FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Can’t think of a better way to top Thursday night’s NFL season opener? Tune into the Sunday night Game of the Week featuring “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys, visiting the New York Jets in what will undoubtedly be a very emotional night. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of September 11th, the Jets will be honoring those who gave their lives to ensure our country is safe.
But like a good lasagna, this game has many layers. Of course there is the sibling rivalry between the Jets head coach, Rex Ryan, and the Cowboys defensive coordinator and fraternal twin, Rob. Their gamesmanship on defense, while it may look similar offers different wrinkles, will be like two skilled chess players masterfully trying to one up each other. And what about the quarterback match-up? Tony Romo is looking to rebound after having an injury-plagued 2011 — eventually leading to their 6-10 record. Mark Sanchez has had all the publicity of an elite quarterback, but will he transform his game from not losing to winning? Add in the regular season return of Plaxico Burress and this game has all the fixings of a great Game of the Week.
Now, the question is, will the game be a shootout like the Packers-Saints game? A Ryan-Bowl game giving up a combined 70+ points?! I don’t think so.
WHERE: East Rutherford, N.J. / MetLife Stadium (capacity: 82,500)
WHEN: Sunday, September 11, 2011 @ 8 p.m. EST (TV – NBC/Radio 1050 AM ESPN Radio)
HEAD COACHES: Rex Ryan, Jets — third season 20-12 (regular season)/ 4-2 (postseason); Jason Garrett, Cowboys — first full season 5-3 (as interim regular season) 0-0 (postseason).
OVERALL RECORD: 7-2, Cowboys lead; last meeting — Cowboys 34 – Jets 3 on November 22, 2007.
NOTABLE: The Cowboys have won three of the last five games between the two franchises. In each of the Jets three losses, New York has failed to score more than seven points. In the team’s two wins, the club has scored 22-or-more points.
INJURY REPORT: (As of Friday 9/9/11)
- Jets — OUT: OL Rob Turner (ankle), WR Logan Payne (wrist)/PROBABLE: QB Mark Burnell (calf), FB John Conner (ankle), WR Santonio Holmes (illness), WR Plaxico Burress (ankle), TE Jeff Cumberland (Hamstring), DE Marcus Dixon (knee), DT Kenrick Ellis (hamstring), WR Derrick Mason (knee), RB Joe McKnight (illness), RG Brandon Moore (Illness) DL Ropati Pitoitua (ankle), DL Sione Pouha (knee), CB Darrelle Revis (hip).
- Cowboys — OUT: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), CB Terrence Newman (groin), WR Laurent Robinson (hamstring)/QUESTIONABLE: C Phil Costa (knee), CB Mike Jenkins (neck/knee), T Tyron Smith (knee)/ PROBABLE: RB Tashard Choice (knee), DE Marcus Spears (groin), LB Bradie James (Ankle), WR Miles Austin (hamstring).
- DeMarcus Ware vs. Wayne Hunter – Ware is arguably the most intimidating pass rusher in the league, recording 10+ sacks in each of the past two seasons. Hunter is in his first year starting on offensive line. He’s be quoted as looking forward to the tough match-up, but will he be thinking the same thing once they line up opposite of each other. Protecting Sanchez is a must, and with a thing offensive line, outside of the starters, Hunter can’t afford to not step up to this gigantic challenge.
- Jets Veteran WRs vs. Cowboys Banged Up DBs – While this is still a ground and pound team, expect the Jets to air it out early and often — testing the durability of their secondary. Whether it’s their ailing starters, Michael Jenkins and Terrence Newman, or their untested back-ups it should spell for a strong passing day for the Flight Men and Sanchez — as long as the offensive line gives him the time in the pocket.
- Jason Witten vs. Jets safeties – Yes, the Cowboys strengths are outside — Miles Austin and Dez Bryant — but so are the Jets — Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Having said that expect Romo to fall back on his safety valve, tight end Witten. Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith had trouble all last year defending big, pass-catching TEs. While both Leonhard and Smith enjoyed a fine preseason, questions still remain about their coverage against play-making TEs like Witten.
- Jeremy Kerley, WR/KR, Jets – Can you picture a better x-factor for the Jets? This guy’s speed is electric — in traffic or in open space. With all the attention on Burress, Holmes and Mason this jack-of-all-trades should find some single-coverage and open space to put his speed to use, especially given the Cowboys banged up secondary. Let’s not forget that Kerley is one of the featured players in the team’s Wildcat packages. In the return game, his skill set is very similar to that of the Packers Randall Cobb — a guy who the Jets evaluated before the NFL Draft. Special Teams coach Mike Westhoff has entrusted this rookie with his faith and he knows that on any give play Kerley is likely to have an explosive, game-changing play.
- Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys – Jones is a fantasy stud in the making with his shiftiness between the tackles and his ability to catch the ball out of the back field. Against a stout Jets run defense, I don’t expect Jones to make his impact on the ground. However, I can see him doing damage catching the ball in the flats, beating the Jets slow outside linebackers. In the preseason that was an area they were weak at (see Bradshaw, Ahmad in Game 3). A healthy Calvin Pace along side Bryan Thomas bodes well for the pass rush and the run defense, but they are both a bit sluggish in coverage — leaving them susceptible to getting big plays from screens and passes in the flats to their running backs.
THE PREDICTION: Cowboys 14 — Jets 24
- The emotions of representing New York on September 11th will prove to be more than enough motivation for the Jets to come out on top in their home opener. Sanchez should capitalize against the Dallas secondary, finding Holmes and a sure-handed Mason for scores. The running game is always good for 100+ yards as I suspect Shonn Greene to pick up from his preseason form of averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. The defense remains stout, although Romo targets Cromartie early and often, likely hooking up with Bryant and Witten for scores.
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