My, what a wild year it has been in Jets land (what else is new?). After a strong showing at opening day at MetLife Stadium back in September, when the Jets romped the Bills 48-28 to begin the 2012 season (Yes, that game actually occurred in the same season as this), the New York Jets have progressively fallen far from grace. In week 2 the Jets went into Pittsburgh without their All-World defensive back, Darrelle Revis, and despite coming out strong on the opening drive, ultimately fell to the Steelers at Heinz Field 27-10. Since then, New York hasn’t mustered up one convincing win, while being blown out 3 times at home. Although the Jets have had to deal with injuries to two essential players (Revis and Wide Receiver Santonio Holmes), this team’s total lack of depth and talent has put their fans in an uproar, and rightfully so. Sure, the Jets held their own against two of the AFC’s top teams when they hosted the Houston Texans in week 5 and when they took the Patriots to overtime in Foxboro in week 7.
However, the games the Jets have been able to win this season have been against far inferior opponents. Buffalo, Miami, and St. Louis have a combined recored of 13-19-1. Indianapolis came to New York with their rookie quarterback Andrew Luck having to face a Rex Ryan defense for the first time in his career. Luck will be great, but it is a daunting task for a rookie to solve the puzzle that is Ryan’s defensive scheme on the road. To put it into perspective, the 2012 Jets, although not horrendous, are simply a poor football team.
This column has been dedicated to making a handful of predictions based on past games, tendencies, and matchups for each week – predictions that have often failed to come to fruition. Last week, we observed what the Jets needed to do against the Patriots on Thanksgiving in order for them to upset their longtime foe. Looking back, they really failed to do any of these things.
Since it has become nearly impossible to predict what this team will do in terms of game plan (see Tebow, Tim; week 12…actually all season), execution, and outcome, this column will now focus on key points, all of which the Jets must achieve to have any chance of reigning victorious again this year.
This week’s New York Jets Fact or False will focus primarily on how the Jets need to attack their upcoming opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, what matchups will be crucial, and who needs to come to play, in order for New York to put patch one of the holes of the sinking ship that is their 2012 season. This team is all but guaranteed to not reach the playoffs this season, but the Jets can certainly do their best to salvage what is left of this mess and head into 2013 on the right foot. Whether or not they can do that, however, will depend on how they perform from top to bottom in these remaining five weeks. Let’s take a look at Arizona.
The Jets’ active rookie wide receivers need to step up big this week. Fact. As depleted as this team’s receiving corps has been all season, think about this for a second: Clyde Gates has been ruled out for Sunday’s contest, creating a serious issue at wide receiver. Wow. After week 1, would you have ever thought that this is what we’d be analyzing heading into week 13? Unfortunately for New York, however, that is exactly where the Jets stand. Aside from Gates, Chaz Schilens is questionable with concussion symptoms, and Jeremy Kerley (the only receiver who has been somewhat productive this season) is still hampering a leg injury.
While it is a scary thought that the Jets could potentially be starting a receiving corps led by Kerley and rookies Stephen Hill and Jordan White, this could be a blessing in disguise. While no one should expect this group to be world beaters, it is essential to see if Sanchez can develop some chemistry with his young passing options. Stephen Hill started 2012 with a bang, hauling in 5 balls for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns in the season opener against Buffalo. Since then, however, Hill has hit the growing pains that we all expected him to heading into this season. All is certainly not lost for the promising rookie with tremendous upside out of Georgia Tech, so getting him touches the rest of the way this year will be crucial to his development.
Jordan White is a player who has been on the radar here at Turn On The Jets since New York selected him with their final pick in this year’s draft. A highly productive college player, White stood out in our post draft evaluation due to his high football IQ, strong route running, and ability to catch balls in traffic. It was expected that he may take a bit to come around, but on a team in need of hope in week 13, White could start his campaign to give some promise to this team’s depleted group of skill players.
Now, it would be foolish to think that White is going to come out in his first game and light up Arizona, prompting a surplus of waiver wire claims from fantasy football league owner’s heading into their respective playoffs. However, White is fully capable of catching anywhere from 2-5 passes this week, while beginning to gain some momentum in an attempt to be a long term asset to this roster.
Regardless, the Jets need these two to not play like wide-eyed rookies this week, but instead play with a certain level of confidence and reliability, so they can provide some security to Mark Sanchez, who desperately needs it. If Kerley and Schilens are a go, they will likely start, but do not be surprised to see Sanchez target the youngsters to gauge where they are at as he tries to find some continuity in these final 5 weeks. If this offense looks to have momentum heading into next season, it starts with these young players at receiver stepping up and asserting some kind of presence this Sunday.
The Jets need to get Mark Sanchez airing it out on Sunday. False. While the Jets do need to see some signs of life from Sanchez, following one of his most horrific performances,in terms of ball security, last week, the key to being successful on offense remains the same as it has been since Sanchez arrived in New York – a strong running effort, with a limited amount of drop backs. Look at the Jets two most convincing victories this season, against Indianapolis and at St. Louis. Sanchez was 11 for 18 for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns and 15 for 20 for 178 yards and 1 touchdown, respectively. What do you notice about those numbers? That’s correct, no turnovers.
The Jets ground attack during those two games, however, was on point. Although the total rushing yardage against St. Louis was not eye opening – 124 total yards – the Jets stuck to a successful formula of a running back by committee approach. Bilal Powell was able to record his first two career touchdowns in that contest, primarily because Tony Sparano took some risks in obvious passing situations in the red zone by giving Powell the carries, and it paid dividends.
The bottom line is, the more Sanchez is asked to throw, the more likely it is for him to commit a mistake and turn the ball over. New York needs to give him a strong running effort once again, while allowing him to make some high percentage throws on slants, play action passes, and designed roll outs. If the Jets can limit him anywhere between 20-25 attempts, while running the ball 35-45 times, not only will they be helping Sanchez regain some much needed confidence, but they will also be putting themselves in the best position to win. Is it ideal to have to game plan like this with a fourth year quarterback? Of course not, but at this point the reality is that Sanchez has performed poorly, and has a depleted group of receivers to throw to. If the Jets can stay grounded this week, they will control the clock and field position, while keeping their defense off of the field.
The Jets defense needs to come up with a surplus of quarterback sacks and hits. Fact. New York’s pass rush has been absolutely horrendous over the past five seasons, mostly because they have done a poor job of outside and self scouting at vital pass rushing positions during that time. However, Arizona ranks dead last in sacks allowed throughout the entire league this season, and they will be starting a rookie quarterback on Sunday. Remember what we said about that Andrew Luck guy? Ryan Lindley isn’t anywhere near the type of player that Luck is, but he does have a solid group of wide receivers to throw to against a very shaky Jets secondary. If he is given ample time to throw the ball, he will make plays.
Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples will be licking their chops when they line up against this poor offensive line on Sunday. However, they will need support from the linebacking corps in order to establish a strong pass rush. All season long, these two have been hampered as a result of facing a vast amount of double teams, due to the complete lack of a pass rush from the outside and inside linebackers. Whether it is the dinosaurs that are Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, Garret McIntyre, or DeMario Davis, the Jets need to find a way to get Arizona’s attention off of Wilkerson and Coples, so they can be put in man blocking situations. If New York can rattle the cage of Lindley early, and throughout the course of the game, this offense should not be able to move the ball. If they let him sit in the pocket and gain comfort, however, it will likely be another week of excuses, pouting, outrage, and turmoil heading into week 14.
The Jets need to focus primarily on Larry Fitzgerald to shut down Arizona’s passing attack. False. Aside from getting to the quarterback, the Jets need a strong game plan against the Cardinals’ number 2 and 3 receivers. Andre Roberts has been very productive for a team with the poorest quarterback situation in the league this season, accounting for 50 receptions, a team high 639 yards, and another team high 5 touchdowns. Michael Floyd and Early Doucet are two players who haven’t had the productivity of Roberts this year, but are highly skilled. Each of these receivers have the ability to exploit the embattled Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster. Aside from getting to the quarterback, New York needs to figure a way to neutralize these two, primarily from scheme. If the Jets expect to put Wilson and Lankster in man coverage on Sunday, without generating a pass rush, they will not win this game., plain and simple.
Dustin Keller needs to establish a veteran presence and allow Sanchez to lean on him. Fact. Lost in the disaster that has become the 2012 Jets is the player that Mark Sanchez became comfortable looking toward in previous times of struggle. Although Keller is second on the team in receptions, that number is a mere 26. 26 catches from a player who was thought to be Sanchez’s go to guy. While he has been hampered by injury for the majority of the season, Sanchez is usually the most efficient when Keller gets going. Look at the first matchup against New England. Many will refuse to admit this, but Sanchez played one of the best games of his career, prior to overtime, that week. A lot of that success has to do with Keller’s strong day of catching all 7 passes thrown his way for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Now, it is unfair to blame this lack of production on Keller. The lack of receiving threats on this team makes him an easy focus of opposing defenses. However, he needs to find a way to get open and give Sanchez that much needed security. If Keller can get going with some early catches to move the chains, Sanchez’s confidence will only grow as the game progresses. As of right now, aside from the run game, Keller is the straw that stirs the drink on this team’s offense. If he can get some early receptions, Arizona will be forced to shift their coverage toward him, allowing ample opportunity for those young receivers to get open and make plays. Sanchez, in the meantime, will only be able to grow on all accounts because of this. Yes, he should be limited to no more than 25 passing attempts, but each of those 25 will be critical. The Jets’ quarterback has no margin for error anymore. Most people are ready to write him off as the New York’s signal caller. Whether or not this is just, it is the harsh reality of the NFL and particularly of professional sports in New York. Dustin Keller can help Sanchez slowly climb out of the abyss with a strong performance this week.
The Jets cannot afford any more Special Teams blunders. Fact. There is no need to explain this one. The Jets’ Special Teams has been horrendous for the majority of the season. With a struggling offense and a defense that has had its troubles getting off the field on third downs, special teams mishaps are a recipe for the perfect disaster. This needs to be turned around immediately. Period.