So far this season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has 1,841 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, but he's also accumulated 127 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. While his fantasy football owners will be happy with those stats, it's an omen of his varied style of attack that the Jets defense has had to prepare for all week in practice.
In particular, it will be up to linebackers Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor to keep Green Bay's signal caller hemmed in.
"Aaron Rodgers makes the ship go," Pace said. "He's a guy who I think people know about him and there's a lot of good things said about him. Watching him on film and the throws he can make, his athleticism, his presence out there, this guy, you're talking about one of the top five quarterbacks. So he's a guy that we have to disrupt, get some hits on him, get some guys in his face, because if not he'll pick you apart."
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have his hands full on Halloween at New Meadowlands Stadium, but he is relieved to have Pace and cornerback Darrelle Revis back in his lineup at full strength after the duo missed four games and 2½ games respectively in the first six weeks. The former broke his foot during the third preseason game, and the latter has been bothered by a hamstring injury since before the second quarter of the Jets' Week 2 victory over the Patriots.
"I don't think Calvin will get every snap," Pettine said, "but I think he's to the point where structurally the foot is fine. I mean, it's stronger now with the screw in it than it was before. He's just going to experience some soreness with it. Here he went through a full practice today. He's a guy who is thrilled to get back out there."
In Pace's stead, Thomas and Taylor have carried the load, accumulating 38 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles between them. Thomas is in his ninth season with the Jets and is part of one of the premier linebacker corps in the NFL, which have contributed to the Green & White's league-leading plus-10 turnover differential. Despite their ability to make game-changing plays, Thomas is concerned with all phases of the Packers offense, not just Rodgers and the passing game.
"You always look to make plays, plays that make a difference in the game," Thomas said, "But as you can see, just looking at the type of running backs they have, they have two good running backs back there that are running the ball and they don't make many mistakes. This is a real explosive offense. These guys on the offensive end, you have to be careful with them."
A critical factor will be the aforementioned Revis' availability. The All-Pro ballhawk held the responsibility of 1-on-1 coverage against the opposition's best receiver during 2009, but while he's been injured that duty has gone to newcomer Antonio Cromartie. The fifth-year man who came over from the Chargers has done a fantastic job, making two interceptions, 11 pass defenses and 17 tackles through the first six games.
Now head coach Rex Ryan will have two players on the outside who can be tied man-to-man on the Packers' potent receivers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. If the two corners can stick with Green Bay's receivers long enough, it will give Taylor a chance to hit Rodgers.
"A 100 percent healthy Darrelle Revis is better than anyone in this league, obviously," Taylor said. "He's a big part of what we do defensively and having him and Cro on the corners healthy and shutting people down makes it easier for us guys up front. It gives us a chance to get there and there's no better thing for a pass rusher than having good cover guys."
DBs Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery have done a phenomenal job during the intervening weeks, combining to force three turnovers on the opposition's final drives during the four weeks that Revis was hobbled. Each turnover effectively sealed one-possession games against the Dolphins, Vikings and Broncos. With Revis back, however, the entire menu is available for Ryan and Pettine to utilize all of their players in optimal situations.
"To me it's a big part of what we are," Pettine said. "Certain areas of the call sheet now can be emphasized more than they have been just because we can lock certain receivers. We feel like we have two No. 1 corners. So there are times where we can lock one side, lock the other side and be able to defend the rest of the field."
Revis, said Pettine, has "had a great week of practice. And he made a couple of plays today where you could hear a couple of guys in the background saying, 'He's back.' "