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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (5-2) at Detroit (2-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - That giant gasping sound you hear? Not to worry, it's just the collective holding of breath by a perpetually fatalist New York Jets fan base again suspicious of lofty postseason goals.
The high-flying Jets, winners of five straight and holders of the top rung in the AFC East upon emerging from a late-October bye week, returned to the field with an all-too-familiar thud that's now got their green-clad masses questioning exactly how good they'd had it.
A 9-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers on home turf at New Meadowlands Stadium last Sunday was frustratingly reminiscent of years past, particularly the 2009 regular season, when then-rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez threw 20 interceptions before righting the ship in time for a playoff run.
The USC product threw two interceptions for the second straight game against the Packers, further distancing himself from an initial five games of 2010 in which his turnover total was zero.
Both Sanchez and the Jets will attempt to get back on track when the team visits Ford Field this Sunday to battle the Detroit Lions, who'll be coming in on a high note after an impressive Week 8 win.
Sanchez's performance last week revived the insistent "can he lead them to a title?" chatter that had at least briefly subsided after playoff wins at Cincinnati and San Diego last January, which were followed this season by the aforementioned five-game win streak prior to Week 8's flaccid return.
Columnist Tim Smith threw another log on that familiar fire in the New York Daily News, opining that "Sanchez is not at the stage of his career where he can load a team on his shoulders and carry them to victory. If the Jets are going to be serious playoff contenders, the offense can't add any more burdens (turnovers, mistakes and penalties) to the load that Sanchez is already carrying.
"There are going to be growing pains with Sanchez at quarterback -- at least for another year. How well the Jets roll with those growing pains will determine just how far they go this season."
Sanchez connected on just 16-of-38 passes against Green Bay and saw his overall completion rate drop to 53 percent, the worst in the league for starting quarterbacks. That said, at least six passes were dropped, and both of Green Bay's interceptions came on balls that New York receivers had gotten hands on before they were wrenched away by the Packers' defense.
"We've got to do the little things," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. "We have to get back to the basics of the fundamentals. Maybe we got a sense of an arrogant streak. There were a couple of times that guys were open. Mark has to read it. He has a job. We just have to bear with him. And we'll get better. He'll learn. He'll get better."
On the other side this week is a foe that's shown distinct signs of improvement.
Stocked with a arsenal of young draft choices on offense, the Detroit Lions high-stepped past a perceived NFC contender last week, downing the Washington Redskins by a 37-25 score while emerging successfully from their own Week 7 bye.
Making his first start since an early-season injury, quarterback Matthew Stafford -- chosen first overall in 2009 -- threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns on a 26-of-45 effort, including three scoring strikes to former No. 4 overall pick Calvin Johnson.
The scoring barrage earned Johnson recognition as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week and moved the Lions to sixth in the league with a per-game scoring average slightly north of 26 points. It marked the first time a Detroit wideout was honored since Germane Crowell in 1999.
The Lions are averaging 38 points on their home turf at Ford Field, though Jets coach Rex Ryan boldly claimed on Wednesday they won't approach that number against his team.
"I don't believe that's going to happen," Ryan said. "Come out and prove me wrong, but I doubt it."
The Lions lead the all-time series with the Jets, 6-5, but have lost each of the last two meetings with New York. The Jets were 31-24 home winners when the teams last met, in 2006 at the Meadowlands, and took a 31-14 decision when the last visited the Motor City in 2002. The Lions' most recent win over the Jets in the Motor City came in 1997, a 13-10 victory at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Ryan and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
The question becomes, which Sanchez is the real Sanchez? If the skittish interception-prone rookie returns for a third straight game, trouble will follow. But if it's the cooler game manager who played without a turnover for the first five games, success is a likelihood with his arsenal of weapons. The 2009 first-round pick is 200 yards short of 4,000 for his career, and the Jets are 6-1 when he reaches 90 or better on the passer rating chart. Sanchez hands off to a unit that's grinding out 153.4 rushing yards per week, good for third-best in the league, while the overall 337.9 yards per game average is 15th. The Jets are 12th in scoring offense, even after being shut out by the Packers last week. In his last start against the Lions, running back LaDainian Tomlinson had 116 yards in 15 carries and scored twice. Backfield mate Shonn Greene is 115 rush yards short of 1,000 for his career. On the outside, Edwards needs five catches to get to 300 and fellow wideout Santonio Holmes is 34 yards shy of 4,000. New York's Dustin Keller is third among tight ends with five touchdown catches this year.
The Lions have been nothing short of generous when it comes to allowing yards and points, surrendering the 21st and 26th-best totals in the league through seven starts. Except for a Week 5 outing in which St. Louis managed just six points, every other team facing Detroit has scored at least 19, with five cashing in for a minimum of 24. Yardage-wise, the 275 yards the Lions allowed to Washington last week, including just 80 on the ground, was their second- stingiest performance of the season. Much havoc was created around Redskins quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman, with the Lions registering seven sacks, their most since generating eight against Indianapolis 13 years ago. Rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh had two of the seven and scored on a 17-yard fumble return. He leads first-year players, not to mention the team, with 6 1/2 sacks. Veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch has 4 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble in five career games against the Jets. Cornerback Alphonso Smith is tied for third in the league with four interceptions.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Flush with young talent, the Lions are nothing if not dangerous, as has been proven with a 26-plus points per game average that's sixth-best in the league. The great majority of their 332.9 total yards per week have been through the air, with quarterbacks Shaun Hill, Stafford and Drew Stanton accounting for at least 300 yards three times and 200 or better in three other games. Only twice, in losses to Philadelphia (Week 2) and Green Bay (Week 4), has Detroit reached triple-digit yards on the ground. Coming back from an early-season injury, Stafford returned last week to pass for 212 yards and four scores against the Redskins, raising his touchdown output to 11 in his last five games. Wideout Johnson was the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week after catching three touchdown passes from Stafford, and he's tied for second in the league with eight scoring catches. Running back Jahvid Best leads all NFL rookies with 613 yards from scrimmage this season and is tied for the rookie lead with five touchdowns as well.
No team has surpassed 23 points in seven games against the Jets this season, with last week's nine points allowed dropping the weekly average to 15.7 per game. That clip is second-best in the league, while the Jets' yardage total of 303.7 per week is seventh overall. New York led the league in both categories last season. A Week 3 defeat of Miami saw the Dolphins record a season-high 352 passing yards, though no other foe has surpassed 240 on the Jets and two teams -- including the Packers last week -- were held below 200. The Jets have forced 14 turnovers and are tied for second in the AFC with a plus-7 turnover margin. Linebacker David Harris leads the team with 49 tackles (35 solo) and recorded his first sack of the season last week. Veteran end Shaun Ellis leads in that category with 3 1/2 of the team's 15, while outside linebacker Jason Taylor has netted three. Taylor has also forced a pair of fumbles in his initial season with New York. End Vernon Gholston and linebacker Bart Scott are both natives of Detroit.
Sanchez could benefit from a porous defensive matchup this week, as could Edwards and Holmes on the outside and both Tomlinson and Greene on the ground. Add Keller to the mix as well. Defensively, if Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis can hold Johnson in check, Stafford may be forced into some errors seeking other targets. For the Lions, the Stafford-Johnson tandem is still too good to pass up, though. Detroit kicker Jason Hanson is emerging as a good option in the domed stadium as well.
The New York fans' caution is well-warranted against a potentially powerful Lions offense, especially one that's been called out during game week by the never-shy Ryan. Still, the Jets' defense has done well to limit other high- octane opponents so far and should confuse Stafford enough to prompt a decisive mistake, while Sanchez successfully dials things down on the other side.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 20, Lions 13
11/04 13:41:26 ET