Jets, Cowboys look to set the tone for their 2011 seasons


Hey, Jets fans: To quote Jack Nicholson, "You can't handle the truth!"

Actually, that goes for you, too, Cowboys fandom. Sunday night's opener will provide a blueprint for the season that followers of either franchise will find difficult to ignore.

Let's start with Gang Green.

OK, so Greene -- Shonn Greene -- is the man now. Everyone is expecting a lot more carries per game from him, including Jets nation, fantasy owners, and Mark Sanchez. That's great, but Dallas' so-so secondary, which will be without Terence Newman, will be far too inviting a target. You can bet offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Sanchez will be taking their shots down the field.

Most passing TDs allowed in 2010
Team Passing TDs allowed
Cowboys 33
Texans 33
Eagles 31
Seahawks 31
Raiders 29

That's where this game becomes indicative of the season at large for the Jets. As much as the club expects to rely on Greene's legs, it's their young quarterback's ability to take advantage of down-the-field opportunities that will determine the Jets' fate this season.

Put another way, if Sanchez can't capitalize on eight-in-the-box or play-action more often than he did in 2010, then it's going to be close-but-no-cigar for the Jets again. He hit 23 passes of 25-plus yards, which was tied for a mediocre 17th in the league. A few more big plays -- especially in the AFC Championship Game -- and New York could have taken the next step.

It's not enough for Sanchez to be a glorified bus driver. He must become the reason the Jets win, much like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger made the third-down play to seal the game in the aforementioned AFC Championship last season.

So while Greene's prospective workload has gotten the media play, it still falls on No. 6's shoulders.

On the other sideline, Cowboys running back Felix Jones is expected to carry the load this year. Like Greene in New York, the fourth-year running back out of Arkansas has been the center of discussion concerning the Dallas offense.

Allegedly, this will be the season Jones sees 300 touches and becomes the point man in the Dallas running game. While Marion Barber's departure and Tashard Choice's status on the depth chart seem to confirm that notion, if Jones is going to be the man, now's the time.

It's one thing to put up a 109-spot on the Titans (his career-high), but if you're gonna be THE MAN, you have to do it versus the top defenses.

The Jets defense certainly qualifies. Rex Ryan's unit allowed only 90.9 rush yards per game last season, third fewest in the NFL.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will need the help, what with Darrelle Revis covering Dez Bryant while Antonio Cromartie (with safety help) shadows Miles Austin on Sunday night.

The ground attack-by-committee just hasn't panned out the way the front office, or presumably Romo, would have hoped. More important, new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's squad has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, thus causing problems in coverage. A stud running back leading a productive ground game would eat up clock, take pressure off Romo and, in turn, keep that struggling defense off the field.

Newly minted head coach Jason Garrett has pushed his chips to the middle of the table with a guy who's only carried the rock more than 20 times in a game once in his career. Problem is, the dude on the other end of the table (Rex Ryan) has a good hand.

What do Garrett and the Cowboys have in the explosive Jones? We're about to find out, and Dallas' season might ride on it.

More to look for from Cowboys-Jets...

» Bryant is a guy who many league observers feel is poised to have a big season. NFL fantasy editor Michael Fabiano and I had analyst Bucky Brooks on our Fantasy Live radio show Wednesday, and the former scout (and player) informed our listeners that the Jets will lock Revis on Bryant. Good luck with that matchup, fantasy owners. And good luck, Romo.

» Both of these teams have a huge problem staring them in the face: pressuring the passer. While the Jets showed flashes in the preseason, they lack a dominant pass rusher. Meanwhile, if the Cowboys are going to blitz, then somebody better get to Sanchez. The Cowboys DBs -- sans Newman -- can't lock anyone down in man-to-man.

» Dallas' other starter at corner, Mike Jenkins, might also have difficulty Sunday night, if he even plays at all. He missed the preseason with a neck problem, and suffered a knee injury in Wednesday's practice, leaving his status uncertain.



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