New York Jets – Idzik Begins Process Of Building New Team

A round-up of how New York Jets General Manager John Idzik is moving forward with the rebuilding process

The NFL is in absolute frenzy right now with the official opening of free agency. The New York Jets have not been overly active, as we expected but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a large collection of news to round-up. Here is our opinions, commentary and predictions on what’s happening with the Jets as of right now, along with a few thoughts around the league

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New York Jets – Keep LaRon Landry?

Should the New York Jets keep LaRon Landry?

One of the more divisive debates among New York Jets fans this off-season is the value of keeping safety LaRon Landry, who is reportedly seeking around 6 million dollars per year as a free agent. Landry quickly became a fan favorite last season with his intimidating, physical brand of football. He finished with 99 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and 1 touchdown. Yet, is he worth 6 million per year, particularly for a team with so many salary cap constraints and holes on their roster?

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New York Jets Defensive Film Breakdown: Week 13

Chris Gross with his weekly film breakdown of the Jets defensive performance, looking at how they shut down Arizona

Although it has become an afterthought in the wake of the earth shattering move that replaced the embattled Mark Sanchez with second year pro Greg McElroy this past Sunday, the New York Jets actually provided what was arguably their best defensive effort of the season. While this assertion must certainly be taken with a grain of salt due to the unbelievably poor quality of offensive play from the Arizona Cardinals, there are still several reasons to be excited about what the Jets did last week. Is Ryan Lindley the worst quarterback to start an NFL game this year (and possibly ever)? Yes, probably. However, New York’s defensive performance during this contest goes far beyond the offensive ineptitude of Arizona.

For this week’s defensive film breakdown, we will format this column as we normally do — top performers, individual defensive line play, and positional breakdowns of the linebackers and secondary. However, this week we will highlight the obvious signs of progress from within this unit as we move into the final month of the season.

Week 13 Top Defensive Performers:

Muhammad Wilkerson, DE: No surprises here. Wilkerson has been playing at a high level all season, and is finally beginning to get some of the recognition that he deserves. In Arizona’s first few offensive series, the game plan was obvious — do whatever it takes to neutralize number 96. The film repeatedly shows the offensive line adjusting their line calls and blocking schemes, whether it was a run or pass play, to provide extra help to whichever side of the line Wilkerson was lined up on. On passing downs, if Wilkerson was at a 1 or 3 technique, the center opened toward the second year defensive end 100% of the time. If Wilkerson was at the 5 technique, or on the edge, a tight end or back would stay in to provide help, with the guard to that side also offering assistance with an unoccupied gap over him. If it were a run play, Wilkerson would simply be doubled, or the ball would be run away from him. Throughout the first half of this game, there was not a single play that Wilkerson was unaccounted for. Credit the Cardinals coaching staff for drawing up their game plan based solely around avoiding the Jets best defensive player in the front 7.

Although much attention was paid to Wilkerson, the Cardinals could only hold him off for so long. Wilkerson has been developing an excellent knack for defending the double team, something he has likely been working on all season long with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, as the mounting double teams have become a surplus this year. Wilkerson’s block recognition has become flawless. On film, he displays excellent instincts to get a pre-snap read on the opposing offensive lineman by noticing “tells” in their stances and the overall offensive formation. He always seems to be one step ahead of who he is lined up against, and that reveals a lot about, not only his knowledge of the game, but the amount of time he puts in in the film room as well.

What really stood out about Wilkerson from this past Sunday was his recovery ability. As excellent as he is in getting these pre-snap reads, there are still some plays where he makes a mental error by taking the wrong step, or peeking his head in the wrong area. In these few cases, Wilkerson displayed a tremendous ability recover from his own mistakes. If he was beat to the outside on a reach block, he screamed to the sideline to regain his outside leverage. If he got hit on a down block, he quickly fought across the opposing offensive lineman’s face to maintain his position.

Simply put, Wilkerson has tremendous physical ability, but his intellect for the game is what is beginning to carry him to the next level. In the few instances where the Cardinals would attempt to block him with only one player, Wilkerson caused havoc. In these cases, he stopped two running plays for minimal or no gain, and recorded a sack. He is an obvious mismatch when offensive lineman attempt to go on an island with him. Combine that with his developing ability to beat double teams, and Wilkerson is becoming a nightmare for the offensive lines he is facing.

Antonio Cromartie, CB: Again, no surprise here. Cromartie held one of the league’s best wide receivers to just one reception for 23 yards, a play that he actually maintained decent coverage on, but was beaten by a tremendous catch from Larry Fitzgerald, combined with what was actually a very good throw from Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley (realistically, his only one of the contest). Following his sole reception, Fitzgerald was targeted only 6 more times throughout the entire day. By the middle of the second half, Lindley hardly bothered to look his way. Cromartie was on him like white on rice, regardless of the type of route it was. This has been a tremendous year for Cromartie, who has elevated his play to the elite level of NFL defensive backs in the absence of Darrelle Revis. At this point, it is a complete toss up between Cromartie and Wilkerson for this team’s MVP.

Bart Scott, LB: Scott played what was, without a doubt, his best game in the past year and a half. Looking beyond his impressive stat line of 5 tackles, 2 QB hits, and a sack, Scott played extremely fast and aggressive, asserting himself as a player that the entire Arizona Cardinals offense, particularly Lindley, wanted no part of. His reads were incredibly fast, and his reaction time was even faster. Scott came down hill very aggressively all game, and took on lead blockers the way he did when he first became a Jet back in 2009. There were multiple plays where he blew up the leading fullback or wrapping offensive lineman, allowing himself to either make the play on the ball carrier, or freeing up another defender to make the tackle. Combined with his rediscovered swagger, the chip on his shoulder that Scott played with this past week was a microcosm of the entire Jets defensive unit.

LaRon Landry, S: It is difficult to believe anything that Head Coach Rex Ryan says these days, however his claim that Landry played like a heat seeking missile is 100% accurate. Landry was all over the field this past Sunday in both coverage and in the box, defending the run. His interception was a great display of athleticism, and route recognition. Lined up in the center field role, Landry went through his normal coverage progressions, recognized the receiver running a seam route in front of him, and jumped it with perfect timing, taking the ball away before Lindley even realized what was going on. When lined up in the box, Landry was a pure mismatch. Tight ends and receivers lined up close to the line of scrimmage had virtually no chance of blocking him throughout the entire game, as he relentlessly displayed quickness in his hand strikes with impressive strength to rid anyone who attempted to get in his way, while defending the run. In a year of turmoil for Mike Tannenbaum, this is one personnel decision that the embattled GM got right. The Jets would be wise to lock Landry up for the future.

Rex Ryan and the Defensive coaching staff: Again, while the task of game planning for Arizona wasn’t quite the challenge of defending a team like New England, the Cardinals are still an NFL offense with very capable weapons. Ryan’s schematics and in-game adjustments were simply brilliant this past Sunday. Using a surplus of amoeba packages (more on this coming later in the week), Ryan took advantage of Arizona’s rookie quarterback by mixing up the fronts and disguising blitzes and coverage that made Lindley visibly uncomfortable. When Ryan realized Arizona’s plan to shift their passing protection toward Wilkerson, he exploited them. On Bart Scott and David Harris’s combined sack in the second half, Wilkerson was lined up at the 3 technique, with Pace to his left, and two other defenders on the right side of the line. At the snap of the ball, the offensive line again shifted the protection toward Wilkerson, with the center opening up toward him. Realizing the gap that this created in the middle of the line, Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, sent an inside blitz of Harris and Scott, who timed it perfectly. The guard was forced to pick one of them (Scott) to attempt to block, leaving the other (Harris) with a clear path to the quarterback. Scott beat the attempted block anyway, and the play resulted in a sack of Lindley and a 9 yard loss. Ryan has come under criticism as a head coach this season, but in terms of his defensive mind, he is without question among the best in the NFL.

The overall play of the defense was also a direct reflection of Ryan. The unit played with a obvious sense of resentment toward all of its detractors, displaying the angered attitude that it had played with in the early years of the Ryan era. Give credit to Rex for this. He had his guys motivated, prepared, and ready to make a statement this past week, and that is exactly what they did. Ryan Lindley was so shook by the 4th quarter that he began to badly rush his throws, as he clearly wanted no part of any further contact. Ryan’s goal was the rattle the rookie 6th round draft choice, and he succeeded with the best defensive effort of the season. Well done, Rex.

Defensive Line

Mike DeVito: There cannot be enough said about the value of DeVito’s relentless play and leadership. The veteran defensive tackle has remained a stalwart against the run all season, and continuously occupies blockers the way a player in his position is meant to in this scheme. His motor is above and beyond the majority of players you will see in this league, as displayed by his tenacious play and menacing pursuit. Although he provides little help in the pass rush, DeVito is a staple of this front, one that cannot afford to be lost when he hits free agency this offseason.

Sione Pouha: We’ve been saying this all season, but Pouha is visibly not at full health. Sunday was basically a microcosm of how he has played all season long. On some plays, he seems to have difficulty getting into his stance, as he looks very tight in his bend, making him visibly uncomfortable. When he shows this, he has difficulty getting off the ball, allowing himself to easily be blocked or driven back. Conversely, there are also plays where he looks loose and comfortable in his stance, and this is when he displays the explosion and strength that Jets fans have become accustomed to. When he can get off the ball in a ferocious manner, he commands multiple blockers at all times, and because of this, the entire front seven has one less opponent to worry about, allowing the linebackers and ends to be put in optimal situations. The entire unit is better when Pouha plays well, but unfortunately these plays are becoming few and far between due to his lingering back issue. To his credit, Pouha realizes the lack of depth behind him, with second year NT Kenrick Ellis also nursing an injury, and rigorously fights through his pain and discomfort. Pouha, like DeVito, is a player whose work ethic and leadership cannot be valued enough.

Quinton Coples: Coples played in just 19 snaps this past week, which is the only eyebrow raising decision by the coaching staff, considering the vast potential he has shown. However, in his limited reps Coples displayed a bit of up and down play. He seems to still be coming into his own, trying to find his niche in the defense this season. Like Wilkerson, the Jets like to use Coples’ versatility by aligning him everywhere along the defensive front. Once he begins to become more and more comfortable, Coples will be a force on this line with Wilkerson, as he has all of the tools (speed, strength, agility, explosiveness), and size to be a dominant defensive end in this league. It seems as though the coaching staff is taking their time in developing Coples, which is seemingly the correct move, particularly with how late in the season it is (remember he is a rookie), but the little things he is picking up on are going to help him become that dominant force next season, and in the seasons that follow.

Kenrick Ellis: Ellis also played limited reps, as he appeared to pull up with some type of injury in the second half. However, in those limited reps, Ellis displayed the skill set of a very good 3-4 NT. As he does have the tremendous size and strength necessary for the position, he also displayed the agility that could make him a true difference make as he progresses in his career. One particular play that stands out from Sunday’s game was his use of a flat step technique — a technique that allows defensive lineman to lineup in one gap, while shooting another, and not losing any ground in the process — against Arizona’s center. Ellis lined up in the A gap to the center’s left, and displayed agility that he has yet to show this season, as he seamlessly moved across the center’s face, easily getting into the backfield before the center could come close to recovering. When Ellis can get himself healthy, he will be a key to this defense, and will likely begin to take more and more reps from Pouha, before eventually claiming the full time job.

The Linebackers: Along with Scott, this was the most complete game this unit has played all season. Scott’s improved play seemed to inspire David Harris, who also appeared faster and more explosive than he has all year. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, although heavily criticized for their lack of pass rushing abilities, still remain the two best outside linebackers on the team by a landslide. While each of these guys played with a relentless motor and undying tenacity, they also proved how effective they are at setting the edge and turning plays outside in. Fans are screaming for these two to be replaced, but it will not happen, nor should it at this point. Yes, neither are effective in rushing the passer, but as every down players, they are by far the best available guys to put on the field right now. DeMario Davis saw very limited reps and still seems to be somewhat uncomfortable and unsure at times. While he needs playing time to gain his comfort and familiarity, it is no secret as to why he did not play much considering how well both Scott and Harris performed.

The Secondary: Like the rest of the defense, this was easily the best the secondary has looked all season. Before the game, I questioned the success the Jets would have if they expected to put Ellis Lankster or Kyle Wilson in man coverage on Michael Floyd, Early Doucet, and Andre Roberts. Well, that is exactly what the Jets did, and each of them rose to the occasion. Outside of Wilson’s poor defensive holding penalty early in the game, there was really only one play where he was out of position — a comeback route by Michael Floyd that was poorly overthrown by Lindley. Wilson has struggled with these types of routes all year, as he seems to have trouble changing direction and opening his hips at times, but on Sunday he made tremendous strides toward improving these flaws. Yeremiah Bell was also all over the place, in both his run and pass defense, and clearly provides a leadership element that the younger players in the defense feed off of. Donnie Fletcher saw extended reps and certainly did not do anything noteworthy in terms of mistakes. This unit displayed excellent pre-snap communication, as displayed through their hand motions and calls based on formations and shifts, while seamlessly mastering switches in assignments on crossing routes designed to create miscommunications in the secondary.

Although this wasn’t a great test, the Jets defense showed that they still have the potential to be a dominant unit in this league. Consistency across the board will be key in these final four games, particularly against San Diego and Buffalo who, despite their struggles, still maintain a surplus of playmaking ability.

 

New York Jets – The Other Guys

A look at the other New York Jets who played yesterday besides the quarterbacks

Lost in the shuffle of the ongoing quarterback controversy surrounding the New York Jets is that other players actually took the field yesterday…and many performed well for a refreshing change of pace. These last four games remain critically important for many young players on the team’s roster who will be expected to be key parts in 2013 and beyond. Here is a recap of a few who stood out –

Bilal Powell – His role is growing every single week and he is taking advantage of it. Yesterday Powell finished with 58 yards on 12 carries, finishing with a 4.8 YPC. He broke a 17 yard run that helped propel the team’s only touchdown drive. Powell has good vision and is both shiftier and quicker than Shonn Greene. There is no reason that Powell can’t be a capable 1B option and 3rd down back for the team next season. On the year, Powell has 70 carries for 278 yards for 4.0 yards per carry. Hopefully, he can finish the season getting 10-15 carries each week and maintain that average at over 4 yards.

Stephen Hill – It has been a rough year for the rookie but yesterday was a step in the right direction. Hill had 5 catches for 40 yards and drew a penalty. What was encouraging is that many of the catches Hill made were difficult ones in traffic. He is going to be the team’s starting split end next year, so he must build momentum heading into 2013. Now that Hill looks like he is gaining confidence in the shorter passing game, it would be nice to see the Jets hit a big play down the field to him which is the primary thing he was drafted for.

Jeremy Kerley – It wasn’t a gaudy statistical game (3 catches, 37 yards) but Kerley made difficult catches in tight coverage. Most notably pulling down a key third down conversion with elite cornerback Patrick Peterson draped all over him. This has been a terrific all around season for Kerley who still has an outside shot of having a 1,000 yard season in one of the league’s worst passing offenses which is pretty damn impressive. If Hill develops alongside him and Santonio Holmes comes back healthy, the Jets have the makings of a very good group of receivers in 2013.

Muhammad Wilkerson – This isn’t anything new but Wilkerson is maintaining his play at a Pro-Bowl level. The 2nd year player is one of the few recent draft picks Mike Tannenbaum can really hang his hat on. If the Jets ever find an outside linebacker who can get into a quarterbacks’s zip code, watch for an explosion of stats by Wilkerson who will finally get to deal with less double teams. Put it this way, if you were playing the Jets wouldn’t just triple Wilkerson and let Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas and their 7.8 forty yard dash times run free at the quarterback?

LaRon Landry – Not a “young player” but somebody who is making a strong case to be brought back in 2013. Landry isn’t without his flaws (occasional lapses in coverage and missed tackles) but on the whole he has brought a needed playmaking element and physical attitude to the Jets backend.

New York Jets Defensive Film Breakdown: Week 7

Chris Gross breaks down the defensive game film from Jets/Patriots

Week 7 saw the New York Jets face a familiar foe in the AFC East. New York traveled to Foxboro to take on their divisional rival New England Patriots. While New York came up short in a hard fought, over time loss, this team played well, defensively, for the majority of the contest. There were certainly some lapses that led to 3rd down conversions, long drives, and touchdowns, but outside of about 2 total drives by New England, New York put together a very impressive effort against the Patriots’ high octane, hurry up offense.

Schematically, New York did an excellent job of putting themselves in the best positions possible to succeed against Tom Brady and his plethora of weapons. However, this game revealed some serious issues with this defense. Issues that, if not fixed in the future, will prevent this team from ever truly having a dominant defense in this league.

For this week’s film breakdown, we will take a different approach than we have in the past. Since the effort in the front 7 was much more about the cohesion of the unit and the scheme, there was not necessarily any individual performances that stood out. This week, the play of the defensive line and linebackers will be much better explained if their evaluation is grouped together. This will allow for a better understanding of exactly what the Jets were doing in the box to defend Tom Brady and Co, as well as how the Patriots responded to each of the Jets adjustments. The secondary, as usual, will have its usual mention. Let’s get into it:

Defensive Line/Linebackers: The defensive line has been extremely strong over the past 2 weeks prior to facing New England, showing very solid efforts against Houston and Indianapolis. Quinton Coples is beginning to come into his own as he grows with each and every rep he gets. Muhammad Wilkerson is starting to build a little more each game toward becoming the type of defensive lineman this coaching staff expects him to be. However, as previously noted in our earlier film breakdowns, the remainder of the defensive line, without Kenrick Ellis and Sione Pouha, are extremely average, and vulnerable.

The vulnerability of the depth behind Coples and Wilkerson are going to begin to damper this defense until Ellis and Pouha can return. The issue is, without a true nose capable of being an every down player, the Jets have been forced to play Mike DeVito a heavy amount at the 0 and 1 technique. We have discussed DeVito being a poor fit at this position, as he is much more of a 3 technique player, but due to injury, New York has felt that he is still their best option to play there until this unit returns to full health. DeVito’s struggles at this spot are beginning to become magnified and problematic, not just for his own play, but for the play of the rest of the defensive line.

Since DeVito is not a true nose, he does not garner the respect from offensive line that a true nose would. In New England, the Patriots offensive line left DeVito to be blocked by one man, whether it was the center or guard, unlike someone like Ellis or Pouha who command a double team about 99% of the time. By using only one man to block the nose, New England was then able to block the remainder of the line (in the base 3 man front) using two separate double teams on both Coples and Wilkerson. This was a very intelligent scheme by the Patriots, as they were able to neutralize the Jets two best playmakers on the defensive line, without skipping a beat. Due to this, Rex Ryan was forced to get creative with his blitzes and pressure packages to get penetration and pressure on the quarterback. What is most worrisome for New York is that New England’s blocking scheme may now be the blue print for offensive lines moving forward. Until Ellis and Pouha get back, the Jets need to find a way to neutralize this type of scheme, possibly by working in more true 4 man fronts, without the use of a nose guard.

The problem with the 4 man fronts the Jets were using in New England on Sunday were basically the same as the problems they were running into using the 3 man fronts. Rather than bring in an extra defensive tackle, and sliding DeVito to a 3 technique, with Wilkerson and Coples at the end spots, New York would slide either Wilkerson or Coples inside, and put Calvin Pace at the other defensive end spot. Unfortunately for them, the Patriots gave Pace about as much respect as DeVito, as they were able to block him with just one man as well. Therefore, Coples and Wilkerson were either left in a 2 on 3 scenario, or more double teams, if a back or tight end was left in to block. It is extremely hard to get sacks in this league as it is, but when constantly facing double teams, the numbers are likely close to being statistically impossible.

Against the run, the front 7 was generally solid. Coples and Wilkerson continued to face a good amount of double teams, but this ultimately helped the linebackers get through and make plays. DeMario Davis, although making mistakes at times, was very effective against the run, and proved to be lighting quick in getting down hill and stuffing the running lanes. Comparatively speaking, he is an upgrade over Bart Scott. While Scott may not make the cerebral mistakes that Davis will, Davis’s speed and athleticism alone make him more effective than Scott, even with his mental errors. He should see the majority of the reps at linebacker down the stretch.

New England ran the ball a surplus of times out of a heavily unbalanced package. In these packages, the Patriots would line up not just two, but three tight ends to one side of the line. Yes, this package makes it obvious where the ball is going most of the time, but against the hurry up, the Jets struggled to make adjustments to the formation, and were repeatedly gutted for positive yards. That is, until Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine did finally get to making the adjustment of bringing LaRon Landry down into the box who proved to be far to fast for any of the tight ends or offensive lineman to get out on in space. His presence in the box alone assisted in shutting this formation down, and New England used much less of it down the stretch.

David Harris was generally solid in this one, however he continues to look sluggish for his position. He does a good job of filling runs that are directed right toward him, however, he has struggled to scrape sideline to sideline this season, a trend that continued on Sunday. He was also too slow to beat offensive lineman at times, as he got sealed with a lane block on more than one occasion. The hope with Harris is that now with Davis getting a vast amount of reps, he will be able to complement the speed of the rookie with his size and tenacity.

The pass rush on this defense is obviously the most concerning issue, probably on the entire team, even more so than the quarterback position. As touched upon earlier today by TJ Rosenthal, the Jets defense lacks a true closer that can get after the quarterback late in games and cause sacks or bad throws. As much as we have praised Calvin Pace’s technique in this column all season, it is clear at this point that it will not be enough to propel him into recording a surplus of sacks. Aaron Maybin, on the other hand, regressed tremendously from his solid performance against the Colts. Perhaps Maybin got caught up in the moment of a big game, trying to make the big sack, but he reverted to his old ways of sprinting directly up the field, and ending up 5 yards directly behind the quarterback.

New York needs true pass rushing outside linebackers in the worst way possible. Bryan Thomas, Pace, and Maybin are all in contract years, and unless something drastic happens with their play, it would be shocking to see anyone of them resigned next season. With a rather depleted and aging 2013 free agent class, look for New York to target two OLB’s in next April’s draft. Combining a vicious edge rush with this very young and talented defensive line could finally put the Jets over the hump, and give them a truly dominant defense for the future.

Secondary: This was arguably the best game the secondary has played all season. Considering Isaiah Trufant’s lack of experience, he did a fantastic job on Wes Welker, who’s box score lies with regard to how well he was defended by Trufant. Two of Welker’s catches came on long catch and runs off of screens. Welker also hauled in a couple of overtime passes. However, these were obtained after a very questionable adjustment that moved Trufant over to Branch, and DeMario Davis on Welker. Brady recognized the switch, and did an excellent job of taking advantage of the mismatch, the linebacker on the speedy wide out. As much as Rex’s defensive mind is respected throughout this league, this could go down, with his conservative defensive approach late in the game, as the most questionable decision he and his staff have made all season. Why take Trufant, who was quite effective on Welker for the majority of the game, and move him on Branch, who was a non-factor? More importantly, why replace him with a linebacker to cover the fastest wide receiver on the team? A true head scratcher.

Antonio Cromartie continued to be a dominant force, holding Brandon Lloyd to just a single reception, further cementing his status as an elite cornerback in this league. Cromartie did drop a late interception that could have changed the landscape of the game, but played excellent regardless.

Kyle Wilson is continuing to grow as well. We have watched Wilson go from a heavily criticized nickelback, to a very capable starting cornerback. The pass interference penalty he was called for in overtime on Aaron Hernandez was very questionable, but his ability to bounce back the next time Brady went at him and break up the attempted pass proved that he has a short term memory, something vital for the position.

The safeties were generally effective as well. Landry was excellent against the run, and made some very nice plays in coverage. Bell continued to be solid, despite not putting up any flashy numbers or making any highlight reel plays. Antonio Allen did a very good job jamming the tight end, but was often caught trailing in coverage. In fact, the pass to Danny Woodhead that set up the game tying field goal in the fourth quarter was a result of Allen missing him as he came out of the backfield. Allen has struggled in coverage, but has proved to be effective as a blitzer, as well as being very physical, which is exactly what we expected out of him this season.

Watching the film of this matchup was truly remarkable. Ryan’s defensive mind against New England’s offensive coaching staff resulted in constant checks and adjustments throughout the entire game, a true chess match if their has ever been one. Hopefully, for the sake of New York, it is Ryan and Co that force New England into checkmate on Thanksgiving when the two teams meet for the final time this season.

New York Jets Defensive Film Breakdown: Week 3

Chris Gross breaks down the New York Jets defensive game film against the Miami Dolphins

For the third edition of our weekly defensive film breakdown, we unpack all of the positives and negatives from this past week’s overtime victory in Miami. While the Jets obviously did enough to win the game, their defensive effort was rather lackluster in comparison to how this unit has played in the past, particularly in the front seven. Now, with All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis out for the season with an ACL tear, it is more imperative than ever that this unit gets it together and plays the way they are capable of playing. The Jets pass rush will need to become extremely ferocious to compensate for the loss of Revis in the back end of the defense, something that they have clearly been anything but. However, for the time being, let’s breakdown last week’s game and see where and how they need to improve to remain relevant without their star player.

Just as the previous editions of this column have done, we will first start by evaluating each defensive lineman as individuals, while focusing on the linebackers and secondary as whole units.

Muhammad Wilkerson – We’ve been singing the same tune with Wilkerson for three weeks now – he needs to be more consistent. There are plays when Wilkerson looks comparable to some of the best defensive lineman in the league, while there are other plays where he looks like a glorified role player.

Against Miami, specifically, Wilkerson started out playing very hesitant. Rather than coming off of the ball fast and hard, he was demonstrating a mortal sin of defensive line play as he was playing with a tendency to stand straight up, engage the offensive lineman, and peak in the backfield for the ball carrier. Defensive linemen cannot afford to look for the ball. That is what the linebackers are for. A defensive lineman’s number one priority is to initiate the contact with the opposing offensive lineman, gain leverage, and maintain gap responsibility while reacting to the play. The only thing defensive linemen should be reading is what type of block the offensive lineman is giving them. Often times, that will take them directly to the ball.

For example, if Wilkerson is playing as a 5 technique on the outside shade of the tackle, and there is no tight end to his side, he would normally have outside contain. Now, if the ball is being run outside, the tackle will likely attempt to reach block him by getting his head to the outside of Wilkerson, and sealing him to the inside, in order to create a running lane for the back on the outside. By reading the tackle’s head, Wilkerson would realize that he is attempting to seal him to the inside, so would likely fight across his face to maintain his outside contain. This would ensure two things. First, Wilkerson is fulfilling his assignment by occupying the area that the defense is designed for him to occupy, and it would also take him directly to the ball carrier, where he would either make the play, or force it back inside to his 10 teammates in pursuit.

However, when Wilkerson does not read his opponent, but rather peaks his head into the backfield, not only does he find himself out of position, but he forfeits all leverage, allowing himself to be driven off the ball. Perhaps this had something to due with the threat of the elusive Bush, but as a defensive lineman, you must trust the defense and fulfill your role only, to the fullest extent.

Wilkerson fortunately did not make too much of a habit out of this practice in Miami. By the second half, he began to rely on his technique and instincts, rather than his eyes, to dictate his play, and it clearly showed on film. On one particular play in the third quarter, Miami ran Daniel Thomas off tackle at All-Pro Jake Long, who was matched up one on one with Wilkerson. Wilkerson came off the ball extremely fast and low, established leverage, drove Long about two yards into the backfield, shed the block, and made the play on Thomas. As you can see below, he maintains leverage on Long with his outside arm, while keeping the rest of his body free to make the play. Absolute text book play by Wilkerson.

In terms of pass rush, the Jets like to slide Wilkerson all over the line. Sometimes he will rush from a zero technique, lined up on the center, while also seeing time at both the three and five technique spots. It is certainly hard to gain some type of pass rush rhythm in constantly being moved, but clearly New York has confidence in Wilkerson’s ability to do so. He needs to develop a little more of a push and some creative hand work to improve in this area. In a four man rush, however, Wilkerson is usually the one to be doubled, so in fairness to him, opposing offensive lines certainly seem to account for him regularly.

Sione Pouha – The performance by Pouha against Miami was certainly not what Jets fans have become accustomed to. In his matchup against the Dolphin’s interior line, Pouha was flat out dominated for the better part of the game, specifically by Miami Center Mike Pouncey. Pouha, who is likely still nursing a back injury, looked hesitant, slow, and weak against the run. He struggled mightily against the double team, something he has done a tremendous job of in the past. He could not seem to gain penetration at all, even when he was single blocked, and his ability to move down the line of scrimmage in either stunts or pursuit was virtually non-existent. He served absolutely no purpose in the pass rush, as he was repeatedly stalemated at the line. Whatever Pouha’s issue may be, whether it injury or confidence, 2nd year pro Kenrick Ellis will likely begin to eat into his reps if he does not improve his play soon.

Mike DeVito – Mike DeVito is the same defensive lineman Jets fans have been watching for the past few years. Like in the previous two games this season, DeVito didn’t do anything that would warrant an exclamation point against Miami, however he remained very solid against the run. He gives a consistent effort, hardly ever gets driven off the ball, and is rarely, if ever, caught out of position. DeVito is the prototypical blue collared lineman, something that is essential to the depth of any defensive unit.

Unfortunately, that is where the praise for DeVito ends. In terms of rushing the passer, DeVito continued to show absolutely no ability to get to the Quarterback. When he is in the game on passing downs, the Jets are essentially playing a man short. Why Quinton Coples is not seeing more reps in these situations remains a mystery.

Quinton Coples – Coples, again, saw very limited action against Miami. His first few plays were somewhat irrelevant, as the ball was run to the opposite side of the field. However, what stood out most in these situations was Coples’ backside pursuit. For a player that has been criticized to have motor issues, I have yet to come across any valid evidence of such a fault.

Coples does, however, find himself lost at times. A few plays early in the game, he seemingly had no idea what his assignment was, as he would engage the opposing offensive lineman, then begin to look around as if he was unsure if he was making a mistake or not. Knowledge of the scheme could be one issue keeping the first round draft pick off of the field for now.

That being said, Coples needs to be used more on passing downs, period. The Jets cannot afford to keep arguably their most athletic defensive lineman on the sidelines on third downs while Mike DeVito continues to run straight into tackles and guards, serving virtually no purpose. Coples is extremely quick and elusive off the ball, particularly when he is on an inside stunt matched up with less athletic guards and centers. In addition to his athleticism, Coples also continues to display great strength and leverage. In his sole QB hit against Miami, Coples stunted inside, got underneath the opposing guard, and drove him into Ryan Tannehill’s face just before the Dolphins Quarterback got the ball off. 

As shown here, Coples has great position on the right guard as he continues to work up field, pushing the pocket into Tannehill’s face.

Coples finishes in the face of Tannehill with his hands in the Quarterback’s line of sight, forcing an incompletion. With the need for a pass rush even greater now with the absence of Darrelle Revis in the secondary, it would be a crime for New York to keep Coples on the sidelines in passing situations.

Kenrick Ellis – Ellis continues to play as if he is the best defensive lineman on the team. No one has been more consistent through three games than he has. Aside from showing great explosiveness and tenacity, Ellis has proved that he simply cannot be moved from the line of scrimmage. Whether it is a straight drive block, or a double team, Ellis often gains penetration into the backfield, while at the very least, maintaining his ground. His work in the passing game is miles ahead of any other interior lineman, as he continuously gets a strong push up the middle, noticeably making the quarterback uncomfortable. One specific play that stood out on Ellis, that was easily the most impressive play he has made to date, was a tackle for loss that he made after splitting a double team between Jake Long and Miami guard Richie Incognito. Like Coples, it would be a travesty for Ellis not to see more playing time. Do not be surprised one bit if he surpasses Pouha as the starter at some point in the coming weeks.

Calvin Pace – We continue to beat the same drum with Pace week in and week out. He does just about everything right technically, but he continues to show a lack of speed that is prohibiting him from being a difference maker. Like the previous two games, Pace did nothing to stand out against Miami, however there is not one instance where he made a drastic mistake. His veteran savvy is easily noticeable, and he remains one of the toughest players in the front seven. Pace will continue to be solid, but anything more than 4 sacks this year will be an over-achievement.

Aaron Maybin – Maybin continues to baffle by showing absolutely no sign of improving his pass rush moves. Week in and week out, Maybin continues his trend of sprinting upfield, out of control, more often than not past the quarterback. On one play in particular this past week, Maybin sprinted upfield past Jake Long, who simply rode him right past Tannehill into, what looked like, a chokeslam. Maybin ended up on his back, and Tannehill got rid of the ball unscathed.

The biggest concern about Maybin’s lack of improvement is the apparent lack of influence by defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. Dunbar was praised all offseason as a key piece in revitalizing this team’s pass rush woes, after his previous success in Minnesota. However, with Maybin seemingly making no changes in his game, one has to wonder exactly what Dunbar is coaching him on.

Garrett McIntyre – It was a nice story in Pittsburgh, but the Garrett McIntyre experiment has reached its peak. Miami continuously left McIntyre singled out, both on run and pass plays, and he could not break single blocking to save his life. A few times, he was even lined up over Jake Long, something the Jets should never have subjected him to. There is nothing to knock about McIntyre’s work ethic and effort, however he is simply overmatched, physically, far too often.

One play in particular that stands out, is on one of Reggie Bush’s early runs in the first quarter. Down inside the Miami 20, Bush’s run was stonewalled on the front side. The back changed directions, to meet McIntyre in the open field about two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Bush effortlessly made McIntyre look like he was on ice skates, resulting in a gain, rather than a tackle for loss. Now, in fairness to McIntyre, there aren’t many people that can get to Bush in the open field, however the seamless move made by Bush proves that McIntyre does not belong on the field in an every down, defensive role.

Marcus Dixon – Anyone who has been following this column through the first two weeks should not be surprised by the release of Dixon this week. He was certainly not the same player that he was in the past, a trend that continued in Miami, leading to his release. A class act, we can only hope Dixon finds his game and catches on somewhere else. For now, we move on.

The Linebackers – David Harris and Bart Scott were not particularly impressive this week. While they made their plays when it mattered late in the game, they each made a number of mistakes throughout the duration of the first 60 minutes. Harris, in particular, repeatedly attempted to arm tackle Reggie Bush in the first half, something that a back like Bush clearly shakes off with ease. On a 12 yard run with 3:56 left in the 1st quarter, Bush broke through to the second level. Harris, struggling to shed his block, attempted an arm tackle which Bush easily ran through. What should have been a 4-5 yard gain, resulted in a 12 yard gain due to poor tackling.

Harris and Scott also seemed out of sync on their blitzes at times. On a play in the first quarter, the two inside linebackers ran a twist stunt in their blitz that was poorly timed and led to a cluttered middle, which Bush easily averted and advanced to the Jets’ 3 yard line, setting up the first Miami touchdown.

What concerned me most about Bart Scott was his lazy technique at times. A few plays on which he was cut blocked down field, Scott, instead of shooting his hands and keeping the lineman off of his legs, merely lowered a shoulder, rendering no defense to the block whatsoever, taking him completely out of the play. For a veteran like Scott, there is no excuse for technique like this.

DeMario Davis and Josh Mauga each saw limited reps. Mauga was not impressive, and the sample of Davis was far too small to evaluate. He looked fast in his coverage breaks, however on the sole play that he was assigned to cover Tight End Anthony Fasano, Fasano fell down and was immediately overlooked by Tannehill.

The Secondary – Obviously, losing Darrelle Revis is as bad of a blow to any unit that could be imagined. Prior to the injury, Revis was the best player on the field, without question. While he was hardly thrown at, he showed a great ability to tackle in the open field on Reggie Bush, something that, as previously discussed, is no easy task. Revis will be sorely missed by this defense, but the remainder of the guys on the roster must elevate their play.

That includes Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie. Wilson looked better in man coverage this week, except for the fade caught by Fasano inside the Jets 10, where he was caught horribly out of position, as if he was not expecting Tannehill to target Fasano on the play. Cromarite played like he does. He had lapses in coverage that either led to penalties or big plays, but did enough to get it done. Both of these players are going to be very much under the gun throughout the remainder of the season, so it is imperative that they elevate their play.

Ellis Lankster filled in for Wilson as the Nickelback after the Revis injury and was not particularly impressive. On a 19 yard catch by Davone Bess in the fourth quarter, Lankster bit extremely hard on a double move, causing him to fall to the ground while Bess effortlessly ran by him and caught the ball on the sidelines. 

As you can see at the top of the screen here, Ellis is on the ground looking at Bess, who is wide open just before the 40 yard line. While Bess is no slouch, he certainly is not as good as some of the slot receivers Lankster will face throughout the remainder of the year. He will have a daunting task all season, beginning this week with 49ers’ Mario Manningham. New York will likely need to give Lankster as much help as possible.

As far as the Safeties go, both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell played well, other than a few lapses in run defense. A few times, Bell and Landry were caught taking bad pursuit angles, none of which resulted in large gains. They did a good job covering Fasano for the most part, and Landry had the play of the day with his interception returned for a touchdown.

Eric Smith was called for two personal fouls, neither of which seemed legitimate, but when will this veteran stop putting himself in situations like this? Smith was also terribly out of position on Jorvorskie Lane’s one yard touchdown run. As shown below, Smith turns his back to the sideline in his gap, rather than staying square, and gives up an enormous running lane, which allowed the Miami fullback to walk into the endzone untouched.

Bell, the player furthest to the left of the screen, is seemingly playing outside contain and simply cannot make it back in time to make up for Smith’s mistake.

While this defensive performance was certainly nothing to write home about, there are some encouraging signs. The safety play, for the most part, was very solid, and if not for the play made by Landry, the Jets may not have won the game. Muhammad Wilkerson can absolutely be a pro bowler if he can play consistently, and Ellis and Coples show flashes of brilliance, they just need to see the field more.

With Revis out, there is no doubt that everyone on this unit needs to elevate their play. The next 13 weeks will tell us a lot about the guys on defense, as well as Rex Ryan’s coaching ability. It certainly will be a daunting task to dominate, defensively, without their best player, but make no mistake that the Jets still have the pieces to have a very good defense. The keys will be consistency, cohesion, and most importantly, a ferocious sense of urgency.

New York Jets Fact Or False: Preseason Review Edition

Chris Gross weekly Fact or False reviews the New York Jets pre-season and makes a few predictions

For our final Preseason edition of New York Jets Fact Or False, we take a look back at the play of Gang Green throughout the summer, as well as making some predictions for the final 53 man roster and the regular season. There certainly is much to be discussed after a four game span that’s only offensive touchdown was led by third string quarterback Greg McElroy. Let’s jump right into it.

Mark Sanchez has taken major strides this preseason. Fact. Mark Sanchez has gone through arguably the most difficult offseason ever faced by an NFL starting quarterback. Since the meltdown in Miami last season, Sanchez has had to face rumors of dissension, trade, along with heavy criticism about his future, and the media circus that has ensued since the acquisition of Tim Tebow. Many players would have succumbed to the pressure and gone in the tank by now, however, Sanchez has seemingly done the complete opposite.

In his fourth preseason, Sanchez had to deal with a severe injury plague to his wide receiver corps, an issue that gave him virtually no real time with Jets’ veterans Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, a disastrous situation at Right Tackle, and a mediocre, at best, running game. Despite all of this, however, Sanchez posted a completion percentage of 68.6.

Numbers aside, the fourth year pro out of Southern California has shown the moxie that Jets fans have been waiting for since his rookie year. He’s looked more poised than he ever has, proved willing to look downfield (particularly against Carolina), his footwork and pocket awareness seem to be at an all time high, and most importantly he has displayed an excellent command of the offense. He did make one bad decision–the interception returned for a touchdown against the Giants–but other than that Sanchez has put any type of quarterback controversy to bed for now. If the offensive line and running game can get it together, this will likely be the most efficient season of Sanchez’s career.

Austin Howard will start the entire season at Right Tackle. False. While Howard certainly played well in his first start against Carolina this preseason, he showed some signs of struggle against Philadelphia last night. Although he is seemingly an upgrade over Wayne Hunter, the Jets gave the newly acquired Jason Smith extended reps in last night’s action, and the former 2nd overall pick looked quite impressive. The entire line was playing against the Eagles’ second and third string, but Smith’s play was encouraging, and undoubtedly noticed by the Jets offensive staff. A new environment and good combination of veterans may be just what Smith needs to prove why he was so highly sought after coming out of Baylor in 2009. Howard will begin the season as the starter, but he will be under the microscope, and the slightest slip up could cost him his job.

Quinton Coples is going to be an impact player this season. Fact. It is certainly far too early to deem Coples the next Jason Pierre-Paul or Justin Tuck, however the 16th overall selection has shown tremendous promise this preseason, leading the Jets with 4.5 sacks. Coples has also proved to be very tough against the run, while remaining extremely versatile, having seen reps at both end and tackle along the defensive front. His footwork and hand speed are beyond what you’d expect to see out of any average rookie, and his motor, something that was brought into question when he was drafted, does not seem to be an issue at all. He has shown hustle down the field, despite earning a personal foul for a late hit last night, and he chased down the immortal Cam Newton from behind last week, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by the Jets. Coples also seems to be playing with an attitude, and a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which should help keep him hungry and motivated throughout the season. A double digit sack season is not out of the question for the rookie out of North Carolina.

John Conner will make the 53 man roster. False. This is a bold prediction considering Conner was supposedly drafted as Rex Ryan’s personal choice two seasons ago. However, other than earning himself a catchy nickname on HBO’s Hard Knocks, as well as delivering a few quality Special Teams hits, what has Conner really done for this team? The running game has certainly not been the same since the departure of Tony Richardson, and although that can also be due to struggles on the offensive line during that time period, Conner has shown very little, if any, ability to be an effective lead blocker in this league.

More importantly, though, is Conner’s lack of versatility. Apparently he is not the bruiser that the Jets thought they were getting, as shown by his single carry of 0 yards last night against the Eagles. Conversely, he is virtually non existent in the passing game. As noted by a former NFL executive, the Jets became extremely predictable last season anytime Conner checked into the game, as the opposing defense knew of the fullback’s struggles in the passing game.

Extended reps for rookie Terrance Ganaway at fullback last night could be an indication that the Jets are leaning toward the 6th round pick out of Baylor to be the primary guy for the position this season. In one game he has already shown more versatility than Conner, catching 4 passes for 18 yards and a touchdown. He certainly has the size to be a starting fullback in this league at about 6’0″ 240 lbs, so it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. If the Jets are convinced that he can be a better blocker than Conner, his versatility makes him far more valuable to the 53 man roster.

The Jets will have a top five defense this season. Fact. Although the offense has had its struggles this preseason, the defense has played lights out. Sure, there are some coverage issues to be figured out, primarily the struggles of Bart Scott and Calvin Pace to cover underneath routes, but Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine should get very creative, personnel wise, with their third down sub packages to keep these issues in check. The defensive line has looked elite all preseason, with vast improvements from Kenrick Ellis assisting to a shutdown run defense. The new safety tandem of LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell looks like it can be extremely potent if both players can stay healthy. With the way the two of them have played together thus far, combined with the stellar cornerback play of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets could very well have the best secondary in all of football. It seems as though this defense has the perfect combination of veterans and young players to be a wise and knowledgeable, yet explosive unit. Expectations are high for New York’s “D” this year.

New York Jets – Struggling To Find Silver Lining

The New York Jets still haven’t found the end-zone this pre-season, despite some encouraging developments last night

There is no reason to act like not scoring a touchdown in three full pre-season games isn’t a big deal. It is. It is an embarrassing failure that speaks to a lack of cohesion and playmakers on offense. The New York Jets offense has been the worst in the NFL to this point. They are just fortunate that up until this point nothing truly counts and that their defense has conversely been one of the best.

The offensive problems last night started at the wide receiver position. Santonio Holmes dropped what would have been probably a 25 yard gain. Stephen Hill dropped a very catch-able ball that turned into an interception and failed to make a tough catch in the end-zone that should have been a touchdown. Was it a perfect throw from Sanchez? No, but that doesn’t mean that Hill shouldn’t come down with that pass.

The dropped passes took away from what should have been a huge night for Mark Sanchez, who was still 11/18 for 123 yards with completions of 20, 24 and 32 yards. He drove the football well down the field, throwing two bullets over the middle for big gainers to Dustin Keller and Patrick Turner. He read the coverage perfectly and delivered a perfect back shoulder pass to Stephen Hill outside the numbers for the other long gain. Unfortunately all that is swept under the rug when you don’t convert in the red-zone.

Outside of the dropped passes, the running game was a let down yet again. The Jets have shown no ability to run the ball consistently this pre-season. Shonn Greene finished with 47 yards on 13 carries. 3.6 yards per carry is not good enough. Greene seems to be stumbling immediately after he receives every handoff and still is not breaking any tackles or making anybody miss. There is nothing impressive about running through a well blocked hole. It is impressive when you make something happen at the second level to turn a blocked 3 yard run into a 15 yard run or a blocked 8 yard run into a 29 yard run.

Joe McKnight appears to be completely out of the mix at running back, receiving zero carries and even working behind Terrance Ganaway. Bilal Powell looks to be the primary backup and third down back. He showed a little shiftiness last night but still only finished with 29 yards on 8 carries, the same 3.6 yards per carry as Greene.

The Jets also remain clueless in short yardage. They were stuff again on 3rd and 1 and in reality stuffed on 4th and 1. They received a ridiculously favorable spot on a Mark Sanchez quarterback sneak for a first down. What purpose does John Conner serve on this roster? He can’t catch. He can’t convert on short yardage when handed the ball and can’t help Greene convert on third and short with his blocking. Beyond that, Greene’s biggest runs last night came out of a single back set.

Finally the offense made another killer mental mistake when Matt Slauson picked up a senseless personal foul that killed a potential scoring drive. The Jets are nowhere near good enough to overcome needless penalties.

Over to the positives, on offense outside of Sanchez throwing the ball very well, Austin Howard was terrific. He held his own against Charles Johnson and appeared to be play both fluidly and with a high amount of confidence. There will be bumps in the road with him but last night was a very strong start.

The real positives remained on the defensive side of the football, where the Jets have the makings of arguably the best run defense in the NFL. Kenrick Ellis was dominant at the point of attack last night and has earned himself a much larger role in the defensive line rotation thanks to a huge pre-season. LaRon Landry is a force in the run game and came up with his second interception of the pre-season. If he stays healthy, the Jets got a major steal in free agency. Quinton Coples had another sack and another forced fumble, along with constantly being in Cam Newton’s face.

The disappointing thing about Coples is how Rex Ryan called him out after the game for being winded and complaining about having to play with the second team. Good for Rex for staying on top of this and not babying him to the press. He needs to do that more frequently. A rookie complaining about playing time is inexcusable. Coples is freakishly talented and Rex and all of the veterans constantly need to stay on top of him so he reaches his potential.

For the first time of the pre-season, the blitzes the Jets dialed up were breaking through. The constant pressure led to a difficult night for Newton who finished only 6/15 for 60 yards with a turnover. Outside of Kyle Wilson, who continues to struggle the Jets defense appears in mid-season form and should be a top three unit in the league this season.

For all of the criticism heaped on the Jets offense, the same amount of praise should be heaped on their defense at this point. Will either unit play to their expectations in September? Only time will tell.

New York Jets: Offensive Pre-Season From Hell Continues

Thoughts on the New York Jets after two pre-season games.

I am going to treat this article like a compliment sandwich, starting and ending with something positive about the New York Jets with all the criticism in-between. So basically everything on this team besides the offense will be the bread and the offense will be the steaming pile of crap in-between those slices of bread.

The New York Jets have a very good defense. It won’t be a great defense until they generate a more consistent pass rush but with the way Quinton Coples is developing, that could happen sooner rather than later. The run defense is rock solid. The secondary is excellent. LaRon Landry looks ready to go and play at the Pro-Bowl level he is capable of, making the Jets completely loaded on the back end of their defense. The overall speed and depth of the unit has improved substantially. If you have a very good defense, you can be competitive on a weekly basis in the NFL.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the New York Jets arguably have the worst looking offense in the league right now. Wayne Hunter could be the worst starting offensive player in the league and I am not using a hyperbole to prove a point. It remains inexcusable that Mike Tannenbaum refused to replace him this off-season and it could very well be the decision that ends his career as the Jets General Manager. The Jets need to be on the phone with every team in the league trying to swing a trade for a tackle or looking to get Vernon Carey out of retirement.

Hunter is not supported by a strong blocking end either. The Jets literally have three wide receivers at the tight end position right now in Dustin Keller, Jeff Cumberland and Josh Baker. This shows when the “Ground and Pound” offense tries to run the football. Last night the Jets had 65 yards on 24 carries for a pathetic 2.7 average. Their longest run of the night was 8 yards. No running back can pop a big play. They can’t even move the chains in short yardage situations, as the Jets were stuffed on a 3rd and 2, 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 last night.

The wide receivers are a mess because of injuries. Mark Sanchez is yet to complete a pass this pre-season to one of his top three projected receivers, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. His longest completion of the pre-season has been 12 yards. What happened to those “chunk plays” Tony Sparano was referring to?

Sanchez deserves the blame for his interception last night, a poor decision and a worse throw. This is what happens when you throw 2 yard crossing patterns on 3rd and 10. The Jets allow defenses to smother their short routes because they don’t press the ball down the field. Part of that is playcalling. Part of that is protection issues. Part of that is on receivers who can’t get open down the field. And part of it is on Sanchez. All of it needs to be corrected.

Something positive to end with? Nah, just this. Get to work Mike T.

New York Jets Fact Or False: Preseason Week 1 Edition

Chris Gross weekly Fact or False previews the New York Jets opening pre-season game against the Cincinnati Bengals

For this week’s edition of New York Jets Fact Or False, we will begin a trend that will be prevalent all season long. Each week, F or F will be dedicated to the upcoming Jets game, as we will look at the most pressing issues facing Gang Green each week. For our initial take, let’s have a look at what to expect to see, as well as what to watch for, in tomorrow night’s game in Cincinnati.

AJ Green vs. Darrelle Revis will be the most intriguing matchup of the game. Fact.

AJ Green had a stellar rookie season last year, joining with Quarterback Andy Dalton to form the first ever rookie QB/WR tandem to make the Pro Bowl. Green hauled in 65 passes for 1,057 yards and 7 Touchdowns last season, while facing some excellent defenses along the way. However, this will be his first career matchup with Revis, and not to disrespect any other players, he has never quite faced a talent like this in his entire playing career. Revis is a completely different animal, but Green certainly has immense talent. Rest assured both of these players cannot wait to face each other, not only for the challenge, but for the opportunity to assert their dominance. Revis would undoubtedly like to strand yet another receiver on Revis Island, while Green would love to be one of the very few to get off. Although they will get limited reps against one another, expect each of those reps to provide the best matchup on the field tomorrow night.

Andy Dalton will outperform Mark Sanchez. False.

Although Dalton had a very solid rookie campaign last season, his numbers were average at best when facing defenses ranked in the top ten in the NFL. Against those opponents, Dalton completed 175 of 311 passes for 1,954 yards, 11 Touchdowns, and 10 interceptions with a completion percentage of 56.27 and a passer rating of 77.28. These numbers certainly are not terrible, especially for a rookie, but Dalton clearly struggled to protect the football. While he has already faced the stellar defenses of Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice each, he has yet to come up against a Cornerback tandem with the combined talent of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson. Factor in what should be improved Safety play, and Dalton could get overwhelmed quickly. He will certainly get his completions, however don’t expect him to outshine Sanchez. Sanchez is coming into this game with an extreme sense of confidence in relation to his knowledge of the new offensive system, and you’d have to think after what was probably the longest offseason of his playing career, he will be coming out with a heavy chip on his shoulder. Each of these players’ reps will be very limited, but look for Sanchez to play at a higher level than Dalton.

This will be a great test for the Ground and Pound. Fact.

Cincinnati ranked 7th in total defense last season, and for good reason. They have talent all over the board, especially in the front seven. They posses great size up front in players like Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, as well as defensive leader Rey Maualuga who racked up 88 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and an interception in just 13 games last season. This is a very tough, hard nosed defense, with great experience against offenses that can effectively run the ball, as they play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice each season. Any team that has to face Ray Rice twice in the same year is no stranger to power football, so this will be a very good, early test for the Jets’ projected return to the “Ground and Pound” philosophy. Friday night should be an excellent gauge of how far along this new system is, as well as where improvements need to be made. It will be very interesting to see how the heavily scrutinized Shonn Greene, the rising Bilal Powell, and the polarizing Tim Tebow contribute.

Mark Sanchez has the most to prove in this game. False.

While Sanchez may have the most to prove over the course of the entire season, this game will have little effect on how he is judged as the Quarterback of this team. He will see very limited reps, plus there are a countless number of players with much more to prove tomorrow night.

Patrick Turner is certainly one of those guys, as he is constantly overlooked despite having quietly developed what seems to be a nice chemistry with Sanchez. Jordan White was extremely productive in college and should have ample opportunity to prove his worth with all of the injuries at Wide Receiver. LaRon Landry certainly would love to show that he is healthy and capable of playing at the level that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Quinton Coples would love to put all the question marks surrounding him to bed, and although that will not be possible in just one game, he can certainly take a step in the right direction.

Austin Howard will get plenty of reps with Wayne Hunter being sidelined, and he needs to prove to the organization that they do not need to add depth at the tackle position from the outside. As the season progresses, veterans like Bart Scott, Tim Tebow, Jeremy Kerley, and Santonio Holmes will all be highly motivated to put recent criticism behind them, but that will not happen in the first game of the preseason, especially for Holmes and Kerley who will not be participating in the contest. Tebow and Scott could certainly play well, but they will not be considered to have proven anything until the regular season.

The Jets Defense Will Impress Early. Fact.

Many observers forget how good this defense actually is. Rex Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine produced a top 5 defense last season, despite finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time with the Jets. New York has done what it could to address the areas of need at Safety and in the pass rush, so each of those areas should be improved in comparison to last season. More importantly though, the Jets defense seems to have gotten their edge back. Reports out of camp already reveal that Bart Scott is back to his “Madbacker” form. Antonio Cromartie, although many times painfully outspoken, certainly will be coming into this game a bit enraged due to all the recent criticism directed toward him in the past week. LaRon Landry seems ready to run through a brick wall if he doesn’t hit someone in a different colored jersey soon, and Aaron Maybin and Ricky Sapp have been turning heads all camp.

From what we have seen in training camp so far, this defense has regained its speed, its motor, and most importantly, its swagger. Expect the starting unit to come out looking to make a statement early, especially considering the fact that they realize they will only have a few series to do so.

Rex Ryan is the most intriguing coach in this game. False.

Rex undoubtedly loves to be in the spotlight, and the media generally loves to focus on him. However, this game is not so much about Ryan as it is about the newcomers. It is going to be very interesting to see the first live action of Tony Sparano’s new system. There is plenty to look for including an established running game, command of the offense by Sanchez, and whether or not the offensive line has improved yet.

Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, it will be extremely intriguing to see the work of new defensive line Coach Karl Dunbar. Dunbar certainly has a surplus of depth and talent up front, so it will be interesting to see if he is in the early stages of maximizing that. New York’s pass rush has been built primarily on scheme since the appointment of Rex Ryan as head coach, so if they can generate a rush without having to blitz as much, it will be a very positive sign for Dunbar and his unit. Wide Receiver’s coach Sanjay Lal is another newcomer to the staff, and considering all the injuries at the position so far, the wide receiver play could say a lot about his coaching ability. If the younger, less experienced players come out strong, it could tell us something very good about Lal.

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