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JETS-PANTHERS: 10 Things to Look For

We haven't played terribly well in the Carolinas over the years.

There was our very first visit to play the Panthers in 1995, their first year of existence. The site was Clemson Stadium. The key faux pas was Bubby Brister's shovel pass, intercepted by Sam Mills and returned for a TD right before the half. It gave the Panthers a lead they never lost for their 26-15 victory, the first in their franchise's history.

Ten years later, Brooks Bollinger, our fourth QB of a painful 2005 season, threw four interceptions and a close game became a 30-3 fourth-quarter rout at Bank of America Stadium.

Even the one road win in between, a 13-12 affair in '01, was so ugly that coach Herm Edwards responded to media depictions of its ugliness by rechristening it "the Shrek Game" after the movie franchise that had just begun rolling at the time and using it as a touchstone for that playoff season.

Don't get us wrong. We would love to blow the doors off the Panthers bandwagon. But the metrics for both teams — especially Carolina's 5-1 record at home and our 1-5 mark on the road — would dictate a close game at best.

Yet why not a Jets W? We're feeling loose and back on track after our 37-27 rebound win over the Raiders, while the Panthers got to thinking maybe they're not as invincible as their eight-game winning streak had them feeling following Sunday night's 31-13 road loss to the Saints.

Can the Jets shake their Carolina blues and continue on their path of "seven straight playoff games" as Sheldon Richardson put it?

"There's no quit in this group," head coach Rex Ryan told reporters today. "We just keep on fighting. If you beat us, you're going to have to earn it."

Here's are 10 things to look for in our Sunday game at the Panthers.

1. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto — That's what opposing defenses might have been saying to Geno Smith of the three-game losing streak, when the Jets QB said that "at times I was playing like a robot. ... There were times where I was so caught up in running the play and executing it to perfection that I didn't allow my natural ability to take over." But the Smith of the first half of the season was back with an efficient performance vs. the Raiders. Which Geno will show up for this game, the guy who was "playing freely" en route to 6-1 in odd-numbered games or Mr. Way Too Perfect who's gone 0-6 in the even-numbered games? We'll know early.

2. The I-man vs. the K-man — Chris Ivory is emerging as a force in the Jets ground game with his explosiveness and yards after first contact. In this game a key matchup will be whether Ivory tries to elude MLB Luke Kuechly or tries to run through the Panthers' "tackling machine." "I'm not looking at one person," Ivory said today. "I don't think one guy can wreck what we do." Interesting thing about this matchup: Ivory could directly help the Jets regain their No. 1 rush defense ranking from the Panthers, since the Green & White have fallen to No. 2 by only 42 yards.

3. The Caminator — Year 3 for Cam Newton running the show has been pretty impressive. "Everything runs through Cam," said S Ed Reed. "We know that and we have to put some pads on him." When Cam keeps, he's dangerous enough — his 5.6 yards per carry are third-best in the NFL among all players, not just QBs. Sacking the big man seems a little easier — he's been taken down 34 times this year — but Rex likens Cam to Ben Roethlisberger: "We know how many times he's been sacked, but how many times does he escape sacks? That's what scares you."


  1. Who's at Right Corner? —** We'd bet it'll be Antonio Cromartie, but officially he's been taking it slow again this week, this time with a concussion to go along with his season-long hip situation. Cro always seems to shake these things off, but just in case this time he doesn't, we're also working Ellis Lankster and Darrin Walls at RCB as well. As Rex said, watch for a boxing match to break out if it's Lankster vs. ageless, equally feisty Steve Smith (team-leading 60 receptions for 681 yards).

5. The Ryan Twins — Get ready for plenty of CBS side-by-side photos of Rex and Rob Ryan. An interesting scheduling twist will have the Panthers playing three straight Ryan defenses — Saints D-coordinator Rob's unit last week and next week, Rex's defense this week. A big focus for David Harris, Mo Wilkerson & Co. this week is to recover from two straight games of so-so run defense with a big effort against the Panthers, who feature DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Cam but will be without No. 3 RB Jonathan Stewart (knee), which will then help us .

6. Red (Zone) Alert — The Panthers are arguably the most effective red zone team in the league. Their defense is tied for first with Baltimore for best red zone TD percentage at 39.4% (13-for-33), while the offense is fourth at 62.5% (25-for-40). Our inside-the-20 defense has come back to check in with a fifth-place tie at 48.7%, but the offense continues to struggle along in red zone visits (league-low 30) and TD percentage (28th, 46.7%, 14-for-30). It could help here if Geno Smith really is "having fun and playing freely." Otherwise, a Ravens-like 19-3 game could develop.

Record 6-7 9-4
Points Scored/Game 17.4 22.9
Points Allowed/Game 25.9 14.5
First Downs Gained/Game 16.5 20.9
First Downs Allowed/Game 18.1 16.8
Yards Gained/Game 307.5 320.9
Yards Allowed/Game 337.5 296.2
Time of Possession/Game 29:44 33:07
Turnover Margin –18 +10

7. Surviving "the Vault" — That's the nickname given to Bank of America Stadium. It's not always the state of the art in NFL homefield advantage, but every four or five years it's next to impossible to beat the Cats in their den. The crowds, coach Ron Rivera says, "have been great the whole year. When we started poorly, they were great. As we've been improving this year, they've been even better. They're loud. They come out. They've been strong." And the Jets will have to be as road-strong as they were in their only away win this year, at another NFC South venue, the Georgia Dome, to come out with another W this time.

8. Cut Down on the Presnaps — We've reduced our total penalties over the last month and a half, yet we still lead the league in presnap penalties. The odd thing is that we're doing better in committing presnaps on the road (2.5 per game) than at home (4.4 per game). In any event, not racking up false starts, encroachments and delays early on in the Bank of America hubbub will bode well for a crisp second half.

9. More Folk Music? — Nick Folk continues to defy "duels in the snow and cold November mud" with his career-best 28-for-29 in FG attempts. As ST coordinator Ben Kotwica said about Folk's Pro Bowl chances this year, "I think people are taking notice. He's done an incredible job." When the Saturday rains clear out by Sunday at 4 p.m., the Vault grass should present decent kicking conditions (sun, temps in the 50s, mild winds) for perhaps his next game-winning try.

10. Don't Get Fooled A-Ginn — A long time ago (actually 2009), Ted Ginn returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a 7:01 span of the third quarter for the Dolphins. The opponent was the Jets. Ginn is older now, 28, and just a tad slower. But he still is a top wideout/returner for the Panthers, with 13.2 yards per punt return and 23.4 per kickoff return. Nick Bellore, Ellis Lankster, Isaiah Trufant and the Green cover team need to be ready to hem Ginn in to help with the all-important field position in this game.

Regular-Season Series Record Jets 3-2
     Last Game Jets 17-6, 2009
     Last Panthers Win Panthers 30-3, 2005
     Current Streak Jets 3 of 4
Regular-Season Record @ CAR Panthers 2-1
     Last Game Panthers 30-3, 2005
     Last Jets Win Jets 13-12, 2001
     Current Streak Panthers 2 of 3

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