Randy Lange answers Five questions about the New York Jets
1) Is Pennington really healthy or does he have a ways to go?
If Chad's not all the way back from his second rotator cuff surgery, he's got to be very close. He looked better all preseason than he did a year ago, coming off the first surgery. He clearly won the four-way QB competition and the only question was how he would respond in a real game. Suffice to say he answered a whole lot of questions at Tennessee. Not to go too crazy, but his impact Sunday was similar to the way he was throwing the second half of 2002 -- the accuracy, the composure, the play-faking. The only glitch came when he switched a play at the line, which he's now allowed to do, not everybody got the call, and he ended up losing a sack-fumble at the Jets 1. But that was it. Especially telling were his two downfield completions to Laveranues Coles. The only other time in his career that he had two completions in which the ball traveled 30-plus yards in the air (from the line) was in Game 2 of 2004 at San Diego. This game coming up will probably tell a lot about how much more work he needs in another new offense -- as Patriots fans know, he was 0-3 vs. the Pats in 2003-04 with one TD pass and seven INTs.
2) How is Eric Mangini settling in with the new club? We've heard there may be some unrest in the locker room with his style.
I wrote the story about two weeks ago that two unnamed sources, a current veteran and a person familiar with several players on the roster, said or implied there were a lot of unhappy campers on this team. Mangini is very sure of his program for building a team, and that includes many rules and a fine schedule for violating them, those penalty laps for false starts, botched snaps and such during camp, and other "demeaning" requirements. But while there are definitely some on the team who feel that way, there are some on the other side of the coin, such as Jonathan Vilma, Pennington and Matt Chatham, who said the Mangini way is "like a baseball bat to the head" until the players start to win and show progress and realize that what they went through was worth it. So at the moment, coming off their Titans win, the players are on board with it. A two-game losing streak might alter that perception.
3) Biggest change that people need to know about the Jets of 2006 vs 2005.
These Jets are more detail-oriented than the Coach Herm Jets. That doesn't make Edwards a bad coach. I'm a bottom-liner when it comes to the playoffs and Herm coached the Jets to three playoff berths in four years. But there were signs especially in the fifth and last year of the Herm regime that players were letting things slide, in the off-season program, in not weighing in or not making weight as required during the season, things like that. Strength coach Markus Paul had no juice behind him to enforce those requirements because Edwards' philosophy is that players are professionals and they'll always do what's in their bests interests. But even players say that's not true across the board. Mangini is not leaving stuff like that up to the players. He's about details in all phases -- strength and conditioning, knowing not only your assignments but those of all the players around you cold.
John Abraham has been harder to replace than Ty Law. Abraham had an outstanding season of edge rushing last year, considering that opponents didn't pass as much as usual because they were always ahead and they could run on the Jets. Tanngini never replaced Abraham's speed or pass-rush dimension, so they are left a little slower and must scheme a pass rush. For instance, they didn't pressure Kerry Collins particularly well, with one of their sacks coming in a straight four-man nickel rush and the other coming on a four-man rush with LB Victor Hobson stunting out of the 3-4. Law, even though he had 10 picks, wasn't a big team player and some still here felt he didn't help the Jets progress much last year. He's been replaced by Andre Dyson, who had two INTs in the opener and is the type of team-oriented, football-loving guy that Mangini likes.
5) What do you think the Jets will have to most trouble with against the Patriots (Offense, Rush/Pass defense ... other)?
I'd have to say the Jets' passing game vs. the Patriots' pass defense. As good as Pennington has looked, he's struggled in this area vs. the Pats in the past and now they have Rodney Harrison back and corners Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs seem to be playing better. The Jets' running game also does not look dangerous at the moment, and while that didn't hurt them too badly at Tennessee, it could prevent Pennington's play-action from working as well vs. the more disciplined Patriots.
Prediction: For the game? I still have to figure the Patriots will figure a way to survive any scare the Jets can put into them and pull out a 20-17 win. For the season? I am on record saying 6-10, which is what Vegas and a whole lot of Jets fans have said. But after the opener, I think 8-8 remains a great goal for them to shoot for and they may approach it or make it, especially with a final 10 games in which they play Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, Green Bay, Buffalo and Oakland.
Randy Lange is a sports columnist for The Record of Hackensack NJ. You can read more of Randy's football coverage here on the Record's website Northjersey.com Be sure to check in on his blog for the latest updates