Let us start this New York Jets Therapy Session by examining the symptoms, three incidents in particular:
Tampa Bay: The first game of the season was a low scoring affair that saw the Jets trail into the fourth, despite the defense forcing a safety, numerous pre-snap offensive penalties, and an interception. The Jets punted the ball with 2:21 left on the clock. The defense allowed Josh Freeman (yes, he who was recently released) to take the Buccaneers offense (yes, the one ranked 31st in the league after five games) deep into Jets territory on a drive that included a 37 yard bomb to Vincent Jackson and a 17 yard run by Doug Martin (who, until that drive, was averaging 1.9 yards per carry). Only a whirlwind drive, with 34 seconds on the clock, with no time outs, orchestrated by a raw rookie in his first start earned the Jets a W.
Buffalo: Going into the fourth quarter the Jets were on top of the Bills 20-12. The defense had baffled rookie EJ Manuel all game and held the floundering Bills offense to four field goals. The Jets seemed to get significant pressure on the rattled rookie every play and held Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to a limited output. However, with time winding down the defense loosened and allowed Manuel to orchestrate a six play – eighty yard scoring drive, in under three minutes, to tie up the game. The Jets once again leaned on their rookie who was able to bring them back with a beautiful 69 yard bomb to Santonio Holmes.
Atlanta: The Jets were up, 27 – 14 early in the fourth quarter. The defense dominated for most of the game, limiting the Falcons running game to a pretty pedestrian level and keeping the explosive trio of Gonzalez, Jones, and White in check. Only after they were up by 2 possessions did the Jets defense begin springing leaks. Matt Ryan, after being stymied most of the game, commanded two efficient scoring drives that left the Jets defense on their heels. After controlling much of the game, the Jets needed another Geno Smith fourth quarter comeback to ice the game.*Note: At no point in the Patriots, Titans, or Steelers games did the Jets have a lead in the fourth. An issue for another time.
Diagnosis: So, what can one glean from these three games?
- The Jets won all three.
- The win came at the hands of a fourth quarter comeback from rookie Geno Smith.
- They all came at the heels of a blown lead in the fourth quarter.
This is a serious issue. The Jets defense blew a fourth quarter lead, after playing a lights out first three quarters, in all three of the Jets wins. Seeing a rookie quarterback take command and show the wherewithal necessary to drive a team to victory is something of a silver lining. However, the Jets defense (ranked 5th overall) has been touted as a strength of the team. As such, it should not force an inexperienced signal caller into such adverse situations. The most frightening aspect of the Jets defense tendency to blow fourth quarter lead is that it is not strictly isolated to the 2013 season. Rex Ryan’s brainchild since he became the Jets head coach has consistently lost control in the fourth quarter and put the offense in a bad position. This is a classic case of fourth quarter slippage.
Treatment:The Jets defense has played outstanding in the first three quarters of games in five years under Rex Ryan. They have even held on to their fair share of leads. However, three of six games in one year that reflect numerous performances in years prior, constitute a disturbing trend. The fact that one of the best motivators and defensive minds in the game has not been able to solve the issue makes treatment difficult. This begs the question however…
Defensive Adjustment: Perhaps one of the biggest knocks on Ryan in his Jets tenure has been his inability to adjust in game. His schemes and game plans going into a matchup are unparalleled and often help the defense take over games. However, when an offense finds the chink in the Jets armor they are able to exploit it. Perhaps offenses have been deciphering the defense and attacking perceived weaknesses. It may require a preemptive scheme switch going into the fourth quarter or more reactionary changes from the coach, but this needs to be addressed. Three quarters of dominant defense will not cut it against a modern NFL offense.
Offensive Adjustment: The Jets offensive play callers have tended to lean on a conservative game plan late in the game, perhaps due to a preconceived understanding of the defense’s fourth quarter slippage. This conservatism may be part of the problem however. While instituting this game plan the Jets offense has had little success running the clock and moving the chains. Never mind scoring, but these two aspects of offensive production are key to sealing a game. The Jets offensive minds may consider occasionally aggressive play calling to opposing defenses on their toes, keep the clock moving, and allowing the defense to rest and adjust.