The road doesn't get less rocky for the Jets this Sunday but the scenery will change.
They're going from a mile high to sea level, from outdoors to indoors, from a struggling AFC opponent with a superb defense to a playoff-caliber NFC foe with a superb offense. In other words, the Saints will be a different challenge than the Broncos last week, but a challenge just the same.
It also is an extreme contrast between the Jets, one of the NFL's struggling road teams, vs. the Saints, one of the league's top home teams, and between quarterbacks Bryce Petty, making his first start of the season and fifth as a pro in place of the injured Josh McCown, and the 17th-year, almost-39-year-old Drew Brees.
But head coach Todd Bowles has a simple calculus for his still growing, still learning team, and it doesn't involve making excuses for not playing well on the road or not having your own 38-year-old veteran QB available to run the offense anymore this season.
"It's nothing psychological," Bowles said. "The biggest cure for losing on the road is winning on the road. There's not a whole bunch of excuses or a whole bunch of reasons. You just have to win on the road and you can cure losing on the road."
Here are this week's seven points to ponder about the Jets' once-every-eight-years visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:
1. At Home in the Dome?The Jets and Saints are tied in their all-time series, 6-6, and the Jets hold a 3-2 edge on the road with all those away games played in the Superdome. All three wins were noteworthy: a come-from-behind 16-13 win in their first visit to the 'Dome in '77, a fourth-quarter comeback from 28-14 down to a 31-28 Monday night triumph in '83, and DE John Abraham's signature four-sack showing vs. Aaron Brooks and the Saints in the 16-9 Sunday night win in '01. On this Sunday afternoon, the Jets will need a similar big effort to come home with the W.
Jets Travel to New Orleans for the First Time Since 2009
2. Strong BreesJets victory will be hotly contested, the way QB Drew Brees has been playing. The defensive task can be captured in a series of rankings. Brees is: 2nd in the NFL in drive yards/drive (36.6), 2nd in lowest punt-drive rate (33.1%), 3rd in best 3-and-out drive rate (16.5%) and 1st in drive yards/play (6.2). The Saints are: T-2nd in TD drive pct. (27.0%), 1st in total yards/game, 4th in rush yards/game, 5th in pass yards/game, 3rd in points/game, and 1st in three yards/play categories — total, rushing (with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara) and passing.
3. Praise from DrewOn the other hand, the Green & White have fared well vs. Brees over the years. The first four times they faced him, he was with San Diego and went 1-3. With New Orleans, he's 1-1 vs. the Jets, with the loss coming at MetLife in 2013 by 26-20 when his season passing stats were even better than they are this year. Brees expressed a major concern this week with the Jets' front seven led by Leonard Williams and Demario Davis: "It's really formidable. ... They're a stout group. ... We have our work cut out for us there." But Bowles just announced this afternoon that DL Muhammad Wilkerson is out and won't be making the trip to the Big Easy.
4. Bryce's 2017 DebutQB Bryce Petty has shown flashes in his short stay with the Jets: the 99-yard TD drive vs. the Rams and the 49ers comeback in 2016, and three straight TD drives to nearly pull out a win over the Giants this past preseason. Not a lot, but now BP gets to gas up against three pretty good QBs down the stretch in Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady. "I'm excited about the opportunity," said Petty. "I'm going to give these guys everything I have." And John Morton's game plan is likely to dictate that he won't be doing it alone ...
5. Stretch RunBilal Powell, Matt Forte, Elijah McGuire and the Jets' runners have slowed the last four games to 3.3 yards/carry. But their best run games this season have come against teams that, not surprisingly, have had run defense issues — 249 yards vs. Jacksonville (29th in yards/carry), 194 vs. Buffalo (27th in yards/game), 157 vs. Kansas City (30th per game, 26th per carry). The Jets' last three opponents, the Saints (28th), Chargers (31st) and Patriots (32nd), are in the NFL's bottom five in yards/carry allowed. The ground game may carry the team home.
6. Nawlins KnowledgeMorton, who coached in New Orleans in 2006 and for the past two seasons before coming to the Jets, told reporters where to dine — Drago's downtown and in Metairie for the charred oysters — and he told his players, who practiced in their fieldhouse this week, about the Superdome crowd noise. "We're going into a hostile environment," Morton said. "I know the way it is. So today I turned the volume up all the way, as high as we could, right next to us in the huddle." Petty obviously got practice this week barking out high-decibel signals.
7. Quick as a NatJoJo Natson is 5'7" and at 153 pounds is the lightest active player in the NFL. He's probably the lightest Jet since 152-pound WR/KR Titus Dixon played three games in 1989. Natson's also fast and while that hasn't translated into great return numbers yet, ST coordinator Brant Boyer is salivating. "I think JoJo's done a damned good job," Boyer said recently. "He has more than enough talent, more than enough speed. We just have to get the kid free." Is this the week? The Saints have given up an 11.0-yard average and a TD on punt returns, 26.1 on kickoffs.