New York Jets: The Blueprint For Stopping New England

What is it going to take for the New York Jets defense to keep rolling against the suddenly fading Patriots offense?

We have learned the past two weeks that the New England Patriots offense is far from unstoppable. Pittsburgh and the Giants have both effectively flummoxed Tom Brady in a similar way the New York Jets did in the playoffs last year. In their earlier meeting this season, the Jets defense did some good things but overall had a weak showing, particularly against the run. Since the loss, the unit has steadily improved and appeared to hit their stride last Sunday in Buffalo.

What is it going to take for the defense to continue rolling this week against the suddenly fading Patriots?

The Jets don’t have the personnel to rush the passer the same way Pittsburgh and the Giants do. However, they do have a better secondary which will allow them to send extra blitzers to compensate for their lack of elite pass rushers. The formula to slowing down New England’s offense is to beat up their wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and keep their tight ends double teamed as frequently as possible. New England can run the ball so the Jets can’t overreact to the degree they did earlier in the season to stopping the pass. They spent a good portion of that game with 6 to 8 defensive backs on the field, which allowed BenJarvus-Green Ellis to have a career day.

As a defense, the Jets spend a higher than usual amount of time in the nickel. It makes sense to have 5 or 6 defensive backs on the field for big chunks of the game, especially with how well Kyle Wilson has been playing and with their inconsistencies in replacing Bryan Thomas at outside linebacker. However, Rex Ryan needs to have confidence in his unit’s ability to stop the pass while still keeping enough defensive lineman and linebackers on the field to keep the run in check.

The Jets will receive a nice boost by getting Mike DeVito back in the line-up, who is a big part of their run defense. In DeVito’s absence, the rest of the Jets defensive line rotation has received experience and steadily began to improve. Muhammad Wilkerson is quietly putting together a very good rookie year and Marcus Dixon, Ropati Pitoitua, and Martin Tevaseu are all solid rotation players. The defensive line, David Harris, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace need to set the edge and not let the thoroughly average running back combination of Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead eat up clock.

In the secondary, the Jets are built to play an aggressive man to man style against New England’s wide receivers. Darrelle Revis is Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie has been much better as of late and Kyle Wilson is playing the best football of his career. Wes Welker hurt the Jets on one play in their previous meeting thanks to Eric Smith getting over the top late. Look for more Brodney Pool in passing situations, and for him along with the rest of the Jets safeties to take turns doubling Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Tom Brady isn’t standing behind an elite offensive line anymore and we know that if you get him uncomfortable in the pocket, his accuracy begins to drop substantially. The Jets sacked him 4 times earlier this season, Pittsburgh sacked him 3 times, and the Giants brought him down twice but were constantly putting pressure in his face, forcing him into three turnovers.

It seems that the Jets are meeting New England at the perfect time. The Patriots are known for their offense, which is trending downward. The Jets are known for their defense, which is trending upward. New England has to come into the Jets stadium in prime-time in what should be an electric atmosphere. There are no excuses, as Rex Ryan has a chance to show the whole country his prized defense is back, in a big way.

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.

The Landscape Has Changed For The New York Jets

TJ on how the lessons learned from the New York Jets three game losing streak have created a three game winning streak

The Jets, once 2-3 with no identity and a growing hole to climb out of, have suddenly gained a share of the AFC East lead. Owning a piece of the penthouse that will come as a surprise to detractors, who saw this club as one ready to implode after a brutal early road trip. It shouldn’t. A defense returning ten starters and an offense that has added key pieces, are simply beginning to gel. The Jets are NOT the same team that culminated a three game skid in Foxboro. Gang Green’s crucial Sunday night matchup with the Patriots comes at the right time. As all systems are go.

Hard lessons learned on the road

The Jets learned some hard, but key lessons during each stop of their long losing tour. One sent them reeling and threatened to ruin their season. In Oakland, the club realized their need to tighten the bolts on the edges thanks to the Oakland’s Darren McFadden. Otherwise running backs would roam free down sidelines all year long, like cars in the EZ Pass lane.

In Baltimore, the Jets realized that their chemistry was off. Derrick Mason was then sent packing. In Foxboro the Jets regained their footing on the ground but may have overemphasized the notion of the “Ground and Pound,” after a month of trying to force feed an air attack featuring a third year quarterback and new faces at wide receiver. Balance on offense was needed.

Turmoil subsides and a win streak begins

By the time the Jets returned home at 2-3 for a win or else matchup against hapless Miami, the club faced an uphill climb (the Pats and Bills were 4-1 at the time) back to the top of the standings. The big question at the time however, was not their play on the field, but the team’s unity off of it.

Former Jet hero Joe Namath had started it all back in week three by suggesting on 1050 ESPN that Rex Ryan’s “soft” overconfident approach led to an ambush in Oakland. A Daily News report that the wideouts were unhappy with Schotty then surfaced prior to the Baltimore loss. Suddenly a Jets club that had motivated itself with an “us against the world” mentality under Rex Ryan, appeared to have acquired a cancerous “us against each other” one. The soil was still fertile inside of Florham Park to the outside observer while the offensive line had struggled without Nick Mangold. A three time All Pro who was returning as the Jets headed for Foxboro.

All of those internal dramas however, were symbolically put to rest when Santonio Holmes and Brandon Moore ended their feud by coming out together as captains for the Monday night coin toss against the winless Dolphins. The move was a brilliant ploy by Ryan. What it showed the Jets and the entire nation was that THIS team would not be broken up by weekday quotes and any frustrations borne out of any October troubles. The offense again started slow again that night, but the defense began to ferment, albeit against backup Matt Moore. The result was a 24-6  win. A display that may not have proved the club as Super Bowl worthy, but went a long way towards building the club’s confidence back up again.

Offense and defense rise

Now at 3-3, a key matchup against 4-1 San Diego, helped set the stage for a cementing of the foundation on both sides of the ball. During the losing streak, the defense had been growing, even though the offense was still not in rhythm. Aaron Maybin was resigned in week four, adding speed and pass rushing to the equation. Kyle Wilson provided solid coverage in the nickel and Antonio Cromartie had begun to keep his hands to himself. All while Darrelle Revis was embarking upon what has been up until now, a career year.

The defense looked good against Baltimore. It was the turnovers that killed them THAT night. One week later, despite Ben Jarveus Green Ellis rushing for 136 yards in Foxboro, the defense put pressure on Tom Brady. Miami was dealt with properly as well, despite a long gain outside by Reggie Bush in the first quarter.

Trailing at the half 21-10 against the historically high powered Chargers (who have struggled as of late but were still viewed as a legit first place team at the time) who featured a hot Antonio Gates that day, the defense finally put it all together. They shut out Phillip Rivers, Gates and co. in the second half. This while featuring a spread out passing game and featuring Shonn Greene. Both working effectively in unison for the first time all season. Seventeen unanswered points. 27-21 Jets. A template was now in place for the offense now as well.

Bye week fear is put to rest

Then fears of a bye week layoff reared their ugly head. After all, Rex’s Jets were 0-2 after bye weeks, and looked bad doing it. Trailing both the 5-2 Bills and 5-2 Pats, the Jets flew up to Orchard Park, with a dodgy post bye history and a hot upstart Bills team in their way.

The Jets battled complacency and a fired up Bills home crowd on Sunday by coming out focused, fast, and aggressive. In all phases. Fred Jackson, the Bills go to star, was bottled up all afternoon. The Jet offense itself, was marching up and down the field in the first half. Often times they stopped themselves with too many mistakes, but the club’s ten minute drive on their first possession (resulting in a brutal interception by Mark Sanchez) provided a window into the future as to how the Jets could move the ball against Buffalo. Once they stopped aiming the gun at their own feet, the Jets offense, with the help of a Rex Ryan defense that is now starting to take over games, settled in and hit cruise control for a 27-11 win. Their third straight.

A Giants win moves the Jets into a first place tie

Hours later, QB Eli Manning gave Patriot fans Super Bowl nightmarish flashbacks with a dramatic come from behind win in the final minute. It was a Giants victory that was music to Jets fans ears as it dropped the Pats into the three way tie with the Bills and Jets at 5-3. The AFC East race is once again wide open. With the Jets having made up ground that one month ago, with so much working against them, seemed like a longshot.