I’m Coming Home: Halfway Through NFL Season (NFC)

Justin breaks down the NFC at the mid-point of the season. Who are the real contenders?

If the playoffs started today, the Bengals would lead the AFC in wins and get a home playoff game. Take a few moments to breathe, loosen your tie, and try and remember that there are 4 divisional games remaining for the Bengals, 2 of which are against the Ravens, and 2 of which are against the Steelers. The Bengals will win none of those games, if not for only the fact that both the Ravens and Steelers playoff chances hinge on divisional wins against the shakiest team in the hardest division of the AFC.

Enough hating on the Bengals….for now.

Let’s look at the playoff picture in its entirety, starting with the NFC. The Falcons notoriously took Julio Jones in the first round and gave up two draft picks. That will come to be one of their best draft moves for the next 5 years. While the Falcons are currently ranked as the 7th best team against the run, that will probably bump up to the 15th by the end of the season. The Falcons defense has two first round picks at defensive line, one at linebacker and one at defensive back.
There is a formula to the Falcons that makes it one of the potentially greatest offenses in the league. They have their big power running back with Turner, their safety valve in Tony Gonzalez, and two of the top 15 receivers in the NFL. Roddy White and Julio Jones will be huge threats in the second half of the year, especially anywhere indoors.

The problem for a defense facing the Falcons in the second half of the year is that they understand how to roll their three headed dye with precision. If you get double coverage on either receiver, check down to Gonzalez, if Gonzalez has double coverage, find one of three on the outside, and if the defense drops 2 deep and man coverage on both receivers, run it up the middle. Packers have more explosive receivers, Bears have a better running back, but no one has a tight end as good as Gonzalez unless you count Hernandez and Gronkowski for the Patriots as one unit.

The only issue I have with the Falcons is the fact that they have only one quality win this year. Philly? No Vick. Colts? No Manning. Detroit? My feelings on Detroit are mixed, and I think they have a few more losses throughout the year as people start to pick up on how to stop Calvin Johnson and confuse a still relatively inexperienced Matthew Stafford.

Moving on. As I described previously, I have mixed feelings on the Lions. They have flash on defensive line and at receiver, but I don’t think they have enough experience to dig themselves out of a hole against a playoff team when the weather gets cold and Matthew Stafford is asked to find guys that aren’t Calvin Johnson. Next year? Sure, Lions easy playoff team. This year, I still can’t see them getting out of the first round of the playoffs, even though they have three first round picks on their defensive line and the 6th ranked pass defense halfway through the season.

The Saints. Next to Green Bay, the Saints have the best offense in the league. In fact, I would call the Saints the Big Brother to the Packers, if only because of experience in the playoffs. Are they a better overall offense? That depends on if you consider the running game as important as the passing game. The Saints easily have the best tandem at running back in the NFC. Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram is the best 1-2 potential, and there is simply no argument against the potential of Mark Ingram as a power running back in the second half of the season if he can stay healthy.

The Giants, despite the strange tendencies of their offense to be able to run the ball, pass the ball, and then not be able to do those things in the same game, still have the best defensive line/linebacking core in the NFC. This despite the fact that Goff and Sintim are on IR for the rest of the season. If they can get a shutdown corner with Prince Amukamara, then the Giants defense will be able to get nearly as insane as the Jets do in terms of blitz variety and amount of guys they can send to rush the passer.

Someone completely out of their mind may assume the 49ers are the second best team in the NFC. That sort of proclamation can easily be countered by looking at the number of quality wins they have. Philly? Didn’t have their team together yet. Lions? A team so up and down you never know what you’re gonna get. They will face the Giants, Ravens and Steelers, and most likely lose 2 out of 3 games there. Those defenses will show everyone that they are at least a 4 loss team.

Where will I give the 49ers credit? For finally utilizing the pieces that should have been walking all over the NFC West for the past 3 years. Mike Singletary was a great player. He was a below average coach and the turnaround by Harbaugh is most likely split credit between the coach and the division.

Look at what they’ve had. Justin Smith is a 2 time Pro Bowler. Patrick Willis is a 4 time Pro Bowler who will be the only linebacker to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ray Lewis. Vernon Davis averages 12.7 a catch and has over 29 receiving touchdowns as a tight end. They had pieces, and the fact that the 49ers took a defensive back in the third round and the sixth round while grabbing another linebacker in the first round makes it clear that Jim Harbaugh is going to have the perfect mix of youth and experience on defense. The fact that they did not take a quarterback in the first round may have been the best decision by the front office in years.

The Green Bay Packers have caught that Patriots bug of luck mixed with insanely efficient quarterback play. Cullen Jenkins? Gone. Nick Barnett? Gone. Nick Collins? Out on injured reserve. They get Jermichael Finley back, resurrect the youth of Donald Driver, and sling it to Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Greg Jennings in no particular order. They’ve got their future linebacker tandem of Hawk and Matthews for another 7 years and the secondary is stacked with young value talent. The only thing more terrifying than this year’s Packers is what next years Packer’s will look like when Randall Cobb finds his role at receiver and their two tight end draft picks (5th and 7th round) start to see more playing time.

By the end of the season, look for the 49ers to win their division easily, sneak in at 11-5, and lose at home to either the Lions or the Saints. The one thing I think can happen is the rematch of Falcons/Packers in the divisional round. If the Giants play the Packers I think they’ll be able to get to Aaron Rodgers, but only for a half. He will exploit the middle of the field and keep the pass defense on their toes. The Packers are much harder to scheme for than the Patriots. There has been a torch passed, whether people are willing to admit it or not.

TOJ Mid-Season NFL Power Rankings

TOJ with his mid-season NFL Power Rankings. How much do you disagree?

Your mid-season NFL Power Rankings from TOJ, but first a necessary and brief rant

It is hard to mentally fathom the crimes committed by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. It is almost harder to fathom the protection he received from the infrastructure of the University he coached at. It does appear now that Joe Paterno won’t be back next year and he shouldn’t be. It is time to clean house. Clear the school and every last shred of any person who didn’t do everything in their power to report the crimes they were aware of. This situation is nothing short of sickening and to watch an institution placed over the safety of children is a disgrace. Hang your head in shame Happy Valley, your reputation will forever be tarnished.

1. Green Bay Packers (8-0) – It is hard to think that they don’t have a real shot of going 16-0.

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-1) – They should have that division clinched any day now.

3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – It was huge for this franchise to get a sweep of Pittsburgh.

4. New York Giants (6-2) – Pretty amazing what they have done considering their injuries.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) – They may have to go on the road in the playoffs this year.

6. New Orleans (6-3) – Some inconsistencies but they are hard to beat when they are on point.

7. New York Jets (5-3) – If their defense plays like that, they could beat anybody.

8. Detroit Lions (6-2) – Now in battle with Chicago for second place in the NFC North.

9. Houston Texans (6-3) – They should roll the rest of the way in the AFC South.

10. New England Patriots (5-3) – Incredible how awful their defense has become.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) – I’m not sold yet.

12. Chicago Bears (5-3) – Gutsy win over Philly will keep them very relevant for second half of season.

13. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) – A chance to assert themselves as serious contenders this week against New Orleans.

14. Dallas Cowboys (4-4) – A soft schedule will give them a shot to hang with the Giants.

15. Buffalo Bills (5-3) – The early season hype seems like a long time ago.

16. Tampa Bay Bucs (4-4) – The “Youngry” Bucs haven’t lived up to expectations this year.

17. Tennessee Titans (4-4) – They have 8-8 written all over them.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) – Playoffs looking like a long shot after killer loss to Chicago.

19. San Diego Chargers (4-4) – The awfulness of their division keeps them a contender.

20. Oakland Raiders (4-4) – See above.

21. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) – See above.

22. Denver Broncos (3-5) – See above.

23. Carolina Panthers (2-6) – They will be fun to watch the rest of the year.

24. Minnesota Vikings (2-6) – Will be competitive with Christian Ponder under center.

25. Cleveland Browns (3-5) – How bad is that offense?

26. Washington Redskins (3-5) – See above.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) – See above.

28. Miami Dolphins (1-7) – Glad they don’t suck enough for Luck.

29. Seattle Seahawks (2-6) – Hey, they are in second place in their division.

30. Arizona Cardinals (2-6) – How much did they pay Kevin Kolb?

31. St. Louis Rams (1-7) – Frustrating step back after last year.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-8) – It is hard to think that they don’t have a real shot of going 0-16.

TOJ Roundtable Week 9 – Jets/Bills Predictions

The TOJ writing staff submits their picks for the Jets week 9 showdown against the Buffalo Bills

Joe Caporoso: Check the 12 Pack

TJ Rosenthal: Jets Win If – They stop Fred Jackson. The Bills offense can be contained in the air for two reasons. First, their WR combo of Stevie Johnson and David Nelson won’t stand a chance to Darrelle Revis should the Jets choose to lock either one of them up. The Bills TE Scott Chandler has 6 TD’s but has been targeted just 18 times all season. The Jets get exposed when TE’s force safeties up in coverage. By shutting down the passing game the Jets can attend to Jackson who has been rushing for 5.5 yards per carry (132-721 yds).

We expect a balance on offense for the Jets with Shonn Greene being effective. The Bills defense has allowed 4.9 yards per carry to opposing backs and Greene is coming off his best three games of the season (62-269 yds 4.3 avg). Look for Holmes to breakout or contribute greatly this week in a winning scenario. The media spotlight on his “happiness” will only add motivation.

The Jets Lose If: They can’t stop Jackson and Mark Sanchez throws too many interceptions. His 5 INT game against the Bills as a rookie is a mere coincidence for this concept. Our point is, if Sanchez even manages this game, then Greene can burn down some clock so  the Bills can’t put up their 30 point average. However, if Fred Jackson helps open up the Bills offense for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick by keeping Rex honest and backed off of the line of scrimmage, then a poor decision making game by the Jets QB could be enough for Buffalo to tip the scales. Even in a game played by both teams scoring in the low 20’s. Containing Jackson, while protecting the ball on their own half of the field is the way to get out of Buffalo alive. Even WITH the understanding that attacking downfield must be mixed in by Schotty at times.

Chris Celletti: If the Jets have proved anything under Rex Ryan, it is that they play their best when their backs are against the wall. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that their season rests on what they do Sunday in Buffalo. A loss is potentially crippling with the Patriots coming to town in Week 10. The Jets simply have to win this game, and I think they respond. It will hinge a lot on the Jets’ offense, an offense that simply has to put up points to beat the Bills. Buffalo has been very good on offense all year, with Fred Jackson being one of the best backs in football, and the Jets’ run defense having been suspect. On the other hand, Buffalo’s defense is statistically one of the worst in football.

I expect the Jets to give a healthy dose of Shonn Greene to try and control the clock and keep Ryan Fitzpatrick on the sideline (who would have ever thought that would be the strategy against the Bills?) In the end, I think the Jets make just enough plays on both sides of the ball, perhaps forcing a few key turnovers as the defense steps up in the second half. The Jets set up a showdown with the Patriots as they knock off Buffalo, 26-20.

Rob Celletti: Following the Jets in the Rex Ryan era, there have been a lot of stories written about the dangers of a team that “believes its own hype” and its eventual downfall.  Strangely, this week could potentially flip the script.  Yes, the Jets got some of their swagger back before last week’s bye, but is there a sexier team than the Buffalo Bills in 2011?  Media and casual fans are enamored, and the team’s confidence couldn’t be higher.  Well, that all comes crashing down to earth this week for the Western New Yorkers.

There will apparently be a “white out” at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with the home fans matching the home team’s all-white get-up.  But the Jets have not only played in, but thrived in more hostile atmospheres.  I expect the road warrior Jets of 2009 and 2010 to show up big for this game.  Buffalo is 4-0 in home games (including last week’s Toronto game), the Jets are 0-3 on the road.  As Michael Kay would say, “Do you believe in ‘due’?”

Do not forget that the Jets have embarrassed this Bills over the past few seasons with a relentless rushing attack, and I expect Shonn Greene to rack up another 100+ yard performance and punctuate it with a score or two.  Joe McKnight will be dangerous as well.  Santonio Holmes is also going to reel in a touchdown and post close to 100 receiving yards.  The Jets’ defense will shut down Ryan Fitzpatrick’s receivers, and they’ll pick off the Harvard man once or twice and turn it into points the other way.

The Bills have been a good football team, and I don’t mean to disparage them, but they’ve benefited from some pretty fortunate bounces (see the multiple interception games by Mike Vick and Tom Brady, for example).  I just have a feeling that their luck runs out this week, just as the Jets start to get rolling.

The game will seem close, but Mark Sanchez will throw a late touchdown to Dustin Keller to put this game on ice.  Jets 31, Bills 20.

Jets vs. Bills: 12 Pack Of Predictions

TOJ with 12 predictions for the Jets/Bills week 9 match-up

What is better than fall in NYC? Here is a November 12 Pack to, as we gear up for a monster weekend of NFL Football –

1. Shonn Greene is going to run for over 110 yards and his third touchdown of the season. Joe McKnight will also receive his most offensive touches so far this year.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to struggle against the Jets defense, being sacked multiple times and having at least one turnover. Stevie Johnson will have a minimal impact in this game.

3. Fred Jackson will have over 120 yards of total offense and score at least once. The Jets are going to miss Mike DeVito if he doesn’t end up playing this Sunday.

4. Brad Smith will make at least one big play in this game. However, Joe McKnight will break off one big kick return that directly sets up points for the Jets offense.

5. Aaron Maybin is going to have not one, but two sacks in his most extensive action of the season.

6. Mark Sanchez is going to throw for about 200 yards and one touchdown. He will be in the game manager role for most of Sunday, until late in the game.

7. Santonio Holmes will have at least 65 yards receiving.

8. Dustin Keller will get back in the end-zone for the first time since week 2.

9. Antonio Cromartie will be called for at least two penalties.

10. Brian Schottenheimer is going to call one of his best games of the past few years. How’s that for a crazy prediction?

11. Buffalo will gain their yards but the Jets will frequently hold them to field goals and keep them out of the end-zone.

12. This will be a tight game in the final minutes of the 4th quarter, but it will be Mark Sanchez not Ryan Fitzpatrick who leads the big scoring drive late as the Jets will win 23-19.

NFL Week 9 – Smart Bets

Chris Celletti with his smart bets for week 9 in the NFL. Who are you putting your money on?

When the Jets have a week off, I take the week off from the NFL. I know I’m in the minority, but just as Mark Sanchez and company need their rest, I need my mental health time away from football. Week 9 brings an excellent slate of games, maybe the best week of games overall this season. Here in the New York metro area, it’ll be that rare time where Jets fans are rooting for Big Blue. Personally, whenever it seems like I have to root for a team I normally root against, they never come up big. Let’s hope I’m wrong, and this week the Giants come up with a big victory for both New York teams.

Giants -9 at Patriots and the OVER (51)

This will be a shootout. I really don’t think the Patriots should be nine point favorites over anyone at this point with that defense. Well, maybe against the Broncos if you-know-who is at QB. But Eli Manning is playing as good as he ever has, and even if Hakeem Nicks can’t go I still think the Giants will put up a lot of points. However, you don’t want to face Tom Brady and the Pats in Foxboro when they’re coming off a loss. The G-Men will have trouble covering Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and don’t sleep on the Pats’ running game in this one. I think it is a close game that goes down to the wire, with both QB’s putting up huge numbers.

49ers -2.5 at Redskins

Who’s quarterbacking the Redskins at this point? The Redskins rank 21st against the run, and Frank Gore has been a monster recently (while also saving my miserable-but-somehow 5-3 fantasy team), and I expect him to have another huge day. If the line were a little higher I’d be skeptical with the cross country trip and early start. But by just a field goal? I’ll take San Fran.

Steelers -3 vs. Ravens and the UNDER (41.5)

I’m going with the Steelers solely on the revenge factor. Pittsburgh really hasn’t been all that impressive this season, even with beating the Pats last week. Sorry, I won’t go wild about a Super Bowl-winning QB shredding that New England pass defense. They are that bad. But the Ravens haven’t been anything special either so far. They should have lost to the horrendous Arizona Cardinals last week, at home no less. The Steelers have had this one circled on their calendars (although I doubt James Harrison has an actual calendar anywhere) since the Ravens’ Week 1 beatdown. Also, I’ll set the over/under of plays that will result in fines in this game at 4.5, and likely take the over.

BONUS NON-FOOTBALL BET OF THE WEEK

Alabama -4.5 vs LSU

Eh, nevermind. I still won’t watch a second of this game. #getaplayoffsystem

New York Jets Defense: Can They Rise To The Occasion?

TOJ wonders if the New York Jets defense has the personnel to slow down Buffalo’s high powered offense

The Buffalo Bills have surprised this season led by a high powered offense. Running back Fred Jackson is playing as well as any back in the league and possesses the type of game breaking ability on the edges that has given the New York Jets defense fits this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacks a spread attack that is built around his quick release and timing.

In terms of Buffalo’s passing attack, the Jets are built to stop them. They have the corners to match-up with their receivers, who have the ability to be physical enough with them to disrupt their timing and push them around the field. Aaron Maybin is going to lead a charged up pass rush that should have the ability to get after Fitzpatrick.

It is going to come down to stopping Jackson both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, if the Jets defense wants to have a respectable showing on Sunday. There still remains a chance Mike DeVito won’t play this weekend, which means the pressure will be on Muhammad Wilkerson and the rotation of Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua at end to set the edge, along with Calvin Pace at outside linebacker.

When it comes to covering Jackson out of the backfield, that is on the safeties and extra corners. I would expect the Jets to spend most of this game with 5 or 6 defensive backs on the field. Kyle Wilson and Brodney Pool should play the bulk of the game and need to help in run support, along with disrupting the short passing game.

The Jets defense played their best half of the season against San Diego. They now need to build on it against a better offense.

New York Jets Ground and Pound Should Lead Way Against Bills

The New York Jets rushing attack needs to carry them to a victory against Buffalo

Over the past few years, the New York Jets have destroyed the Buffalo Bills with their rushing attack. Even though Buffalo is improved in 2011, it doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled stopping the running game. The Bills have allowed at least 100 yards rushing in every game this season up until last week, where they were facing the pathetic Washington Redskins. Overall, they don’t have a strong defense but have been able to thrive off turnovers and creating points from them. Their high powered offense is truly what has led the way to the Bills early success.

Enter the Jets, who have been improving their running game and have a quarterback, who despite improving is still prone to a few erratic interceptions here or there. It shouldn’t take a genius to compose the blueprint for a victory this Sunday: run the football and don’t turn the football over, by limiting the number of pass attempts. The ground it out game-plan, will keep Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson off the field, where they can’t rack up another 30 point performance.

This is the type of game where Shonn Greene’s 20-25 carries needs to be supported by another 12-15 from the LaDainian Tomlinson/Joe McKnight combination. The Jets should be relentless with their rushing attack, as they have the talent on the offensive line and at running back to dominate the Bills front seven. Mark Sanchez can take his shots, but they should be few and far between and built to take advantage of Buffalo overreacting to the Jets commitment to the run by stuffing the box. If the Jets offense is running the way they should, you can bet Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller will be able to get wide open down the field off play action.

There appears to be some swag returning to the Ground portion of the Jets “Ground and Pound,” which is good timing because the cold weather is here and the formula for this team’s success is built around confidence, running the football, and smashmouth defense.

TOJ Week 8 NFL Picks – Extended Edition

TOJ with his week 8 NFL picks. Who are your best bets?

Last Week: 5-6-1 (Yikes)

Season Record: 52-46-3

TOJ Week 8 NFL Picks (Lines courtesy of BetUS)

Indianapolis (+8.5) vs. Tennessee Neither of these teams are quite as bad as they looked last week. I do think the Colts are truly awful but they will show some pride on Sunday and keep it close against Tennessee, who doesn’t have the firepower to blow them out.

Jacksonville (+9) vs. HoustonSimilarly, neither of these teams are quite as good as they looked last week. The Jaguars defense will keep them competitive.

Carolina (-3) vs. Minnesota Carolina will get their second win a row heading into their bye week. Cam Newton and Steve Smith have this team light years ahead of where anyone thought they’d be this season.

New Orleans (-14) vs. St. Louis I am not sure people really appreciate how terrible St. Louis is this season.

Baltimore (-13) vs. ArizonaThe Ravens should take out their anger on a pitiful Cardinals team this Sunday.

Giants (-10.5) vs. Miami The Suck For Luck tour loses in New Jersey for the second time in three weeks.

Buffalo (-6.5) vs. WashingtonOh, Canada. Jets nation will be rooting for the Redskins but won’t receive any help.

Detroit (-4) vs. DenverNot sure I can see Tebow winning two games in a row.

New England (-3) vs. Pittsburgh The Patriots have owned Pittsburgh, period. I hope it changes but there is no reason to think it will.

San Francisco (-9.5) vs. ClevelandThe 49ers should be able to rack up 11-12 wins this year considering their schedule.

Philadelphia (-3) vs. DallasThis could really go either way. I will take the home team.

Kansas City (+4.5) vs. San DiegoThe Chargers are still drowning in their tears from last week.

A New York Jets Exam Part 1

TOJ, Green Lantern, and The Jet Report debate out 20 key questions facing the New York Jets the rest of the season

Get comfortable in your seat, print out a copy and take it on the train, or get ready for an extended lunch break. Jeff Capellini from CBS New York, TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, along with myself have taken the time to answer 20 crucial about the New York Jets on their bye week. Enjoy, disagree, argue…let’s get after it —

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY

1. What does THIS Jets team have (or not have) that will allow it to move beyond the AFC Championship game.

JEFF: Personnel-wise, the Jets have enough to get to the Super Bowl. They also have the great intangible called belief. What they don’t have yet is a cohesiveness. And when you get to conference title games you have to be a united front on the field and in the locker room to beat the upper echelon teams, especially in their buildings. If the Jets make the playoffs, they are not going to zip through, only to face a wild card team that went on a miraculous run, in the championship game. It just doesn’t work that way. Odds are, they could go to New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, you name it. They have to learn how to take that last step and it’s not something you can teach. It’s a matter of experience, execution and coaching. It’s that simple. You’d think if they are truly back and get this thing revved up they’ll be one of the most difficult outs in the entire postseason. But, again, simply making it yet again is not enough. There are no gimmes in the playoffs. Sooner or later they have to truly come together, and I mean for more than 30 minutes at a clip.

JOE: I don’t think talent is an issue here and the experience is clearly in place for the Jets to make a Super Bowl run. The difference is going to be how stingy will the defense be in January and if Mark Sanchez can put together a few big time performances at the right time. It is very likely the Jets could end up in the wild-card again, which means road victories over some combination of New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh need to occur for the Jets to finally make it to that elusive Super Bowl.

TJ: For many on this Jets team, there is the collective experience of having battled on the road through two straight AFC playoff runs now. That’s alot of adversity to fight through together. As for new pieces, Plaxico Burress could be a difference maker in the red zone as he was last week. The Jets were red zone failures over the past two seasons. What they also may have added, should they choose to use it, is more speed on offense thanks to Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley. On the defensive side, if Aaron Maybin continues to settle in, others like Calvin Pace may benefit. In that scenario you could argue that by December the Jets will have the pass rush that was not at their disposal either during the ’09 and ’10 seasons.

2. Looking back, are there any August roster changes you’d like to have back? Or attacked differently?

JEFF: I might not have let Shaun Ellis walk, but he got a king’s ransom from the Patriots, one that the Jets would have been laughed at for matching or exceeding. However, they are still, reportedly, well below the cap and the defensive line, while improving at a snail’s pace weekly, is still not a strength. I kind of think having Ellis around would have been a good thing for the Kenrick Ellises and Muhammad Wilkersons of the world. Plus, who knows? Maybe Shaun could’ve still made some impact plays at opportune moments. The bottom line is, his return would not have HURT the Jets.

JOE: Plaxico’s recent three touchdown game and the emergence of Jeremy Kerley has calmed me down about Braylon Edawrds and Jerricho Cotchery walking. I do think the Jets are moving around the receivers surrounding Mark Sanchez too much but hopefully he can continue to adjust. Obviously, it would have been nice to see Mike Tannenbaum add a veteran lineman when Robert Turner suffered his pre-season injury.

TJ: We are still uncomfortable with the notion that if Mark Sanchez has ANY sort of issues that could sideline him during a game or even for a week or two, that Mark Brunell, with all due respect to an outstanding 19 year NFL career, is next in line. We would have liked to see a better option handled over in the Summer even though the Jets would tell you that 7th rounder Greg McElroy was on pace to landing a backup role. We wanted a Sage Rosenfels type. An 8-10 year vet who could sling it if needed.

The chase for Nnamdi Asomugha was extensive and may have cost the Jets Brad Smith but the biggest move we’d take back is cutting Aaron Maybin in the first place. Could Maybin have made a difference out in Oakland, where the early season avalanche began? We’ll never know.

3. Whats the biggest fear or danger zone for this team, player or unit, as we enter the second half?

JEFF: If the Jets’ defense continues to be what it was in the second half of the Chargers game, I’m not worried at all. However, even if it is that unit, it’s still not a shutdown unit. The Jets will still allow the occasional running back to have the big game. Tight ends and second and third receivers will still post gaudy numbers. We’ve all heard of “bend-but-don’t-break” defenses. I think that’s what the Jets are, but on a more accelerated level. They are somewhere between bend but don’t break and shutdown. The hope is they will continue to make strides toward the latter, especially over the next two weeks.

JOE: The fear is the defense allowing teams to run the football on them. There is no Ground and Pound, if you allow another running back to rack up 150 yards. It is messes with the approach of the entire team and forces the offense to play too aggressively.

TJ: The biggest fear we have is cohesiveness on the field. The Jets are, barring a major change, seeing the extent of what Mark Sanchez can give the team consistently. That is leadership, hot streaks, and the ability to come from behind. If the Jets run game keeps growing, and the defense begins to cement while adding players like Maybin into the equation, then the load  that Sanchez wlll be asked to carry can remain reasonable. If parts break down too often though, the team will have to ride the arm, and decision making of Sanchez. Two traits that are best served when keeping his stranglehold on games within reason.

4. After the spreading the ball around and featuring big pieces like Burress, Greene and Keller last Sunday, is it safe to say that Schotty and the offense have a solid handle on their approach now?

JEFF: I’m confident this offensive line is very close to being what it was last season. I think it has gotten over its adjustment period, which was caused mostly by injuries and these new and somewhat absurd CBA rules on padded practices. Shonn Greene IS a No. 1 running back. He moves the sticks. Mark Sanchez is a better quarterback than he was last season. Plaxico Burress is still a premier red zone target. The Jets just have to do a better job of complimenting Greene with LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield and as a receiver, must not forget about Dustin Keller, which they have been prone to do, and must get the ball in Santonio Holmes’ hands. He cannot be catching 2-3 balls a game. He’s their quickest way to the red zone. Brian Schotteheimer must find new and inventive ways to get the ball in No. 10’s hands. He changes games.

JOE: I don’t think it is safe to say that after one game but they are definitely moving in the right direction. Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller should be the top targets in the passing game, with Burress being the primary threat in the red-zone. Kerley is a third down weapon. The running game should feature Shonn Greene getting around 20 carries each week, while LaDainian Tomlinson chips in 7-10 touches as a runner and receiver. Joe McKnight needs a few packages where he can catch and run the ball in space and will gradually become more involved as the season goes on.

TJ: They better. If last week was a fluke rather than the template moving forward, then the Jets will be spotty on offense in the second half and be forced to win games solely through the work of the special teams and the defense. A strategy that has a limit to it’s effectiveness without a killer pass rusher. Last Sunday, the Jets got everyone involved which kept everyone mentally in the game. This stretched the field enough to create room for Shonn Greene to run. The only way that the Jets offense can be counted on to uphold their 24.6 points per game average is to keep doing more of the same.

5. What can we expect of Wilkerson and Ellis? How high is the ceiling of Aaron Maybin as a pass rusher this year and beyond?

JEFF: I think 3-4 years from now the Jets will have serious pieces with Kenrick and Muhammad, but for now you just have to hope they continue to show the flashes they’ve shown and live with the disappearing acts. Jets are a scheme-based defense anyway, and they generate their pressure off the blitz. Maybin has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s nowhere near a polished player. He gets to the QB for sure, but he’s mostly a straight-line or speed rusher. The guy needs to learn some moves because sooner or later wise tackles will just push him outside rather than engage him at the point of attack.

JOE: Wilkerson and Ellis look like they can be building blocks on the defensive line for years to come. In Rex’s system they won’t be flashy players but will be key components in stopping the run and pushing the pocket. Aaron Maybin really only has a couple of things going for him, his speed and motor. However, in Rex’s system he may have found a perfect home. I do believe he can be a double digit sack this year and beyond.

TJ: Wilkerson and Ellis will have their moments. The best case scenario has them making impacts in a few games, or on a few game changing plays. Their time as terrorizing beasts upfront is off in the not so distant future. Maybin’s time may be now. Maybin is fast, his pursuit can wreak havoc when plays are extended. All three have a bright future at this point, but Maybin can be a difference maker for this team. He may HAVE TO continue his pass rushing growth if the Jets hope to reach Indy.

6. If the “bad” Cromartie rears his head too often, are you comfortable throwing Kyle Wilson at the corner yet?

JEFF: I think anyone waiting for Kyle to become a shutdown corner at this level may be waiting a while. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a responsible and useful part of this defense. He’s improved over last season. His reads have been much better, but for the time being I think you just have to live with Antonio being Antonio because he has more upside as a “big play player” than Wilson has. And on a defense that features just one true star, the Jets need all the big- and game-changing plays they can get. Take the good with the bad with Cro and keep Kyle zoned rather than out wide, where there is less margin for error.

JOE: You know what you are getting with Antonio Cromartie, which is inconsistency. I don’t think the quick hook is the right answer as the Jets need his size and speed on the outside. Beyond that, Kyle Wilson is starting to thrive in the nickel role which is a crucial one in the Jets defense. I wouldn’t mess with that anytime soon.

TJ: No. However, we are a heck of alot more comfortable with him now that he is playing the ball and his head is turned around, than we would have been had he been forced into a starting corner role last season. Wilson’s growth in roles  such as a nickel cover guy, a blitzing weapon, and a spy, along with Maybin’s blindside speed, give the Jets added elements to last year’s defense. The second year CB’s confidence is certainly growing. That bodes well should he be forced to spell Cromartie or provide health insurance for EITHER cornerback position. As scary as that is to say, considering what a thought like that means.

7. Will Joe McKnight’s role increase?

JEFF: It almost has to, but it’s hard to say it will because even Tomlinson disappears for long stretches of games. And that’s not because LaDainian is no longer a viable talent. Schottenheimer has yet to find a balance with his RB personnel.  We know Greene should be a 20-plus carry back. We know Tomlinson should be a 5-7-carry back and more of a pass-catching threat. Where does that leave McKnight, a guy with tons of talent and more maturity? It’s hard to say. If in the average game the Jets runs 60-65 plays from scrimmage and want a 50-50 run pass balance, you are looking at 30-33 touches for RBs. Well, if Greene is getting 20-25 and Tomlinson 5-7, that’s 25-32 right there. I think McKnight could be the true change-of-pace back the Jets need, while Tomlinson at this point should be in sets where he’s split out wide or used as the primary back, but only inside the opponent’s 5-yard line.

JOE: I do think it will, but the Jets still need to figure out exactly where to fit him in this year. In the long term, he is a perfect change of pace back for Shonn Greene. For this year, with LaDainian Tomlinson still in the mix it remains hard to get him many touches. Yet, the Jets must get him going in the screen game and use his receiving skills by splitting him out.

TJ: We hope so. Making McKnight a player who is part of 5-7 plays, even as a play action decoy, gives the Jets the threat of big play speed that they haven’t had under Ryan since Leon Washington was around. Speed kills. McKnight has already proven that this year on special teams. It’s not easy to find guys who cause oppoments comcern simply by lining up. Number 25 would have to be treated by defense with respect should he be sent out into the flat for a pitch outside or for a fake that could allow Sanchez to roll out in the other direction with less defenders on his heels.

8. Assess the safeties so far. Some argue that it’s time we see more of the athletic Brodney Pool.

JEFF: It probably is time to see more of Pool. He’s sound in most aspects. But, truth be told, Eric Smith, Pool and Jim Leonhard are undersized and do not cover very well. I think finding a do-it-all safety is one of the hardest things an NFL front office has to deal with on a yearly basis. Ronnie Lott doesn’t grow on trees. So, unless the Jets go out and get lucky on the open market, I think you have to rotate Pool and Smith and play off their strengths depending on the situation. I’d trust Pool more on the opposing side of the 50 due to his speed, but I’d be fine with Smith when the field gets shorter.

JOE: On paper that does make sense, but Pool hasn’t been very good when on the field this year. The Jets will have a patch-work situation at that position for the rest of the year. A playmaking safety isn’t easy to find but the Jets need to try, especially in the early rounds of next year’s draft.

TJ: Why is there so much “miscommunication” going on back there as I believe Leonhard claimed there was last week when rookie LB Josh Mauga was frantically running for his life to cover Antonio Gates in the end zone. Plays like that are happening too often and they shouldn’t, given the experience that Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith have during their time in New York together.

Covering tight ends has been a nightmare again for the Jets who may want to leave that up to corner guys like Wilson, and Donald Strickland instead of Smith. Does Brodney Pool get what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan want? If so, get him in on more plays. He hits hard. so even if he’s late to the ball, someone is gonna get dialed up, perhaps leading to some turnovers.

9. Are the Patriots better than the Jets? If so, in what ways and how much better?

JEFF: At the end of the day I see this matchup as a wash. It all depends on when on the calendar they meet. Earlier in the season is better for the Patriots because the Jets’ D is so complex it takes quite a while for the players to get comfortable in their roles. Later in the season is better from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, the Jets should always be able to move the ball and put up points on the New England defense because it’s simply not that good. The Pats have more “stars” on offense; the Jets are much more sound defensively. I just think the Pats know how to put teams away, while the Jets, due in part to their offensive philosophy, always seem to find themselves still being forced to move the ball on offense in the fourth quarter instead of just letting the defense preserve victories. It’s not by design and that’s the main reason the Jets hover around 9-11 wins instead of 12-13 and securing home playoff games.

JOE: On a week to week basis, yes they are a better football team. They are more consistent and have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history under center with a ridiculous collection of weapons. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean the Jets aren’t more than capable of beating them in a few weeks and again in the playoffs if it comes to that. A few weeks ago, the Jets played far from their best game and hung right with New England. They have confidence against them, which goes a long way.

TJ: The Patriots of week 6 were better than the Jets. We’re not so sure if they will be by week 9. This Jets team has the roadmap to success now, thanks to a second half against the Chargers that helped highlight key blueprints. They have found their identity of spreading the ball around and stretching the field in order to open up the run game. This while locking down the corners, covering tight ends with nickel guys, and putting some heat on the pocket with Maybin and Calvin Pace. McKnight and rookie Jeremy Kerley provide the field positon in the return game. There is still room to grow for the Jets so the jury is stlll out. Falling behind by two games by failing to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this current group earlier, makes it tougher to win the division though. Obviously.

10. How can the Jets compensate for their shortcomings on defense, particularly at safety and outside linebacker?

JEFF: By getting to the quarterback. I can’t state it any clearer.

JOE: Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine. They have the ability to coach around those shortcomings, which existed last year but still didn’t prevent the Jets from beating Indianapolis or New England on the road.

TJ: By working Brodney Pool into the safety rotation for more athleticism and aggressive hitting. By rushing guys like Wilson on passing downs and again, asking Pool and the safeties to play the outside run a bit more. This would leave Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis on their own more often so Cro would HAVE TO think less and react more on his island. We all know that Revis can handle any coverage assignment by himself.

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY

New York Jets Bye Week – A Call To Arms

In response to Rich CImini, Justin with a solution on how the New York Jets should handle their bye week

The NFL bye week is a vicious assault on the glory of the organized violence we call football. It makes even the most brutal of thugs snap out of their psychopathic routine and fall backwards toward reading trash like Twilight on their wife’s kindle, spending time with their children, and going to pansy events like poetry readings at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Hell even Ray Lewis spent his bye week writing a pacifist manifesto to be handed out to the protesters at Occupy Wall Street.

Upon the start of bye week, all cell phones should be temporarily disconnected and every player should be taken on a 13 hour bus ride to Binghamton (a place once called, by it’s own sheriff “the place where hopes and dreams die”), where they will begin readying themselves for the inhuman brutality of the east coast winter.

Upon arrival in the 9th circle of hell, the lineman, in an effort to slim them down and tone them up, will be given a rucksack consisting of raw meat and various bottles of unlabeled whiskey. The raw meat will be accompanied by a small roll of kindling and a flint to start a fire. The whiskey can be used either for the treating of turf infections or to accompany the meat.

A nice 5 day survival expedition into the wilderness of upstate New York would do wonders for team morale. Let’s start with the defense, because after all, if you can chase down a grizzly and tear it to pieces with your bare hands, tackling starry eyed quarterbacks trying to find tight ends on a hitch route would look as difficult as beating the Seahawks in Madden 12. Though there may be a few armless quarterbacks, the constant influx of young talent from college would give guys like Tony Pike and Pat White a second shot as an NFL starter.

An alternative: Drop the whole offensive line into the heart of Trenton at 3am and see if defensive ends are as intimidating as the thought of having to duck into some project building in efforts to avoid the intermittent stray gunshot. I’m pretty sure if guys like Colin Baxter were able to manage getting themselves out of Trenton in the hour of the demon, the defensive stunts of the Buffalo Bills would not be as complex as they seem today. To illustrate, the showdown between offensive lineman and the opposing defense would look like Michael Douglas trying to pay for his soda in Falling Down.

Running backs are not spared, as they should all be sent to the nearest army obstacle course and forced to scale 50 foot rope walls while holding on to a football caked in Vaseline, followed by a nice 50 yard swim across an alligator infested lake while holding onto a 20lb medicine ball. It will be beautiful…receivers being forced to run through a paintball field while avoiding fire from both sides….all sorts of mortars, land mines going off in the distance akin to the first day of Navy Seal training….there will be a point when the sheer will to get to the end zone will outweigh childish fantasy football stats, the game clock, or even what some call being “down by contact”.

Yes the bye week will allow these things and so much more. A hand to hand combat version of capture the flag, a friendly game of rugby with the only athletes who seem to make NFL players look like they have a paranoid fear of injury, and even some good old bare knuckle boxing would make the Chiefs recent fascination of bean bag toss look as dainty as the exercise routines of golfers.

Football is a wonderful game, but as Terrell Suggs and Scott Van Pelt said, it’s getting soft. Time to throw out the moisturizer.