How much will the Jets miss Nick Mangold if the center is truly out of action with a high ankle sprain? They’ll miss him plenty. The task of overcoming his absence is not however, insurmountable. Shonn Greene could wake up from a sleepy September. The Jets could scale down their air attack, while leaning on their defense and special teams units. Both of whom have been quite resourceful this year. The Jets can continue their hot start minus Mangold only if they play it smart in all phases, and acknowledge which plays can’t be run when the three time Pro Bowler is not able to help spearhead them.
Provided that Mangold WILL be on the sidelines (there are differing reports as to the extent of the injury at this time) Jets and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will first have to try it on the ground. The problem with relying on that strategy is that RB Shonn Greene has averaged less than three yards a carry (26-75) so far WITH Mangold. Without the ability to find time to get the ball into their receivers hands, the focus for Oakland can center strictly around Greene. A dangerous scenario for the Jets who would then have to practically pitch a shutout in order to win.
Therefore the key may not be how Greene and the rushing attack adjust to life without number 74, but how the Jets passing game does. We suggest a higher percentage of plays out of a flex backfield attack that features more screens to trustworthy RB Ladainian Tomlinson. LT has already pitched in with clutch chain moving grabs so it only makes sense in this time of need, to go with what has been working. The quick drops and throws to the outside will not only relieve backup C Colin Baxter of the constant pressure that comes with reading stunts and withstanding bull rushes from interior defenders, it will also help tire out a Raider defense.
Baxter benefited greatly from the experience he gained at Met Life stadium Sunday. Mangold left in the first half, forcing the undrafted free agent into the fire. The rookie held his own but expectations for any first year lineman must be tempered. Especially when playing time comes as a result of having to replace a player like Mangold.
Losing their center will also mean that the Jets must scale down the amount of shots they take downfield. Baxter will have enough on his plate already and to have to add extended pass protection to his list of jobs on Sunday may be overload. Beyond that, RT Wayne Hunter has gotten off to a rough start, and it is clear that the Jets would be risking more than interceptions should they misdiagnose the effect Mangold has in keeping Sanchez safe and secure.
Rolling Sanchez out to find the emerging Dustin Keller quickly in the flat can also help alleviate the stress to what would be a revamped offensive line. 6’4 WR Plaxico Burress could provide a hand on more slant routes over the middle while perhaps being that big play target down the sidelines should one on one coverage situations (which Burress saw few of last Sunday) emerge. If so, it would behoove the Jets to force feed advantages in any of those matchups as often as possible.
The Jets can also take solace in the fact that their defense has created turnovers so far in 2011, while the special teams has made momentum changing plays two weeks in a row. Rex Ryan wanted more interceptions from his defense this year and on Sunday against the Jags he got four of them. Mike Westhoff’s unit also helped out big time in the week one 27-24 comeback win over Dallas, when a fourth quarter punt block by Joe McKnight was picked up for and run for a TD.
Another key will be playing these this next tough stretch of road games (Oakland, Baltimore, New England) cleanly. No turnovers. No penalties. The Jets were uncharacteristically flagged too often (7-60 yds) against the Jags. That can’t happen now, given the circumstances of a team playing without it’s star center.
Regardless of whether Greene gets it going finally, the formula for navigating through this tough three game stretch with out Mangold will still remain twofold. Get the ball out fast in the passing game, while looking for big play opportunities on defense and special teams. It won’t be easy for Gang Green to keep the train rolling when the leader of the trenches is not in uniform, should that be the case for any number of games though, the Jets still DO own a roadmap to victory.