Anything is possible, says that old adage about “any given Sunday.”
But this isn’t Sunday, it’s Thursday, Thanksgiving, a holiday the 9-1 Dallas Cowboys have celebrated over the years with a 24-14-1 record.
While the odds aren’t exactly in the Jets’ favor, it should be some small comfort that there was nothing but skepticism about their chances against the Steelers last week—until they pulled off their 19-16 overtime upset. The Jets need to repeat that performance, and then some, against Dallas.
First thing: they’ll need to put up lots of points, assuming that the Cowboys will score 24-plus—as they’ve done in every contest this season.
The key to breaking through Dallas’s 3-4 defense lies in exploiting their secondary. Strong safety Roy Williams might be one of the hardest hitters in the league against the run, but when he’s covering tight ends on passing plays, he’s slow. Against Washington last Sunday, Dallas gave up eight receptions, 89 yards and a touchdown to Redskins tight end Chris Cooley. Two weeks ago, Jeremy Shockey caught 12 passes for 129 yards and a score with Williams shadowing him the whole game. Now that Kellen Clemens has gotten Chris Baker more involved in the offense, the Jets should call the tight end’s number even more on Thursday.
The other key to challenging the Cowboys will be a repeat performance by the offensive line and Thomas Jones. Dallas hasn’t allowed an individual rusher to gain 100-plus yards since Christmas Day last season against Philadelphia. If Jones could become the first back to rush for more than 100 against the Steelers, a team that hasn’t allowed 35 straight individual players to reach that number, then it’s possible lightning can strike twice. The key will be running to the right (away from speedy linebacker DeMarcus Ware), something Jones did for 73 of his 117 yards against the Steelers, averaging 4.6 yards per carry to that side.
On the other side of the ball, however, stud receiver Terrell Owens is looking to continue his white-hot play. Washington mostly played a Cover 2 defense last week, dropping their safeties into deep zones while their corners tried to contain Owens underneath. It didn’t work. The result was four touchdown catches, most of which came as Owens outran single-coverage and took routes between the safeties.
That’s where All-Pro safety Kerry Rhodes comes in. The physical and speedy defensive back will be key to stopping Owens. Whether it’s a delivering a big hit to jar Owens or being able to deny him the ball in double—or even triple-coverage, Rhodes is the Jets’ best bet to blanket the receiver. While New York will have to deal with with Patrick Crayton on the other end, they’ll have to hope that emerging rookie cornerback Darelle Revis is up to the task.
It’ll just be a matter of keeping the Cowboys close, the same way the Redskins did on Sunday late in the fourth quarter, when they kept up the pressure on Tony Romo and stopped backs Marion Barber and Julius Jones as Dallas tried to run out the clock. At that point in the game, as the Jets proved last week, anything can happen.