New York Jets: Wins Are Good, Right?

Rob Celletti wonders what it will take to keep New York Jets fans happy

It is a funny game they play in the National Football League.  Sometimes, the post-game discussion and analysis is even funnier.

This past Sunday, the New York Giants won an important home game against the upstart Buffalo Bills.  A 24-24 nailbiter turned on a late red zone interception by the Giants’ Corey Webster, setting up a game-winning field goal for Big Blue.

On Monday morning, the New York media heaped praise upon Tom Coughlin’s team, and rightfully so.  The Giants were feeling “Super” (wink, wink) at 4-2 heading into their bye week, and Eli Manning was praised as an elite quarterback, despite not throwing a touchdown pass in the Giants’ victory (and nearly being intercepted to kill the eventual game-winning drive).

On Monday night, at the very same stadium, the New York Jets won a game by 18 points, against a division opponent that always challenges and plays them close.  Similarly, this game also turned on a red zone interception, complete with a highlight film 100-yard run-back, the only moment which garnered a significant reaction from the lifeless MetLife Stadium crowd.  Darelle Revis’ goal-line interception righted the ship for the Jets, who settled in for an eventually comfortable, if imperfect 24-6 victory.

But if you picked up a newspaper, logged onto a blog, or listened to a sports-talk radio show on Tuesday, you’d have thought the Jets lost.  The main talking points hadn’t changed much from what they were when the Jets were mired in a 3-game losing streak: the quarterback was inconsistent, the running game was not explosive, the defense gave up too many yards.

Isn’t winning supposed to be fun?

I am aware that the Buffalo Bills are a much better football team than the Miami Dolphins, who are probably now considering full tank-mode so they can draft Andrew Luck.  But my point in comparing the two scenarios is to bring to light just how asinine and absurd some of the post-game analysis of the NFL truly is.

A lot of people made the point on Tuesday that if Revis’ pick-six doesn’t happen, there’s a strong chance the Jets don’t recover from a 10-0 deficit and lose the game.  First of all, there’s no way to prove that.  Secondly, how does the Giants game turn out if Webster doesn’t make his interception?  For that matter, how does any NFL game turn out if key plays don’t happen, or go the other way?  That’s what makes them key plays, right?

And really, that’s what it is all about in the NFL.  The salary cap makes it arguably the most competitive pro sports league in the world.  The “any given Sunday” cliche is one that actually holds true, especially in division games, where you always throw records out the window.  A lot of NFL games are decided by one or two plays.  The Giants were praised for theirs, the Jets were scolded.

Again, I’m under no illusions here.  I know the Dolphins are a lost cause, and that the Jets need to play much, much better football, especially at the start of games.  I’m not apologizing for what I think is a defense that has some holes personnel-wise and an offense that is being held back by their offensive coordinator.  But, the Jets won a game and are right back into their season now.  And oh yeah, they won by 18 points, thoroughly dominating their opponent in the second half.  People seem to have overlooked that.

Perhaps it’s a product of Rex Ryan’s change in the culture of the team, but it seems as though Jets fans are not satisfied with anything other than a 63-0 victory in any contest.  It has gotten a little absurd, quite frankly.  And if you think back to last year, the Jets weren’t exactly juggernauts, either, despite all of the good will an 11-5 season and a 2nd straight AFC Championship Game appearance created.  They needed 4th quarter comebacks and/or overtime to beat some below-average competition.  Their defense looked just as vulnerable last year (at times) as it does this year, especially on third downs and late in games.

People predicting a special season this year from the Jets were probably a bit misguided, which has led to an enormous amount of criticism – some justified, some not – of this .500 team so far.  But in the NFL, it often boils down to one or two plays in a close game.  The Jets aren’t currently great, but they’re probably not far off either.

New York Jets: Flight 1017 Experiencing Delays

After Hurricane Irene rocked the east coast this weekend, it was inevitable that flights would be delayed and cancelled.  But under clear skies Monday night, it was disappointing that Flight 1017 couldn’t get off the ground in New Jersey.

“Flight 1017” of course, is how Plaxico Burress referred to himself and Santonio Holmes in this Tweet yesterday, prior to the Jets’ pre-season game against the Giants in the first inaugural Snoopy Bowl.

The possibilities were certainly there for the Jets to get into a rhythm in the passing game against a less-than-convincing Giants secondary.  The third pre-season game is always dubbed the “most important” of the four meaningless tilts because the starting units usually play more than half of the game, and it does constitute a dress rehearsal for Week 1, of sorts.  So as the Jets have gone through training camp, promising to become a more well-rounded offense with the ability to air the ball out as well as “ground and pound”, fans were hoping for some empirical evidence to support those claims.

What they received instead, was just another day at the office from Brian Schottenheimer and the Jets’ offense.

Now, I realize that it is a tad absurd to criticize Schottenheimer on August 30th, 12 days before the beginning of meaningful football.  But what happened last night is something that Jets fans have seen far too often during Schottenheimer’s five-plus seasons as offensive coordinator: an offense that needed four plays to – barely – get a first down on two occasions; painfully predictable play-calling in all scenarios; a passing offense characterized by poor spacing and bad timing between the quarterback and receivers; zero use of a very talented tight-end.

What makes this so frustrating for Jets fans of course, is the personnel: a gifted, competitive young quarterback surrounded by excellent receivers, supported – often led – by a powerful running game.  Sounds like a recipe for success, and yet, this unit had three games last year in which it did not score a touchdown.

The truth is this: the NFL is a league where it has become increasingly easy to throw the ball.  Last season, 12 quarterbacks threw for more than 3,500 yards, with five throwing for 4,000 or more.  Yet the Jets, even with their plethora of talent on the outside and their match-up nightmare tight end Dustin Keller on the inside (joined this year by Derrick Mason), have seemed to find ways to make the opposite look true.  Receivers don’t get the one-on-one match-ups where they should feast.  Dustin Keller runs the same button-hook patterns and out-routes, never anything down the seam challenging the soft space between the linebackers and safeties.  Sanchez often checks down too quickly (often to Shonn Greene, who can’t catch), rather than going to his third progression on a passing play, despite having a rock-solid offensive line in front of him.

Yes, Santonio Holmes scored a touchdown last night, on the receiving end of Sanchez’s best throw of the night: a 17 yard rocket into a tight space.  On the flip side, Plaxico Burress was held without a catch.

Let’s hope that when the curtain rises, the show doesn’t look like the dress rehearsal.

Ground and Pound? Looking at the Jets Running Back Situation

Just four days into training camp,  Rex Ryan and his Jets have fired off their usual array of verbal salvos: They’ve already uttered Super Bowl guarantees and boasts about how this is “the best roster” in Ryan’s tenure.  But one surprising talking point has been in regards to the Jets’ offense, and how they plan on placing more of the burden on Mark Sanchez and the passing game.

While this is something that many Jets fans have been clamoring for (myself included), it’s also something that may give them reason to pause.

For two seasons, the Jets have not only survived, but thrived on their “ground and pound” philosophy, particularly in the cold-weather months at the business end of the season.  But perhaps the Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is a function of the Jets’ personnel in the backfield, which is far from a sure thing.

Everyone is ready to jump on the Shonn Greene bandwagon, but the only person that really matters in that equation is Greene himself.  His first two seasons with the Jets have been inconsistent; flashes of brilliance one week, absolutely nothing the next.  His game logs prove that point pretty well, so the question remains: can Greene shoulder the load over the course of an entire 17 week season, plus playoffs?

Greene is the de facto number-one because LaDainian Tomlinson is a year older.  After a fantastic start to 2010, Tomlinson’s production predictably dipped as the season wore on, though he remained a valuable option in spots and was an important safety valve for Sanchez as a receiver out of the backfield, especially on 3rd down.  This will be the 32-year old’s only role in 2011, and rightfully so.

Beyond Greene and Tomlinson are nothing but question marks.  Joe McKnight could barely handle training camp last season, forcing the Jets to put him at the mercy of Mike Westhoff on special teams.  Rex even toyed around with the idea that McKnight could play cornerback.  Aside from his monster performance in the meaningless Week 17 game vs. the hapless Bills, McKnight has shown the Jets absolutely nothing that should make them comfortable about him as their third-best running back.  If Greene or Tomlinson is injured, can McKnight fill either player’s void effectively enough?

Beyond McKnight is Bilal Powell, who thus far in camp has yet to really challenge McKnight for the third spot on the depth chart.  It’s early, but how much can the Jets realistically expect out of the rookie?

The Jets’ shift to a more passing-oriented offense is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Plaxico Burress has already tweaked an ankle, Jerricho Cotchery waits in limbo, and we all know Brian Schottenheimer’s playbook often leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the passing game.  The Jets are still going to need a strong running game, probably one that ranks in the top 10 of the league, in order to get where they want to go this season.  Time (and injuries) will tell if that’s a realistic goal.

Two Decades of Jets Quarterbacks – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

TOJ would like to welcome another new writer to our staff, Rob Celletti…weclome aboard! – JC

Some people love to watch players like Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu lay out an unsuspecting wide receiver, others love the rush of a long kickoff return by Brad Smith. Me? I always watch the quarterback.

I don’t just watch the quarterback when a play starts.  I watch the quarterback warm up.  I watch his interactions with coaches and other players.  I watch his mannerisms in the huddle.  If I’m lucky to be at the game, I try to read the defense along with him (not hard from row 23 of section 317 in the New Meadowlands, from which the game looks like a Google Maps satellite photo). 

In my first article here at TOJ, I will look at the Jets quarterbacks that I have watched during my two decades as a fan.  No, the Jets have not been blessed with an all-time great quarterback since Joe Namath. Yet, there have been bright spots sprinkled among some ugly seasons.  So here they are: the Jets quarterbacks, from 1993-2010, in reverse chronological order* –

*This list only includes primary starters and completely disavows the existence of Brett Favre and the 2008 season, the year that made me believe I was going to give up on this team for life.

Mark Sanchez (2009 – present)

What you love: From a technical standpoint, Sanchez is relatively gifted. He doesn’t have the biggest arm but makes up for that with his ability to scramble, improvise and make a big play out of nothing.  He’s a smart kid with the right demeanor for New York and a great work ethic, but the most important thing is his ability to perform in a big spot.  Just take a look at the playoff statistics (all road games).

What you hate: Sanchez has problems with accuracy and decision-making, and the numbers bear that out.  He’s completed less than 55% of his passes and thrown  33 interceptions through his first two full seasons.  Though I don’t want to get into the “body language” discussion, it’s pretty clear that when things go bad for Sanchez, they can snowball rapidly.  He allows his bad throws to turn into bad quarters and his bad quarters to turn into bad games.

Best season 2010 – Led the Jets to an 11-5 regular season record and a second consecutive AFC Championship Game.  Threw for 3,291 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  He led the Jets on three consecutive game-winning drives in the 4th quarter/overtime in weeks 9-11.

Worst season: 2009 – Sanchez’s rookie campaign was wildly inconsistent. He gave fans everything from his inspiring debut vs. the Texans to the infamous color-coded wristband.  Still, Sanchez showed he could compete at the NFL level and win road playoff games.

Chad Pennington (2002 – 2007)

What you loved: Did anyone get more of a kick out of proving people wrong than Chad Pennington?  He was such a fierce competitor and leader, which is what ultimately made the Pennington story so difficult to swallow for so many Jets fans.  With an average-at-best arm battered by numerous injuries, Pennington kept coming back. What made that possible? His football acumen. Outside of Peyton Manning, I don’t believe there was a smarter quarterback in the league during Chad’s time. Also, did anyone throw a better fade route from the half-yard line?  I kid, but Pennington was arguably (and actually IS, statistically speaking) the most accurate Jets passer of all time.

What you hated: The injuries.  Pennington just couldn’t stay healthy, to the point that it became sort of laughable.  The end of Pennington’s Jets career was particularly painful and unjust, as he was released so the Jets could sign Brett Favre.  Of course, Chad had his revenge, leading the Dolphins to the AFC East Championship in 2008, clinching the crown against the Jets at the Meadowlands.

Best season: 2002 – Pennington burst onto the scene in relief of the aging and ineffective Vinny Testaverde. He took over a floundering 1-3 team, and even though he lost his first start, rallied the Jets to a 9-7 record and an AFC East Championship (thank you Travis Minor). The numbers were mind-boggling (in 12 starts): 3,120 yards, 22 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, a completion percentage of 68.9% and a passer rating of 104.2 (both Jets’ single-season records).

Worst season: 2007 – For the most part, the Jets had successful seasons when Pennington was healthy, but that was always the problem, wasn’t it?  2007 was the beginning of the end. Kellen Clemens took most of the snaps as the year progressed, as the Jets were just 1-7 in Pennington’s starts and finished an abysmal 4-12.

Vinny Testaverde (1998 – 2003)

What you loved: Being born in Brooklyn didn’t hurt him, but Vinny is one of the most beloved Jets of all time.  He was a classic pocket passer with a cannon of an arm.

What you hated: Vinny was notorious for his killer interceptions and fumbles.  For his career, Testaverde threw 275 touchdowns, but also 267 interceptions, many of them complete head-scratchers that cost his team games.

Best season: 1998 – Bill Parcells acquired the 35 year-old Vinny and taught the old dog some new tricks,  turning him into an efficient, nearly turnover-free machine.  He threw for a single-season Jets record 29 touchdowns and completed nearly 62% of his passes.  Testaverde led the Jets to a 12-4 record, the AFC Championship game, and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Worst season: 2000 – After rupturing his Achilles Tendon in 1999, shattering the Jets’ momentum coming off one of the best seasons in team history, Vinny came back at age 37 and put together some respectable games in leading the Jets to a 9-4 record after 14 weeks.  But it’s hard to forget how this year ended, in complete and utter heartbreak, with three consecutive losses to the Raiders, Lions (at home) and Ravens.  That loss to the Ravens, on Christmas Eve, is one of the all-time great Jet collapses, largely due to Testaverde’s implosion, in which he threw 3 interceptions and lost two fumbles.

Neil O’Donnell (1996 – 1997)

What you loved: I’ll abstain.

What you hated: Everything?

Best season: 1997 – It’s easy to focus on the negative with O’Donnell, but when Bill Parcells became the Jets’ coach, he coaxed a decent season out of his quarterback, by mostly keeping him on a short leash.  If nothing else, O’Donnell stopped turning the ball over (just 7 interceptions in 460 attempts). The Jets were one win away from the playoffs after going 1-15 in the previous season.

Worst season: 1996 – Started 6 games, lost all 6 and was benched in favor of Frank Reich after an “injury” during pre-game warmups.  The Jets were on their way to an infamous 1-15 season.

Boomer Esiason (1993 – 1995)

What you loved: Long Island born and bred, Boomer came home to play for the Jets after Cincinnati traded him for a third round pick.  Boomer was the consummate professional and deserved better during his time in New York, as he played under three different coaches during the end of the Hess ownership.

What you hated: Though Boomer was more a victim of circumstance and suspect coaching under Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite, he was never the All-Pro quarterback for the Jets that he was in Cincinnati.  As a matter of fact, the Jets had two chances to make the playoffs with Esiason at the helm in 1993 and 1994, but their offense was downright anemic at the end of both seasons.

Best season: 1993 – Boomer made the Pro Bowl in his first year as a Jet, throwing for 3,421 yards and 16 touchdowns (the NFL was a different animal back then).  The Jets finished with an 8-8 record, and even though the offense sputtered down the stretch, fans were optimistic, at least about the quarterback position.

Worst season: 1995 – Boomer went down with a major concussion and missed four games, but that’s not what sunk the Jets to 3-13 in 1995.  The aging Esiason completed just 56.8% of his passes, was intercepted 15 times, and had nearly a career-low 5.8 yards-per-attempt.  The Jets record was 2-10 in the games he started.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for Jets fans in terms of quarterbacks throughout the last two decades. Mark Sanchez has a few things on his side that none of his predecessors did, namely his youth and a stable coaching staff/front office/ownership situation which fully supports him. It’s now up to Sanchez and the Jets to build on the experience from his first two seasons and translate that into consistency, more wins, and a Super Bowl.