After failing to score a touchdown in their second preseason game, the only team in the NFL to not reach the end zone thus far, Jets head coach Rex Ryan re-assured everyone that it was not time to panic — yet.  With a sudden changing of the guard to the team’s offensive line, switching  starting right tackle Wayne Hunter for Austin Howard, all eyes will be on the offense  —  whether it’s Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow at the helm — this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano’s system, the Jets have not looked like the efficiently discipline unit that has become synonymous with his system. Aside from the offensive line’s rather offensive 12-sack preseason performance, the offense as a whole simply has not been able to move the ball. Thus far, the Jets offense is 5-26 on third down conversions.

To put that number in perspective, Joe Flacco — who is often compared to Sanchez — completed seven third down conversions in three-quarters worth of play in the Ravens 48-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday. Good news for the offense will be the expected return of star receiver Santonio Holmes (ribs) for the first time this preseason. Additionally, Ryan stated that he was “hopeful” that second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) will be in action as well.

It won’t just be the offense that we’ll have our eye on, however, as the defense will have their hands full with dual-threat Panthers quarterback and reigning offensive Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton. Facing a player with his skill set will prove to be an excellent test against an area of the defense that has been labeled as a weak spot.

Preseason games don’t matter, of course, but they do carry meaning. If the Jets come away with a loss on Sunday it will break a streak of fifteen straight seasons where they haven’t had a losing preseason. In that span they have come away with a losing regular season only three times. They’ve reached the playoffs, including three trips to the AFC Championship game, seven times.

Here are a few areas to focus in on as the Jets hope to avoid their first losing preseason since 1996.

  • AUSTIN HOWARD/OFFENSIVE LINE: This continues to be the biggest weakness on a unit that is still continuing to find cohesion. Howard, a journeyman of sorts, does not have the same task of facing the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Carlos Dunlap. Dealing with Charles Johnson’s 31 career sacks will be formidable for the third-year tackle’s debut performance. So much has been made about Sanchez maintaining confidence throughout the season, protecting him in the preseason while everyone is learning the new offense on the fly is a great start.
  • WAYNE HUNTER @ JUMBO TE: Ryan stated how effective Hunter was as the team’s utility lineman and jumbo tight end. Our very own Chris Nimbley highlighted the lack of an efficient blocking tight end becoming a looming issue with this team. The team looked very effective when the ran the ball behind Howard, who played the jumbo tight end role, last Sunday.
  • SANTONIO HOLMES & WRs: As the team’s number one receiving threat, ‘Tone sets the tone for the young receiving unit. Thus far, he has yet to see the field for a preseason game. Getting continued work and repetitions with Sanchez and perfecting timing of his routes will be the main area of focus. Stretching the field will be important factor as well. Jets quarterbacks have been efficient, but have yet to stretch the field. A big part of that has to do with the liabilities on the offensive line. But presumably with this ground and pound mentality, the Jets should be able to stretch the field with the defense playing the run in the box. Additionally, the shear presence of Holmes forces opposing defenses to roll coverage his way — freeing up younger guys like Stephen Hill and Jordan White.
  • INTERIOR DEF VS. CAM NEWTON: Assuming Darrelle Revis shuts down Steve Smith, Newton will be looking inside against the Jets. Tight end Greg Olsen and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be attacking the middle — along with Newton — early and often. A problem area in recent years has been the LBs/S inability to defend tight ends and running backs in passing situations. The additions of Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry are expected to improve that part of field. Also keep an eye out for rookies DeMario Davis and Marcus Dotwin breaking up plays in the middle of the field.

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