By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor, The Sports Network
New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) – New York coach Rex Ryan’s defenses have been anathema for rookie passers.
But thanks to a Jets secondary that could most optimistically be labeled as “unsettled,” the fortunes for Oakland rookie Derek Carr as he approaches his maiden NFL voyage may be a little better.
The younger brother of a former No. 1 overall draft pick, Carr arrives to the Raiders as a black-shirted savior for a franchise that’s ground its way through 11 consecutive years with no better than an 8-8 record – including a 4-12 debacle last season during which three quarterbacks combined for 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
Two of the three, Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn, are now gone.
The third, Matt McGloin, is presumably No. 3 on the depth chart after Carr was drafted and Matt Schaub was acquired from Houston. The competition in training camp came down to Carr and Schaub, and the youngster beat out the veteran to become the only rookie QB to start in Week 1 this season.
“(Offensive coordinator Greg Olson) says, ‘Don’t let this moment be your best moment,'” Carr said. “Just being told you’re a starting quarterback and then everything else is downhill after that. We want to make more great moments but it was definitely a great thing. It definitely was.”
Ryan, however, is 7-1 against rookies and has held them to a 61.1 passer rating while allowing them to complete less than 50 percent of their pass attempts.
The rest of Carr’s offensive running mates include fellow newcomers James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew – in from Green Bay and Jacksonville, respectively. Jones caught 123 passes for more than 1,600 yards in his last two seasons with the Packers, while Jones-Drew, who’s exceeded 1,000 yards three times, joins holdover Darren McFadden after a season in which McFadden played just 10 games.
So, presuming Carr survives, he’ll have options.
“(Ryan has) got a great blitz package,” he said. “He has obviously a lot of different looks that he’ll show. Me being a rookie he’ll probably want to show them all.”
New on the defensive side of things for Oakland are linemen Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, while linebacker Khalil Mack was selected with the fifth overall pick at the draft. Former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson is back for a 17th NFL season and leads all active players with 56 interceptions.
He’s at safety, while Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers are new starters at the cornerback slots. They’ll combine to provide the latest challenge for New York quarterback Geno Smith, who was as much down as up during his rookie season – though he did run for 50 yards and throw for 211 in beating the Raiders, 37-27, in Week 14. The Jets finished with three wins in four games to end at 8-8.
Smith enters this season having sidestepped the training camp challenge of Michael Vick to retain his starter’s role. He was rewarded with additional offensive tools in the offseason, primarily in the form of wide receiver Eric Decker, who scored 11 touchdowns while catching 87 passes and accounting for 1,288 yards last season with Denver.
Of course, that was with Peyton Manning. With Smith, Jeremy Kerley was the team leader with 43 catches – the lowest number for a team’s No. 1 since Cleveland’s top pair had 34 apiece in 2009.
Fewer than 60 percent of Smith’s completions went to wide receivers.
In the backfield, Chris Johnson moves to a new city to renew the quest to wake up the echoes of his 2,000-yard season in 2009. He’s exceeded 1,000 yards in each of four seasons since, but his 3.9-yard per carry average across 279 runs last season was the worst of his six NFL years.
Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined for more than 1,500 yards rushing last season for the Jets.
Of course, any positive attention on the new offensive players takes focus off the aforementioned secondary, which is in chaos after the free-agency exit of Antonio Cromartie and the team’s inability to lure Darrelle Revis back after a one-year stint in Tampa Bay. Instead, the former All-Pro is in New England, while the Jets’ starting cornerbacks will be Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen.
Dimitri Patterson was signed as a free agent and was expected to start, but he bolted the team for 48 hours in the final preseason week and was released upon reappearing. The other anticipated starter, Dee Milliner, is questionable with a high ankle sprain that dogged him during preseason.
Third-round pick Dexter McDougle was lost for the season with an ACL tear.
New York added Leon McFadden and Phillip Adams as depth players after cut-down day.
Allen is a safety-turned-cornerback and suffered a concussion on Aug. 22 that hasn’t helped the process.
“I feel pretty good with my preparation,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable, but I’m getting there.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A Repeat Performance
The Week 14 defeat of the Raiders was the only game in which the 2013 Jets scored more than 30 points, which should give Smith and his ball-moving pals a fair bit of confidence as they approach the opener as a newly assembled group.
And while pecking away at an Oakland defense is no indicator of guaranteed greatness, it could provide a nice update on how much the second-year man has improved.
Rookie vs. Mad Scientist
As indicated, the matchup of Ryan versus first-year quarterbacks has almost always gone Gang Green’s way, but that was back when the Jets had at least one – and sometimes two – shutdown corners on the roster. This year, they’d be challenged to build one out of the collective parts they have on hand. Given that reality, Carr should have a more comfortable start than he would have had it been 2013 or 2012.
The quartet of Jones, Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes scares no one. Nor should it.
But it wouldn’t at all be a stunner if at least one of them is a triple-digit yardage guy after the season’s first week. That said, the Raiders defense of 2014 is not your father’s Raiders defense. And with that the pendulum shifts to New York and its updated arsenal. Down to the last drive, Nick Folk for the win.
Predicted outcome: Jets 24, Raiders 23