Respectful Jets Seek Improvement in MetLife Bowl

We can line up some facts and figures to hype tonight's Jets-Giants preseason meeting at MetLife Stadium, such as that last year the Jets won the very first MetLife Bowl, 17-3, and that in the 43-year history of the teams' summer series, the Jets lead, 23-19-1, and that in all games between them, the series is tied, 27-27-1.

But that would ignore the blue elephant in the room. The Giants have won the games when they've counted in the regular season, eight of 12, including the last five in a row. And that includes last season's 29-14 triumph that springboarded them to victory in Super Bowl XLVI and meanwhile sent the Jets death-spiraling toward their playoffs-less 8-8 finish.

All that recent history has enhanced an element on the Jets' side of the rivalry equation. We'll go out on a limb and say that despite the sometimes contentious nature of the teams' infrequent meetings, there has always been a grudging admiration between the sides that have shared a stadium in the Meadowlands since 1984.

But in this year's "hype week," the Jets definitely stressed the respect factor toward the defending champs.

"You can't go up against anybody better than them," head coach Rex Ryan said before the Green & White split Cortland, N.Y., to return to their North Jersey base before heading to MetLife for tonight's game. "They were the world champs last year, so we'll see. Obviously, it will be a great test. They rush the passer about as well as any group in the National Football League. Offensively, Eli [Manning] and all of the weapons that they have, it'll be a great challenge."

"When we line up out there, obviously it's competition because it's a game," said LB Calvin Pace, "but I do think there's a level of respect there, too, just in terms of some of the things we've done in the past couple years. Obviously they're Super Bowl champions. You can't do anything but tip your hat to them. I like playing them. I think it helps us prepare for the season."

Point of Emphasis: Improvement

Mark Sanchez throws in the F-word to explain why he feels the same way.

"It's fun to play against those guys," the Jets' fourth-year quarterback said. "That's a great football team and a great organization, obviously coming off a big year. ... It'll be good to see those guys again in a game-like scenario."

What else can be said? The Jets can't do anything this preseason about last year's late-season disappointment. But what they can do is to channel their respect into an improvement from their opening loss at Cincinnati and toward getting themselves ready to attack the 2012 season beginning Sept. 9 vs. Buffalo in this rare meeting against the Giants in the second game of the summer. (The teams have played in the NFL's second full preseason week only twice before in the four-preseason-games era, in 1978 and '88.)

"I think the points of emphasis will be to see some improvement," Ryan said. "I think as you get going, not just with the first group but the second group and so on, you want to see guys stepping up because this is the time you'll see, can guys handle the playbook because maybe you extend the playbook a little bit, change positions on some guys. Can they handle it?"

"It's important for us to go out and execute and play well," said Sanchez, "especially against your crosstown rival."

And if Sanchez, backup and Wildcatter Tim Tebow, third QB Greg McElroy and fourth QB Matt Simms (in possibly his first Meadowlands appearance since leading Don Bosco Prep to the New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 sectional title in 2006) are to function at peak efficiency, the Jets' offensive line will need a big game against that big Giants pass rush after yielding five sacks to the Bengals.

"I just want to see them work as a unit," said Dave DeGuglielmo, "Coach Guge," in his first year as Jets OL coach and going against his former boss, Tom Coughlin, whom he worked under from 2004-08 as a Giants assistant. "I want to see them move people off the football and I want to see them pass-protect. That's all the things we ask for from them. We're not in heavy game-planning right now, but it's individual competition out there in terms of us against a great defensive line and defensive unit. Now we have to go out and perform as a unit and be in sync."

Seeking Cruz Control

The Jets' first defense is expected to play the first half, with the exception perhaps of S LaRon Landry, still coming back at a controlled pace from last season's foot issues. But Landry has been making great strides and the Giants may help this former Redskin in getting ready for the opener.

"I've played those guys for five years so I know them like the back of my hand," Landry said. "I'm looking forward to it."

So is Pace, who even though he'll be devoted to tightening up his and his defense's play during his time on the MetLife turf, still has that respect when he's observed both sides of the Giants' operation in pads and on video.

"I like how they do some things, just in terms of the guys up front," he said. "You can't help but like [Jason] Pierre-Paul, Osi [Umenyiora] and those guys. The running game is physical, Eli is a complete quarterback. I don't know if [Hakeem] Nicks will play. [Victor] Cruz gives us a challenge."

That last is a huge understatement. Cruz, the third-year WR from UMass and Paterson, N.J., a short ride from the new stadium, has twice torched the Jets with historical implications. He's the only opponent to score three touchdowns in a game against the Jets in the last 40 preseasons, when he turned that trifecta in the second half of the first football game ever played at MetLife, the Giants' 31-16 pullaway win on Aug. 16, 2010.

Then of course there was the Manning-to-Cruz 99-yard TD pass — the longest scrimmage play by opponents in Jets franchise history — that put the Giants ahead to stay last Christmas Eve.

But never let it be said that the Jets, despite all the respect in the world, are backing down from their longtime stadium mates. Some have predicted a Darrelle Revis vs. Victor Cruz heavyweight matchup in the first half tonight. But Ellis Lankster wants in on that matchup as well.

"I love to play against the Giants," said Lankster, who's vying to hold the fourth corner position behind Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. "And to be honest, I really want to get to see how really good Cruz is. Me, I like competition. I like the attitude Revis and Cro have when it comes to a receiver. I take it from there. I'm not scared of anybody. I'll line up in front of you and we'll see what happens from there."

Respect stops at the opening whistle and resumes at the final gun. It may be August, but this game is, after all, for the second annual MetLife Bowl. This is Jets vs. Giants.

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