Sunday, September 26, 2010

How Quickly Things Turn

Last Sunday, we were treated to exactly what the hype was supposed to be about.

The Jets set aside their myriad of distractions long enough to whip New England 28-14, demonstrating for the fanbase just what the 2010 version of the Jets is capable of for the rest of the season. Since the Tom Brady era began in Foxboro nine years ago, there hasn't been a whole lot of success for the Jets. The victories we've managed over that period were normally of the three or seven point variety and more a product of good fortune than good football.

Last Sunday was a different story. Play after play during the second half, the Jets offense moved the ball up and down the field, through the accuracy of Mark Sanchez (21 for 30, 3 TD) and the fresh legs of Greene and LT (136 yards on the ground). Meanwhile, the defense held Brady and company scoreless in the second half without the injured Darrelle Revis. Brady made multiple mistakes, failing to sustain anything useful for the last 30 minutes while sporting Matt Dillon's haircut from My Bodyguard. Not a very good day for Boston.

What was interesting about the defense's effort in the second half was how galvanized the effort was, especially the pass defense. After having to listen to the local and national media question the ability of the defense to operate at an optimal level without Revis during the whole preseason, the entire unit played with a chip on their shoulder, as if to prove that no one piece is greater than the whole.

Also, Revis, who gave up a highlight reel TD to Randy Moss on his last play of the game, showed a revealing bit about his character in that moment. As Moss hauled in Brady's throw with one-handed flair, Revis reached down and grabbed his hamstring, as if clinging to a ready-made excuse for his failure. In the postgame, Rex Ryan said that Revis was expecting help over the top on the post route, so the TD wasn't entirely his fault, but I thought it was interesting that Revis was so prepared with a visual cue for an excuse. It reminded me of the made-for-TV match race between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson after the 1996 Olympics. When Johnson couldn't catch Bailey on the turn, he grimaced in pain. The fragile ego at work, I would assume.

But, I digress.

After the misery of the Monday night against the Ravens, the big performance couldn't have come at a better time. LaDainian Tomlinson has looked like a second year back. Running with purpose and enthusiasm, he has earned the lion's share of the touches in the first 2 weeks, and been a steal so far. Mark Sanchez proved to the coaching staff that he can make throws and must be trusted with the gameplan. In Week 1, the only opportunities that Sanchez had to throw were in obvious passing situations, which is when the defense is most prepared to defend the pass. Against the Pats, the Jet's brain trust decided to give Sanchez chances to throw on first and second down, and Dustin Keller found enough soft spots in Cover 2 to rack up a career-high 115 yards.

The powers that be at the NFL league office love to schedule the Jets next opponent, the divisional rival Miami Dolphins, for national television when the Jets come to town. That's unfortunate for the Jets, because the Miami "fans" are as fair-weather as they come. If this game is a 1 pm Sunday game, then the stands would be half-filled with Jets fans. Since the game is a national TV night game, the crappy Dolphin fanbase will show up, giving their team a much-needed boost. The Jets should be flying high coming into the game, but Braylon Edwards took care of that shit in mid-week.

I hate what's been happening with the Jets, as I've mentioned numerous times. I want to see good football, and I think the whole sideshow element to the team does us no good. Braylon Edwards has been a fairly solid addition prior to his DUI this week, working hard in the meeting room, and not being overly critical when the ball didn't find him on Sunday. With his irresponsible crap this week, he has essentially ensured he won't be offered a long-term deal following this season. I don't know why any player would risk his financial future and his chance to be relevant historically with a solid franchise. The money is green wherever you go, but you don't have many chances to play for a successful franchise. With the core the Jets have in place, they have a chance to contend for the next several years. It makes you wonder what's going through his head. If the Jets lay an egg on Sunday night in Miami, he will catch the blame.

We've lost 3 straight to the Dolphins, and a victory in Week 3 won't just snap that streak. A victory will give the Jets early control of the division, and give both of the potential threats for divisional supremacy in the East a wake-up call as to which team truly is the team to beat.

It will be interesting to see how the whole organization responds to this latest unrest. All it takes is a solid effort on the field against Miami to get the public's mind off of the sideshow and back onto one of the teams to beat in 2010.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Over Before It Started?

I had a bit of a rough time with my prognostications last weekend, so I may refrain from too many predictions for the time being, which I'm sure all of you will understand. Unfortunately for the Jets growing fan base, I didn't corner the market on disappointment.

The Jets suffered one of the most lopsided one-point losses in the history of organized sports on Monday night. From the start of the game, they never seriously mounted an offensive threat, or demonstrated an ability to play disciplined football. Like John Madden said, in response to his team's relaxed dress code back in the 70's, "You can wear a coat and tie on your way to the stadium, but, no matter how you look, if you jump offsides on 3rd and 3, you're an undisciplined football player." The Jets racked up 14 penalties on Monday night. Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson were the worst offenders, as Wilson looked overmatched at times, while Cromartie seemed to lose his sense of where he was on the field anytime he had to turn and chase the route.

As for the offense, the Jets treated Mark Sanchez like he was an explosive that they were afraid might detonate at any time. Despite the fact that the Ravens secondary had been decimated by injuries, Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer never put Sanchez in a position to test Baltimore downfield. The whole fanbase watched Sanchez make poor decisions with the football last year, and the coaching staff has stressed that they won't place the same pressure on Sanchez to be successful downfield to win games.

The problem is, of course, you can't allow the defense to only defend a small section of the field and hope to be successful. The defense has to respect your ability to test them vertically. Also, the book on Baltimore has always been that you're not going to make a living making high-percentage throws on their defense. You need to go deep and get the big play in order to score points. Second year RB Shonn Greene lost a key fumble in the second quarter and never had another carry. Apparently, the Jet coaching staff, after a rash of preseason fumbles, made a deal with the skill position players that if they fumbled in any game, they were coming out of the game. So, the Jets best running back was pulled in the second quarter after coughing one up.

After all, we're so dripping with talent to the extent that we can afford to have our best players sit, just to prove a point.

The worst part of the whole experience was watching the Jets larger-than-life head coach, the bombastic Rex Ryan, shrink before our eyes on the sidelines. I've been following this franchise so closely over the last 34 years that it would appear to an outsider that my life depended on it. I've watched quite a few head coaches come and go, but none of them have had quite the same effect that Ryan has had, especially in so short a time span.

If you look through the pantheon of sports legends on the New York landscape, there seems to be a special place for the silent, classy, consistent professional, the Joe DiMaggio/Derek Jeter type. The kind of guy who shows up to work every day and does his job, supports his teammates, leads by example, and plays his best when the big money is on the table. Even our hot dog types like Joe Namath became beloved because, when the stakes were the highest, they came up with the best performance.

The worst sin you can commit to a New York sports fan is to talk big and not be able to back it up. Rex Ryan spent 8 months predicting Super Bowl level success to whoever would listen, placing the bull's-eye directly on the Jets back when it came time to lace them up in September. In all actuality, no one who understands football on the most basic level, especially someone who is both a fan of the team and a realist, would overstate who the Jets were prior to the season.

The Jets went 9-7 last year, finishing at 11-8 after the postseason run. We were handed a late season win in Indianapolis when Jim Caldwell decided to pull Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts starters in the third quarter of Week 16. We also threw several games away last year, including home games against Buffalo, Miami, and Atlanta. We could have easily won any one, or all three of those games. When all was said and done, the record we finished with was the record we deserved. We won a couple we should have lost, and lost a couple we should have won.

Coming into this season, there was every reason to believe we'd be improved, but certainly no reason to claim that we were the best team in football, especially when we had proved nothing yet in 2010, except a distinct talent at drawing attention to ourselves. I have no issue with demonstrating your confidence in the team, especially if your the head coach. But, if you don't believe it and you say it anyway, you're not only a fool, but you think we're all fools, too.

Rex Ryan proved it the other night. With a 4th and 1 on the Baltimore 10-yard line in the first half, he elected to kick a field goal rather than try to gain a yard on the ground. He essentially said to his team, "I know you can't gain a yard when you have to." The entire game, he and his coaching staff demonstrated no confidence in his offense to make plays, choosing to go three and out rather than take even the smallest risk in order to score touchdowns.

Again, Rex Ryan is within his rights as head coach to play conservatively and minimize risk. But, don't spend the whole offseason telling me and the rest of the NFL how great you are when you don't even believe it yourself. When it was nut-cutting time, you coached scared. At this point, you should probably shut up. The fastest way to get run out of town in New York is to talk large and not be able to back it up. After 4 decades of humiliation, the Jet fan base won't suffer fools gladly. From perusing the New York Jets fan message boards, the young fans love the bravado and think Rex Ryan is undoing the "Same Old Jets" defeatism of the past. But, if he runs his mouth for months and then runs and punts his way to 6-10, he'll be on the first plane out of town in no time.

There's plenty of time to right the ship, 15 regular season games to be exact. It begins this Sunday afternoon at 4:15 against the fucking Patriots. If I have to watch Tom Brady with his Justin Bieber haircut running up and down the field, I'm going to want to break my own TV. If the Jets can get a win and the Dolphins lose against the Vikings, everything will be even in the AFC East, and we can start over again. However, if the Jets take the pipe against New England, they'll be two games down and 0-1 in the division.

Things can unravel pretty quickly in the NFL, Rex. Time to put up or shut up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Like Christmas Morning

I've always enjoyed the opening day of the season. The league office, sensing that there are millions like me, has made the opening weekend a special weekend, with a Thursday night game featuring the defending champs at home, and a Monday night doubleheader. The opening tilt of this year's Monday night doubleheader features the Jets and the Baltimore Ravens.

Normally, I temper my expectations for the Jets, knowing that what I see on opening day will go a long way towards determining what to expect for the coming season. Who wins or loses is not necessarily that important. What's more important are general things you take away from the game, thinks like...can we run the ball on third and short? Can we protect the passer up the middle? When we blitz, do our corners look overmatched? Can our QB make good decisions in obvious passing situations? The answers to these questions will go a long way towards determining the long-term success of any team, certainly more than whether or not your team wins their first game.

The Ravens are a tough matchup for the Jets, mostly because their defense is a carbon copy of ours, which makes sense given that Rex Ryan was running their defense for several years before joining our organization. The Ravens have added some receivers through free agency and trades, they have a outstanding young RB in Ray Rice, and a developing young QB in Joe Flacco. Sound familiar?

The Jets are in much better shape than they were several weeks ago now that Darrelle Revis has been paid to his liking and has joined the team. For the uninitiated, Revis is probably the most important piece on our defense. Most defenses take their best cornerback and place him on the offense's second best receiver, then double-team the offense's best receiver with a corner and a safety over the top. Revis is so solid in coverage that he can single team the other team's best WR and take him out of the game, which allows the Jets to play zone defense on the other side of the field, and free up other defensive backs for the overload blitzes that have become Rex Ryan's calling card.

Before Revis came back, I had started to believe that the pundits might be right, that the Jets might be a 6-10 or 7-9 team. With Revis back, as long as Sanchez avoids mistakes and continues to improve, the Jets should be a 10-win team at least. I wouldn't be surprised if they got off to a slow start and were hovering around .500 at midseason, but I expect them to be one of the best team's in the league by January, the proverbial team that no one wants to play in the postseason. If we can get there, that is.

As for the local team, I think the Carolina Panthers are going to be better than most people expect, and I expect them to play well and win today. First of all, their opponent today, the New York Giants, are still a mess on defense. Provided that the Panthers are fully healthy up front, they should be able to control the line of scrimmage and control the clock. The Panthers lack playmakers on defense besides the excellent Jon Beason, but John Fox knows how to coach team defense, and the Panthers should block and tackle well enough to win 9 or 10 games this year.

Whatever your plans today, enjoy the wings and copious amounts of cheese in various forms, and, more importantly, enjoy the next 5 or so months of pro football. Given the present labor situation, next year's offseason may be longer than normal.

Also, sometime during the season, I hope to launch my NFL history project using I'm having a hard time finding the time (as you may have guessed after witnessing my non-prolific posting style as of late), but once I crank it up, it's going to be totally hot. Especially if you're into stats simulation (and I know that you are!). I hope to have a recap of what we've learned today sometime this evening. Enjoy the action!