So here we go again. The 2009 New York Jets season is about to start and a lot has changed since the end of last season. The Jets will take the field at Reliant Stadium on Sunday to take on the Houston Texans. They will be led by new head coach Rex Ryan, who brings his defensive mind to New York from Baltimore. The Jets will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing end to the 2008 season and it all starts Sunday in Houston.
Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will at the helm for the Jets offense on Sunday. Sanchez beat out Kellen Clemens for the starting job in the pre-season. Sanchez will be starting with some lofty expectations from the Jets fans. Since New York moved up in the draft to get him, he will be counted on to try to get this team in the playoffs. It wont come easy though. The Texans have one of the NFL's best pass rushers in Mario Williams. Williams did have 12 sacks in 2008. He will be going up against a very solid Jets offensive line. This unit will be entering it's second season together after a strong 2008 campaign. It will be up to them to keep Sanchez upright this season.
The Jets also return a strong running game this season with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Jones led the AFC in rushing last season with 1312 yards. He also had a personal best 15 touchdowns as well. He will be up against a Houston defense that ranked 31st against the run in 2008. And with the way the offensive line blocked for him last season, we should expect the Jets to have a good game on the ground on Sunday. Mr. Everything, Leon Washington, should also have a good overall game as well. If the Jets are smart, they will find a way to get Leon the ball 10-15 times on offense. Whenever he touches the ball he seems to make something happen. Ryan has said since he was hired that Leon needs to get the ball more. So lets start off on the right foot on Sunday and get Leon some touches.
One problem the Jets will run into on offense is the passing game. They only have one proven wide receiver and that is Jerricho Cotchery. And the problem with that is that Cotchery does not seem to be a number one receiver, he is a very solid number two though. This puts Chansi Stuckey as the number two receiver this season. Stuckey had a couple of big catches last season as he became a favorite target of Brett Favre for a few games, but in no way does that make him a proven receiver. The Jets round out the receiving corps with Brad Smith and David Clowney. Smith, a converted quarterback, is someone who the Jets are high on and will be counted on to come up big as the slot receiver. Clowney brings plenty of speed with him. He had a very good pre-season for the second straight year. However, he was hurt for a big part of last season and does not have that much experience behind him.
A man who could become one of Mark Sanchez favorite targets is second year tight end Dustin Keller. Keller started out slow last season but really emerged as a very solid option in the passing game for the Jets. He proved that he can handle pressure situations last November in Foxboro against the Patriots, catching a few key passes in overtime to help the Jets to the win in New England. This season Keller will be counted on to be a relible option for Sanchez.
New York's run defense returns with a few new pieces in 2009. Free agent Bart Scott joins David Harris, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas to form one of the strongest linebacking core's in the NFL. Scott, a key in the Ravens defense for the past few years will be looked upon to help lead the Jets to one of the best run defenses in the league. The run defense will be led by Kris Jenkins and Shaun Ellis. The Jets had one of the best run defenses in the league last season until the beginning of December when they started to wear down. The will have a tall order in week one against second year running back Steve Slaton. Slaton is coming off a rookie year in which he ran for 1282 yards and 9 touchdowns. Jenkins and Scott will need to shut down Slaton and make Matt Schaub beat them through the air.
Which brings us to the Jets achilles heal from last year, the Secondary. Last season the Jets secondary surrendered 234 yards per game, good for 29th in the league. To address this issue, New York brought in cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Jim Leonhard to join pro-bowl corner Darrelle Revis and safety Kerry Rhodes. These upgrades should bring the secondary back to respectability. They will be tested on Sunday against the Texans' Andre Johnson. Johnson is coming off a season where he had 1575 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. He will be matched up with shut-down corner Revis while Sheppard will be on Kevin Walter, who had a good season himself in 2008 with 899 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The few keys for the Jets this week will be to: A) protect Mark Sanchez. The offensive line needs to try to keep the pressure off the kid so he can make some plays. B) Establish the running game. Jones should put up good numbers against a weak Texans run defense. C) Get Leon Washington the ball more than 10 times. The more he gets the ball, the more plays he is able to make. This is a key for the whole season. D) Get pressure on Matt Schaub. Get the pressure on him and let the revamped secondary make some plays. With Ryan's new attack style defense, the secondary should be able to make some key plays.
The 2009 season is about to begin and the Jets are an enigma. The have a very good defense on paper and have a very good running game. The question this season is how fast Mark Sanchez will develop. If he can settle in and have a season like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan did in 2008, then the Jets will be in good shape. If not, it may be another long season for Gang Green. But for this week, the Jets will rely on the running game and should come out of Houston with a win to start the season. I see the Jets winning 21-17. Sanchez just needs to manage the game and let the running game and the defense do the rest.