Jets fans likely chalked up Monday’s matchup with the Bears as a loss when the NFL schedule came out. But given their team’s play so far this season, anything is possible.
If the Jets can perform like they did in the first half against Green Bay — where they had a dominant pass rush and were efficient on offense — they can win this game.
The Bears haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 — a similar drought to the Jets — but they are still seen as one of the league’s elite teams. The reason why is quarterback Jay Cutler. He is the franchise’s all-time leading passer and a player who can change the outcome of a game with one of his trademark deep balls.
Three things to watch …
1. Stop the Bears passing attack
It is hard to tell if Jay Cutler makes Brandon Marshall good or if it is the other way around, but the Cutler-Marshall dynamic is among the best in the league. Cutler found Marshall for 1,295 yards and 12 passing touchdowns last year. Sprinkle in Alshon Jeffrey, a tremendous leaper who went from being tagged as a second-round reach to a bona fide elite receiver, and this passing offense is good. Given the Jets’ issues in the secondary this is a dangerous matchup for their defense. It will come down to the front-seven generating a devastating pass rush to speed up Cutler. If given time in the pocket, he can move the ball down the field. But if pressured, his deep route runners might not be open and he does commit turnovers.
“He is still the gunslinger-type guy. He knows he can put it in a little window and he is confident,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “Prone to turnovers? I don’t know. He is prone to throwing touchdowns and obviously making big plays. Sometimes there is a price for it if you miss or something. Again, the guy is rare, he has rare physical abilities.”
2. Johnson must emerge
The Jets got little production from their running backs, in particular Chris Johnson, last week against the Packers. He had just 21 yards on 12 carries in the Jets’ loss. Part of that might be due to the struggles of the offensive line, but the Jets need Johnson to deliver. They are still a ground team first and foremost.
“I don’t care how we get it done, we just want to find a way to win — whatever that means. Clearly for us, running the football is something we do. We take pride in the fact that we can run the football,” Ryan said. “It is going to be no secret. They are going to have a bunch of guys down there, so I expect eight guys down there and certainly that will be there focus, stopping the run.”
Johnson is the most special running back on the roster and while they don’t need a home run from him every time he carries the ball they do need more production than they got in Week 2.
3. Complete effort
Quarterback Geno Smith is much better than he was a year ago in many ways. His pocket presence and footwork have improved and he is making smarter decisions with the ball. But Smith has struggled in the second half of games. He is a cumulative 14-of-26 for 140 yards and he has failed to throw a touchdown after halftime. Those numbers are a stark contrast to his first half performances where he has sizzled with a 73.5 percent completion percentage, good for a 90.0 quarterback rating. The Jets will need a more balanced effort from Smith on either side of halftime if they hope to wake up 2-1 on Tuesday morning.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.