Jets couldn't cover anybody's tight end in 2008. They brought in Bart Scott at least in part because he's one of the game's best cover linebackers. The secondary should also be improved. Jim Leonhard is an upgrade over Abram Elam in coverage. Dwight Lowery is a year older, and proven corners Donald Strickland and Lito Sheppard are in the fold now (although Sheppard didn't look good in preseason). Last year, things got so desperate the team signed a well past his prime Ty Law halfway through the season. The pass defense should be much better this time around.
4. When he was drafted, Vernon Gholston was thought to be cut from the same cloth as Mario Williams. Although it's still too early to label him a bust, what's the feeling in Jet Land about Gholston? What do you expect from him this season?
GGN: The feelings are all pessimistic. Gholston made absolutely no impact in his rookie season. He was drafted as a pass rushing specialist and didn't even record a sack. Rex Ryan made Gholston his "special project," comparing him to Terrell Suggs. Still, he reportedly struggled in camp and was generally quiet in preseason. Near the end of the third game, he drilled David Carr on a blitz. He followed that up with a big preseason finale against the Eagles. These were backups, but we'll take any encouraging sign we can get. Maybe a light went on.
At the end of the day, though, I don't think many people are expecting big things. It sure would help the Jets if he could turn it on because he'll be starting the first four games in place of suspended Calvin Pace, the best pass rusher on the team.
5. Finally, and to paraphrase former Jet coach Herm Edwards, PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: The final score of Sunday's tilt will be Jets ______, Texans ________. Bonus Prediction: At the end of the 2009 regular season, the Jets' record will be ___-___.
GGN: I'm cautiously optimistic about Sunday's game. This is going to be a tough trip, but I do think the Jets match up well with Houston. I think they pound it on the ground to control the clock and squeak out a 17-14 win. (BRB readers, take heart in the fact that my prediction record on Gang Green Nation last year was abysmal.)
For the season, it's tough to say. There's a lot of talent on the roster but very little depth. It will depend on how healthy the team stays and how Sanchez develops. I could see 10-6. I could see 6-10. I'll probably go with 6-10 because being a Jets fan teaches you to expect the worst.
Thanks to John for taking the time. Head on over to Gang Green Nation to see what Jets fans are thinking about Sunday's matchup.