Mike Nolan with an in-depth look at recently signed New York Jets Running Back Mike Goodson.
Steve Bateman on how Tony Sparano tanked the New York Jets running game by employing a gap-blocking scheme
We are thrilled to welcome Steve Bateman to our writing staff as a full time contributor. He will be providing weekly film breakdowns and contributing to our roundtables among other things. Check out our About page to learn more about Steve’s previous work and make sure to give him a follow on Twitter!
All New York Jets fans know that 2012 wasn’t a vintage year for offensive production. And most are equally aware of the fact that the franchise can only solve that problem by blowing up the roster and getting shot of Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson and so on. But wait. Maybe I use the word ‘fact’ when really I should say ‘media-driven hype’ because – as we’re about to see – sometimes common wisdom isn’t quite as wise as the newspaper men might like us to believe it is.
But before we start looking at the real reason why the Jets’ trademarked ground-and-pound (and the Sanchez-led passing game that depends on it) crashed-and-burned last year, let’s remind ourselves of the fact that much like chess, the outcome of a football game generally depends on the people who move the pieces as much as it does upon the pieces themselves. This truism is what first set me to thinking about how the Jets running game had suddenly degenerated from being adequate enough to secure back-to-back AFC Championship appearances to being the, if-you’ll-excuse-me, butt of cheap jokes throughout the league.
Cast your mind back to the time when offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and his chief henchman, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo (left), first arrived at the New Meadowlands amid fanfares and proclamations that their new ‘Power Running Game’ would revitalize the Jets’ flagging ground attack. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it – power running? In actual fact it’s no more or less powerful than any other kind of running scheme – it simply sounds as if it is. So let’s refer to it instead by it’s slightly less deceptive name and call it gap-blocking.
Now, throughout the years when the Jets’ rushing game was at its peak under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Bill Callahan, zone-blocking schemes were the order of the day. This revelation in itself begs a couple of important questions, namely: In terms of execution, how similar is one scheme to another, and can somebody who’s effective as a zone-blocker be equally successful in a gap-blocking schematic? Let’s dig a little deeper…
The basic difference between the two is that in gap-blocking, linemen will be assigned to block a certain defender one-on-one and the running back will look to exploit a predetermined lane (or hole) through the defensive line. In zone-blocking schemes on the other hand, each player is told to move in the direction of the play and double-teams are formed against the opposing linemen. Then when a defender is taken out of the play or “washed down”, one of the double-teamers will come off him and look to make a second-level block on a linebacker or safety. Meanwhile, the ball-carrier is left to make a read on where the best running lane is.
In terms of the differing types of personnel that are required, because zone-blocking relies on linemen double-teaming defenders, strength and size are not terribly important. What’s far more useful is a combination of agility and speed so that the secondary blocks can be made against the smaller but more slippery linebackers and safeties.
Gap-blocking requires the exact opposite of these attributes – linemen in this kind of scheme benefit from having the size and strength that’s required to shunt defenders off the line of scrimmage in a man-to-man confrontation.
In summary, then, not only do zone-blocking (Schottenheimer/Callahan) and gap-blocking (Sparano/DeGuglielmo) differ massively in a schematic sense, they also demand entirely different types of personnel. Yet all of this seems to have been lost on the 2012 Jets, because for reasons best known to themselves, they opted to switch from zone to gap-blocking whilst maintaining almost exactly the same front-five lineup. This was hardly a recipe for success.
But the greatest madness of Sparano’s scheme centered on running back Shonn Greene (below, right). The man known to fans as ‘War Machine’ is a classic example of a runner who is suited to one kind of scheme and one only. Effectively Sparano could not have done more to mismanage his number one back.
Zone-blocking demands what’s generally referred to as a ‘one-cut runner’ – somebody who is powerful, disciplined and capable of running downhill (ie going to the ground while at the same time driving through tackles). It’s also essential that he has excellent vision as he’ll be required to flow in the direction of the play and then cut back to exploit any holes that open up. Agility and speed are not really factors because he’ll always find himself running through areas that are congested by defenders AND linemen who are making their downfield blocks. He cannot be an egotist who thrives on big plays – on the contrary he must be a team player who’s happy to collect 80+ yards per game in 4-5 yard chunks. Greene has all of these qualities in abundance.
But to succeed in a gap-blocking scheme such as the one that Sparano implemented, a back must have explosive speed out of the backfield so that he can quickly hit the pre-designated point of attack, and use his elusiveness to evade would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Then, once he’s downfield, he can take advantage of his speed and agility to capitalize on the open space by spinning and juking past unblocked defenders. Anybody who has watched Greene play football for five minutes should know that he is probably the last running back in the NFL who could be said to fit that description.
So why did Sparano commit to a gap-blocking system, and where do the Jets go from here? Well, the simple answer to the first part of the question is that it’s what he’s always done; cats don’t bark, dogs don’t meow, and Tony Sparano doesn’t run zone-blocking offenses. So in many ways the responsibility for this mess lies with former General Manager Mike Tannenbaum – the man who hired him in the first place. But the issue runs much deeper than that, and it highlights a significant problem that the Jets must resolve going forward, namely that whoever replaces Tannenbaum must be able to compensate for coach Rex Ryan’s almost complete ignorance of offensive strategy. Essentially Sparano’s hiring was an institutional failure, and that must never be allowed to happen again.
In terms of how to resolve the situation, the Jets have to do one of two things – either a) they replace Sparano with an offensive coordinator who is familiar with the zone-blocking scheme (my personal prayer goes out to Norv Turner, although realistically I’d be happy with somebody like former Raiders man Greg Knapp, left), re-sign Greene, and return to the ground-and-pound of old, or b) they abandon Greene to free agency, hire somebody with an ideology that’s similar to Sparano’s (Mike Mularkey would fit the bill) and look to rebuild both their offensive line and running back corps.
Fortunately it appears that the most sensible option is also the more likely one: Because of the current cap calamity in Florham Park it would be suicidal for the Jets front office to waste cap space and draft picks on rebuilding two areas of the team that were never really broken. And while Greene’s style of running will always make him unpopular with fans, the stark reality is that he is both perfectly serviceable and incredibly cheap (his average salary over the past 4 years has been just $663,750 per annum – by way of comparison, Reggie Bush’s earnings have averaged out at $4.9M per annum over the past 2 years).
Drawing to a conclusion, the Jets’ 2012 campaign was an almost unmitigated offensive disaster, but fortunately a quick off-season autopsy identifies the cause of death quite clearly. If the situation is to be remedied then it can only be realistically done so via a return to tried-and-trusted principles – any other kind of fix would just be inviting more disaster further down the road.
Over the next few weeks we will have some idea of where the franchise is heading when owner Woody Johnson announces who his offensive coordinator will be in 2013. Then, when the NFL carousel moves to Radio City in the spring, we’ll get an even better indication by looking at which areas the new General Manager chooses to rebuild.
The 2013 off-season is set to be a critical point in the development of the New York Jets franchise, and the two key decisions of who to hire as General Manager and offensive coordinator will almost certainly dictate whether the next 3-5 years see a recovery or an even deeper nosedive.
The past season, it seems, was nothing more than an appetizer for the real drama which is yet to come.
Chris Gross on why Rex Ryan shouldn’t be the fall guy for the New York Jets struggles this year
Over the past few weeks, the New York Jets have seen their season come undone in front of their very eyes. The Jets have lost 4 out of their last 5 games, 2 of which came in blowout fashion in their home stadium. Many have attributed this to poor coaching. Analysts, fans, writers, and even casual football observers have suggested that perhaps Rex Ryan is not quite head coaching material yet, that maybe he is better served as a coordinator. The same groups of people have also suggested that the Jets need to go after a former head coach with championship pedigree, someone like Bill Cowher or John Gruden.
However, the issues with the New York Jets go far beyond the coaching staff. The front office of this franchise has put this team in hole that could likely set it up for another year of poor play and mediocrity. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and those who work within the department have maliciously restructured and back loaded a surplus of player contracts, guaranteeing the salaries for this season and beyond to guys who would have likely been released due to their dip in performance over the past two seasons. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and even David Harris have all played mediocre at their best this season, and absolutely horrible at their worst. Yet, Scott and Pace, who began to slide last year, had guaranteed salaries for 2012, so they were not expendable for the Jets. Remember when Tannenbaum supposedly gave Scott permission to seek a trade this past offseason? Other teams likely laughed at the notion. Who would be foolish enough to take on the guaranteed salary of a player past his prime, clearly on the downside of his career?
Fortunately for the Jets, Scott and Pace can be released next season without any serious financial repercussions. Harris, on the other hand, is guaranteed just over $9 million for 2013; so unless the Jets can do what the Yankees did to David Justice when they traded him to Oakland, don’t expect Harris to be playing elsewhere next season. The reason these guaranteed contracts are tied into the current state of affairs with the Jets is because they limit the money that can be spent elsewhere throughout the roster. This is why you are seeing this team, who was an AFC Championship contender just two seasons ago, fall so far from grace that they are the laughing stock of the league. So poorly General Manager Mike Tannenbaum has constructed this roster, that the Jets are stuck starting players who likely would not see the field, or possibly make the active roster, on some quality teams around the league.
The Jets have lost a total of 7 games so far this season. While people continue to point to the coaching as the primary reason for these losses, many are forgetting just how depleted and shallow this roster really is. Let’s take a look at how the Jets talent compares to the teams that they have lost to this season, starting with the offensive personnel.
The information in green in the above chart represents the Jets offensive season statistics up until this point in the year. Based on the team’s depth chart, players are inserted into their proper position (Sanchez at QB, Greene at RB1, Powell at RB2, and so on and so forth). The information on the right side of the chart (in white) represents the season average of all of the Jets opponents’ statistics at their respective positions. The idea here is to give a representation of how truly overmatched the Jets have been, in terms of talent, against the teams that they have lost to this season.
Let’s start by looking at the quarterback. Mark Sanchez is performing statistically below average, in comparison to his opponents that have defeated him, in every single category. His completion percentage is nearly a full 9 points lower than the average completion percentage of that group, while his turnover ratio is much higher, touchdowns are much lower, and QBR and passer rating aren’t even comparable.
Now, the obvious argument here is that he has faced Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who alter the average because of their inflated numbers. Well, that assertion is false. Also included in that group are two rookies in Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson, a quarterback in Alex Smith who has just been replaced in San Francisco, and Matt Schaub who is good, but is certainly not the next Joe Montana. This is an average based off of two great, one decent, and 3 below average quarterbacks. An argument could certainly be made if these numbers were somewhat close, but for the most part they aren’t even comparable. Sanchez’s QBR isn’t even half of the average of that of his opponents, and his passer rating is nearly a full 20 points lower, as well. The level that he has played at for Rex Ryan and the Jets this year, would surely render him a backup if placed on any of these teams, and possibly in a third string role in some cases (New England, San Francisco, Seattle, and perhaps even Miami). The NFL is a quarterback driven league, as everyone is well aware of, and when you’re quarterback is performing well below the average of his competition, it is a miracle that you are able to win any games, never mind four.
Onto the running back situation. It’s no surprise that Shonn Greene is below the average of opposing starting running backs. This is an assertion most people who have observed the Jets this season have come to terms with. Greene is not a feature NFL back. He would be most productive in a stable of effective backs, primarily as a downhill runner late in games, as he was in the early stages of his career.
Unfortunately, though, Greene clearly is not in a solid stable of backs with the roster currently in place in New York. Take Bilal Powell for example. Although Powell has gotten one carry less than the average of RB2 on the teams the Jets have fallen to this season, he is still well below in total rushing yards, and is averaging nearly a full yard less per carry. His 24.4 yards per game and 0 carries of 20 or more yards are just not the numbers of a solid number two back capable of spelling a solid lead runner. His 3 touchdowns are impressive by comparison, but remember two of those came by clever play calling by Tony Sparano in St. Louis. Powell can be better if given a bigger role, but he has not performed to the average of his counterparts thus far.
Joe McKnight is, not shockingly, the only back outplaying his roster spot in comparison to RB3 on teams New York has lost to. Turn On The Jets has been a McKnight advocate all season long. His 22 carries are almost 5 less than the average at his position, however he has attained over 25 more yards than the average third back has. His yardage per game is only slightly above average, but remember, as the weeks continue to pass without him getting carries, that number is out of his control. By comparison, this position is the only one on the Jets offensive depth chart that they hold an advantage to over their opponents – the third running back spot.
As far as the wide receivers on this team go, the numbers speak for themselves. First, note that Santonio Holmes, who has been inactive since week 4, is still second among this group of receivers in receiving yards, and third on the team, overall. Now, let’s break into the current depth on the active roster.
Jeremy Kerley has been solid for the Jets this year, as the only real viable option in the entire corps. Unfortunately, though, Kerley just simply isn’t a number one receiver, a role he has been forced to take on due to injury and (what do you know) a lack of depth. As the chart displays, Kerley would be a solid number 2 receiver by comparison to the average of those opponents. As a primary target, though, he is, like his teammates, well below average. With nearly ten fewer catches, over 67 fewer total receiving yards, and just about 10 fewer yards per game, Kerley is a number 2 option that has been forced into a number 1 option due to poor roster depth.
Now, observing the remaining three receiver spots, you will find that New York has three players that play to the level of the average third wide receiver on those opponents. Gates is slightly below that average, but slightly above the average of the fourth receiver, outside of yards per catch and yards per game. Schillens and Hill would both be decent third receivers at this point, which Schillens basically is, but neither are even close to being an average number 2. In other words, the Jets have one number 2 and three number 3’s or 4’s on their roster. Combine that with the QB play that is well below average by comparison, and again, it is a miracle that this team is able to accumulate any type of passing offense.
The Tight End numbers are a bit altered because of injury, with Keller missing reps and Cumberland having to fill the void of TE1, but what you’ll see is New York is, once again, far below average at the position. It his hard to judge whether or not Keller would be better, statistically, and Cumberland worse, if Keller never missed time due to injury, but the bottom line is, neither of these Tight Ends are playing up to par at their respective positions.
Offensively, this team’s lack of talent is a true display of how hard it has been for the Jets to scratch out four wins so far. You have below average starters at every position, many of whom aren’t even playing at the level of opposing backups. Look at the opponents on that list and go through their rosters position by position, comparing them to the players on the Jets. Many players on this roster would not make some of those teams – Clyde Gates (who actually didn’t make one of those teams), Cumberland, and perhaps even Dustin Keller (NE, SF). When observing this personnel and the level each player has performed at thus far, is it really surprising that the Jets have lost seven games, or is it shocking that they have won four?
Onto the defensive side of the ball – Below is a chart similar to that of the one that represents the Jets offensive personnel in comparison to the opponents that they have lost to, position by position. The numbers in the orange represent the average numbers of the top three players at each position on opponents the Jets have lost to, with the exception of defensive tackle, where the average has used the top two spots on the depth chart from each of those teams. In the green, each defensive player on the Jets is represented. The number of players used coincides with the number of players used to determine the average of the opponents, to give you an accurate representation of where each player stands.
First, let’s observe defensive end. It should come as a surprise to no one that Muhammad Wilkerson is playing far above the average of opposing defensive ends. Wilkerson is superior in every statistical category, with the exception of sacks. Coples is only slightly below in terms of tackles, but is well above in tackles for loss. Sack wise, unfortunately, is where he, like Wilkerson, is below average. DeVito, is well above the average number of tackles, but again, lacks in sacks and even tackles for loss.
At defensive tackle, Sione Pouha has performed slightly above average, despite missing time, while Kenrick Ellis has been hampered by injury, causing his numbers to be below average. Taking the two of them into account, the Jets have had fairly average to slightly below average play at the NT position this year, a position that is vital to a successful 3-4 defense.
Another vital position in this scheme is outside linebacker. Here, the play is below average in nearly every statistic, at every spot on the depth chart. As far as sacks go, it isn’t even close. The defensive line is hampered by the inability to rush the passer from the OLB position. Often times, as our film breakdowns have revealed, teams can easily block one of these player using only one lineman or back, resulting in a great amount of double teams to Wilkerson and Coples. In other words, the OLB’s inability to rush the passer is preventing the defensive line from rushing the passer. This is a vicious cycle in this scheme, but a true representation of why this team has struggled so mightily in the area.
To finish out the front seven, we move to inside linebacker. David Harris is well above average in his run support, but far behind against the pass (only 2 PD vs. the average of 4, and 0 INT vs. the average of 0.7). This should come as a surprise to no one, considering how Harris’s struggles in coverage have been noted throughout the season. Behind Harris is Bart Scott and rookie DeMario Davis. Scott is clearly a well below average LB at this point in his career, and is making a strong push for the “poor” category. Scott likely doesn’t make the active roster in San Francisco, New England, Miami, Seattle, or Pittsburgh. Davis is promising as a rookie, but clearly he hasn’t performed up to par as well. Basically, this team has four starting linebackers who would be backups at best if placed on one of these opposing teams.
In the secondary, Landry and Bell have played excellent in run support, as the numbers indicate. Landry has performed better than Bell in the coverage area, but is still slightly below average, which tells you what you need to know about Bell’s play in coverage thus far. Eric Smith has been in and out of the active lineup because of injury, but considering he is the third safety on the roster, he hasn’t played insanely bad.
As far as the corners go, the only player worthy of any type of recognition is Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has three more passes defended than the average opponent, and nearly 2 more interceptions. His touchdown separates him from a majority of the group as well. Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster have been decent in terms of tackling, both still below average, but not necessarily horrible. However, in terms of coverage, it is rather embarrassing. Wilson has defended less than half of the average number of passes than his opponents, and he is a starter. Lankster isn’t quite as bad, but remember he has a lot more passes thrown his way when in the game, so that number is likely inflated.
In Short, this defense is solid at about 3 positions – defensive end, strong safety, and cornerback. You have about three players on the entire unit that are playing above the average of those players on opponents that have beaten the Jets. Combining this lack of talent, with the clear lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, is a clear indication of how poorly this roster has been built.
Most people want to put the blame on Rex, and their motives are certainly justified. Rex is far from perfect as a head coach. His lack of holding players accountable, particularly Mark Sanchez, needs to be altered if he wishes to have any success as a head coach in this league. However, Tom Coughlin altered his coaching style from a pure disciplinarian, with little personal connection to his players, to more of an emotional coach, back in 2007. This slight tweak in his coaching philosophy has led to two Super Bowl wins. Now, no one here is comparing Ryan to Coughlin. Coughlin is surely the superior head coach, and will be for some time. The point is, coaches can adjust and achieve success. Rex is more than capable of this adjustment. The true question is whether or not he is willing to do it.
Aside from this flaw, Rex is the right man for this head coaching job, at least for the next year. Among the head coaches in Jets history, Ryan ranks second in winning percentage behind only Bill Parcells. Ryan also has the most playoff victories of any of these coaches. Is this more of a reflection of how poor the coaching has been in this franchise’s history? Perhaps, but the point is, when you get a guy who has shown that he can win games, you don’t kick him out the door at the first sign of struggle. All coaches struggle at some point; it is part of the business.
Now the next argument that is often made against Ryan is that he inherited a loaded roster in his first two years, which is the only reason for his early success. This is another assertion that is very narrow-minded. Remember, there were only 4 new starters from the 2008 roster during Rex’s first year. Brett Favre, who made the pro bowl in ’09, was replaced with a rookie from Southern California who had only one year of college starting experience under his belt. Braylon Edwards was brought in after the team had already won three games, and proved to be a useful weapon to the rookie Sanchez. Defensively, the only two additions that were made to the starting unit were two free agents in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, who happen to have been previously coached under Ryan in Baltimore. With these minor additions, Ryan propelled this defense from 16th to 1st in a year. Offensively, Ryan’s strong rushing philosophy kick started a run game that jumped from 9th in 2008 to 1st in 2009.
Most importantly, though, Ryan changed the culture of this franchise. For years, the Jets had accepted mediocrity, often hovering around .500, or sneaking into the playoffs and being bounced in the first or second round. No one in the league seriously feared the Jets, but when Ryan arrived he installed a bloodthirsty attitude throughout his team. Suddenly, the Jets went from the hunted to the hunters. In 2009 we saw a Jets team that displayed a higher sense of urgency and team bond than he had seen in years, for some of us, a lifetime.
Ryan came in and did what no other coach in the history of this franchise has been able to do – win 4 playoff games. Never mind the fact that he did this in his first two seasons; that number currently ranks first in playoff wins by a Jets head coach, as previously noted. Unfortunately for the Jets, after 2009, the personnel department slowly began to dismantle the roster, resulting in the current lack of talent and depth that we have gone over.
In 2010, the Jets drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round. Wilson has played at the level of about a 4th rounder for the majority of his career. Many people want to blame Rex for this pick, but remember this decision was made in anticipation of a Darrelle Revis holdout. The front office likely wanted to have insurance and leverage over the looming Revis extension. So while it is easy to think that Wilson was Rex’s choice, remember that Mike Tannenbaum likely wanted to cover his rear end in the event that he could not structure a new deal for Revis.
Since then, the front office has done its best to dismantle this team. They have let key pieces leave, while replacing them with far inferior players. Tannenbaum has given guaranteed contracts to players in the tale end of their careers, who haven’t lived up to their ends of the bargain. Blame Ryan all you want, but don’t forget that the General Manager has the final say in all personnel decisions. Is it a surprise that teams run by Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis have had so much trouble keeping a head coach and finding adequate talent? This isn’t to compare Tannenbaum to either of those two, but the point is that head coaches are there to coach the players given to them by their front office, and that is exactly what has happened with the Jets.
Rex Ryan, although flawed, is not at fault for the troubles of this season. He has been given a well below average roster, and has still mustered up 4 wins, while coming very close to beating two of his conference’s best teams. The 2009 and 2010 teams, although talented, did not really have any superior players, other than Darrelle Revis, and Ryan brought each of those teams within a play or two from the Super Bowl. Rex has what it takes to get this team its first championship in over 40 years, but based on the numbers and clear lack of talent, not even the best of coaches could get this team above .500.
The front office of this organization is to blame for the misfortune you have all witnessed, not the coach. Based on the information presented here, Ryan has exceeded the talent on this team, and at only four wins, that tells you all you need to know about the poor work done by the front office in recent years. The common desire is for New York to bring in a head coach with championship pedigree, like Gruden or Cowher, as mentioned above. But remember this very true statistic – no coach in the history of the NFL has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams.
Rex has the ability to lead this team to a championship, and most importantly he has the hunger to do so, as well. Give him average talent, not even great, and this team will be able to compete for a championship. As the roster stands now, the Jets are not only below the top performers at each position, but they are well below average. No coach is winning with what Rex has to work with. Changes need to be made, but Head Coach is the one spot that needs to remain intact for the Jets to get where they want to be in the quickest manner.
Chris Gross with his weekly Fact or False previewing the Jets/Patriots Thanksgiving Night showdown
Happy Thanksgiving, Jets fans! After a much-needed victory in St. Louis last week, the Jets find themselves in a familiar, yet unfamiliar, spot in the Rex Ryan era. What’s familiar about tomorrow night’s game against New England is that the Jets always seem to find themselves in a pivotal point of their season when matching up against the Patriots for the second time in the 17 week regular season.
In 2009, New York headed to Foxboro at 4-5. A win would have been monumental as it would have not only gotten the Jets back to .500, but it would have completed a regular season sweep of New England for the first time since the 2000 season, when they were still led by the likes of Vinny Testaverde and Curtis Martin. New York fell that week 31-14, aided partly by Mark Sanchez’s 4 interceptions.
In 2010, the 9-2 (!!) Jets squared off with New England in Foxboro for sole possession of 1st place in the AFC East. Heading into that game, New York’s average margin of defeat in their only two losses was a meager 5 points, so naturally most people were optimistic about 2010 finally being the year that the Jets knock Brady’s bunch off of their pedestal and claim dominance in the division for the first time in a decade. What happened that night? The Jets were embarrassed 45-3 on national, prime time television.
Finally, in 2011, the Jets were hosts to the second regular season matchup between the two clubs. New York stood at 5-3 heading into their week 10 matchup with New England, fresh off of a dominant performance against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, NY. The Patriots, on the other hand, were also 5-3, but seemed to be spiraling downward, coming off of a 2 game losing streak to the Steelers and Giants. This was finally it. The Jets had New England right where they wanted them – reeling with an equivalent record, in their own building. It finally seemed that New York was ready to take over the division and earn a home playoff game, something many felt had held them from reaching the Super Bowl in the previous two seasons. Unfortunately for Gang Green, same story, different day. The Patriots smacked the Jets 37-16 in a game that was never close. It seemed as if this habit of dropping the second regular season matchup to New England might never be broken.
Now, the Jets finally have a chance to break that very habit. New York finds itself at a crossroad in their season. Standing at 4-6, this team has been hit from all angles. Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes are out for the year with season ending injuries. The media has used Tim Tebow’s presence in various attempts to stir up drama and rip this locker room apart. Ryan, General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, and Owner Woody Johnson, each praised for their brash styles at their respective positions in years past, have all come under heavy criticism. In short, Ryan’s once up and coming Jets have become the punch line for countless jokes revolving around the NFL.
So what does it all mean? It means the Jets face New England for the second time of the regular season in a relatively new position. Instead of being poised to topple the Patriots through a monumental victory that could shift the tide in the AFC East, New York now finds themselves with their backs against the wall. As we all know, Rex Ryan’s squad has done quite well in these situations in the past. Yes, in 2009, the Jets were aided by Jim Caldwell’s decision to pull all of his starters in their week fifteen matchup against the Colts in Indianapolis. However, New York still had to defeat the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals in week 16 to secure a playoff spot. As you may recall, New York came out with a vengeance, blanking the Bengals 37-0, propelling them to their first AFC Championship Game run under Ryan.
Similarly, in 2010, the Jets traveled to Foxboro for the AFC Divisional Round game against the Patriots. No one in the world gave New York a chance, considering how lopsided the outcome of the previous matchup between the two clubs was. With their backs against the wall once again, New York pulled off one of the most satisfying wins in franchise history, upsetting the Patriots 28-21, leading to one of the most memorable post game speeches in the history of the sport.
By now, you are asking yourself what this all means for tomorrow night’s game. The answer is simple. These two teams have never faced each other under these circumstances. The Jets, although notoriously laughable in this game under Ryan, will be hosting the Patriots with their backs against the wall for the first time in this situation. You can throw the history books out, because regardless of the outcome, a new chapter will be written in this rivalry on Thanksgiving night. Key players on both teams are out of this competition. Rex is out to prove his worth as a head coach in an attempt to rally his team toward an unprecedented playoff run, a goal that suddenly becomes attainable with a win at MetLife stadium tomorrow, considering the fact that New York’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 17-33. The circumstances are different, but New York has another chance at a monumental victory over their long time foe.
How will it all pan out, though? For the Jets, there are several feats they need to attain to put themselves in a position to reign victorious. Rather than using outright predictions, this week’s New York Jets Fact or False highlights exactly what Gang Green needs to do in order to stage an upset of the Patriots on the biggest stage. Digest these proclamations with your holiday bird, and be sure to give thanks for a full day of NFL madness, regardless of any outcome.
The Jets need Shonn Greene to carry the load of the running game past the Patriots. False. This is a no brainer. New York looked like an entirely new offense last week using a running back by committee approach. While many have attributed their success to a poor opponent, St. Louis actually ranks thirteenth in total defense in the NFL. Are the Rams great? Absolutely not. But Jeff Fisher’s club is certainly not the laughing stock it once was. New York needed a strong offensive effort, and that is exactly what they got, led by the resurgence of Shonn Greene as the battering ram, the emergence of Bilal Powell, who scored his first two career touchdowns, as the elusive scat back, and the somewhat proper utilization of Joe McKnight as the explosive, all purpose back. The result? Mark Sanchez put together his most efficient performance of the season, and New York won in dominant fashion in a must win situation. Sticking to this philosophy is an absolute necessity against New England tomorrow. Control the clock, keep Brady off the field, and give Sanchez something to lean on.
The Jets need to find a way to pressure Brady without a heavy amount of blitzing. Fact. Most people are now aware of the blueprint on how to shut down Brady and the high-powered Patriots offense. Hit the prolific quarterback over and over and over. However, the reason that teams like the Giants have been so successful against New England is because they can do so without a heavy amount of blitzing. Tom Brady has been lights out against the blitz this year – 86 attempts, 10 TDs, 0 INTs, 90.0 QBR, and a 127.2 passer rating. New York needs to find a way to get in his face without using the blitz.
New England has lost three games this season – home against Arizona, and on the road in Baltimore and Seattle. In those three losses, Brady has been sacked 9 times, while being hit 17 times. New England’s offense can surely sputter if opposing defenses can get to Brady. The key is to do it without letting him burn you on the blitz. Rex and his staff need to get very creative disguising their pressure schemes to create the illusion that the Jets are bringing more heat than they actually are, through an effective use of zone blitzes, similar to how they were able to rattle Brady in the 2010 playoffs. Look for Ryan to mix up his fronts, using a variety of four man rushes, led primarily by Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. With All-Pro Guard Logan Mankins ruled out for tomorrow, New York will have optimal opportunity to generate a strong interior pass rush. Based on the play of Wilkerson and Coples as of late, New England could easily have their hands full tomorrow night.
Tom Brady is the only part of the Patriots offense that needs to be stopped. False. While Brady is certainly the key to New England’s offensive success, the run game must be stopped at all costs as well. In each of the Patriots three losses this year, they have failed to generate more than 90 total rushing yards as a team. New York needs to make the offense one dimensional, and then worry about getting to Brady. A tall task, yes, but nothing will be easy in achieving the upset tomorrow night.
The Jets need to generate turnovers to win. Fact. Historically, the Jets under Rex Ryan have had their best success against the Patriots when they’ve been able to take the ball away from Tom Brady. In Ryan’s 3 total wins against New England, Brady has thrown a total of four interceptions. In New England’s five victories against Ryan’s Gang, Brady has turned the ball over via interception just once. This trend holds true to two of New England’s three losses this year. Brady has just three interceptions on the season, however one came in the home loss to Arizona, with the other two coming from the loss in Seattle. Another daunting task for the Jets, particularly without Darrelle Revis, but remember, Brady is missing two key pieces of his offense, as well, in Mankins and TE Rob Gronkowski.
The Jets Special Teams need to wake up. Fact. In order to pull off this upset, the Jets need to be nearly perfect in all three phases of the game. New York’s once stout special teams has been a complete disaster as of late. Blocked kicks, big returns, losing focus and succumbing to a surprise onsides kick have haunted the Jets in previous weeks. To quote ESPN’s Cris Carter, “Mike Westhoff, where you at?!” The prolific coach, now a household name thanks to his role in HBO’s 2010 season of Hard Knocks, seems to have lost the grasp of a unit that was once regarded as a crutch for New York in times of struggle. Westhoff must get his unit ready to play. Any lapse on special teams will likely spell disaster for New York. While you may be able to get away with some blunders against mediocre teams, New England is a different animal. Bill Belichick has likely gone through hours of Jets special teams footage, looking for ways to exploit this suddenly weak group. A big play on special teams cannot happen in any way whatsoever if the Jets wish to begin a late season playoff push.
Enjoy the game, enjoy your families and friends, and most of all, enjoy the Jets tomorrow night, folks. From all of us here at Turn On The Jets, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving.
Chris Gross looks at why it is a good thing Mark Sanchez will remain the Jets quarterback for the next couple of years
Mark Sanchez has become arguably the most highly criticized quarterback in the National Football League. Over the course of his career, Sanchez has become well known for his maddening inconsistency, something that has put him in the doghouse with the New York Jets fan base time and time again. However, following this week’s overtime loss to division rival New England, Sanchez unjustly received a heavy amount of blame for the loss from the fans and media, seemingly out of habit. Yes, Sanchez threw a poor interception. All quarterbacks do, it is part of the game. Sanchez also fumbled in overtime, a play that ended the game and crowned the Patriots victorious. However, what many are failing to realize is that, if not for Sanchez, the Jets likely would not have even been in position to fumble it away in overtime.
The debate will continue about this game until the Jets kickoff against Miami this Sunday at home. However, the bottom line pertaining to the New England game is that Mark Sanchez was the least of the Jets problems this past Sunday. The defense proved a notion we all knew: there is no closer on this group that can strike fear into an opposing quarterback on a final drive. The coaching became wildly conservative down the stretch, both offensively and defensively. Whatever the case may be for the loss in New England, Sunday’s game was much more about the growth of Mark Sanchez, rather than the two poor plays he may have made throughout the game.
Sunday witnessed Sanchez, a quarterback who has been left for dead by many over the past few weeks, go into a hostile environment and statistically outperform Tom Brady in his own house. Yes, Sanchez’s 28 completions on 41 attempts gave him a season high 68.3 completion percentage, nearly 7% higher than Brady’s 61.9%. Additionally, Sanchez’s 328 yards were greater than Brady’s 259. Outside of the poor interception, there is no statistical argument for which quarterback played the better game.
Statistics aside, this game saw a growth of Sanchez that we have not seen since the quarterback arrived in New York. When have we seen Sanchez take his team 92 yards down the field in the 4th quarter, on the road, on 9/10 passing and a touchdown to set his team up with a chance to take the lead? In his 4th season, people will not want to hear it, but the USC product is still growing, and Sunday proved just how much room he still has to achieve that growth.
Now, as far as Sanchez’s future with the team is concerned, we can sit here and discuss how the QB has been given an unfair slate to work with including a budget wide receiver corps and the acquisition of Tim Tebow, but we have repeatedly beat that drum, and quite frankly, the theme is played out and irrelevant at this point. The bottom line is, Sanchez is playing with the receivers, backs, and offensive line that he has been given, and he is beginning to play well. Good quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and that is exactly what we are starting to see Sanchez do. The Jets have adamantly defended Sanchez as the franchise quarterback, a notion many believed to be false after the team traded for Tim Tebow, however, Sunday proved it to be nothing but the truth. Mark Sanchez is the quarterback of the New York Jets for now, and for the future, and there are several reasons to examine as to why this is the case.
In his first two seasons with the Jets, Sanchez was merely a game manager for a team built primarily on defense and a high-powered rushing offense. Both the defense and offensive line ranked among the top of the league, and the basic belief was that Sanchez would serve as the game manager to complement these groups, until his development matured to the point where he could take this team over. What the Jets failed to realize in Sanchez’s third year, is that he was not yet mature enough to take on that role. In 2011, New York put their faith in Sanchez by cutting costs on the offensive line and receiving corps (with the exception of Santonio Holmes), believing that it was the year their quarterback could elevate the play of the average players that were put around him. Unfortunately, Sanchez was not ready, and following two consecutive AFC Championship game appearances, high expectations were not met. Sanchez, of course, was the fall guy. Whether it was just or unjust, New York is the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” market, so naturally the majority of the blame was put on Sanchez. An attitude began to develop amongst this fan base that, perhaps, he was not the quarterback of the future.
However, Sunday proved that notion to be completely wrong. Is Sanchez maddeningly inconsistent? Yes, no one is debating that here. However, Sanchez’s inconsistencies are becoming much less frequent, they are just magnified to the highest degree. Early in Sanchez’s career, his inconsistencies were tolerated because the supporting cast around him usually picked them up. Now, Sanchez’s supporting cast is not nearly as strong, so the burden is on him to carry this team, a role that he is slowly easing into.
Sanchez’s inconsistencies are also much more discussed because of the market he plays in. This is New York, where excellence is demanded. This fan base has zero patience, and if the first guy in line isn’t getting it done, there is an immediate call for the next guy. But is Sanchez the only inconsistent quarterback in the NFL? Absolutely not. Could you imagine if quarterbacks like Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, or Cam Newton were on this team? They would be massacred just as bad, if not worse, than Sanchez.
When it comes to the Jets, the truth is, that Mark Sanchez is, by far, the best option at quarterback for now and for the future. Look at the alternatives. Are you going to hand the offense over to Tim Tebow and become truly one-dimensional? The Jets would be foolish to do so. Tebow could not complete Sanchez’s touchdown pass to Dustin Keller from this past Sunday once out of one hundred attempts. Whether he is a competitor or not, Tebow is not nearly the NFL quarterback that Sanchez is, and the coaching staff knows this. Why do you think Tebow gets only a handful of plays each week?
The second option to possibly replacing Sanchez is to draft another quarterback. This would set the Jets back a minimum of five more years. This team needs pass rush help in the worst way possible, and using a first round selection on a quarterback, just 4 years after trading up to acquire Sanchez with the fifth overall pick would be downright foolish. Talk about a market that has very little patience, and you want to replace Sanchez, a player on the cusp of taking the next step, with a guy who you’d essentially be starting completely over with? Not going to happen, Jets fans.
New York’s fan base should not be discouraged by this, but should rather be excited about Sanchez as their quarterback. Yes, he has the flaws listed above, but he is also beginning to develop a moxie that we haven’t seen from him. When watching the Jets, we are beginning to see glimpses of Sanchez displaying the attitude that this is his team. The comparisons to Eli Manning’s early career are frequent, yet completely warranted. You can’t help but think about how Tiki Barber came out and knocked Manning after his third year in the league, following the running back’s retirement, eerily similar to how LaDanian Tomlinson came out and claimed that the organization babied Sanchez, and questioned whether or not he could ever truly develop into a great player.
Manning also took a giant step forward when the Giants lost Jeremy Shockey, a diva tight end who demanded the ball, during their first Super Bowl run, eventually trading the fan favorite away the following offseason. Could that be what we are seeing take place with the recent loss of Santonio Holmes? Maybe, maybe not, but the bottom line is that Sanchez is finally beginning to develop some cohesion with his offensive teammates. The chemistry being built with guys like Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill is extremely encouraging and obvious. Since the loss of Holmes, Kerley has established himself as the Jets top receiving option, hauling in 15 passes for 238 yards in the past 3 games. Hill, on the other hand, is beginning to develop a feel for his new quarterback, as displayed by the adjustment he made on the route on his touchdown reception against the Colts a couple of weeks ago. Dustin Keller proved to be a deadly option for Mark Sanchez in his first game back, something many expected him to do. The running game is suddenly rejuvenated and we are seeing formerly questioned guys like Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight now being praised for playing through injuries and displaying an extreme sense of dedication and tenacity.
The skinny on Sanchez and this team is simple. The core of this offense is in place with an abundance of young players that are developing more and more each week. Sanchez will prove to be the glue that holds it all together, for a group that has an extremely promising future. This offense could potentially develop into one of the most cohesive and talented units in the league in the years to come. Abandoning that now by getting rid of Sanchez would simply be foolish, and would likely go down as yet another move that would haunt this franchise for years to come.
Turn On The Jets breaks down the offensive game film from Jets vs. Patriots
Turn On The Jets is back with another offensive film breakdown. Make sure to check back later in the day for Chris Gross’ breakdown of the defensive game tape. Today the primary focus is going to be on the passing game, which the Jets found a good amount of success with against New England. We will be looking at both “Good Sanchez” and “Bad Sanchez” and why Jeremy Kerley, Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill were so successful at getting open.
The first two passing plays of the game were a perfect demonstration of Mark Sanchez’s inconsistency at quarterback. Tony Sparano called for a skinny post from the slot to Jeremy Kerley, which was executed to perfection. A good route from Kerley and a pinpoint throw from Sanchez in-between two defenders for a 20+ yard gain. The next play, Sparano goes right back to the well with the same play except to the opposite side with Stephen Hill in the slot. Encouragingly, Hill runs a very good route and gets himself wide open. Unfortunately, Sanchez overthrows him after just hitting a much harder throw to a much smaller target the play before. Frustrating to say the least.
The presence of Dustin Keller in the line-up made an enormous difference to the Jets passing offense. New England was forced to pay extra attention to Kerley on the outside, leaving Keller with one on one match-ups over the middle. Sanchez is extremely comfortable with Keller, particularly over the middle of the field. These are two separate 10+ yard completions, where Keller runs an option route, breaks the proper way and Sanchez correctly leads him away from the linebacker allowing him to turn up field. Expect to see a ton more of this throughout the year.
Sanchez only threw 12 incompletions throughout this game out of 38 attempts. At least five of those incompletions could be credited as drops. On the whole he was very accurate. However, Sanchez had his share of poor decisions as well. The interception was an indefensible mistake. He had two open receivers underneath, who he ignored and then floated an ugly, under-thrown pass to Stephen Hill. Later in the first half he tried to force this pass to Jeremy Kerley who is double covered and technically triple covered if you count the referee. He was lucky this didn’t turn into his second interception.
An appropriately criticized play-call was Tony Sparano’s decision to throw a slant to Chaz Schilens on 3rd and 1 near the red-zone. Regardless, the play was executed to perfection up until the ball went right through Schilens’ hands. This was a good route, a very good throw and a bad drop. Part of the reason you don’t make this call is because the Jets lack a big receiver who is reliable enough to make this play every single time.
Sanchez and Jeremy Kerley put on a clinic on how to operate the smash/fan combination in this game. Basically the Jets consistently had their outside receiver release on a short stop or in route and would send Kerley on a deep corner from the slot. The Jets completed this four times throughout the game, including this 19 yard gain where Sanchez drops a beautiful pass in all the way across the field.
We further see Sanchez’s arm strength on this touchdown pass to Dustin Keller. Look at how small that window is. Sanchez threw an absolute bullet in-between three defenders. There aren’t many people in the league capable of making this throw and I got news for you, Tim Tebow isn’t one of them.
A major point of contention towards the end of this game was Mark Sanchez taking a third down sack before the Jets go-ahead field goal. Anybody who criticized Sanchez in this situation is clueless (looking at you SNY). The Jets rolled Sanchez out and had Jeremy Kerley wide open at the 5 yard line. Sanchez cocks his arm back to fire it in to him but Kerley slips on his break so Sanchez pulls the ball back down. When he does pull the ball back down, he is immediately wrapped up. He then smartly takes the sack because if he threw the ball away, it would save New England a time-out. Yes, he added 10 yards to the field goal attempt but the Jets were so deep into field goal territory it didn’t matter at that point.
A few other player observations –
Jeremy Kerley – He is developing at such an impressive rate. Kerley runs precise routes and shows tremendous hands/toughness at consistently catching the ball in traffic. Honestly, he looks like a younger, quicker version of Santonio Holmes. Mike Tannenbaum got a steal in the fifth round.
Stephen Hill – His route running is really improving on a weekly basis. Outside of his drop, he easily played his best game as a pro. He made tough catches in traffic and did a nice job working back to the football on his routes. There is still going to be mistakes from time to time but Hill is going to be a very good NFL receiver, it is only a matter of time.
Shonn Greene – A solid effort from Greene, who picked up tough yards and somehow returned after taking an enormous shot from Brandon Spikes. Greene also deserves credit for being active in the passing game, where he made a positive impact and made a few difficult catches.
Joe McKnight – Ran very well, especially considering he played basically on one leg. When he is 100 percent healthy, it is hard to see him not being a much larger part of the offense.
OL – This was an ugly game for Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore. Shockingly, it might not be a bad idea to start giving Ducasse even more of Slauson’s reps. There is no discernible drop off between the two and Ducasse has a higher upside. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold both played terrific, Pro-Bowl caliber games. Austin Howard was “meh” but the Jets generally do a good job of giving him help.
Chris Gross gives his weekly Fact or False, previewing Jets/Colts
The New York Jets are coming off a very hard fought week 5 loss against arguably the league’s best team, the Houston Texans. Unfortunately, like Head Coach Rex Ryan pointed out, there are no moral victories in this league, despite the numerous amount of positive things the Jets may have done this past Monday night. Heading into week 6, the Jets look to get back to .500 as they host the surging, 2-2 Indianapolis Colts, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck and a revived Reggie Wayne.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the Jets being a desperate team, in need of serious roster adjustments, if they wish to have any chance at the post season this year. However, as ESPN‘s Colin Cowherd pointed out yesterday, the Jets are not a desperate team. The Jets are a very young team who are in need of their younger players to step their play up.
That’s correct, the Jets are actually a very young team. New York has been criticized as of late for being “old and slow,” however, of the 22 starters on this team, only 4 are over 30 years of age. At linebacker, yes, New York is certainly old and rather slow in comparison to other units around the league. In fact, of the 4 players that are over 30, 3 of them occupy 75% of the linebacking corps.
So where do the Jets go from here? Do they pick themselves up off the mat and realize that this season is far from dead? Or do they read the press clippings from just about every mainstream media outlet and pack it in, in preparation for 2013? Will the vaunted “ground and pound” that we’ve heard so much about finally get going this week? Are Mark Sanchez’s days as this team’s starting quarterback over? And finally, will the defense build on its strong second half from last week and shut down Luck and the Colts offense? Find out all of that and more in this weeks’s edition of New York Jets Fact Or False.
The Colts will run for 100+ yards. False. Indianapolis may be the only team in the NFL whose stable of running backs is just as shallow as New York’s. Donald Brown is seemingly filling the Shonn Greene role of getting carries by default, solely because there is such a lack of depth at the position. The Colts currently rank 19th in the league in rushing offense averaging 97.5 yards per contest. New York’s run defense came on very strong in the second half last week against Houston, and outside of a few very nice runs from Arian Foster, arguably the league’s best back, played particularly well all game. The Colts certainly do not have anyone on the roster that comes close to the talent level of Foster, so look for the Jets to take the run away early, and try to put in on the rookie Andrew Luck to beat them. Not an easy task against a Rex Ryan constructed defense, on the road.
Mark Sanchez will play well enough to keep his job. Fact. Sanchez has certainly struggled recently, posting historically bad numbers in terms of his completion percentage. Despite his depleted arsenal of weapons, he is still inexcusably missing key throws that he should be making. That being said, Sanchez will likely get back two key pieces of this offense in rookie Stephen Hill, who was monstrous for New York in Week 1 (a game that feels like it occurred light years ago), and tight end Dustin Keller.
Keller has been famously known as Sanchez’s most trusted target and safety blanket. As the team’s longest tenured receiving option, that perception is absolutely correct. Sanchez relies upon a good receiving tight end in key spots. Last week, Jeff Cumberland watched a Sanchez pass go off of his hands into the hands of the Houston defense, ultimately sealing the game on Monday night. Whether or not Keller would have caught that pass is irrelevant. However, Keller’s presence alone should give Sanchez some much needed confidence and a better feeling of security in knowing that his trustworthy tight end is back. With the return of Keller and Hill, expect to see an offensive improvement this week.
The Jets will rush for over 100 yards. Fact. It is depressing to Jets fans everywhere, that each week they have to wonder whether or not this offense, supposedly built on running the football, can collectively surpass 100 yards on the ground. However, over their past 4 games, the Jets have faced 4 of the best run defenses in the entire league. Pittsburgh currently ranks 11th in run defense, Miami 1st, San Francisco 7th, and Houston 9th. Four consecutive weeks of facing top 11 run defenses. While this is not an excuse for the Jets lack of execution in this area of their offense, they head into week 6 facing a much weaker unit. Indianapolis currently ranks 26th in run defense, allowing 135.8 yards per contest. With Robert Mathis out, there is really no one within the Colts front seven that should cause problems for the Jets running game. Look for Shonn Greene, who got a recent vote of confidence from Rex Ryan, to continue to get the majority of the carries, finishing with 75-90 yards, while Bilal Powell and Tim Tebow chip in for a collective total of about 50 yards on the ground. Once again, it will not be pretty, but if anything, it will be an improvement from what we have seen.
Reggie Wayne will have 5 or more receptions. False. Since losing star cornerback Darrelle Revis to a season ending ACL injury in week 3, his counterpart, Antonio Cromartie, has stepped up his play tremendously. In week 4 against San Francisco, Cromartie held Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree to a combined 2 receptions for 15 yards. Last week, the veteran out of Florida State held Houston’s Andre Johnson to just one reception for 15 yards. Cromartie is proving to be in that elite group of defensive backs in this league. This week, it will be even more imperative for him to continue this level of play, as Reggie Wayne has been Andrew Luck’s most targeted receiver. Take Wayne away, and the rookie is left with a makeshift group of receivers. Shutting down Wayne will be key to defensive success as it will likely fluster the young Quarterback to not have the trusted veteran as an option. The defensive coaching staff has likely been preaching this to Cromartie all week, who has been playing with a heavy chip on his shoulder due to the vast amount of criticism he has received over the past year. Look for Cro’ to continue his elite level of play.
Quinton Coples will register his first NFL sack this week. Fact. Everyone is waiting for this to happen, and based on our defensive film breakdowns, Coples is right on the cusp of registering that coveted first career sack. The rookie out of North Carolina is growing with every rep he gets, and Indianapolis has given up 9 sacks in 4 games, not terrible, but certainly not very good. Look for Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to continue to move Coples all over the board, and for a sack to come on an inside stunt, where he is such a mismatch for slower offensive linemen.
The Jets will return to .500 after this week. Fact. New York hasn’t lost 3 consecutive home games since 2009, Ryan’s first year with the club. The defense has slowly been improving, and this could be the week that they put it all together for the dominant performance everyone has been waiting for. Expect Ryan and Pettine to throw the kitchen sink at the rookie Luck, who will face arguably the toughest defense he has all year, on the road, and expect the offense to do enough to give the Jets a double digit victory.
As we enter the final week of the first quarter of the 2012 NFL season, we still aren’t necessarily sure who this New York Jets team is just yet. For a team striving to be built primarily through strong defense and a ground and pound offensive philosophy, the 2012 Jets have been anything but that. New York currently ranks 21st in overall defense this season, a ranking that could certainly grow worse with the loss of the team’s best overall player, CB Darrelle Revis. Offensively, the Jets rank 22nd overall, but are 29th in rushing yards per carry, with an abysmal average of 3.3. Shockingly, however, New York’s offense ranks just outside of the top ten in points scored, standing at 11th overall, only one spot behind Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, with 81 total points.
Translation? All is not lost for New York just yet, despite countless fans and media members declaring them dead without Revis lurking in the defensive secondary. For a team ranking in the bottom tier in defense and rushing offense, New York still stands at 2-1 and first in the AFC East. However, it is no secret that this team needs vast improvements in most aspects of the game, otherwise they will in fact suffer the complete landslide that everyone seems to be waiting for.
How can the Jets get back into that upper tier of teams without Revis? It begins with a few things. First, the Jets need to begin to limit Shonn Greene’s touches. By now, it is no secret that Greene is not the feature back New York thought he was going to turn into. Averaging an extremely disappointing 3.1 YPC this season, Greene has been arguably the most boring running back in the NFL this year. His lack of ability to make defenders miss and break tackles is noticeable to even the most fair weather fans. It is time Tony Sparano begins to divide his workload amongst the other backs on the Jets roster, namely Bilal Powell, who averaged 4.5 YPC last week in Miami, and (you guess it) Tim Tebow. Rex Ryan will also need to prove how great of a defensive mind he really is. Without Revis eliminating a player from opposing offenses, Ryan is going to need to show what made him such a successful defensive coordinator during his days in Baltimore. He will need to be very creative both schematically and personnel wise in order for this defense to assert itself as one of the league’s best again.
This week is sure to be a daunting test for each area of improvement for the Jets. Will New York be able to make the necessary adjustments in all phases of the game to overcome the powerhouse that is the San Francisco 49ers? Find out how it all will shake out in this week’s New York Jets Fact Or False.
Quinton Coples will register his 1st NFL sack. Fact. As good as San Francisco’s offensive line is in the running game, they have struggled so far in protecting quarterback Alex Smith this season. Smith has been sacked 10 times through the first three games this year. While Green Bay, Detroit, and Minnesota certainly have better pass rushes than the Jets, don’t be surprised to see New York’s first round selection get himself his first career sack this Sunday.
Although he has seen limited reps in his first few games, Rex Ryan proclaimed today that he expects the rookie out of North Carolina to take on a heavier workload this week. Coples has been an absolute mismatch when he’s been lined up on the inside on passing downs due to his superior athleticism against interior lineman. He has also been tremendous on the few stunts that he has run, often playing with excellent agility and leverage. Expect Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine to get creative with their blitzes and stunts this week to confuse an offensive line that has struggled in pass protection this season. That could very well leave the door open for Coples to get to Smith for his first, of what could be many, NFL sacks.
Mark Sanchez will finish with a higher passer rating than Alex Smith. False. This is not to say that Sanchez will not play good. However in terms of passing efficiency, there have been very few who have done it better than Smith over the past year. This season alone, Smith ranks 7th in passer rating among all starting quarterbacks in the NFL with a rating of 102.7, that includes 5 touchdowns to just 1 interceptions and a completion percentage of 69.6.
Sanchez on the other hand ranks last in the league in terms of completion percentage, having completed just 50.5% of his passes with passer rating of 78.3. Of course, Sanchez has been hindered by the Jets’ lack of running ability as well as a very inexperienced group of receivers.
This is not to say that this unit will not get it together and outperform Smith and the 49ers’ passing attack this Sunday, however, the primary X-Factor in this is the absence of Darrelle Revis. Without Revis in the secondary, opposing teams are completing over 70% of their passes against New York. When facing a team like San Francisco, whose entire passing game is built on efficiency and a lack of mistakes, it will be very difficult for Sanchez to outperform his counterpart.
Frank Gore will rush for 100+ yards. Fact. Over the course of his first three games, Gore has run for 264 yards on just 45 carries, for an excellent average of 5.9 YPC. Although he has surpassed the century mark just once this season, he has yet to be given a heavy workload, with a season high of 17 carries in week 2 against Detroit.
This week, however, expect San Francisco to put the Jets 22nd ranked defense to the test. Based on the success that CJ Spiller and Reggie Bush experienced against this defense, the 49ers would be wise to give Gore the ball early and often. While New York is much better suited to defend backs like Gore, rather than Spiller or Bush, do not be surprised to see the former Miami Hurricane get anywhere from 20-25 carries, taking him over the 100 yard mark for the second time this season.
The Jets will not surpass 100 yards rushing as a team. False. Yes, the Jets have struggled to run the ball this season, but as addressed above, that is a heavy result of the inabilities of Shonn Greene. To think that New York is going to abandon its ground and pound philosophy after just three games under Sparano is utter blasphemy. New York’s inability to run the ball is undoubtedly keeping Sparano up at night, surely enough to devise a very clever game plan against one of the league’s top defenses.
Sparano and co. are likely wise enough to realize that they will struggle to pound the ball against this defense in jumbo packages. Expect New York to come out in various spread formations, and actually look to pass early to open up the running game. If Sanchez can be efficient and prove to be able to stretch the field in the first few offensive drives, San Francisco will have no choice but to unload the box, giving New York ample space to run the ball. The Jets should divide the workload amongst an abundance of ball carriers who will all collectively gain over 100 yards.
At least 4 different players will carry the ball for the Jets. Fact. As touched on above, Shonn Greene’s days as a 20-25 carry back are seemingly over. It is time for the Jets to divide his carries amongst Powell, Tebow, and possibly the newly acquired Jonathan Grimes. While Greene will likely still get around 10-12 carries this Sunday, look for Powell to cut into that load the most with about 15-17 carries. Tebow will likely chip in out of the Wildcat with somewhere around 5-7 carries, and New York would be foolish not to give the ball to the speedy Grimes, or the recently “traded” Joe McKnight a few times to attempt a home run play.
While the Shanahan approach of playing an abundance of Running Backs is not necessarily a popular one in this league, Greene has left the Jets with no choice. In order for this offense to get on track, they need to be able to run the ball, and in order to be able to run the ball, the Jets need to divide the workload, plain and simple.
A closer look at the New York Jets problems running the football
The New York Jets spent the entire off-season talking about their running game in prideful, reverential terms. Yet never made the effort to improve it. They didn’t pursue a blue-chip running back. They didn’t add a run blocking tight end. They didn’t upgrade at the fullback position. Basically, they stubbornly stuck to their average starting running back, a below average fullback, a collection of unproven backups, and a group of wide receivers playing tight end. Are we surprised they have struggled to run the football through three games?
Despite many people’s insistence at holding on to hope for Shonn Greene, the problems with the running game start with him. The film breakdown from the first two weeks (and the third week) show him consistently leaving yards on the field. The numbers support this as well. Greene has 57 carries for 157 yards, which comes out to an embarrassingly low 2.8 yards per carry. With 22 carries, backup Bilal Powell has averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The contrast was most clearly shown last week when Greene could only rack up 40 yards on 19 carries (2.1 YPC) and Powell was able to accumulate 45 yards on only 10 carries (4.5 YPC).
If Powell would have had Greene’s 19 carries, he projects to finish with a solid 85 yards on the ground. The excuse that the offensive line isn’t creating holes is simply incorrect. Are they a dominant unit? No. However, they are opening lanes on a regular enough basis for a competent NFL running back to average 4 yards per carry.
Greene is a plodding back who seems to have lost a step from last season, a harsh reality that could have him out of the league within a few years. He cannot get the edge on outside runs. He cannot make anybody miss when he gets to the second level on inside runs. He stumbles frequently when receiving handoffs and isn’t running anybody over because he can’t generate enough momentum. When you get 27 carries in a NFL game and can’t crack 100 yards as Greene couldn’t in week one, you aren’t good enough to be a starter.
We constantly hear how Greene is a slow starter in both seasons and games. Why do the Jets need to wait until week 7 for Greene to get going? How about he comes into the season down 15 pounds and looking to gain a step, instead of starting even slower than he has the previous two years? Are the Jets expected to wait until Greene’s 15th carry in every game for him to have a single run over 3 yards? I don’t think it is insane to have higher expectations of a starting running back than that. This is his contract year and he has 57 carries for 157 yards…57 carries for 157 yards!
So what is the solution? The Jets would be wise to add an option from outside the organization, whether it is Ryan Grant via free agency or Chris Ivory via trade. However, Mike Tannebaum has shown no inclination to improve the running back position so why would he start now? If the Jets are staying in house, the answer is simple – make Bilal Powell the starter, make Joe McKnight the third down back, considering he is arguably the fastest player on the offense and can catch an out route out of the backfield better than Tim Tebow could. Speaking of Tebow, make him the short yardage back from the quarterback position. In case you haven’t noticed, Greene is poor in short yardage situations as well and that is something Tebow traditionally excels at.
Outside of running back, Konrad Reuland should play above Jeff Cumberland as the backup tight end when Dustin Keller returns. He should also see more action at fullback, since anything that keeps John Conner off the field is a positive. The Jets should also incorporate Jeremy Kerley into the running game. Kerley is averaging a monstrous 23 yards per catch and has shown the ability to make things happen as a returner and runner (on reverses and out of the Wildcat last year). Have you seen how Green Bay uses Randall Cobb? That is how the Jets should use Kerley in their running game.
The New York Jets running problems will only be solved if they turn away from the ignorant 20 carries per game for Shonn Greene. It is time for a committee approach that is more creative and gives Mark Sanchez the hope of having a balanced offense.
Chris Gross weekly Fact or False previews the Jets/Dolphins week 3 match-up
The New York Jets head into their third regular season game, a road trip to Miami, standing at 1-1, coming off of a very abysmal performance in Pittsburgh. As the Jets gear up to face the Dolphins, a seemingly must win game with San Francisco and Houston lurking afterwards, there are numerous issues to be addressed with this team. Which New York Jets will show up in Miami and in the coming weeks? Will it be the team that crushed Buffalo in the season opener led by an offensive explosion? Or will it be the team that faced the same troubles that haunted it last season – offensive woes and an inability to get the defense off the field on third down?
The Jets have come under heavy scrutiny following the loss to Pittsburgh. Mark Sanchez went from the league’s most improved Quarterback in week 1, to the scapegoat of the New York media that infatuates the Daily News more than Justin Bieber does to a teenaged girl. The mainstream media in this city has the most extreme love/hate relationship with the Jets’ fourth year quarterback. Simply put, they love to hate him.
What about the running game? What happened to that vaunted ground and pound that was preached all offseason? Tim Tebow was supposed to be a key part of Shonn Greene’s supporting cast, but so far, he has been completely irrelevant to this offense. Speaking of Greene, will he ever reveal himself to be the bell cow the Jets think he can be, or is it time to start spreading his carries out amongst New York’s stable of less than average running backs?
In terms of the defense, can the Jets prove that they can stop an elusive running back? While the run defense was fantastic last week in Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ didn’t exactly put Barry Sanders on the field. The Jets were gashed by CJ Spiller for 169 yards on opening day, continuing the trend that began last season of not being able to match up with speedy backs. Can they stop Reggie Bush, coming off of a career performance, the shifty Lamar Miller, and the rest of the Dolphins’ rushing attack this week?
Find out all of this, and much more, in this week’s New York Jets Fact Or False.
1.) Shonn Greene will average at least 4.0 YPC. False. Greene’s career high, in terms of yards per carry, against Miami came last year in the forgettable season finale, when he accumulated 55 yards on 14 carries, for a 3.9 YPC average. Now, Greene is coming off of two very sub par performances against Buffalo and Pittsburgh where he averaged 3.5 and 2.1 YPC, respectively.
Miami, on the other hand, has allowed just 3.0 YPC to Arian Foster in week 1, along with a ridiculous 2.0 YPC to Darren McFadden at home last week. To put it nicely, Miami has shut down two backs that are quite a bit more accomplished than Greene. Expect the Jets to rely on Greene for about 12-15 carries, while finally spreading the carries out amongst their other three runners in Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight, and Tim Tebow. With how Greene has played, combined with how excellent Miami’s run defense has been, there should be no reason for the Jets to believe that Greene can carry the entire rushing load on Sunday. Powell, McKnight, and Tebow have all been fair in the select time they’ve been given, so it is time to see what they can do with an expanded workload. Tony Sparano needs to get the ball to Powell and McKnight in space, via screens, sweeps, or misdirections. He should not be afraid to swing for the fences with these two on Sunday.
As for Tebow, it is time New York stop being so careful with their prolific backup quarterback. It seems as though the fear amongst the coaching staff is that if Tebow plays well in expanded minutes, they will face public pressure to insert him as the starter over Mark Sanchez, in the event that number 6 begins to truly struggle. However, if they use Tebow primarily as a runner, which they absolutely should be doing, he can be just another tool to assist the run game and take some pressure off of Greene.
However the game plan unfolds, do not expect Greene to surpass the 4.0 YPC mark. It simply is not going to happen.
Mark Sanchez will throw for 225+ yards and 2 TDs. Fact. Defensively, the Dolphins are built very much like the Buffalo Bills. They have a very above average front seven, with an extremely suspect secondary, even more so due to the recent departure of CB Vontae Davis. While the Jets running game may struggle to get going early, expect Sparano to allow Sanchez to sling the ball deep. Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, and Jeremy Kerley all have the ability to stretch the field, and when facing a secondary like Miami’s, there should certainly be free reign to do so.
The key will be for Holmes and Hill to prove they can respond to press coverage. Dolphins CB Sean Smith is a very physical player, and you can rest assured he took note of how Holmes and Hill struggled with the physicality of the Pittsburgh secondary last week. If Sparano can dial up some creative routes, and the Jets can prove to play well against this type of coverage, expect Sanchez to have a field day against this secondary.
3.) Reggie Bush will run for 100+ yards. False. While the Jets certainly have had their struggles with speed backs over the past season and two games (as previously noted), Bush will likely be their primary focus this week. In his sole contest against New York last year, the former Heisman Trophy winner picked up 71 yards on just 10 carries, for an eye-popping 7.1 YPC average. However, that was a Miami team that had a pro bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall, and a veteran quarterback in Matt Moore.
This time around, Miami brings out an offense led by a rookie at quarterback whose primary receiving option is Brian Hartline. Expect New York to key Bush early and often, and do everything they can to prevent him from getting the ball in space. Bart Scott looked quicker than he has in years last week in Pittsburgh, and although the Steelers’ backs certainly do not posses the speed of Bush, it is undoubtedly a sign of encouragement. Do not be surprised to see Rex Ryan send LaRon Landry on some Safety blitzes early in the game to introduce Bush to his hard hitting style, with the hope of rattling the 7th year pro and setting the tone from the beginning.
4.) Cameron Wake will have at least one sack. False. While Wake has established himself as one of the most ferocious pass rushers in the NFL over the past three years, he has registered just 2 sacks against the Jets in 6 contests. What’s even more surprising is the fact that he did not get to Sanchez at all over two games last year. This is likely a result of the Jets giving the recently (and thankfully) departed Wayne Hunter an abundance of help on Wake last year, something they will likely do again with Austin Howard this Sunday. While Howard is certainly an improvement over Hunter, Wake is Miami’s best defensive player and will be accounted for at all times. Sacks could still come from Miami, but Wake will likely be neutralized due to the high amount of attention the Jets will give him.
5.) The Jets will register multiple sacks. Fact. Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 4 times over the course of his first two NFL games, including three in the opener in Houston. While the Jets’ pass rush isn’t nearly as good as the Texans’, Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine will be sure to draw up some exotic blitzes to get in position to bring the rookie to the ground. New York sacked Ben Roethlisberger 3 times last week in Pittsburgh, but realistically had opportunities to bring him down at least thrice more. Tannehill is not nearly as difficult to bring down as Big Ben, so expect the Jets to finish this week. Tannehill should have some serious grass stains on his back come Sunday afternoon.
6.) Ryan Tannehill will throw 2 interceptions. Fact. Tannehill looked promising in last week’s win against Oakland, however in his opening day start against Houston, the Texas A&M product struggled mightily, throwing 3 interceptions to start his NFL career. This was largely due to Houston Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips getting extremely creative in his coverages and blitz packages, making Tannehill extremely uncomfortable and forcing him into making bad decisions. Like Phillips, Ryan and Pettine will look to confuse the rookie from the start. Expect the Jets to do a good job of disguising coverages and sending pressure at Tannehill. If they can rattle his cage early, it would not come as a surprise to see the young QB become overwhelmed, and turn the ball over more than once.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, this guy makes his return this week.