Top Five Keys For Jets/Cowboys

It is finally here. A game that so many have circled on their calendars from the minute that the 2011 NFL schedules became official. The Jets and America’s team. On the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy. Sunday night football on the first Sunday of the season. It doesn’t get any better than this in September. Here are our top five keys for the Jets as they take on the Dallas Cowboys.

SANCHEZ, YEAR THREE BEGINS: It seems obvious and easy to choose the Jets QB as the top key for any game. We do it here though to make a statement on the entire season. This is Mark Sanchez’s team now. He will be judged according to where the Jets end up. This week we’ll see how the “Sanchise” pulls together a WR corps that was revamped on the fly this summer. With the Jets it starts on the ground but it will only end up in Indianapolis if Sanchez takes the next step in 2011.

KEEP ROMO CONTAINED: Cowboys QB Tony Romo is most dangerous when his blocking breaks down. It is then that he breaks free, begins to improvise, and ultimately devastate. The Jets pass rush up front has provided little pressure this preseason. What they can’t do is compound that by allowing Romo to escape the pocket where he likes to sling it Brett Favre style, often times with downfield success. Even worse for the Jets, Romo has Jason Witten. The 2010 Jets had problems covering tight ends.

CROMARTIE VS BRYANT AND AUSTIN: You can already predict what Revis Island will look like on Sunday night. Barren. Deserted. The other side of the field though, will be the opposite. Balls will be flying like Juy 4th fireworks in CB Antonio Cromartie’s work area.

With the game breaking combo of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin coming to town, “Cro” can ill afford a night like the one he had last year in week one against the Ravens. A performance that featured constant holding and illegal contact calls, when he wasn’t getting beat. Cromartie can give up catches in front of him. He just can’t become an EZ pass toll booth for the Cowboys to race past at will.

KELLER AND WITTEN: Jason Witten is the template for how an All Pro tight end should perform and be employed in the passing game. Keller has been “emerging” since his rookie year. It is time for number 81 to be that weapon that the Jets don’t make excuses about anymore.

It ia always the same response from Gang Green regarding Keller’s lack of activity. The one that reads “Keller draws attention and therefore it is hard to force feed him the ball.” Does that mean that Witten grabs a hundred balls a year because he doesn’t draw attention? Hardly. The Jets need to stop talking about why Keller gets bottled up, and start making him the threat he has the ability to be.

SCHOTTY VS ROB RYAN: How entertaining and charming are the big loud Ryan brothers? We love them, they are great for football. We wish only the best for their father Buddy, who will be in attendance despite battling cancer for a second time.

Beyond their brothers natural media abilities, the Ryans are no nonsense on that field. The Cowboys new defensive coordiantor Rob made the Browns, that’s right the Browns defense, respectable last year.

Jets embattled offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been, despite the clubs two straight trips to the AFC title game, the target of may die hards anger. This for his lack of faith in Sanchez and a seemingly lack of creativity in finding ways to get the Jets in position to score more points. Those complaints are not all warranted, yet can all be put to rest finally, if the offense begins to click consistently.

Schotty has weapons galore. The new personnel offense hasn’t gelled yet due to such limited time with each other, but the names on the backs of the jerseys are big ones. High profile ones. Potentially explosive ones. Coordinating means putting it all together. That is Schotty’s responsibility, one that will include an even greater scrutiny should the Jets stumble often on offense this season, like they have in the previous two.

We can guarantee what a Ryan run defense will bring. A Schotty offense? The Jets offensive “guru” has had to overcome game calling for a young, and often times mistake prone QB, on a team with an excellent defense that doesn’t need a scoreboard to light up in order to win. However, it is time to brand this unit. Time to blend the run game with what ought to be an emerging passing game.

For now two key questions remain: When if ever, will the veil come off of Sanchez? When does that blind mutual trust between OC and QB truly begin?  A stalemate in this one on one battle of the headsets will keep the Jets in the game. Anything less may leave the Jets at 0-1 and prepping for Jacksonville.

Jets vs. Cowboys: Game Breakdown

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.

TOJ Week 1 Roundtable: Jets/Cowboys Key Match-Up

Joe Caporoso: I am going with Jason Witten versus the Jets safeties. The Jets were awful at defending the tight end last year and Witten has the ability to consistently hurt them if he is left in single coverage with the substantially smaller/inconsistent in pass coverage Jim Leonhard or Eric Smith. I wouldn’t be shocked if Darrelle Revis saw a few reps on Witten and the Jets also threw plenty of double teams at him.

Justin Fritze: Dez Bryant against Antonio Cromartie. This is the sort of battle of egos you pay big money to see. Cromartie has a lot to prove against the second year “star” 1st round draft choice. If Bryant takes it to the house against Cromartie, the third option of Kyle Wilson makes me shudder. Cromartie needs to do his best Revis impersonation and bump and run Bryant until the Jets can get a few sacks, at which point it will be check down time for Romo, seeing as how he wants to stay upright for longer than one week. I think Cromartie will keep him out of the end zone, but a few big plays could spell trouble for the island cornerback theory of Rex Ryan.

TJ Rosenthal: Terence Newman according to Rotoworld has been ruled out. The Cowboys secondary has struggled with him this preseason. The Jets new wide receiving corps has not yet gotten into gear either. Holmes however, is Mark Sanchez’s favorite target. What a great way it could be for the Jets to begin to open up the air attack by picking on backup Orlando Scandrick and a banged up starting CB in Mike Jenkins, and whoever else tries to help out Rob Ryan’s unit.

Rob Celletti: The Cowboys’ secondary looks ripe for the picking, but that depends on one thing: keeping Mark Sanchez’s jersey clean.  That’s why Sunday’s key matchup has to be D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the rest of the Jets’ line vs. DeMarcus Ware.  Not that it needs further explanation, but Ware is an elite pass-rusher, and if he’s allowed to get in Sanchez’s face consistently, it could be a long day for the offense.

Chris Celletti: I’m really interested to see Antonio Cromartie against Dez Bryant/Miles Austin. Whoever the Jets put Darelle Revis on will be taken out of the game, andd expect Tony Romo to look at Cromartie’s side of the field. Bryant and Austin are both explosive playmakers, and it will be imperative that Cromartie does a good job on whoever he is matched up against to keep the Cowboys’ offense at bay.