2-3. A mark most teams reach and start to wonder what isn’t going right. For the New York Jets, that’s quite a few things on both sides of the ball. Special teams? Could be the best in the league. Mike Westhoff will get returns with Sione Pouha, but sadly special teams accounts for but 30% of total play.
Offense. Surprisingly, the Jets are finally making the shift towards getting legitimate use out of their draft picks (except Ducasse). The Jets are testing out Jeremy Kerley, who will probably end up as the slot receiver by the end of the year unless Derrick Mason starts catching balls on 3rd down and quiets his criticisms of his offensive coordinator. The kick return job, which initially went to Antonio Cromartie, has been relegated to Joe Mcknight, who is finally emerging as a legitimate 4th round draft pick . McKnight got a few plays at running back, knowing Shonn Greene isn’t going to break anything to the outside and is better off with a full head of steam going north and south. If the Jets can get McKnight going, along with a steady power running game with Shonn Greene, LT may have even better stats than he did last year. Sadly, we must wait what will undoubtedly be a long 11 weeks and see if that pans out.
So what gets the Jets off to the slow start? Lack of a screen game. Lack of a power running game. Lack of a legitimate tall deep threat (No more Edwards). They have a middle of the field threat with Holmes and a sideline/end zone corner threat with Burress, but this whole going after aging talent that isn’t experienced with the system gamble is not working out the way it was supposed to. They can’t play off the run the way they are supposed to. They also can’t run the occasional Wildcat like they used to with Brad Smith. It is easy to see they should have paid Edwards and kept some sort of continuity with Sanchez and not have this receiving core of egos already blowing up against their coordinator.
Remedies? Can’t turn back time at this point in the season. Look at Philadelphia. On paper champions. If this was a video game, the Jets could probably run the table. Unfortunately, they have no run stopping linebacker with the loss of Bryan Thomas, and their backup center/guard Rob Turner isn’t going to be in for substitutions, which may lead to Vladimir Ducasse getting some sort of playing time.
Bill Belichick is the smartest coach in the NFL. There is no doubt at this point that he spent the large majority of his offseason trying to figure out the Jets and how they go about their defense against the Patriots. To the Patriots favor, some good things happened for their offense as opposed to the Jets defense. Their two tight ends are fully comfortable in this offense. They are too fast to play against linebackers, and they’re too strong to play against safeties. It just so happens the Jets have two undersized safeties and only two legitimate linebackers. Sure Revis took away Welker, but someone always has to account for those two tight ends, and no one on the Jets has the size or adequate speed save for Cromartie, who unfortunately spent his day attempting to catch Deion Branch as he got open for touchdowns.
Tom Brady has quite a few options if he decides to stay away from Revis. Deion Branch will usually have a corner playing against him, and if their two receivers are covered and the two tight ends stay in to run block on a play action, they can always jump out over the middle to get the ball up top, with the clear height advantage against Jets safeties or linebackers. And if the Jets bite on the play action? Well then they bring out the running back on either a wheel or circle route and utilize him as a receiver.
The clear difference with this Patriots team is the tempo. They will gash you down the field, run the ball to get a third and five, and then keep you guessing. In the past they would look for a short pass, but the new Patriots move at a pace they completely dictate. More often than not, they will run the ball on third down, knowing you will probably try and sub players out and waiting for one mismatch out of 5 matchups.
What puts the Patriots offense up to and beyond the light speed offense of the Packers is the legitimacy of their running game. With Ellis and Ridley, the Patriots have shown a willingness to put serious time in as a two tight end power running team that could at any point audible into a play action pass, keeping at least 2 linebackers or safeties dropping over the middle of the field.
Why did the Jets defense fail? No Trevor Pryce. No Shaun Ellis. Donald Strickland getting beat like a drum all day. No James Ihedigbo. No Dwight Lowery. No Drew Coleman. These were guys that were great at upsetting the rhythm of Brady. Ihedigbo and Coleman were both small speedsters who were great at matching up on the small Patriots receivers and occasionally sneaking in on a blitz. When Tom Brady is comfortable, you’re defensive coordinator is up in the booth counting to 3 and waiting for a completion. That is exactly how in control Brady is against a defense that simply can’t get to the quarterback the way it needs to with 4 down lineman.
Is it an indictment of Ryan? It’s hard to say. Muhammad Wilkerson is going to have to be a complete beast if the Jets defense expects to play with any sort of confidence. Sione Pouha? Good backup. Marcus Dixon and Mike DeVito? Both great rotation players, but these guys wouldn’t even make the Giants starting roster. If anyone in New York wants to look at the Giants for anything helpful, look how insanely productive the front 4 of the Giants defensive line are. If you can get pressure with 4 or 5, you’ll be able to drop 6 with very few holes. When you have to rush 6, you’ll always have holes in your defense. Sometimes the Giants only have to rush 3 to get pressure for gods sake.
What this season shows is how hard Rex Ryan’s job has been as a head coach, trying to get the most out of a team that is probably not even in the top 15 in terms of talent on both sides of the ball. As smart as they are, the following players wouldn’t even start on any other team in the NFL: Jim Leonhard, Matt Mulligan, Matt Slauson, Marcus Dixon. And on…
If the Jets are to make the playoffs this year, it would no doubt be a heroic effort of a team that is finding the crossroads of youth and veteran leadership rather difficult to overcome.