GREEN BAY—The Jets have a two-headed running game that pounded out 212 yards and nearly 35 minutes of possession time in last Sunday’s 19-14 win over the Raiders. On paper, the Jets would appear to match up well against the Packers.
“I guess we’re going to find out soon enough, but obviously Seattle got it going there pretty good. They’re going to run the ball against a lot of teams, especially at their place. We’ll see. That’s why you play the games. We feel pretty good about our running game. Geno Smith is starting to learn how to run with the football as well,” Jets Coach Rex Ryan said during a conference call with Packers media on Wednesday.
The Packers allowed 207 yards rushing by the Seahawks in a 36-16 loss last Thursday. Stopping the run will be Job 1 for Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ unit this week.
“Both of them are outstanding backs in their own right, and this just keeps them fresh,” Ryan said of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. Ivory ran for 102 yards and Johnson gained 68. Smith, the second-year quarterback, chipped in with 38 yards rushing, including a 17-yard scamper.
“We have a whole stable of backs and obviously that’s probably a strength of ours,” Ryan added.
Smith is the key to the Jets’ playoff hopes. He was the league’s lowest-rated passer last season at 66.5. Against the Raiders, he was greatly improved, throwing for 221 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 96.6 passer rating.
“The last month of the season, he actually had the second-highest quarterback rating in the league, but nobody talks about it because I think he was last up until that point. He might have ended up last, but he came a million miles. It starts with his poise, his confidence, the fact that he really knows this offense. He studies defensive coordinators, studies defenses and he’s confident. He can make all the throws. The young man’s a very talented player. His offseason, I think he improved as much as anybody that I’ve been around in his preparation, work and even physically. He wanted to add some strength and he did that in the offseason as well,” Ryan said of Smith.
Critics of the Jets point to the team’s secondary, but Ryan said he feels “a lot better about my corners than the experts do. Everybody thinks we can’t play there, so I guess we’ll get to find out.”
Ryan is especially high on rookie safety Calvin Pryor, who was drafted four picks ahead of Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
“Both guys are excellent players. We would have been happy with either guy, but I took the guy that will knock your face in,” Ryan said.
At 1-0, the Jets are tied with the Dolphins and Bills for the AFC East lead. The Patriots, the division’s long-time power broker, is 0-1. Could this be a changing-of-the-guard year in the AFC East?
“I hope so. As long as we’re on top of it, that would be fine with me. New England has dominated this division, and since I’ve been here, six years, we’ve been second every year but one; I think we finished third once. So, that’s the team we’re chasing. Was I happy to see Miami beat them? Absolutely,” Ryan said.
Ryan is a former Ravens defensive coordinator who, in the mold of his father and his “46 Defense,” is known for pressure schemes that include exotic blitzes. The Packers will be playing with a center in his second pro start, and possibly without Bryan Bulaga at tackle.
Will the Jets try to exploit the Packers offensive line?
“We’re not going to try to exploit it,” Ryan said with a hint of a laugh. “Of course. If you think you have a mismatch in your favor, you obviously are going to play to your strengths. The center, I thought, played really well. In fact, I thought he played better than the other kid last year. We’ll see. Obviously, we’re not feeling sorry for anybody. We’ve had a few of those issues ourselves. Last year, nobody felt sorry for us. We had seven new starters on offense and seven new starters on defense. So, again, who cares? That’s part of the game. Injuries happen.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - SEPT. 10