In a post game speech Sunday night, Bill Belichick called Pats LB Rob Ninkovich a”Jet Killer” after his game ending strip of Jets QB Mark Sanchez. Ninkovich’s pick six last year, in a key matchup also for first place, blew a 10 point game wide open. A play that sent the Jets who at the time were 5-3, reeling. The Jets can desperately use their own game changing pass rusher among the front seven over these next nine games.
Imagine the storylines that would be taking place had the Jets held onto the slim 3 point lead they owned with 1:30 left in Foxboro. Mark Sanchez would be hailed as the emerging leader of a young new offense. Rex Ryan would be the gutsy coach who never flinched as key injuries mounted. Trusting in his draft picks and defense instead. Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller would be written about as valuable cogs once again, and Jeremy Kerley a rising star. Tim Tebow would not be on this week’s radar for anyone except for Tebowmaniacs.
Leave it to a blown lead and a devastating loss to erase any hopes of those angles becoming headlines, or in the case of Tebow, a non story just yet. You are what your record says you are and at 3-4, few will find it suitable to note individual success stories amidst the moral victories that have piled up since the Jets almost shocked then undefeated Houston on Monday night back in week 5.
The Jets didn’t pressure Tom Brady on the final drive in regulation out of fear of sending a secondary member in, risking a big play weapon for the Patriots left open for a big gain in the process. After all, Ryan couldn’t rely on a base defense flushing Brady out of the pocket. Therefore the Jets HC chose to win the game with one big play through a strength in numbers back in pass coverage.
Ryan’s choice to “drop eight” was because no one Jet has emerged in the front seven as a player who can help close out games before they head the wrong way.
Up front, first round pick Quinton Coples is not quite there as a reliable force yet. Mo Wilkerson has made plays but is not eating up QBs week in week out in his second year either. NT Kenrick Ellis was developing into a pile pusher but has been sidelined with a recent knee sprain. Mike Devito and Sione Pouha lead the charge of veteran run stoppers, but can’t be expected to effect obvious passing downs.
The linebackers? Aaron Maybin was perhaps the club’s best hope of a trustworthy sack specialist heading into 2012, but too many third and short yardage situations have limited his time on the field. When he has been out there as a passing down only player, his inability to develop anything aside from his patented speed rush has left him as one who has become too easy to block.
Calvin Pace and Bart Scott have slowed, and David Harris is too valuable as a tackler to send in. Rookie Demario Davis is getting more time now (60 plus snaps Sunday to Bart Scott’s 9) but has yet to earn the tag of “certified blitz weapon.”
The Jets have a much better secondary than New England. A more reliable defense all around in fact, despite having given up on average, one more point a game on the season (Jets 24.3 ppg Patriots 23.3 ppg). They lack a game changer who can disrupt pass plays behind the line of scrimmage though.
The Jets offense is beginning to settle in both on the ground and through the air thanks to the resurfacing of Greene and return of Keller from the hamstring injury. Mark Sanchez’s TD to interception ratio with Keller (6TD 2 int, 104.6 QB rating) is vastly better than his numbers without the Jets valuable tight end (3TD 5int 55.0 QB rating) are.
In fact, in the past three games the Jets as a team have scored 88 points. This 29 point average is a major step up from the 18 points they averaged per game before the Santonio Holmes injury.
All of this means that if any one area needs an immediate upgrade it is not in the scoring department. It is defensivley, namely the pass rushing with the game on the line. The NFL nowadays is clearly a quarterback driven league. The Jets and Ryan have to somehow find a way to develop one of their defenders up front into a guy who can help thwart these gunslingers during crunch time.
Should they be able to, the Jets, whose playmakers on offense are starting to show signs of collective production, may be able to turn gut wrenching losses such as the one last Sunday, into wins. A change that may be the difference between a playoff berth or a second straight year without one. In a season where the tepid AFC is still so very much for the taking.