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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch for vs Oakland Raiders

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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch for vs Oakland Raiders

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets are officially in a free fall. They have lost three straight, all but eliminating themselves from playoff contention in the process. Rex Ryan has earned his way back on the hot seat, and Geno Smith is taking heavy criticism from fans and media alike.

The Jets have a full blown quarterback controversy on their hands, as Smith has been absolutely horrendous over the last five games. The fans do not want to see him on the field, and he will likely booed heavily from the start on Sunday. Matt Simms has yet to get a chance to start, but if Smith falters again, Simms will likely take over for the remainder of the season.

The Jets may actually be able to support whichever quarterback is in there this week, as they are hoping to have both Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley back from injury. Kerley has missed the last four games with an elbow injury, while Holmes dressed but hardly played last week.

The failures of Smith and the offense continue to overshadow the split personality of the defense. The front seven is outstanding, and the Jets have a historically good run defense. Their secondary has been awful however, and Dee Milliner has been benched as many times as Smith. Antonio Cromartie has struggled, and Ed Reed has made things even worse since joining the team.

However, the Jets face an Oakland Raiders team that has their own array of issues, and on paper the Jets are the more talented team. Whether or not they win, however, entirely depends on the performance of the offense. This is a big game for the Jets, and these are five keys to watch.

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Can Geno Smith Perform at All?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You can pick from any number of stats to illustrate how awful Smith has been. He has zero touchdowns and eight interceptions in his last five games. He has a completion percentage of just 39.2% in his last four games. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown since Week 7, which was also the last time he threw for 200 yards.

Why the Jets insist on sticking with Smith is a mystery, but he will get one more chance. The Raiders have the NFL’s 24th ranked pass defense, so there are plays to made in the passing game. If Smith wants to prove he is the quarterback of the future, it’s now or never.

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Will Pass Defense Ever Improve?

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets rank an abysmal 25th in pass defense, and the only thing saving Milliner from getting crucified by the fans and media is how bad Smith is. Cromartie has struggled with injuries all season, and he is having one of the worst years of his career. Topping it off is Reed, who has been an absolute disaster since joining the Jets.

Raiders QB Matt McGloin has been decent since taking over the starting role, completing 56.9% of his passes for 799 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs in three and a half games. However, the Raiders have very few playmakers on the outside and a questionable offensive line, so if the Jets’ pass defense can’t perform this week then there is no hope for them.

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Strong Run Game is Essential

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If the Jets are going to win, they have to rely on the run. Smith has proven time and time again that he cannot win the Jets games, so they have to do it on the ground. The offensive line needs to create space for Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, which will be difficult because the Raiders will probably stack the box.

The Raiders are ranked 10th in the NFL in run defense, so this is no walk in the park for the Jets. However, they simply can’t rely on their passing game to accomplish anything, so the rushing attack has to be in peak form if the Jets want to have any chance.

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Who Will Step Up Over the Final Quarter of Season?

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

With a potential coaching change and a large amount of roster turnover looming, the final four weeks of the season are a great chance for players to prove they are worth keeping. Smith, Milliner and Brian Winters are all fighting to preserve their starting roles, though all of them will be on the roster next year.

However, there are some veterans who need to improve if they want to be retained. Stephen Hill, Kenrick Ellis and Jeff Cumberland are all players who could be shown the door if they don’t start to play better down the stretch. Hill in particular is looking like a major bust, and he needs to put together a couple good games.

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Can Jets Keep Playoff Hopes Alive One More Week?

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Incredibly, the Jets are still alive in the AFC Wild Card race. It isn’t likely to last long, but a win over Oakland would keep them in the game for at least one more week. Stranger things have happened, as the Jets don’t have a particularly challenging schedule, and theirs is certainly is easier than most of their playoff competition.

Ryan needs a strong finish to save his job, so he will be making sure the team is motivated. The Jets are better than the Raiders and they should win, but the way they have been playing it is hard to have any confidence in them. They have a slim chance to salvage their season, and that starts Sunday.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google