Saturday, December 25, 2010

Win and We're In: JETS at Bears

The New York Jets fly into the Windy City to face the NFC North champion Chicago Bears this week. The Jets can clinch a wildcard spot with a win or a tie, and can also clinch if the Colts or Jaguars lose. The Bears have clinched the NFC North title, but can still earn a first round bye in the NFC Playoffs, so don’t expect them to go easy in this one.

Mark Sanchez will be starting on Sunday. He believes his shoulder is back to normal and he can give the Jets the best chance to win.

I see this game being extremely similar to last week’s against the Steelers. Both the Steelers’ and Bears’ defenses give up very little points and both are very strong against the run. The Bears are actually ranked lower than the Steelers in both categories. The point I am trying to make is that Brian Schottenheimer stepped his game up last week and beat one of the best defenses in the league, why can’t he do it again this week?

For the first time this season, I am confident in Brian Schottenheimer’s game plan going into a game. He finally found a way to get the ground game going and used Mark Sanchez effectively. The Jets rushed for 106 yards against the Steelers, who were giving up an average of just over 60 yards per game before the Jets’ victory. Sanchez was able to protect the ball and ended his eight game interception streak. The Jets will look to do exactly the same thing against the Bears.

Jay Cutler has been the difference in the Bears’ wins and losses this season. Cutler has compiled only one touchdown and seven interceptions in the Bears’ four losses, but has a 19-6 ratio in their ten wins. As we have seen before, Cutler can be very stubborn with good cornerbacks. In their Week 7 loss to the Redskins, Cutler threw four interceptions, all to cornerback DeAngelo Hall. He has already told the media that he will not shy away from Darrelle Revis’ side on Sunday, whichever that may be.

Revis’ role is usually to shadow the opponent’s number one receiver, but like last week against the Steelers, the Bears like to spread the ball around to many different receivers. I expect Revis to stick to one side and possibly play some safety in zone situations, much like last week.

Special teams will play a crucial role in this one. Steve Weatherford has been practicing all week to send all of his punts out of bounds to prevent all-pro punt/kick returner Devin Hester from getting any opportunities to run one back. Hester returned one kickoff to the 6-yard line last week against the Vikings. Later, Hester returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown. This was the 14th return touchdown of his career, breaking Brian Mitchell’s NFL record. It is obvious why the Jets will not want him touching the ball.

One key matchup to look for is D’Brickashaw Ferguson on Julius Peppers. Peppers is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year with 49 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 9 passes defended. In his first year after leaving Carolina for the Bears, Peppers has been a nightmare to block and helps the rest of the team around him by opening up holes for other defenders as well as driving through them himself. Brick and the Jets will need to keep him in check the entire game to protect Mark Sanchez from the Bears’ biggest threat on defense. 

To keep this short, if the Jets can do everything they did last week against the Steelers, they should win this game. If they try and get cute and overuse plays that will fail over and over again (like the wildcat), then they will have a much harder time. There are snow showers in the forecast for Sunday’s game, so both teams will need to adjust accordingly. Either way, I expect a similar score to last week, if not, a lower scoring affair on Sunday afternoon. 

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