Friday, December 23, 2011

Week 16-For More Than Pride

Both the Giants and Jets had a chance to make this week's crosstown battle relatively meaningless as long as they could come through with victories in Week 15. Instead, both teams were hammered into submission, which makes tomorrow's Week 16 tilt a virtual elimination game. The Giants were in a position to win one of their last two to get into the playoffs, with the seemingly easier game against Washington, but they played poorly last Sunday in a 23-10 loss. The Jets had a chance to put a stranglehold on the #6 seed, but instead were blown out by Philadelphia, who almost dropped a 50-burger on the vaunted Jets defense.

Truth be told, I had written a rather long blog post on the Jets playoff prospects that was magically erased by the wonderful Blogger system, and I don't have the time or inclination to recant every brilliant word of it (sarcasm). Suffice it to say that the Jets must win tomorrow against the Giants and next week in Miami and they will find themselves in the postseason for the third straight year for the first time in franchise history. I have no illusions about the Jets being more than a one-and-done team, but it would be nice to find them in the postseason once again.

I truly believe that the Giants are a good matchup for the Jets. The strength of their team offensively is their skill at the receiver position, while the Jets strength defensively is being able to take away receivers with outstanding coverage. The Giants are missing their starting tight end, and the Jets have struggled with tight ends all season. The Jets run defense has been spotty, but the Giants have struggled to run the ball well all season. I think the game will come down to the Jets offensive line and their ability to keep the pressure away from Mark Sanchez. If they can keep the pocket clean, the Jets have an excellent chance to win.

Both teams have engaged in an inordinate amount of trash talk over the last few days, including the Giants receiving corps choosing to take on Darrelle Revis (of all people). Normally, this plays right into the Jets' hands, as the Jets seem to use trash talk to hype themselves to a level of intensity that their opponents struggle to match. Both the Jets and the Giants have been truly mediocre all season, so anyone who pretends to know exactly what we're going to get from either team is fooling themselves.

The Jets still control their destiny for the postseason; win this week against the Giants and next Sunday in Miami and the #6 seed is theirs. Virtually every other scenario that involves a loss to either team would leave the Jets needing so much help to get in that it would be highly unlikely to happen. The Giants are in the same position, needing a win against the Jets and a victory at home against Dallas in Week 17 to win the NFC East. The stakes are higher for this game than perhaps any game between the teams ever.

Kickoff tomorrow from MetLife Stadium is at 1 pm.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Week 15-A Trip Down The Road

The Jets won their third straight game last Sunday against Kansas City, 37-10, in a game that was not even as close as that score would indicate. This game was easily the Jets best performance of the season. The offense started (inexplicably) with a timeout, then proceeded to dominate both lines of scrimmage. The Jets broke to a 28-3 lead, holding the Chiefs to a total of four yards of offense in the first half. Mark Sanchez was efficient, scoring four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and playing mistake-free football, and Shonn Greene had a career-high 187 yards from scrimmage. The Jets played the way a good team is supposed to play, putting away a lesser opponent at home with a complete performance on both sides of the ball.

New York has picked the right time of year to be rounding into form. They were fortunate enough to get losses from both Tennessee and Cincinnati last week, which means that the Jets now control their playoff destiny. If they win out, they get the #6 seed and a trip to play the #3 seed during Wild Card weekend.

The first (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) step to that path is today in the late window against Mike Vick, Shady McCoy, and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have been disappointing, never living up to the hype generated by their rash of free agent signings before the season, but they did look pretty good last week in dispatching the Dolphins. The Eagles pass rush was able to generate nine sacks, disrupting Miami in an easy win. The ability (or inability) for the Jets to handle that pass rush will be the key to the game. When Sanchez has time and space to step up in the pocket, he is much better decision maker and a more accurate thrower.

If the Jets are able to protect Sanchez enough so that he can be efficient throwing the ball, the rest of the Jets offense flows like water. The Jets defense has to deal with a big play offense that leads the NFL in plays of over 20 yards. The Eagles will take chances to make big plays, which means there are opportunities to force turnovers for their opponents. The Jets lost Jim Leonhard for the rest of the season last week, which means for the second consecutive year, the back end of the defense will have to cope with different personnel during key late season matchups. I expect the Jets to handle the situation better than they did last season.

This will be a difficult test for the Jets, but will reveal much about who they are as a team. The Jets have struggled on the road all season, and, to advance in the playoffs (if they get there) they will need to prove to themselves that they can travel anywhere and win. There is no better time than now to begin teaching themselves that this, and all other things, are possible.

Kickoff from Philly is at 4 pm today.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week 14-No Room For Error

I began to think this week that it's possible to qualify for the 2011 postseason without having a significant victory over a good team. Perhaps the best team they've beat all season is the Dallas Cowboys, who are as inconsistent as any team in the league. The Jets picked up a 34-19 victory over Washington last week by, once again, struggling to move the ball all day before putting together 21 points in the last 4:49 to come from behind for victory. Shonn Greene ran for 88 yards and 3 TD, although the last one should have been a kneel down, as Greene proved that he still doesn't really understand situational football.

We are four games from the conclusion of the regular season. The Jets last four opponents are Kansas City, at Philadelphia, New York Giants, and at Miami. The experts will have you believe that the Jets schedule leads to the easiest route to the final wild card in the AFC, but, when your team is inconsistent, there are no easy roads. The Jets haven't provided me with any indication that they will control the Chiefs today and provide a dominant win. Wherever the 2011 Jets wind up, it will be a struggle to get there.

Today, Kansas City pays a visit to MetLife Stadium with a 5-7 record and an inconsistent backup QB in Tyler Palko. The Chiefs lost their best offensive player (Jamaal Charles) and their best defensive player (Eric Berry) early in the season, and their grit is admirable considering how they've battled all season despite being undermanned. Their front seven is legit and it will be difficult to score against them using long drives.

The Jets secondary must take advantage of the opportunities they get (and they WILL get opportunities) to force turnovers. Tyler Palko has thrown 6 picks in 102 attempts, and looks lost against most defenses. The way the Jets mix coverages, I don't expect for the picture to suddenly clear up for the young QB. Kansas City should struggle to score against the Jets defense unless the offense coughs up multiple turnovers.

I expect the Jets to apply a conservative approach offensively, using the run to win time of possession, and keeping Sanchez on schedule to keep him out of difficult second and third and long. Sanchez won last week by avoiding mistakes. Even though he went through a stretch of the game where he completed about 3 out of 15 throws, he kept his head and avoided the big mistake. When Sanchez avoids the big mistake, the Jets are able to stay in the game against virtually everyone. But...when Sanchez has a big turnover, the offense isn't prolific enough to overcome it.

Rex Ryan seems pleased with the way his team has reacted to this very winnable stretch of games. The way things are breaking for the Jets, they will need to win all four of these games to get into the playoffs. If the Jets can handle their business today, they will be able to head to Philadelphia believing that they can continue the winning all the way to the postseason. A loss to the Chiefs, however, will effectively end the Jets hopes for the postseason. The Jets can ill afford another loss, much less another conference loss.

Kickoff from MetLife stadium is at 1 pm.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Week 13-On to Washington

The New York Jets were fortunate to escape MetLife Stadium with a 28-24 victory last Sunday. They lost the turnover battle, gave up an efficient game to Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and survived yet another day of inaccuracy from Mark Sanchez. However, trailing by three with five minutes to play, Sanchez led the Jets on 12-play, 82-yard drive that he concluded with a bullet to Santonio Holmes for the game-winning TD. The defense held on Buffalo's final drive, preserving the victory.

There was an unsettling nature to the entire contest. The Jets decided to reward Stevie Johnson with a one-way ticket to Revis Island, and, for the first time in three years, an NFL receiver actually enjoyed his stay there. Buffalo must have seen that you can complete all manners of screens, crosses, and slants when Revis is not pressing the line of scrimmage, and also must have trusted Fitzpatrick enough to make those throws accurately. As a result, Johnson caught 8 passes for 75 yards and a TD.

Johnson's day wound up memorable not for his success against Revis, but because of his TD celebration and his drops in the fourth quarter. After scoring a touchdown to give Buffalo a 14-7 second quarter lead, Johnson decided to celebrate by fake-shooting himself in the leg and duplicating Santonio Holmes' airplane celebration, ending with crashing the airplane to the turf. The referee gave Johnson a perfect 15-yard score for his routine. The ensuing kickoff was mishit by Dave Rayner, and, after the now departed Emanuel Cook recovered, the Jets had the ball at the Buffalo 36. Four plays later, Plaxico Burress, the subject of Johnson's celebration joke, was in the end zone with a tying touchdown. Johnson would go on to drop a post route on Buffalo's last drive that would have put the Bills in the red zone with plenty of time to score, if not in the end zone with the winning touchdown. Johnson would eventually be fined $10K by the league for his poor taste.

As we collect more and more evidence of who the 2011 Jets are, the conclusion should be that they are an average team. This team looks destined for 8-8, or perhaps 9-7. There is no element of the game on which the Jets can truly rely. Their offense lacks the quickness and speed needed to score quickly, and Sanchez normally lacks the precision to sustain the big drives needed to score methodically. The defense has improved against the run, but their front seven features a lack of speed from sideline to sideline, and, while their pass defense is normally very solid, they lack the pass rush necessary to beat the best quarterbacks. They normally have to send five (or six) to get there. Any team that protects well will have plenty of time to carve us up.

Will the Jets ever be able to put all of the pieces together and play a complete game against a good team? Well, luckily for New York, the rest of their schedule lacks any really good teams. The Jets travel to Washington today to face the 4-7 Redskins, who lost six of seven after beginning the season 3-1 before beating Seattle last week. Washington has a pretty good defense and a solid pass rush, but their offense has been unsettled all season, as Head Coach Mike Shanahan vacillated between Rex Grossman and John Beck at QB, neither of which should really be starting for an NFL team. The Jets used to be pure money on the road, especially against a team that's under .500, but the hallmark of an average team is that you never know what to expect. New York may find success early against Washington, or they may struggle the entire game like they did two weeks ago in Denver. Anyone who pretends to know what to expect from the Jets, even people inside the organization, are fooling themselves.

It's not hard to imagine this lack of consistency eating away at the team's psyche. How the team reacts to their current situation will speak volumes about Rex Ryan and his coaching staff, especially that we are now in December with only five games left. The Jets are currently 6-5, one game behind Cincinnati for the final wild card, tied with Tennessee and Denver. The Jets have five conference losses, including losses to teams like Baltimore, Oakland, and Denver, so they are not likely to win any tiebreakers for playoff position, and most likely will have to win at least four of five to close the season to have a chance at a wild card. In order to achieve this goal, the Jets must find the consistency that they have lacked all season, and put together complete performances, 60 minutes at a time, beginning today in Washington. It will be difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Kickoff in suburban Washington is at 1 pm.