Maurice Jones-Drew will be a marked man this afternoon at MetLife Stadium as both the Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars look to push their records to 2-0.
This contest will be personal for the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine-led Jets defense, which not only allowed 390 yards to the Cowboys in Week 1 but also surrendered 145 total yards to MJD in a home loss to the Jags back in 2009.
"He's a Pocket Hercules, whatever A-list you want to use. He's a strong back." said WLB Bart Scott of Jones-Drew. "He's short, but he's not small. A lot of times you really have to make sure you continue to drive your legs because you can hit him and knock him back, but he's so low to the ground that he can maintain his balance and sometimes you can propel him into his other move."
Before Ryan was hired as head coach of the Jets, the Ravens defense that he coordinated had a streak of 37 games without allowing a back to reach 100 yards. That streak ran nine more games with the Green & White, but Jones-Drew amassed 123 on the ground at the Meadowlands on Nov. 15, 2009. He wisely gave up a chance at 124 and a second TD in the 24-22 win as Ryan called for "freeway" and Jones-Drew hit the brakes at the 1 with a minute left to set up a Josh Scobee FG as time expired.
"I don't look at as a revenge game," Scott said. "I look at is an opportunity to go 2-0 and beat an AFC opponent which counts for a little bit more than one win."
So much has changed since that last meeting between the two clubs, but Ryan showed his team tape of the archived game this week to show what kind of damage No. 32 can inflict.
But the Madbacker is a dangerous player himself with bad intentions. Lost in the euphoria of Sunday's fourth-quarter comeback against the Cowboys was that Scott played one of his best games with the Jets, collecting eight solo tackles (nine total), one sack and one tackle for loss.
"Bart does a great job fitting the run game. When he blitzes, he blitzes with intent to knock the running back over and hurt the quarterback," Jones-Drew said. "That's how you play defense. He plays defense the way I was taught to play, so I respect him a ton.
"As we see it, as he goes, that defense goes. He brings that fire, that Bart, that tenacity, that physicalness to the defense. You know when he gets going, they're going to be definitely tough to stop."
Despite being just one of two Jets defenders to start all 19 games in 2010, Scott often battled through various strains and pains his first two seasons in New York. The 31-year-old, who's paired with David "Hitman" Harris on the inside, looks lively as ever and that is a positive omen heading into this one.
"Bob Sutton will coach me up and I know there are a lot of things I can do a lot better," he said. "I'm healthy this year and I am able to have two good sets of hamstrings. Hopefully I can stay healthy and improve every week."
Today marks the 40th game (34th regular-season plus six postseason) of the Rex Ryan era and the Jets have allowed just four backs to eclipse the 100-yard mark — the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall (121 in the 2010 AFC Championship), the Bears' Matt Forte (113, Week 16, 2010), the Bengals' Cedric Benson (169, 2009 AFC Wild Card Game) and Jones-Drew.
"When he leans in the pile, he's extremely strong," Scott said of the 5'7", 208-pounder. "You have to try to grab his legs. That's the only way you can get him off his feet because he's going to keep his feet churning and sometimes he bounces off of tackles."
The Jets would like to get their backs' feet churning as well against a Jaguars defense that limited Chris Johnson and the Titans to a league-low 43 yards on Sept. 11. Mark Sanchez threw for 335 yards and two scores against Dallas, but he was sacked four times and was knocked down a half-dozen more times. Ryan will want more balance and a quicker start so Shonn Greene can get in a groove against a Jaguars team that will probably pressure less than the Cowboys.
Under Ryan, the Jets are 6-1 in September games and they'd like to get another "W" as they complete a rare two-game homestand to start the season. And for this one they will don their Titans of NY throwbacks. The Jets own a 4-1 mark in their navy jerseys and they hope to get another boost from the faithful today. Last Sunday, veteran QB Tony Romo and company had all sorts of trouble with Jets Nation as the Met rocked on an emotionally charged evening.
"It was electric. They were a direct correlation to us winning the football game," Scott said. "We were able to get them in some third-and-longs and some situations really helped us dictate to them what they could run and what we could run on defense."
Jones-Drew, who rushed for 1,324 in 2010 and 1,391 in '09, had a solid outing on kickoff weekend with 94 yards on 24 attempts vs. Tennessee. But he played through a right knee injury last season and missed some fourth-quarter time when the Jags looked to close out the Titans. The visitors will start a journeyman at QB in Luke McCown and need a solid effort from MJD to stay close.
Jones-Drew said his knee feels fine and doesn't sound too concerned about the play count. He knows he might as well be wearing an X on his jersey because Scott and the rest of the Jets will have him in their sights.
"I have too much on my plate to worry about. I have to worry about Bart Scott and Rex Ryan's defense, Jim Leonhard coming down into the box and maybe having to worry about Revis doing crazy stuff," said MJD. "I have too much to worry about for that."