Yesterday was a confusing football game to watch. In many ways it was a disappointing showing but ultimately how disappointing could a last second win be?
The New York Jets aren’t a great football team in 2011. They are a clear cut level below Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, and Houston within their own conference and haven’t given any reason to believe they are better than Oakland, Cincinnati, Denver, or Tennessee. However, I don’t know if they were a great a team in 2009 or 2010. They did a few things great and simply got hot at the right time.
The problem with this season, is that they don’t do anything great. Their running game has shown flashes but has been average throughout the year. The defense has had their moments but overall is far from being one the league’s elite units. There is talent in the passing game but all the pieces of it, most notably the quarterback, have been wildly inconsistent.
Can this New York Jets team once again get hot at the right time and start to be great in a few key areas? This team does still have a unique, clutch ability to win close games as demonstrated by victories over Dallas, San Diego, and Buffalo this past week. I know Tebow Christ broke that trend this year…but he is breaking every conventional trend in NFL history the past few weeks.
On offense, it starts up front. The offensive line has been up and down. Yes, they had a strong performance yesterday. Can they do it against a pass rush and defensive line that isn’t as pitiful as Buffalo’s? We will find out soon enough with the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants on the schedule.
The running game sets the tone for this unit, especially since Mark Sanchez thrives off play action. Yet, Shonn Greene looked banged up yesterday despite his 6 yards per carry. It was a savvy move to hold LaDainian Tomlinson out for another week because the Jets will need him at 100 percent, especially if Greene isn’t up to the task of 20 carries per game. Joe McKnight is coming on strong so there is no reason the Jets can’t muster up a respectable running game between their three backs. Give Greene 12-15 carries. Give Tomlinson and McKnight 7-10 each and let them work the screen game.
A nice part of yesterday was the Jets rediscovering Dustin Keller. The Jets passing attack needs him as Sanchez’s safety valve and a red-zone target. Plaxico Burress is getting better each week and should be a major weapon on both third downs and in the red-zone for the rest of season. Santonio Holmes is the big play threat and more of an effort needs to be made to get him catches in space and down the sideline. Jeremy Kerley will return from injury this week and gives the Jets some needed speed in the slot. These weapons all sound great but they won’t matter if Sanchez doesn’t find some measure of consistency.
Sanchez’s mistakes are typical of rookie quarterbacks, only he isn’t a rookie anymore. He can’t lock on to one receiver. He can’t throw the same route repeatedly into triple coverage. We watched him take command of the offense on the final drive and make multiple big time throws and plays…that type of urgency must be present from the first snap of every game, or else he risks moving down a career path similar to the quarterback he will be facing this week, Rex Grossman.
On defense, there is no way around certain realities. The Jets have one of the slowest linebacker groups in the NFL. Bart Scott epitomizes this and is in the midst of a thoroughly subpar year. Calvin Pace may be a three-down linebacker, but is an extremely liability when he has to cover and he can longer get after the quarterback. Bryan Thomas is being missed in a big way because Garret McIntyre is a below average starter at best and the Jets are running out of options to turn to. On the whole, outside of the always stellar David Harris, the Jets just don’t have a very good linebacker core right now.
The secondary is the next concern. We know the safeties are an issue because of the speed, size, and athleticism they lack. Brodney Pool got a bigger opportunity yesterday as he returned from an extended injury absence and struggled. However, similar to last year he should get better as he gets his legs back under him. Antonio Cromartie is disturbingly inconsistent to the point that the Jets may need to consider benching him in favor of Kyle Wilson for at least a few series a game.
The special teams have been great this season, outside of the mind-boggling five turnovers, two of which have come at the hands of Cromartie who now needs to be permanently be off any kick or punt return duties. With Jeremy Kerley returning from injury, only him and Jim Leonhard should get the chance to return punts. Joe McKnight has never looked comfortable back there and has already muffed one this season.
How do the Jets make a run?
Rex Ryan gets creative on defense to cover his shortcomings. How about more 4-3 looks, since the defensive line has been better than the linebackers this year? The line has shown a ton of depth and versatility between Sione Pouha, Muhammad Wilkerson, Mike DeVito (who is now injured), Ropati Pitoitua, Marcus Dixon, Martin Tevaseu, and Kenrick Ellis. Ryan should be coming with looks that roll these players between nose tackle, defensive tackle and end, which will also equal less reps for McIntyre and Scott who deserve a substantial cut in playing time. In the secondary, it should be more Pool and Wilson, coupled with less Smith and Cromartie. It will be unconventional looks that give Aaron Maybin more reps at end and outside linebacker, as he now leads the team in sacks with five.
The offense finds a three-headed monster by figuring how to properly balance Greene, Tomlinson, and McKnight. A quality running game opens things up in the passing game for Sanchez who is under less pressure and won’t be dropping back 35 times a game. Plax keeps being Plax. Dustin Keller remains involved and Santonio Holmes starts producing more big plays. The special teams? They just don’t turn the ball over.
They may not be able to do anything great but the Jets have enough talent to be good at everything, which will give them the ability to get hot against subpar competition. As of now, the Jets are still breathing and each week that passes with them still breathing makes them that much more confident and dangerous.