October 7, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Testaverde Fills One of Many Holes
The Jets

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 7, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/21170

Losing your starting quarterback is a tough blow, but it's not a development that the Jets couldn't have foreseen. There were clearly concerns about the strength of Chad Pennington's surgically reconstructed shoulder entering this season. There were reasons, in fact, to worry about his ability to stay healthy in general after he missed 10 games in two years. And there were reasons to wonder whether Pennington was the long-term answer anyway, given the struggles of the offense in his two full years as the starter.

It's easy to say that the loss of Pennington was the iceberg that turned the Jets season into the Titanic, but that would be to ignore the other gaping holes in the team's hull. Curtis Martin may have led the league in rushing last year, but at 32 years old with sore knees, he has averaged an anemic 2.8 yards per carry. In truth, the disappearance of the ground game derailed the Jets offense long before the vacancy at quarterback.

The offensive line, a major strength last year, has also become a trouble spot. Then there's the run defense, which ranked fifth in the NFL last season but is 28th this year. The pass rush hasn't been much help either, with the Jets recording just five sacks in four games.

A new quarterback can't solve all these problems, but the Jets didn't bring Vinny Testaverde back just because of his skills as a passer. What they need most right now is a leader, someone with experience who knows that the road from 1-3 to 10-6 has been traveled before.

The main reason for Testaverde's departure from the Jets after the 2003 season was that he didn't fit the dink-and-dunk style favored by former offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Vinny's greatest asset has always been his arm strength, and the vertical passing game is a major part of the new offense installed by Mike Heimerdinger this season. With Vinny under center, teams won't be able to stack the box against Martin the way the Ravens did last week with Brooks Bollinger at the helm.

Here's a look at the specific challenges the Jest will face when they host the undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

BUCCANEERS (4-0) AT JETS (1-3)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m., FOX)

WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL The phenomenal start by rookie running back Carnell Williams is the primary reason the Buccaneers have started the season 4-0. He rushed for 434 yards in his first three NFL games, and when you have a back who is that overpowering, you don't really need much else. Fortunately for the Jets, Williams may not be able to play. A gimpy foot and hamstring forced him to leave last week's game against the Lions and kept him out of practice this week.

With defenses focused on containing Williams, quarterback Brian Griese was able to mount an effective aerial attack with short and intermediate passes. When Williams was sidelined last week, Greise was forced to throw into tighter coverage, and his three interceptions proved he wasn't up to the challenge. Given time, however, he does have some talented receivers to work with in Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton.

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Despite his strong arm, Testaverde is almost completely immobile, and he has a propensity for turnovers that can sink an offense. With just one week of practice since January, his timing will be off and he won't be in synch with his teammates.

If the Jets can't get the passing game going quickly, it's going to be a long day. In four games, the Bucs' defense has allowed just three touchdowns. Defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan anchor the league's stingiest run defense, holding opponents to 61.5 rushing yards per game. Cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber are both smothering in man coverage, allowing the team to commit their linebackers to stuffing the run. For the Jets to have any success moving the ball, they'll need to challenge the Tampa Bay secondary and force those linebackers back into zone coverage.

KEY TO THE GAME The Jets must establish the vertical passing game early, showing they can make big gains through the air to keep the Tampa Bay defense from stacking the line of scrimmage. If the aerial attack isn't working, there's little chance Martin will find any room to run, and the Jets will struggle to establish offensive momentum.

Defensively, the Jets must get a better pass rush going. The key to defeating the Bucs is pressuring Griese and forcing him to make mistakes. He has shown in the past that if you squeeze him hard enough he will self-destruct, and players like Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, and Jonathon Vilma should be able to make that happen.

Lahman's Pick: Jets 20-13

October 7, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version