Friday, October 21, 2011

Week 7-Revis Again

The Jets got what they needed on Monday night, a 24-6 victory over Miami that evened their record for the season at 3-3. Darrelle Revis came up with the kind of performance on national TV that will only enhance his reputation as the game's best cover man, and, at least for my money, the best defensive player in the NFL. Revis had three tackles, four passes defended, and two picks, including a 100-yard interception return that gave the Jets a lead they would never lose. Although the Jets needed a win more than anything else, their overall performance was nothing spectacular. The offense started out the game with four consecutive three and outs, playing at a snail's pace and with no sense of urgency. It took until the final possession of the first half before the offense was able to establish any kind of rhythm.

This continues to be an issue for the Jets, and I would imagine that it will be an issue for the rest of the season. The offense seems incapable of playing with any kind of pace or sense of urgency. Mark Sanchez gets to the line of scrimmage, and, whether his snap count includes legitimate instructions or dummy audibles, there is an endless stream of verbiage that usually concludes with Sanchez screaming, "Kill! Kill!" then rushing to get a snap off as the play clock strikes zero. As a result, the Jets offense always seems to be reacting instead of forcing the action. Until Sanchez settled down and made a few good throws to lead the Jets to a score at the end of the half, it seemed like a very real possibility that the Revis TD would have to hold up for the whole game.

It's hard to evaluate the Jets against a Dolphin team that looks like they are headed towards 2-14 or 3-13. New York's next 4 weeks can put the team in position for another playoff run, or effectively remove them from contention. This week, the San Diego Chargers pay a visit to MetLife Stadium, as the two teams face off for the first time since the Jets victory in the 2009 AFC Divisional Playoff game. The Chargers are a very talented team that always seems to underachieve, but, this year they're off to a solid 4-1 start and have a chance to assume control of the AFC West. Normally, it's a good thing for an east coast team like New York to face a west coast team like San Diego in the early window on Sunday, hoping that the team from the west will be a little sluggish at that hour. Of course, Rex Ryan made sure that the Chargers were paying attention in his weekly press conference, where he took some shots at Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner, stating that he would have a few rings already if he had gotten the Chargers gig back in 2007 when Turner took over.

By now, we're all used to this routine from Rex. It's a fairly simple plan; control the media narrative by making the game all about him, putting his team in position to have to back up the big talk, and keeping the attention off of his own team's struggles. Instead of talking about the non-existence of Plaxico Burress, the inaccuracies of Sanchez, or the disappointing performance of Shonn Greene, we're talking about Rex's mouth, which is just what he wants.

All I could think about on Monday night was how much better the Jets would have to play to beat San Diego. We're almost at midseason and the Jets have yet to be play a complete game on both sides of the ball. They will need a complete game against the Chargers, and the next 2 games at the Bills and home for the Patriots. It's almost November, when the better teams begin to separate themselves from the rest.

Kickoff on Sunday is at 1 pm.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Week 6-The Season

Since we kickoff in about 75 minutes, I'll be brief.

The season hangs in the balance tonight. If the Jets hope to be a playoff team in 2011, they must win tonight against the Dolphins. New York was fortunate yesterday, with Buffalo to the Giants, and the Raiders losing Jason Campbell most likely for the season. A 2-4 record heading into San Diego, BYE, at Buffalo, New England would not be good scenario for the Jets. I believe that the Jets must win 3 of the next 4 to be in any type of position for an AFC Wild Card berth. Miami has had success in our place for a few years now, but that must end tonight.

The way the offense has looked over the last several weeks, an early score would go a long way towards giving the starting unit some confidence that they can sustain drives. A total of 8 three and outs against New England has the offense busting apart at the seems, with a swarming media anxious to pick at the scabs of their fragile team chemistry. There are times when Rex Ryan's bluster is a valuable asset. Forcing his team to fully commit to cash the checks he is constantly writing with his mouth has been a unifying force for all 53 guys every Sunday since he took over in Florham Park.

With the team now seemingly moving in several different directions at once, Ryan has to begin to build his team's confidence starting tonight at home against a team that has clearly struggled all season. One game at a time and slowly climb back into this thing.

Kickoff is at 8:30 pm at MetLife Stadium.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Week 5-The Ballad of Blotchy Chad

Chad Pennington took over the Jets starting QB job in 2002, and, barring injury, held that job for the next 6 seasons, starting 61 regular season games and 5 more in the playoffs. For the most part, I felt confident with Pennington under center, however, if you hit Pennington enough, like in the playoff loss to Oakland after the 2002 season, he would develop large red spots on his neck, as if to visually signal that he was being rattled. Once Pennington turned into Blotchy Chad, it was a wrap for the Jets.

Mark Sanchez has adopted the visual tell as well, wearing the hangdog look of the beaten man when things start to go poorly. When Sanchez begins to pout like a child, there is no chance for him to perform well for the rest of the day. Last week against the Ravens, Sanchez made crushing mistake after mistake, committing 4 turnovers, 3 of which were returned for touchdowns in a 34-17 loss to the Ravens. The loss left the Jets at 2-2 at the quarter pole, mediocre in ever possible way, too buoyant of talent to sink, and too devoid of leadership and strength up front to swim.

The hardest part of success in the NFL is figuring out what type of team you have and figuring out which style best fits your personnel. The Jets gambled that the receiving corps they had acquired would be the strength of the team, and that Sanchez would be able to be accurate and wise enough to be efficient. Coupling Sanchez with a dominating defense would lead to success. At least, that was the plan.

Through 4 weeks, here's what we know about the Jets; their front seven is slow and unable to sustain a pass rush without a blitz. The defense can't set the edge, and a back with speed is going to cause a world of problems. Offensively, we can't run the ball, so we are left with Sanchez throwing 30-40 times a game, hoping he avoids a crushing mistake throwing to receivers who can't separate, in front of a line that can't protect. We are very fortunate to be 2-2. If not for the comedy stylings of Tony Romo, we would be 1-3, with the lone victory over a craptacular Jaguars team.

I spent a lot of time looking at Jets fan sites last Sunday night after the Ravens debacle, and, for the most part, the Jets fans were giving Sanchez a pass, blaming the horrible offensive line for his failings. Even if Sanchez is getting popped on every play, it's his responsibility not to turn it over. On the first play of the game, he took a three-step drop, looked at his first option, then tried to check to a second option. On a three step drop, the ball has to come out. Sanchez has to know this. On the only turnover that didn't result in a Ravens touchdown return, after an accurate snap bounced off of Sanchez' hands, he ambled after the ball like a man chasing loose pieces of paper in the wind, with no sense of urgency. He was a beaten man, and it showed in every aspect of his play.

If the Jets hope to succeed in Foxborough later today, they will need an excellent performance from Sanchez and the defense. They will need to avoid mistakes and find ways to hit Tom Brady. It's not an impossible task, but it will require much more than the Jets have shown this season so far. It's a chance to save their season, and keep alive the high hopes of August. A loss will send the Jets further into the abyss, searching for answers to turn the season around.

Kickoff from Foxborough is at 4 pm today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Week 4-The Limits of Soft Power

For 2+ years, Rex Ryan has built a solid foundation with the Jets based on several tenets; the ability to run the ball, play solid special teams, tackle well, and stop the run. He has used this formula to record a 26-15 record in his tenure in Florham Park, using a veteran defense and a young QB, as well as one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Last week in Oakland, the veteran defense was exposed as slower and less physical than previously suspected in a 34-24 loss to the Raiders. The most disconcerting piece of news? The Jets gave up 234 yards rushing to the Oakland offense, even when they knew they had no real reason to respect their passing game.

The Jets are entering the most difficult stretch of the season. The next 4 weeks will likely determine whether or not the Jets are going to compete for a division title, fight for a wild card, or sit home in January; at Ravens on national TV, at Patriots in the late window, home to Miami on Monday Night, and home to San Diego before the bye. The Jets need to emerge from this portion of their schedule with a winning record if they hope to be a playoff team. They need to win at least three of these four games if they hope to compete for the AFC East title.

Normally, even a difficult portion of the schedule would not seem like such a daunting task, but the Jets are a team searching for an identity through the first three weeks of the season. The 2009 and 2010 Jets ran the ball first, but an inability to get a push at the point of attack has rendered the Jets a pass-first team. Rex Ryan hinted at this in the preseason, that the Jets strength was in their receiving corps, but perhaps he was aware that the Jets may struggle to run the ball, needing Mark Sanchez to pick them up and produce yards and points in the passing game.

Sanchez has been far from spectacular through three weeks, but he has been more accurate and far more prolific than usual. The problem for the Jets is that their power running game was such a benefit to the rest of the team; their ball control attack left their defense off of the field, and kept them fresh throughout the season. The Jets are throwing the ball on 62 percent of their offensive plays in 2011, meaning that the way the offense is playing, while more prolific, is not making life easier for the defense. The best teams in the NFL know who they are and always play to their strengths. The mediocre teams struggle to identify how they should attack, how they should defend, and are stuck reacting to their opponents, instead of dictating when and where the game will be decided. So far in 2011, the Jets fit into the second category, although the season is young, and there is plenty of time to turn it around.

The Jets are off to a 2-1 start, so there is no need for alarm, even though the hordes of Jets fans around the country may feel otherwise. The key for this team is to improve every week, and establish an identity that allows the team play their best football. The ground and pound days may be over for the Jets, especially with a young improving quarterback and the need to produce points quickly in today's game (the topic of the modern NFL looking like a glorified seven-on-seven game is one for another day).

Like most Jets fans, I love Rex Ryan, love what he's done for our team and our franchise's brand nationwide. Any opponent on the Jets schedule is not looking forward to the matchup, knowing the Jets bring their defense and a physical attitude to the game. Any way you slice it, the Jets got pushed around in Oakland as Darren McFadden ran over, around, and through the defense. I would imagine that every team on the Jets schedule took notice of the film, and will try to exploit what is now the league's 31st ranked run defense, at least until Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine get it fixed. The first team to try will be the Ravens with Ray Rice tonight, and, if the Jets fail again, we will see this every week until it's fixed. Not being able to stop the run is the most depressing way to lose. No team wants to feel physically overmatched at the line of scrimmage.

There has been a method to Rex's madness through the first 2+years of his tenure. He is bold to the media, thereby taking the pressure and focus off of his team and on to him. As a result, the team can focus away from the distracting, white-hot spotlight of the NY media. There have been times over the last several seasons where the Jets seemed to play with a desperation borne of not wanting to let their coach down, out of trying to prove that his belief is rooted in something real and tangible. There now seems to be limits of this type of co-option, as many in the media have began to dismiss Ryan's yearly Super Bowl predictions as Rex being Rex, and the effort of the team, especially the defense, seems to have waned to the extent that Mike Pettine actually talked about it to the media during the week.

Hopefully, the constant talk about the Jets spongy softness last Sunday will have enough of an effect to produce a win in Baltimore later tonight. The Ravens are a talented squad with perhaps four future Hall of Fame players patrolling their defense. Expect a tightly wound game similar to last season's 10-9 scrap to open the season. The Jets must force mistakes from the Ravens offense, and they must capitalize on those mistakes to produce points is they hope to move to 3-1, and not face another week of questions before heading to Foxborough.

Kickoff from Baltimore is at 8:20 pm EST tonight.