Offense: The New York Jets need to be in attack mode from the first snap of the game. There is too much talent at the wide receiver and tight end position for them not to have a game plan based around a downfield passing attack to take advantage of a battered and suspect Dallas secondary. You can’t double team Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller, meaning at some point all three should have opportunities to make huge plays. It is imperative that the Jets get Burress involved early on a safe pass to calm his nerves and get him into the flow of the game. Holmes is going to get his looks but Mark Sanchez can’t forget about Dustin Keller and Derrick Mason in the short to intermediate passing game on third down situations.
Sanchez has a prime opportunity to demonstrate his progression as he enters the third year in this system. We are past color coded wrist bands and games with sub 50% completion percentages. He needs to play confident from the first snap and put together a statement performance on national television.
Let’s not entirely forget about the running game, which will set up the opportunity for play action down the field. We have heard all about Shonn Greene being the feature back so Brian Schottenheimer needs to prove it by giving him at least 16-20 carries. LaDainian Tomlinson will be out there on third downs and to occasionally spell Greene. I wouldn’t expect to see Joe McKnight or Jeremy Kerley except for a handful of plays. Kerley could take a few snaps from the Wildcat to give upcoming defenses more to prepare for.
Wayne Hunter will be under the microscope on the offensive line, especially in his match-ups against DeMarcus Ware. The Jets don’t frequently give help to their tackles so Hunter will be on an island at times and needs to protect Sanchez so the Jets can attack down the field.
Defense: Just like the offense, they need to attack from the first snap of the game. If he gets cleared to play, rookie first round pick Tyron Smith will start at right tackle. Rookie Bill Nagy is starting at left guard and Phil Costa will be making his second career start at center. Tony Romo should also be rusty considering he missed the last two thirds of the 2010 season. I am aware it is risky to leave your corners on islands against Miles Austin and Dez Bryant but that is why Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie make the big bucks. Expect to see plenty of 6 and 7 man blitzes coming right at Romo.
The match-up that is most concerning for the Jets is tight end Jason Witten. Their defense struggled against tight ends last year and Witten is one of the best in the business. Their safeties are not equipped to cover him one on one, so the Jets will have to mix and match double teams at him and maybe occasionally throw Revis on him.
Felix Jones is a serious home run threat out of the backfield, so it is important the Jets keep contain and force him to run north and south. He is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and Dallas will likely attempt to take advantage of the Jets lack of speed at linebacker.
It will be interesting to see how Rex Ryan uses his bench on defense. Look for Jamaal Westerman, Kyle Wilson, Brodney Pool, Ropati Pitoitua, and Donald Strickland to see plenty of action. This is an important game in particular for Westerman and Wilson who need to prove they deserve big roles on the defense. Also keep an eye out for rookie first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson making his career regular season start.
Special Teams: Nick Folk and TJ Conley will be under the microscope all year at kicker and punter for the Jets, respectively. Conley in particular could be a bad game or two away from being released. Look for rookie Jeremy Kerely to handle most of the return duties. Antonio Cromartie will likely get a rep or two on kick return and run it out regardless of where it is kicked. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Jim Leonhard deep on a punt in a big spot. Brian McCann is listed as the Cowboys primary returner but Dez Bryant and Felix Jones both have the ability to step in and provide a major threat. Cowboys kicker David Buehler has one of the strongest legs in the game.