Monday, October 18, 2010

No One Here Gets Out Alive

Unlike seasons past, the 2010 New York Jets have shown a resiliency and an ability to face down adversity, regardless of the opponent. Yesterday's 24-20 victory over the Denver Broncos was the first come from behind victory of the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez era, and it came in a game where the Jets did not play their best. Often during the regular season in the NFL a team will be called upon to get a result when they haven't played that well, and the best teams find ways to get these victories. It's the difference between a 9-7 or 10-6 team becoming a 12-4 or 13-3 team.

The Jets played an uneven game yesterday, getting the first two turnovers of the season from Sanchez, which could have easily been three or four if the Broncos defensive backs had managed to come up with several easy picks on the game's first possession. The Jets running game, which has chewed up yardage and helped to control the line of scrimmage thus far this season, managed just 129 yards. In fact, the Jets gained fewer yards, had fewer first downs, and lost the time of possession battle.

The defense gave up 145 yards on the ground to one of the worst running games in the league, which was a function of the Jets focus on stopping Denver's freewheeling passing game. Bronco QB Kyle Orton was held to just 209 yards on 14 of 34, and Denver never really got the big plays they've grown accustomed to this season. Darrelle Revis started and played the whole game despite the temperamental hamstring that's given him problems all season.

The conventional wisdom heading into Week 6 was to sit Revis, since he would have 2 weeks to rest if he were given the day off, and Revis seemed to think he could only be effective if he were 100 % ready to go. I loved the way Rex Ryan handled the Revis situation all week. After willingly taking the blame for allowing Revis to determine whether or not he was ready for Minnesota, Ryan said he would make the ultimate decision regarding Revis. Ryan seemed to say all week that Revis would play, that he had received assurances from the Jets medical staff that the hamstring was healthy and that it was mostly a matter of Revis being able to play through whatever discomfort he would feel on gameday.

Throughout the week, I couldn't help but feel that Revis' discomfort was not going to bother Ryan at all. Ryan knew that Revis at 80 or 90 % was better than any alternative the Jets could have going for them. While Revis gave up 4 catches yesterday including a TD, he played better than against Minnesota, and revealed after the game that the discomfort was nowhere near as bad as it had been after the Vikings game. Even the TD that Revis allowed looked like it was bogus, as Demaryius Thomas' second foot looked clearly out-of-bounds. The call against Revis for the TD that gave the Broncos a 17-10 lead was one of four or five shaky calls against the Jets in the second half.

I am a firm believer that calls have a way of evening themselves out over time, so I rarely have issue with a specific call, since I feel like it's only a matter of time until the pendulum swings back in my team's direction. The pass interference call against Renaldo Hill on Santonio Holmes was a nice piece of good fortune, but it wasn't a bad call. No matter who you root for, when your receiver goes up to make a catch and is grabbed by the facemask, that's pass interference. The down and distance or game situation is of no consequence. The story of whether or not this was a good call by the refs, as well as the validity of pass interference as a spot-of-the-foul penalty has been debated throughout the media today, which my paranoia takes as a sign that the national media really wanted to see the Jets go down yesterday. I would imagine if the same situation had happened with the Saints or, heaven forbid, the Patriots, we'd be hearing a lot about the nerve of Drew Brees or Tom Brady today, rather than the luck of Mark Sanchez and the 5-1 New York Jets.

Any Jets fan will tell you that the Jets would have lost this game in the past, which makes two consecutive weeks that New York has made the best of a shaky circumstance. For a championship caliber team, it's not going to pretty week in and week out. There are going to be days like yesterday when you have to grind out a victory on the road against a tough opponent. This situation will certainly come up again, whether it's later in the season in Foxborough, or in Pittsburgh, or even Chicago. The Jets may even lose a game like this before the season is over.

A championship caliber team is going to learn lessons about itself over the course of the season. As a fan, you hope these lessons can come in victory. The Jets were fortunate yesterday, but they were also good when they had to be good. They now have two weeks to prepare for Green Bay, a 3-3 team that has lost back to back overtime games, a team that had great expectations heading into 2010. They have a home date on national TV against the Vikings before they play the Jets, so they could even be 3-4 before the Jet game. Either way, they would seem to be a desperate team searching for a rhythm, so the Jets will need to come with a superior effort and execute at a high level to move to 6-1.

The margin between success and failure is ever narrowing in the modern NFL. To remain successful, the Jets will need to improve in virtually every area. Luckily for Rex Ryan, there is much to address during the bye week. There is no better time to apply pressure to a successful team than when things are going well. The New York media market will bend over backwards to congratulate the Jets over the next two weeks. It will be Ryan's job to keep this team from believing the hype. This is the next challenge for the 2010 Jets in the weeks to to deal with success. If they are able to make the playoffs, how they handle the success they're experiencing right now will determine whether the Jets play at home or on the road in January.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Third Down Dilemma

The Jets held on Monday Night against the Minnesota Vikings for a 29-20 victory after dominating the first half. New York led 9-0 at the break, but the score very easily could have been a 3 TD difference. Minnesota's defense has thrived in the red zone for the last few seasons, and the opportunities the Jets had in the first half couldn't be converted, which allowed the Vikings to stay in the game when they should have been put away.

When Brett Favre finally started to hit a few big plays, it highlighted the Jets' biggest weakness thus far in 2010; the defense's inability to get off of the field on third and long. When you remove the Buffalo game from the equation, the Jets defense has been terrible in obvious passing situations. On third down and 8 yards or longer, the defense is giving up a QB rating of 124.6 to Flacco, Brady, Henne, and Favre.

On Monday night, the first two Minnesota TDs came in situations like this one, first a 37-yard TD to Randy Moss on third and seventeen, then a 34-yard TD to Percy Harvin on third and nineteen. The TD passes gave the Vikings new life in a game they had no business winning. To the Jets credit, their last game was a game they most likely would have lost last season, and in most situations in the past. Losing a huge lead at home is one of the most deflating experiences a team can go through, but the Jets were able to make a huge play on defense when Favre and company had an opportunity to win the game. Dwight Lowery picked Favre and took it 26 yards to the house, clinching a four game winning streak for Gang Green.

After the game, Favre surprised onlookers by screaming, "Look at my penis!!! LOOK AT IT, DAMMIT!!!" He really didn't, but maybe Favre is developing into the wacky sexual predator we always though he could be. Brett Favre is indicative of the modern athlete's sense of entitlement, so it seems fitting that he's in the mess he's seemed to create for himself. I don't think most Jets fans will be shedding tears for Favre anytime soon.

Anyway, back to the Jets third down troubles...the reason for the Jets' failings on third down goes back to their very identity as a football team. The Jets leave their cornerbacks in man-to-man defense more than any other team, as Rex Ryan dials up more and more exotic blitzes. Ryan's problem is that he's no George Allen. Ryan has invited anyone who's interested to observe the Jets in practice, and many of their closest rivals are becoming outstanding at sliding their protection schemes towards the blitz, giving their QBs the time they need to pick us apart downfield.

The question becomes, does Rex Ryan abandon who he is and who he wants this team to be in order to fix the problem, or does he continue to bring pressure in all situations, even when it would be more prudent to play a little more conservatively? It seems like the least he should do is go back to the drawing board and see if there's a way to re-invent some of the schemes that have been so effective in the past, or, taking a page from the offense, blitzing more on first and second down, and dropping six and seven when the opposing offense is in an obvious passing situation.

Either way, it's hard to imagine that the Jets can continue to win, week in and week out, when their defense can't get off of the field when they desperately need to. Eventually, you'll run into a quarterback talented enough to bury you when you give them that many opportunities. This week, the Jets travel to Denver to face the Broncos before the bye week. If the Jets can win a fifth straight game, it will match the longest streak they've had in a decade, and they'll go into the bye knowing that all of their regular season goals are still on the table, including Rex Ryan's much ballyhooed goal of "leading the league in fucking wins."

Kickoff is at 4:05 pm today.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Rex Ryan Meant

Rex Ryan caught a lot of heat about his training camp opening speech, which was filled with enough expletives to draw cringes from league officials. This impassioned assessment of what the Jets are capable of has been the primary cause of the mass media narrative that has dominated coverage of the team in 2010. The boasting of Ryan was so uncommon for an NFL head coach that it's changed the perception of the entire team, although the majority of the Jets players are not big talkers.

The past 3 games have been a virtual demonstration of that speech, as the Jets have mowed down the AFC East with the most consistent offensive display the franchise has shown in a decade. The questions for the 2010 Jets have become can they keep this up and just how well can they play? Last week in Buffalo, the defense didn't yield a third down conversion and the running game featured two 100-yard performances, while Mark Sanchez went another start without a turnover.

Rex Ryan feels that the Jets' best game is the best game there is in the league, and he may be right. The Jets get another chance to showcase their talent against the Vikings this evening. Great players and great teams look at every competitive contest as a new opportunity to not just succeed, but to be spectacular. There is no bigger stage in the regular season than Monday night in the NFL.

When you add in the subplots of Randy Moss returning to face off against Darrelle Revis, whether or not Minnesota can make the best use of Moss right away and help the Vikings avoid a 1-3 start, the 2010 debut of both Calvin Pace and Santonio Holmes for the Jets, and the return of both Brett Favre and Brett Favre's newly famous penis to the tri-state area, and there's almost too much going on in this one to speak of clearly.

This game isn't as big as the folks at ESPN will have you believe, but the Jets won't want to surrender the momentum they've built in the first month of the season. You only get so many chances to make an impression on the entire league on national television. It will be interesting to see how the Jets respond tonight in the new Meadowlands Stadium.

Jerry Richardson...Master Thief

I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Carolina Panthers fans I know (this means you, Jamaal) and apologize for the abomination you are witnessing this season. I have lived through many a pathetic Jets season and can empathize fully with what you're going through. Although, I don't know if I've seen quite the circumstance that Carolina fans are dealing with currently.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson gained notoriety this offseason with an impassioned speech at the owners meeting. The speech outlined how the owners had been screwed by the players during the last collective bargaining agreement and how they weren't going to pay a lot for this muffler during the collective bargaining negotiations to come. He then proceeded to act like he had no money in the offseason, letting his best player, perennial All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers, walk to Chicago without any compensation in return. He also refrained from buying any pieces that would actually help the team win in 2010.

Richardson then had the audacity to raise ticket prices on the season ticket holders, making them pay more for an inferior product. To top it all off, he traded a future second round pick to move up in the third round (huh?) during the draft to take Appalachian St. QB Armanti Edwards, who had no chance at being a pro QB, but rather a converted receiver.

The third round is no place to draft a project, but this is how stupid Richardson thinks you are, Panther fans. He must have figured, "Edwards is a local guy, my ignorant fans will show up to cheer on their college hero even if it takes 3 or 4 years to develop him, if it even works out at all. I can afford to burn this high a pick on a marketing scam, putting additional pressure on a long shot at paying off." I can't even begin to describe the pure hatred he must have for Carolina fans as a whole. For Richardson to figure he can placate the local fans by taking a local guy, even if he has no chance to contribute to the team's success for years to come, takes enormous stones. Onions, even. This is the same type of reasoning that allowed the Charlotte Hornets to draft J.R. Reid 5th overall, thinking it will draw in the college fans who aren't sold on the pro game.

As long as the Charlotte-area owners think like this, there are no local pro teams with a chance at success. pissed Panthers fans. And don't spend any money on this team if you can help it. I feel like a dumbass for picking this team to have success this year. If I were you, I wouldn't spend a dollar on this team. If Richardson won't, why should you?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Avoiding The Trap Game

First, a belated postmortem on Miami...

Last Sunday's nationally televised spectacular in South Florida had a little of everything. The Jets exploded out of the gate as if it was the 5th quarter of the New England game, building a 14-0 lead out of the continuing maturation of young Mark Sanchez. Sanchez would finish with 256 yards and 3 more TD through the air, as he continues to be the main story of the team through 3 weeks. Even the most optimistic Jet fan was not counting on Sanchez to look this poised this quickly. His improved decision making has turned the season around. I would imagine that there will be further bumps in the road as the season progresses, but Sanchez' performance should allow everyone to breathe a little regarding whether or not we have the right guy under center. He's the right guy.

As for the rest of the squad, as quickly as we got the lead, we gave it right back. Miami started to turn the tide when they completed a questionable catch on the sidelines. The replay looked like Davone Bess only had one foot down, but Rex Ryan refused to challenge the catch. On the next play, Ricky Williams laid one on the turf, then miraculously was able to wrestle the ball from people much larger than him on the ground. The power of weed, I guess.

These two plays shifted the momentum of the game, and the Dolphins ran off 17 consecutive points. Miami could not stand prosperity, and promptly gave up the lead they had worked so hard to get. They were ahead for exactly 18 seconds.

That's when recent Jet pariah Braylon Edwards did an old school turn and burn, like Otis Taylor in Super Bowl IV (am I dating myself?). Edwards would have only 2 catches on the day, this 67-yard TD and a huge 3rd down conversion on the Jets clinching drive in the 4th quarter. He also played large on the ground, helping to spring Ladainian Tomlinson twice around the outside. Edwards may have been a fool during the week, but he played well Sunday night. As for the moralists who thought he should have sat the whole game, please find me another example of a player having to sit for a DUI and I'll gladly agree. The Jets are under no obligation to sit Edwards in this situation, especially without the results of the case still pending. The Jets get Santonio Holmes back from suspension for the Minnesota game, so the importance of Edwards will change as the season develops. I hope he has some success with the personal demons he seems to battle every season. Rock bottom is different for each person. I hope Edwards hit rock bottom in a squad car on the west side of Manhattan.

The Jets defense took some lumps during the week as the pass defense gave up 363 yards to Chad Henne, and Brandon Marshall ran loose through our Revis-less secondary. The defense definitely has issues with big, physical receivers without Darrelle Revis on the field. He won't be back for Buffalo, and the word on the street is that he might not be ready for 2 or 3 games. You have to hope that the defense will be well served in the long term by having to learn to cover without Revis. You would also have to think that that Rex Ryan is a little upset by what he saw in the secondary last week, and that they will have more success with Buffalo.

Aaahhhhh...the Buffalo Bills. The classic trap game. For the uninitiated, a trap game is a contest against a lesser opponent that usually comes immediately after or immediately before a more anticipated game against a much more competitive opponent. The worst kind of trap game is a road division game against a rival, like we have this week. Buffalo has been mostly terrible in the first 3 weeks, although they looked better with Fitzpatrick driving last week against the Pats. Their run defense has been abysmal, so this is a perfect week for Shonn Greene to get his confidence back, and for the ground and pound identity of the 2009 Jets to re-assert itself.

There is no reason for Schottenheimer to get too cute this week. The Jets can win the man-on-man battle up front, and they should do as little as possible to deviate from what will work best. It's almost time for kickoff in Buffalo. I should be back later today with the highs and lows.