Raiders-Jets Preview

September 3, 2014

As a rookie, Geno Smith helped save coach Rex Ryan's job as the New York Jets surged to an 8-8 finish.

With more weapons at his disposal, Smith and the Jets look for better things in his second season as they host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

A second-round pick in 2013, Smith "won" the Jets starting quarterback job after embattled incumbent Mark Sanchez suffered an injury in the preseason. Smith had a rookie's typical ups and downs, showing signs of promise and making head-shaking errors, but a 3-1 close led general manager John Idzik to reward Ryan with a multiyear contract extension.

Any sparks of a controversy for the second straight year were quickly doused as Smith beat out Michael Vick, who arrived from Philadelphia to push Smith.

"Geno started playing quarterback the way you want to play quarterback," quarterbacks coach David Lee told the Jets' official website. "He settled. The more he played, the more confidence he got. He's not cocky, he's a humble kid, but boy, he's a confident quarterback right now."

Having a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver can help bolster that confidence, and Smith has that in Eric Decker. A key contributor to Denver's Super Bowl run, Decker had career highs of 87 receptions and 1,288 yards to go with 11 touchdowns.

Producing similar numbers would provide a huge boost considering Jeremy Kerley's 43 catches were the fewest for any team leader since Jerome Harrison and Mohamed Massaquoi each had 34 to pace Cleveland in 2009, and Smith completed only 57.9 percent of his passes to his wideouts.

Chris Johnson is out to prove he can still be an elite running back after topping 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons with Tennessee. He joins holdovers Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, who combined for 1,532 yards.

New York's secondary, however, is in disarray. The departure of Antonio Cromartie started a carousel which spun even faster during preseason due to injuries, ineffectiveness and - in typical Jets fashion - the bizarre. Dee Milliner, the team's top pick in 2013 who confidently declared himself the league's best cornerback during training camp, is out with a high ankle sprain.

Dimitri Patterson, signed in April as a likely starter opposite Milliner, was cut Saturday after going AWOL for 48 hours around New York's final preseason game. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Jets addressed the lack of depth by signing Leon McFadden and Phillip Adams, but Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen will see the bulk of playing time. Allen is transitioning from safety to cornerback - a process slowed somewhat after he suffered a concussion Aug. 22.

''I feel pretty good with my preparation,'' said Allen, who allowed receivers to catch 22 passes in the 50 times he was targeted last year. ''Went out there and had a decent day (Tuesday) ... just competed well, and hopefully I can do that in the game.

''I wouldn't say I'm comfortable,'' he added, ''but I'm getting there.''

Trying to exploit that back four will be rookie Derek Carr as Oakland comes off its second straight 4-12 season and 11th consecutive non-winning campaign - the longest active streak in the NFL. The second-round pick from Fresno State - and younger brother of 2002 overall No. 1 pick and former quarterback David Carr - beat out Matt Schaub for the starting job.

''As (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) says, `Don't let this moment be your best moment as an NFL moment,''' said Derek Carr, the only rookie quarterback to be starting in Week 1 this year. ''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.''

Despite - or because of - the Jets' secondary issues, Carr can expect Ryan to bring blitzers from all directions. It's a method with a proven track record - Ryan is 7-1 against rookie quarterbacks as Jets coach, limiting them to a 48.3 percent completion rate and 61.1 rating.

''He's got a great blitz package,'' Carr 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.''

Carr headlines an offensive makeover that also includes wide receiver James Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew from Green Bay and Jacksonville via free agency. Jones had 123 catches for 1,601 yards with only five drops the last two years for the Packers, but he managed three TDs last season after recording 14 in 2012.

The Raiders are hoping Jones-Drew, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, can form an effective tandem with Darren McFadden, who was limited to 10 games and 379 yards in an injury-plagued 2013.

Oakland revamped its defensive line by adding veterans Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley in front of fifth overall pick Khalil Mack - the starting strong-side linebacker. Seventeen-year veteran safety Charles Woodson, who had a career-high 97 tackles in 2014, leads active players with 56 interceptions and will provide support to newcomers Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers at the corners.

New York's late-season push to .500 started with a 37-27 home win over Oakland on Dec. 8. Smith accounted for 269 total yards, including a season-high 50 rushing, and two touchdowns.