This weekend, the Kellen Clemens era begins for the Jets. While much of the focus will be on the young signal caller, the list of problems for the Jets goes far beyond the quarterback position. Considering this, you could make the case that Chad Pennington was playing better than anyone else on the Jets. The defense can't stop anybody, particularly when opponents are running the ball. It isn't forcing turnovers, and it's leading pass rusher, Shaun Ellis, has just two sacks. On offense, the Jets still can't run the ball, and it's beginning to look like Laveranues Coles is no longer a dangerous deep threat. The only thing that was working well was the short passing game, and with the change at quarterback, that is now a question mark.
Clemens may be the answer in the long term — but it figures to be pretty bumpy in the short term. The Redskins have an aggressive defense that likes to run blitzes and line stunts, things that are likely to confuse and frustrate a young quarterback. Jets fans hoping to see the team's fortunes turn around in November are ultimately going to be disappointed.
REDSKINS (4–3) at Jets (1–7)
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL Clemens brings two elements to the quarterback position that Pennington didn't: He's got a stronger arm and he's more mobile in the pocket. In theory, those two elements could help shake the Jets' offense out of its doldrums. Pennington's inability to throw the ball downfield has allowed opposing defenses to focus on stuffing the run. His lack of mobility has allowed them to shut down the short passing game with press coverage.
As much as those attributes will help Clemens, the fact remains that he has made just one NFL start , and lackluster one at that. Coaches and teammates have spent the week praising his poise and presence in the huddle. But how will he respond to adversity? With so little live game experience, will he be able to recognize the blitz and go through his progressions with opposing linemen in his face all day? Those are questions that will be answered over the next few weeks — but the Redskins will put him to the test right away.
Washington's defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, is known for blitzing, and you have to figure his game plan will focus on rattling Clemens. Defensive end Andre Carter leads the team with five sacks, while strong side linebacker Marcus Washington has three. That pressure up front has generally helped them keep opposing quarterbacks bottled up. (The Patriots' Tom Brady did throw three touchdowns last week — but no team has held him to fewer than three in any game this season.) Free safety Sean Taylor leads the league with five sacks, and the Redskins should be helped by the return of cornerback Fred Smoot this week.
What the Jets need more than anything else is a big game from Thomas Jones, but that doesn't seem likely. He's a solid north-south runner who can hit the hole hard when one is there. Absent great blocking, he's almost useless between the tackles. He doesn't have the speed to get to the outside, and he hasn't shown that he has enough power to run over linebackers when he does get to the open. The most telling stat is the fact that after eight games, Jones still hasn't scored a touchdown. He could be an adequate runner in a playoff-caliber offense, but he can't elevate an offense that's sinking.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL It's hard to know what to make of Washington's offense. Against the mediocre defenses on their schedule, the Redskins have been balanced and explosive. Against playoff-caliber teams, they haven't been able to get anything going. The Packers shut Washington down by pressuring quarterback Jason Campbell. The Patriots took Clinton Portis out of the game last week by stuffing him at the line of scrimmage. That's a pattern that suggests the Redskins' offense simply isn't very good.
Campbell has promising physical skills, but his inexperience leads to mistakes like his three fumbles last week. Early season injuries to tackle Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas have weakened the line, and some would suggest that's why the Redskins' running game has been so bad. Others would say Portis isn't back to full strength after off-season knee surgery. Whatever the reason, it's unusual and unexpected to see a Joe Gibbs team that can't run the ball.
After an embarrassing 52–7 loss at New England last week, Gibbs vowed that he would solve that problem by getting back to basics. The Redskins will simplify their playbook and focus on what has worked in the past.
KEY TO THE GAME Both teams will try to get their running games going. The big difference is that the Redskins rank ninth in run defense, while the Jets rank 27th. Washington will dare Clemens to beat it, and he'll need to have a phenomenal day in order to pull that off.
Lahman's Pick: Redskins 24–13