Tonight is the always key third preseason game for the Jets, and never mind that it's also the Green & White's second and last test run at New Meadowlands Stadium before the regular season begins.
And it won't take much research or recall to determine which Green & White could be feeling the most pressure to perform.
Let's see ... opener vs. Giants ... first offense and first defense looked solid, twos and threes struggled. ... Game 2 at Carolina ... entire defense was strong, entire offense lacked punch.
"This is important," quarterback Mark Sanchez said this week. "It's as close to a real game as we get. We know we are playing well into the second half. We get a chance to watch a little more film and make it more like a game plan. Not exactly like a game, but similar. This is our last go-round until we hit the regular season and line up against the Ravens. This is important for us. We want to put our best on film, make it look good and feel good about it going into the regular season."
"It's going to be a challenge, too," said head coach Rex Ryan, "because Washington, if I'm not mistaken, they were a top-five defense last year, so I think that'll be a good challenge."
But for what it's worth, while the Redskins have talent on their first defense — Sanchez touted the secondary play of S LaRon Landry and CBs D'Angelo Hall and Carlos Rogers and the everywhere nature of second-year LB Brian Orakpo — they've also given up chunks of yardage in their solid 42-17 win over Buffalo and solid 23-3 loss to Baltimore.
In fact, the 'Skins, for whatever preseason rankings are worth, are 26th in yards allowed per game and 29th per play, and 30th in rushing yards allowed per game and 32nd and last in yards per carry — opponents are moving at 6.1 yards per tote.
Sounds like a good opponent against which to test the balancing out of the Jets' Ground & Pound offense, giving the ball to Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight and Chauncey Washington — who as all "Hard Knocks" watchers know got a game ball from Ryan after the Carolina game — behind the blocking especially from left guard competitors Matt Slauson and Vlad Ducasse, while also getting Sanchez to tighten up the passing game with all his many weapons.
And Sanchez knows tightening up needs to be done after his and the O's "stagnant" four series vs. the Panthers produced minus-3 yards net passing (12 yards gross) and one field goal. Combined with the twos and threes, the Jets' 25 points and one touchdown are their worst totals in the first two summer games since the ill-fated 1995 season got off to a 19-point, one-TD start.
"I'm number one to blame. I didn't play my best. I don't think any of us did," the second-year signalcaller said. "This week is a good opportunity for us to do the dress rehearsal, to really go, know we're playing well going into the second half. It's time to go.
The defense has been going. With the twos and threes getting up to speed at Bank of America Stadium, the unit that led the NFL in defense in 2009 is feeling pretty good about how things have shaped up through training camp.
"We've done our job, but we could still get better," inside linebacker David Harris said. "We want to be No. 1 in every category this year, not just in seven of them. But like Rex said, we just want to lead the league in wins."
Kris Jenkins will get his latest test to see if he can help the Jets do all of the above. Everything's been a go for the huge nose tackle so far, and he'll be needed to help control the Washington running game, which so far has three big names in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker who so far have combined for 17 carries and 39 yards in two games.
As Harris has said about Big Jenks, "He causes so much damage up front," and Bart Scott has called No. 77 "my personal protector."
But as luck would have it, word out of Washington is that new starting QB Donovan McNabb will sit this one out with an ankle injury suffered against the Ravens. It looks as if former Super Bowl QB Rex Grossman and ex-Dolphins draft pick John Beck will be handling the load and passing to the likes of one-time Jets first-rounder Santana Moss.
The Jets' specialists also have a big game ahead. They were quick to pounce on Carolina miscues last Saturday night, but of the four kick-return fumbles, only one was forced, on Washington's crushing hit in punt coverage. Kicker Nick Folk has been on target and punter Steve Weatherford has won the punting job again
Perhaps the biggest question is who will return punts if Darrelle Revis' holdout continues and top pick Kyle Wilson must start at corner. Four have returns so far in mighty mite Larry Taylor, old reliable Jim Leonhard, Aundrae Allison and rookie McKnight, whose 67-yard return at Carolina was the second-longest Jets return in any game of the last decade.
"This will be the last one with the starters," Ryan said of the formula for the last two preseason games, tonight and then the Thursday wrapup at Philadelphia. "I mean, we'll get a series against Philly, probably, maybe a little longer but not that much. So this will be a big test for us."