New York Jets Face Challenge Against Surging Carolina Panthers

I don’t have Stephen Hill’s cell number, but I can tell you if all Giants defenders had cell phones on the play most of us have now seen – where Tim Tebow bounced the throw several yards in front of Hill standing in the right-front corner of the end zone, well…I hope those defenders had the international codes ready if they had wanted to call Hill to congratulate him on his own first pro TD. I seriously think someone had to break out the fisheye lens to show that Hill and either the football or a defender were in the same frame.

Aug. 18, 2011; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow (15) throws the ball against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Giants won 26-3. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

The photo to the right says a lot about Tebow if you know anything about QB mechanics. You point your feet where you want the ball to go, and Tebow regularly keeps his stance too open. The result of this particular mechanical flaw is that the ball tends to trail behind where your point of aim is…and therefore you can actually give the defender a better chance at catching it than your intended target.

That’s exactly what happened on a drag route that Mark Sanchez had thrown for a pick-6 against the Giants Saturday night, so Tebow isn’t the only one who needs improvement. The difference is Sanchez should have had this worked out after three seasons and Tebow’s two. They’re not rookies.

If Carolina’s first team can limit Shonne Greene and the Jets’ evolution another week, I’d call it a victory for the Panthers. It’ll be difficult for the first team to improve upon their performance against the Dolphins, but if things go similarly well, Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera may pull the starters early to give the players that are fighting for a roster spot a chance to stand out. That’s the luxury of having a smooth game with the starters, as they did against Miami. It also gives the coaches a larger sample size of plays for those players on the bubble to distinguish themselves.

Having said that, the Panther defense is in a no-win situation going into the game against the Jets. The Jets have yet to score an offensive TD in the preseason. They’ve got nowhere to go but up. What if Carolina has some trouble stopping the run? What if the Jets actually *gasp* can complete a pass to a wide-open receiver in the end zone?

The combination of their offensive line woes and the New York Giants’ always-solid defense had the Jets gain only 2.7 yards per carry. The Panthers gave up less than two per carry against the Dolphins. If the Panthers can hold the Jets to the vicinity of 3 per carry, it’ll be a sign of improvement for a defense that had such a soft underbelly in 2011.

Aug 17, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) signals during the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

It’s not enough that DT Ron Edwards has returned; the Panthers have a slew of second-year defensive tackles that were injured last year and still others that saw a lot of playing time as a result. Frank Kearse comes to mind here for one that played but was only marginally effective.

Rookie sensation Luke Kuechly should be able to help stop the bleeding up the middle but can’t do it all alone. The Panthers have both a talented and deep group of linebackers so that without the rash of injuries they had from last season, they should stiffen up against the run this year. Pro-Bowl LB Jon Beason is coming off an injury and hasn’t played in the preseason but only as a precaution. He’s ready to go now as it is.

The Jets face a much larger issue with their offense and I don’t see their mediocre passing game improving with the bodies they have at quarterback, but OC Tony Sparano will again employ the Wildcat – this time with Tim Tebow. We should find out in the 2012 regular season if the Wildcat has any teeth left at the NFL level.

Defensively, the Jets are trying to reload but they still have one of the league’s premier CB duos in Antonio Cromartie and Darrell Revis. Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme is predicated on man coverage with lots of blizting, but they’re lacking in the pass rush department. They tried to trade former standout LB Bart Scott, but I think teams around the league all have figured out that his skills are in decline. Ryan is hoping Quintin Coples will help, but the front seven still needs a couple of pieces to play the type of defense Ryan loves.

Aug 17, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers running back Mike Tolbert (35) runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

The Panthers now seem to have nearly all the pieces in place on offense. With the offseason addition of former Chargers bowling ball Mike Tolbert, they’ve added a versatile back that can line up at HB, FB, or H-back. With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart behind Tolbert’s blocking they have a lot of options to use – including the short passing game to any of those three guys. Greg Olson gives fits to defenders, Steve Smith gives them Angina, and it looks like WR Louis Murphy is really taking well to the system in Charlotte. Brandon LaFell or David Gettis should make a good ‘possession’ receiver to start with the rest of the talent at the skill positions, allowing rookie punt returner Joe Adams time do develop and learn the slot position in 3 and 4-WR sets.

Add in to that the fact that Cam Newton is the best running QB (including Tebow) in the NFL (although he needs work on that whole “sliding” thing before he knocks his noggin on the turf one day doing it) and the Jets’ defense has tons to worry about. Cam Newton has one of the premier arms in all the NFL and his size (6’5″ 250), speed (4.58 40-yard dash) and brute strength make it difficult to bring him down if he’s fighting for a first down with his feet. He’s also got the “wiggle to his game” that Tebow lacks. Cam glides when he runs and has some shiftiness in the open field. Tebow can and usually succeeds in running people over, but that takes a toll on the body.

The Panthers look like they could actually challenge for at least a wild card spot in the brutal NFC South while the Jets are rebuilding. Currently, I’m thinking the Jets will finish the regular season dead last in the AFC East, but won’t make a final assessment until all preseason games are completed.

We’ll know a lot more after the first half of this week’s contest, but the Jets face an uphill climb in getting their first TD this week – at least with their starters where it really counts.

Topics: 2012 Preseason, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets

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