Dirk Is A Bad Man & Other Thoughts On Western Conference Finals

Perhaps we were expecting too much from the young Oklahoma City Thunder in only their second playoff appearance or perhaps they just ran into the wrong player at the wrong time.

We knew how good Dirk Nowitzki was before these playoffs started. We didn’t know he was about to rip off a playoff run of legendary proportions, that is going to change how he is viewed historically. If Dirk finishes what he started, you can expect plenty of people to start rearranging their all time top 20, 15, and maybe even 10 player list…that is how much of a monster Dirk has been in these playoffs.

It almost feels like destiny that the Mavericks will get another shot at the Miami Heat (sorry, Chicago is done) to right the wrongs from 2006, when the NBA Finals MVP should have been the referees, not Dwayne Wade. Let’s hope this year’s Finals aren’t decided by the whistle…

As for the Thunder, the young pups clearly weren’t ready for the big stage yet, particularly Russell Westbrook who was the x-factor coming into this series and simply didn’t come through. Oklahoma City won a single game this series and in that game Westbrook didn’t see the floor in the fourth quarter. He spent way too much time missing shots and way too little time running the offense, while making sure Kevin Durant and James Harden were getting enough touches.

Last night was a perfect example, 28 shots is too many, especially when they are coupled with only 5 assists and 3 turnovers. Westbrook is an immense talent and hopefully this year’s playoffs will serve as a valuable lesson to him because with a nucleus of himself, Durant, and Harden this team should be right back to contending for a title next year.

Underappreciated Lineman Anchor Jets Defense

There was no question the New York Jets needed to upgrade their defensive line this off-season. They had issues with their depth and struggled to consistently get after the quarterback. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact their defense was ranked third in the NFL last season at stopping the run and managed to generate enough of a pass rush to knock both Petyon Manning and Tom Brady out of the playoffs.

Two-thirds of the Jets starting defensive line are relative no-name players who don’t necessarily fit in with their big name, big talking counterparts. Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito have both very quietly developed into quality NFL starters and are a big part of why the Jets defense has been so successful the past two years.

Pouha has admirably stepped in for an injured Kris Jenkins in both 2009 and 2010. Jenkins was released this year, leaving Pouha as the official full time starting nose tackle. He is coming off a career year, where he racked up 59 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 recovered fumbles. A 3rd round draft pick of the Jets in 2005, Pouha has fought off early injuries in his career and multiple coaching changes to develop into the starting nose tackle on one of the league’s best defenses. The Jets drafted Kenrick Ellis in the third round this season, who should be able to spell him and could eventually develop into his replacement a few years down the road.

Mike DeVito is an undrafted free agent from Maine, now entering his fifth year with the Jets. He has clawed his way up from being an extra body in training camp, to the practice squad, to a rotational player and now finally to being a starting defensive end. The Jets showed confidence in him before last season by letting Marques Douglas walk in free agency, which left the starting job to DeVito. He responded with 59 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and 2 forced fumbles. He is a good fit in Ryan’s scheme and is solid against the run.

The Jets first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson will likely replace Shaun Ellis in the starting line-up, if not this year, than likely next year. He should provide a pass rush out of the defensive end position, while DeVito can continue to plug up the run.

When discussing the Jets defense, it is usually names like Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace that come up first. However, don’t discount the production they are getting from blue-collar players like Pouha and DeVito.

New York Jets Defense: Getting Their Quarterback Back

An encouraging tweet was sent out today by New York Jets safety Jim Leonhard, “Great 1st workout today. 2 miles, 13:30 min, 5% Incline. Guess who’s getting healthy.”

We have heard all off-season that Leonhard is ahead of the process in rehab from his season ending injury of a broken tibia and it continues to sound like he will be 100 percent when the 2011 season starts (whenever that will be). Despite not putting up big stats, Leonhard is an integral part of the Jets defense who serves as the quarterback for their secondary. To this day, Rex Ryan still blames a big chunk of the Jets 45-3 loss to the New England Patriots this past year on Leonhard getting hurt the Friday before in practice.

His knowledge of the defense and ability to shift calls, along with move around the formation is a key part of how the Jets defense attacks. It will provide a major lift to their secondary when he returns this season, regardless who is starting opposite him.

Despite his reliability, Rex Ryan has made the right decision by saying he will keep Leonhard off punt returns this year. He is too valuable to the defense to risk getting hurt on a return and beyond that the Jets have plenty of other options, including Jerricho Cotchery, Kyle Wilson, and Jeremy Kerley to put deep.

Braylon Edwards: What A Difference A Year Makes

January 9th 2010…the New York Jets knock off the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round of the playoffs, boosted by a surprisingly strong performance from an offense that had struggled down the stretch of the season. They managed to produce on this day despite a lack of support from their supposed number one receiver, Braylon Edwards who only registered 2 receptions for 15 yards and had a perfectly thrown touchdown pass drop through his arms.

The game was an addition to a somewhat disappointing season for Edwards. He showed flashes of the big play potential the Jets traded for when they acquired him before week 5. Yet, there was no consistency. Edwards had 45 yards or less receiving in six of the Jets last seven regular season games, followed by the previously mentioned weak peformance in the wild-card round and a quiet divisional game with 2 receptions for 41 yards.

It started to turn around for Edwards in the AFC Championship Game, when he pulled in a 80 yard touchdown reception on a beautiful double move to give the Jets a first half lead. In the biggest of moments, Edwards responded and made a play that demonstrated his true potential in the Jets offense.

Approaching the 2010 season, he received rave reviews for the work he was putting in during the off-season. While everybody was understandably excited about the acquisition of Santonio Holmes, the coaching staff kept mentioning the extra effort they were seeing around the facility from Edwards.

The work paid off in 2010, as Edwards was the Jets best all-around receiver from the start of the season to the end. There were no more dropped passes, no more inconsistency…just a week in and week out, physical presence for the Jets both on the outside and over the middle. Unlike most receivers in the league, Edwards is willing blocker who provides a big boost to the Jets running game. He didn’t have as many highlight reel game winning catches as Santonio Holmes but that doesn’t mean Edwards was without his share of clutch receptions.

Before the 2010 season, it was seemed to be a no brainer that it would be Holmes over Edwards who would receive a long term deal with the Jets. It looked like even more of a no-brainer after Edwards DUI incident. Yet, the answer to the question seems a little foggier right now. Ultimately, it will depend on how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is worked out but it would be foolish to write off Edwards chances of returning to the team at this point.

Last January, I wouldn’t say Edwards was that popular at all with fans. Now, I would say he is one of the more popular players on the team. Especially after repeatedly expressing his desire to return this off-season, while Santonio Holmes has been much colder about his loyalty to the Jets. It won’t be a popularity contest that determines who gets the money from Woody Johnson but it has been impressive how far Edwards has came with the Jets in only a year and a half.

Randy Moss To The Jets: Hype Or Genuine Interest?

The buzz about Randy Moss going to the Jets picked up this morning thanks to a Daily News report claiming the team has a genuine interest in pursuing the free agent receiver in the likely case that the team can’t resign both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.

The real question, is whether the Jets are serious about potentially signing Moss or they are attempting to gain some leverage in their negotiations with Edwards and Holmes.

Rex Ryan has always been a big fan of Moss and we know he can still stretch a defense, as he beat the Jets secondary deep twice for touchdowns last year. He certainly is past his prime and isn’t as complete of a receiver as Edwards or Holmes but he could be a viable short term option on a cheap contract.

While I do think this story being leaked does have to do with posturing for upcoming negotiations with Edwards or Holmes, I do think the Jets would be seriously pursue Moss if they can’t sign both of their free agent receivers this off-season. I also think Moss would be very interested in the Jets recruitment. Why wouldn’t he want the chance to show New England he isn’t finished yet twice next year and also play for a team that is a legitimate contender for a Super Bowl?

We already know the Jets aren’t scared by players with baggage, on or off the field and that they won’t shy away from pursuing the big name. It makes sense to have plenty of doubts about the intelligence of bringing Moss into the Jets offense, considering the type of season he had last year. Regardless for the price the Jets might be able to get him at, the reward could be worth the risk.

Kyle Wilson Taking Right Approach This Off-Season

“Jets Soutwhest” camp hasn’t received the type of media coverage that “Jets West” did…probably because it has only involved two players: Darrelle Revis and Kyle Wilson.

The two of them have already spent two weeks together training and still have more workouts scheduled. They have gone past just physical work in the weight-room and on the field. There has also been a breakdown of film, including a look at the receivers the Jets will be facing in 2011.

These workouts are a credit to both Revis, who is establishing himself as a leader on the defense and will be named a captain by Rex Ryan this year and Wilson, who is taking the right approach by spending as much time as possible with the league’s best corner.

By any measure, Wilson’s rookie year was a disappointment. However, that doesn’t mean he has to become Vernon Gholston 2.0. He clearly has the passion for football that Gholston lacked and the tools to be a very good corner in the NFL. By playing alongside Revis, he has access to the best in the business and should be soaking up as much knowledge as possible.

Playing corner opposite Revis Island is one of the most difficult positions in the league and there is a reasonable chance Wilson will be asked to do it next year. It remains up in the air whether or not Antonio Cromartie will come back and if he doesn’t, Wilson will be in the starting line-up.

Even if Cromartie does come back, the Jets will need Wilson to be more productive as a nickel back and in the defensive packages that he is used. He is taking a positive step this off-season by working with Revis, which will hopefully pay dividends when the 2011 season kicks off.

New York Jets Free Agency Rumors: Randy Moss Up, Plaxico Burress Down

TOJ at SB Nation New York, rounding up the latest Jets free agency rumors. Is the Jets reported interest in Randy Moss misplaced and is the team no longer a contender for Plaxico Burress?

12 Pack Of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #16

Since the world is supposed to end this weekend, let’s look at the 10 best Jets moments of the past 10 years…

#10 – Week One Win

Even though nobody likes him, you can’t act like you weren’t pumped to watch Brett Favre in a Jets jersey lead them to a victory in week one over the Miami Dolphins in their building.

#9 – Mangini’s Shining Moment

Coming off their bye week in 2006, the Jets stunned New England in their building by snapping a seven game losing streak to the Patriots. The 2006 Jets were a scrappy bunch without any big names but still managed a 10-6 record and to make the playoffs.

#8 – The Long Way In

In 2001, the Jets clinched a playoff spot in the final game of the regular season (a recurring trend this past decade) when John Hall nailed a 53 yard field goal in the final seconds to beat the Oakland Raiders.

#7 – OT Glory

The 2004 New York Jets season could have ended because of a stupid roughing the passer penalty on Eric Barton. Fortunately, they managed to escape in overtime with a playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers on the road thanks to a Doug Brien field goal. Hopefully, Brien enjoyed his one week of being a hero before becoming one of the biggest goats in Jets history the following week against Pittsburgh.

#6 – So Long Peyton

Considering what he did to the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship Game, knocking the Colts out of the playoffs in 2010 with Nick Folk’s game winning field goal as time expired was extra sweet. Braylon Edwards set up the game winning kick with this terrific catch.

#5 – A Little Help From Friends?

On the final day of the 2004 season, the Jets found out during the first half of their game against the Green Bay Packers that the Miami Dolphins had lost to the New England Patriots, allowing them a chance to win the AFC East. The Jets went on to blow out the Packers and win an unlikely divisional title after starting the season 2-5.

#4 – First Round Beatdown

The last Jets home playoff game was a sweet one, as they romped over the Indianapolis Colts 41-0 led by a monster game from Chad Pennington. Yes, two playoff wins over Peyton Manning make this list.

#3 – Ground and Pound

After clawing their way to a lead in a 2009 divisional game against the San Diego Chargers. The heavy underdog Jets broke open a two possession lead on this run by Shonn Greene midway through the fourth quarter…

#2 – The Victory Lap

It ended up being the New York Jets, not the New York Giants who shut down “Giants Stadium” the proper way. After the Giants were humiliated in back to back games to end the 2009 season, the Jets clinched a playoff spot on Sunday night football and celebrated by taking a victory lap around the field to shake hands with fans, in the final game ever played at the old stadium.

#1 – Go To Sleep…Anybody Can Be Beat!

It didn’t get any sweeter than ending the season of the heavily favored and absolutely despised New England Patriots in their building last season. The Jets battered around Tom Brady like a rag doll and made sure to savor the victory in the final moments as a shell shocked Patriots team and fan-base looked on…

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Starting Safety: Eric Smith or Brodney Pool?

One of the bigger questions on the Jets defense that will be answered in free agency, is who will start at safety opposite Jim Leonhard? It doesn’t seem likely that the team will bring back both free agents Eric Smith and Brodney Pool. Who would you prefer to see opposite Jim Leonhard next year?

Eric Smith

  • 28 years old, 6’1, 207 pounds
  • 2010 stats – 54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 2 passes defensed, 3 games missed cause of injury

Smith is better in run support and is a more valuable special teams player. He has two years experience in Rex Ryan’s defense and the versatility to move around to different positions in different packages. He struggles in pass coverage and gets called for too many penalties.

Brodney Pool

  • 26 years old, 6’2, 214 pounds
  • 2010 stats – 53 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 11 passes defensed, 1 game missed cause of injury

Pool has more upside and is better in coverage. He came on strong in the second half of last season after a slow start. Even though he only missed one game last year, he has a history of concussion problems.

What’s it going to be? Personally, I’d like to see Pool as the full time starter for another year. I think he can develop in this system into a very good safety, if he can stay healthy.