Luke Kuechly has established himself as one of the best linebackers in the league. Credit: Getty Images
There is no denying the Jets have dug themselves in a hole recently, with three straight losses before they righted the ship this past Sunday in a win over the lowly Raiders.
At least two of those three losses were supposed to be paper, which would have changed their grim postseason outlook as they travel to the Panthers this weekend. Against an offense that can at times move the ball effectively and against a defense that creates all sorts of matchup problems, the Jets will have to be nearly flawless to win this game.
Of course, with a pass rush as good as any in the league, they always have a shot.
This team deserves some credit, however, despite that recent losing streak. The Jets are 6-7, double their projected win total from most major media outlets this year with a rookie quarterback and a defense that was overhauled in the offseason.
But with the playoffs still mathematically a possibility, head coach Rex Ryan isn't prepared to look at what his team has already accomplished.
“Right now it’s about the present. It’s about right now,” Ryan said. “It’s about getting this team ready to play this week and I think we’ll be prepared. There’s no doubt we’ll be prepared.”
They had better be as the Panthers are 9-4 overall and 5-1 at home.
Three things to watch for ...
1. Cool hand Luke
In just his second year in the league, Luke Kuechly has quickly become one of the league's top linebackers, if not among the best defensive players. He leads the Panthers with 113 tackles and has improved his pass coverage this season, with three interceptions a hat tip toward that prowess.
“The Kuechly kid from Boston College, I remember he was a tackling machine coming out of college,” Ryan said. “Apparently, he’s still a tackling machine.”
The entire Panthers defense is very active and aggressive and they clearly feed off Kuechly, who is also an intelligent player.
“A lot of middle linebackers aren't as fast or quick,” Jeff Cumberland told Metro. “But he's smart and puts himself in a good spot and he's fast.”
2. Perfection from Geno
If the Jets are going to get a win at the Panthers, they need rookie quarterback Geno Smith to channel his performance from their only other road win this season at the Falcons. Smith won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award after a tidy 16-of-20 for 199 yards with three touchdowns. After that sterling display, his performance slipped, including a stretch of five full games without a passing touchdown. That slide is over, mercifully so, and the Jets need him to be efficient this week against a team that doesn't send too many players forward to rush the passer.
“It’s a different playing style. They don’t blitz as much due to the fact that they have really good guys up front, a really good defensive line,” Smith said. “So they don’t blitz as much but they all rally to the ball, they’re extremely fast on defense and they all play extremely hard.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was very complimentary of Smith after watching tape against the Raiders last Sunday.
“He’s really developing and growing, but you do see flashes, you see the potential,” Rivera said. “I think there’s most certainly a lot of promise in this young man’s abilities.”
3. Bad timing
They might not admit it, but the Jets had to be rooting for the Panthers last Sunday to get a win. Instead, the Saints wiped the floor with them in a 31-13 drubbing. With another game next week again against the Saints, Week 15 could have been a classic trap game. Now, however, the Panthers need a win to potentially lock up a playoff berth and will come out an angry team after last week.