Friday, September 23, 2011

Week 3-The Road Trip Begins

The New York Jets handled their business Sunday, smothering the Jacksonville offense en route to a 32-3 victory. The win brings the Jets to 2-0 in the early season, with a trip to the Black Hole in Oakland looming in the late window Sunday. Perhaps the biggest story to emerge from the game was an injury to the Jets All-Pro center and notorious photo bomb specialist, Nick Mangold. Mangold suffered a high ankle sprain against the Jaguars; the team expects him to miss at least the next 2 weeks, which would mean that he would miss at least the Ravens game, and, quite possibly, the Patriots game on October 9.

Rookie free agent Colin Baxter filled in for Mangold, and, while he was effective in pass protection, the entire line suffered running the ball for the rest of the game without Mangold. In fact, through the first two games, none of the Jets' running backs are averaging three yards a carry. The game plan for our opposition thus far has been to try to take away the Jets' running game and force Mark Sanchez to make throws to move the ball. So far, Shonn Greene has been largely ineffective as the primary back, and our offensive line is not winning at the line of scrimmage the way they have been over the last several seasons.

Sanchez has improved his accuracy in the first two weeks, completing 63 percent of his passes so far in 2011. Only five of his passes hit the turf on Sunday, but he made two terrible decisions that led to interceptions. On the first pick, Sanchez tried to force a throw outside the numbers and appeared to never see the underneath CB in the zone coverage. The second pick was a classic Sanchez stare down, trying to squeeze a throw to Santonio Holmes, who was being double teamed. Plaxico Burress would finish without any catches against the Jaguars, although Rex Ryan's attempts to get him involved led to the second biggest story of the game, which was a seemingly unnecessary big hit on Sanchez once the game had already been decided.

The Jets were ahead 29-3 in the fourth quarter and were deep in Jacksonville territory. Ryan chose to throw twice in the red zone in an attempt to get Burress a catch, but the second of these throws resulted in Jaguars DE Matt Roth unloading on Sanchez after he had beaten Wayne Hunter (again). After the play, Sanchez got to his feet with his throwing arm limp at his side, an injury the Jets are calling a bruised throwing arm. No one wants to see their team's starting QB getting knocked around this early in the season, but it seems like as long as Wayne Hunter is playing RT, Sanchez is going to take some punishment and his health from week to week may be in jeopardy. Hunter has been a huge disappointment so far this season. He committed two penalties, gave up a sack, and allowed several hits on Sanchez against a Jacksonville defense that will not get mistaken for the 1985 Bears anytime soon.

There were several bright spots on Sunday. Antonio Cromartie followed up his shaky Week 1 with a stellar Week 2. He had two big kickoff returns, two interceptions, two passes defended, and three tackles. Cromartie even handled it on a reverse that only gained a yard. Since the Jets seem to lack a receiver who can pop the top off of the defense, don't be surprised to see Cromartie for a few more snaps on offense, quite possibly as a target for a nine route. His speed is so dangerous that he can be effectively deployed as a deep threat in certain situations.

Dustin Keller continues to progress into a primary weapon in the Jets offense. Keller had 101 yards on 6 catches against Jacksonville, and he has the effect of busting open the Cover 2 in each of the first two games by being a tough cover in the seam. The Jets offense runs best when Keller is heavily involved. His size makes him a matchup nightmare for the secondary, and he is too quick for a linebacker to cover. The Jets need to make a concerted effort to ensure that Keller gets at least eight to ten targets every week.

The Oakland Raiders were about fifteen seconds from starting 2-0 this season, and the game on Sunday will be a difficult challenge for the Jets. The Raiders philosophy over the last couple of seasons is to heavily involve Darren McFadden and to use their ground attack to control the flow of the game. Maurice Jones-Drew managed 4.9 yards a carry last week when the Jets knew he was going to be the primary offensive threat. They must improve on that number against Oakland. If they can keep the Oakland ground attack in check and Sanchez can play efficiently, the Jets should be able to win in Oakland.

Kickoff against Oakland is at 4 pm Sunday.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Week 2-Don't Fuck With The Revis

The New York Jets began their 2011 campaign with a heart-stopping 27-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. The game featured a 14-point fourth quarter comeback, which was the first time in the 50+ years of Cowboys franchise history that Dallas had surrendered a lead that large in the last 15 minutes.

The game will be remembered for its stirring tribute to the victims of 9/11 and the palpable emotion that accompanies such a life altering event, and not perhaps for the two costly mistakes by Dallas QB Tony Romo that eventually cost Dallas the game. What was most impressive about the victory from a fan's perspective is how the entire team kept fighting through stretches of the game when they were not playing well. The hallmark of a good team is being able to play your own inevitable mistakes and win when you're playing less that your best football. And the Jets certainly did that.

Kudos to several Jets who were difference makers on Sunday night...

LaDainian Tomlinson-LT's career is so decorated and he clearly is no longer the same back he once was, however, he has also found a niche as a third down back, and his seven receptions Sunday proved his worth to the Jets. Hopefully, Joe McKnight (or another shifty runner with good hands) may eventually be able to fulfill this role, but, for now, it's nice to have a future Hall of Fame player on the roster as a check down option. Sanchez found Tomlinson very useful against Dallas.

Joe McKnight-He has been most famous (or infamous) for throwing up in his first mini-camp when he reported out of shape, but McKnight has become a tremendous special teams player and earned his place on the squad with his efforts towards the end of the season last year and through training camp in 2011. McKnight's blocked punt was such an outstanding individual effort and highlighted what has become a calling card for Rex Ryan team; everyone has value, so be prepared to contribute.

Darrelle Revis-It's rare that a defensive back is so great that he can go almost a whole season slowly dying of boredom because other teams refuse to engage him, but Revis had that experience for most of the 2010 season. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine started with Revis on Miles Austin and Antonio Cromartie on Dez Bryant, but after Bryant beat Cromartie for a TD on the Cowboys opening drive, the defensive brain trust decided to switch Revis to Bryant. Bryant caught a beautiful back shoulder pass over Revis for about 30 yards, then ran his mouth to Revis shortly after the catch.

Bad idea.

Revis spent the next 3 quarters inside of Bryant's jersey, not giving him an inch of space, and eventually picking Romo to setup Nick Folk's 50-yard game winning FG. Bryant is going to be an all-world player for the next decade provided he can stay out of trouble and remain healthy, but he learned a valuable lesson about letting sleeping dogs lie on Sunday, which is a lesson that, judging by their comments during the week, Jacksonville may need to learn as well...don't fuck with the Revis. He's still the best there is.

There were several other notables from Sunday night. Nick Folk was 2 of 2 on FG, and I'm sure it was particularly sweet to beat his old team with a 50-yard FG. Dustin Keller, Santonio Holmes, and Plaxico Burress were able to find holes in the Dallas secondary helping Mark Sanchez to throw for 335 yards and 2 TD. Sanchez was a little uneven, throwing a crucial pick and losing a fumble as the Dallas pressure affected his play, but he completed 59% of his passes and made several big throws in the win. Perhaps the biggest change in Sanchez was how active he was in changing plays at the line. He is clearly maturing and has such a better understanding that he seems much more comfortable directing the offense. Even when he checked into the wrong play, like he did on the Jets last possession, he didn't seem unsure of himself. Sanchez must have confidence in what he's doing at the line of scrimmage for the offense to succeed. He also took a beating in the pocket, meaning the pass protection must get better for the Jets in the coming weeks. Wayne Turner was a turnstile for large sections of the game, and Sanchez had to run for his life on several occasions. He took several huge shots, but hung in and delivered when he knew he was going to get popped.

This Sunday, the Jets face the Jacksonville Jaguars, fresh off of a win over Tennessee. Jacksonville is a team in transition, having drafted a QB at the top of the first round in April who is clearly not ready in Blaine Gabbert. Luke McCown directed Sunday's win and should be able to hold the starter's job for the next few months, especially considering how lost Gabbert looked in the preseason. The Jaguars still have the amazing Maurice Jones-Drew, so they will still be a threat on Sunday.

Rex Ryan was delivered a perfect scenario in Week 1. The Jets made plenty of errors, so there are a lot of teachable moments on game film, but the team didn't lose, so there was no price paid for the failures. The Jets were fortunate to get a victory in Week 1; they must play better in the weeks to come. They clearly don't want to cede ground to New England in the early season. If they get a better performance Sunday, they should be in good position to pick up a second victory.

Kickoff against Jacksonville from MetLife Stadium is at 1 pm Sunday.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The 2011 Season

Every year I find myself asking the same 2 questions about my team before the start of the season; "Is my team better this year than they were last year?" and "If so, will that translate into more victories and a deeper run in the playoffs?"

Before last season, I felt that the Jets had done enough before the season to better their roster to make them an improved team. The Jets added Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Jason Taylor, plus their core of Revis, Mangold, Ferguson, Harris, and Sanchez were ascending as NFL players and had the experience of a deep playoff run in 2009 to benefit their development. The Jets were 9-7 in 2009 and were fortunate to make the postseason. I figured in 2010, the Jets would win at least 10 games, although I thought they could be a better team without making it back to the AFC Championship Game.

As it turned out, the Jets won 11 games and made it back to the AFC Championship Game, vanquishing both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady along the way. Unfortunately, they came out flat against Pittsburgh, couldn't tackle Rashad Mendenhall, and had the same problem they had all season, which was an inability to score points early in the game. By the time the offense woke up, they were in a 24-point hole, and a furious comeback could not save them.

Now, 2011 is upon us, with the Jets opening their campaign at the newly minted MetLife Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. The Jets are coming off a 2-2 preseason which saw some positive developments and raised a few questions for the coming season.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the Jets in the coming season is the depth of the offensive line. Backup OL Rob Turner broke his leg in the first preseason game, and the rest of the backup offensive line struggled to protect the passer throughout the preseason. The starting offensive line is intact from last year, with the exception of RT Wayne Hunter filling in for the retired Damien Woody. RG Brandon Moore is coming off of a hip injury and barely played in the preseason. The offensive line is the strength of the Jets offense, and the Jets have been fortunate enough to stay healthy on the O-line for the last few years. If they can stay healthy this year, the depth won't be an issue, but if any of our starters go down and we're having to play inexperienced backups like Vladimir Ducasse for extended periods, the Jets are in trouble. Ducasse has shown himself to be a solid run blocker in his limited action, but he truly struggles in pass protection (to put it mildly). It was a sack that Ducasse gave up against Houston that led to Turner's injury.

More than any other issue, the continuing development of Mark Sanchez will be the determining factor in deciding how far the Jets go this season. If you are to believe what Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff are saying, Sanchez is ready to make the leap from game manager to weapon. Sanchez has shown flashes of solid play in the preseason, but his last start against the Giants was like a replay of the issues from last season. Sanchez struggled to convert on third down and missed a few easy throws against a depleted Giants secondary. Working against Sanchez, at least in the beginning of the season, will be the upheaval in the receiving corps.

Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are gone (to San Francisco and Pittsburgh, respectively) and have been replaced with Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress. Burress was excellent in the Cincinnati game, did not catch a pass against the Giants, and battled nagging injuries to his ankle and back in training camp. The injuries severely limited his reps for the first few weeks of training camp. Mason barely played in the preseason, dealing with his own injury concerns. Burress is 34, 2 1/2 years removed from his last regular action, and Mason is 37 and clearly on the downside of his career. The Jets are not counting on 1000 yards from either guy, but they need some production from these two if they are to improve as a team from 2010. Like most Jets fans, I'm excited about rookie WR Jeremy Kerley, but if we're counting on him for production right away, it will affect Sanchez.

There are a lot of qualities to love about Mark Sanchez, namely his poise and leadership and his ability to play well when the money is on the table. However, he absolutely has to be more accurate this season for the Jets to be considered serious contenders.

As for the defense, this is probably the least concerned I've been heading into a season about one side of the ball. The starting defense looked fantastic for most of the preseason, and, barring injury, I expect them to be outstanding all season. The Jets have finished within the top 3 overall during the first 2 seasons of the Rex Ryan era, and I expect them to match that level of performance, while forcing more turnovers than they did last season. It would not surprise me to see the defense double the amount of interceptions they recorded last season while maintaining the same standard as far as yards allowed per game and per play. I also expect the Jets D to be far better on third and long, which was a problem throughout 2010.

Returning to our original questions, I think the jury is still out as far as being a better team than we were in 2010. The Jets are counting on production from several new veterans and some young players, like Muhammad Wilkerson, who will start on Sunday against the Cowboys at Shaun Ellis' old position, and Kyle Wilson, our first round pick from 2010 who should see a lot of action anytime Tony Romo spreads the field. If they get that production, they will be better than the 2010 New York Jets. If not, they will struggle to make the postseason for a third straight year, which would be a first in the history of the franchise.

One thing is certain; the Jets will need to improve from last season to play in their first Super Bowl (and win it) since the 1968 season. Can they do it? Absolutely. It's a long season. The Jets don't have to be world beaters in September, but they can't expect to let New England run away and hide, settle for a wild card, then run the gauntlet in January on the road against 3 very good teams. We've seen how difficult that is over the last 2 postseasons.

Kickoff against Dallas on Sunday is at 8 pm.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The History of Pro Football

When I began this blog last year, I intended to mix commentary on what interests me, along with occasional simulations of both pro and college football using the great site During the bowl season last year, I ran a tournament featuring the top teams in college football in 2010 in an attempt to imagine a world without the crooked bowl system.

It didn't take long for people to ask me, "I didn't know that Wisconsin was playing Boise State last night." I soon realized that it may be better to have a separate blog for simulations, a site where I can replay NFL history from 1941 to the present day without interrupting the blog entries about real sports.

I began The History of Pro Football the other day, with the goal of replaying the postseason of every pro football season for the last 70 years. You can visit the site at or by clicking this link.