The New York Jets are 9-4 and sitting in a great position to make the playoffs, but if you live in the NY metropolitan area, it sure seems like they are 4-9 and have had a dismal season.
The obvious reason surrounding the negativity in NY is the Jets two game losing streak; but it goes deeper than that. While the fact that they lost their last two games is a problem, it's not the problem that most concerns their fans, the coaching staff or even the players themselves. What concerns everyone is the way they've lost.
Two weeks ago they were crushed in New England on Monday Night Football 45-3 by the Patriots in what was termed by Pats owner Robert Kraft before the game as, "the biggest regular season game since we purchased the team." This comes from an owner that has been to five Super Bowls and won three of them. And if it was the biggest regular season game for the Patriots in years, then it may have been the biggest regular season game in the Jets history! And with that, they laid an egg; a Grade A, extra large egg.
Compounding the problem was last week's debacle at home where the Jets inability to score a touchdown against Miami perplexed the fans and seemingly the coaching staff and players as well. The Dolphins came into the game at 6-6 having virtually no offense to speak of with a quarterback who has been playing awful. To the New York's credit (or the Dolphins ineptness) the Jets defense only let up 131 of total offense the entire game, however a key turnover and the Jets inability to put the ball in the end zone left them with a devastating and demoralizing 10-6 loss; perhaps more so than the week before as the game was clearly there for the taking.
As if New York didn't have enough problems, the Jets who have now gone without an offensive touchdown for 13 quarters, spent most of their week listening to talk about being the "same old Jets." Player interviews and press conferences were filled with questions about the similarities between the 1986 team that started 10-1 that did not win another game the rest of the way (although they did back into the playoffs) and the 2008 Brett Favre team that started 8-3 and wound up 9-7 and missing the playoffs. And when the media wasn't constantly reminding everyone that they appeared to be choking, the issue quickly defaulted to the Sal Alosi tripping incident and the blundering attempted Jets cover-up. The inability by the Jets to simply come clean from the get-go and appearance that they were revealing a new truth as each day has past has now caused the NFL to open up an investigation as to whether Alosi acted alone or was part of a "wall of men set up on the sidelines ordered by the Jets coaching staff." These monumental blunders usually end up getting memorable names attached to them, this one will be forever known as "Tripgate."
The problem here is not so much that the Jets personnel lined the sideline and Alosi tripped Miami's Nolan Carroll (although that's one of the more cowardly acts we've seen in football), it's the apparent cover-up. As with Watergate, Spygate, or any prominent scandal you can think of, it's the cover-up that ultimately becomes news more so than the actual act crime or original issue itself.
At this point the negativity surrounding the team is at an all time high. If you were not a football fan following the NFL standing and you picked up a news paper or turned on the radio, if you read the comments or heard the talking heads speak before you heard the Jets record, there is now way that you would think they had one of the better records in football. It's hard to imagine that just two weeks ago going into the New England game, the fans and media were talking about a possible first round bye, the teams best regular season record ever, a Super Bowl berth etc.
With the Jets reeling they now travel to Pittsburgh this Sunday to take on the 10-3 Steelers. New York is 0-7 all time playing in Pittsburgh and while the players and stadium are almost all different then in many of those games, the statistic itself it just ads to the negativity and current cloud over hanging the team.
Weighing on the Jets
- During the last two weeks that Jets have brought in kickers to challenge Nick Folk. The fans have been on pins and needles when he's lined up to kick a field goal from day one. Apparently the Jets coaching staff and front office are now too, as long field goal opportunities were passed up on multiple occasions last week.
- Brian Schottenheimer's offensive play calling has come into question by the fans and media as well as head coach, Rex Ryan, who openly criticized his offensive coordinator for having Mark Sanchez spike the ball on first down wasting a play on the final drive of last week's game.
- Although he vehemently denies it, Mark Sanchez' confidence has come into question and it appears as though Schottenheimer and Ryan may have lost confidence in him too as we found out after last week's game that Ryan was thinking about pulling Sanchez in favor of veteran Mark Brunell.
- Make no mistake about it, Sanchez made enough throws to win the Miami game as receivers provided him with no help dropping a plethera of passes including a few that would have given them first downs and the memorable uncontested pass that was dropped by Santonio Holmes in the end zone.
- Reserve lineman Wayne Hunter has been exposed as Damien Woody's replacement at right guard and that issue was magnified with an exclamation point as Sanchez was sacked on the last two plays of the game sealing the Jets fate because of Hunters inability to protect the passer.
- Rex Ryan's ability to be a head coach is coming into question as he is being viewed as a defensive coordinator who appears as if he does not have control over the offense, special teams, game clock or even his own sideline. One of the obvious questions Ryan was asked this week was "if you didn't want Sanchez to spike the ball, why didn't you speak up and over rule your coordinator." His answer was, "next time I will." Ryan has shown signs of being just a sophomore coach too altering from his own practice of deferring to the second half when wining the coin toss last week. It was the first time he's ever done that and his explanation was that he was trying to jump-start the offense (it didn't work.) We'll see if he goes back to the lady he came to the dance with the next time they win a coin toss. Because of his pedigree and bravado I think sometimes people forget that Rex Ryan hasn't been on the job any longer than Mark Sanchez and that they are both still learning their craft. While youthful exuberance, energy and confidence is great when you are winning, the combination of having the two sophomore's at the Head Coach and QB positions can be a death trap when things are going badly as they have no experience to rely on. And for the fans, the process can sometimes be painful to watch.
Listening to talk radio in NY you can sense the frustration of the fans as GM, Mike Tannenbaum, has been getting some heat too. While everything was smelling like roses in the first half of the season and Tannenbaum was getting everyone's praise for his off season moves, as the team has misfired those moves are now being questioned.
- LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire in the second half.
- While Holmes has certainly made some big plays, the past two weeks he at times appears more interested in celebrating first downs (regardless of how much they are losing by) than concentrating enough on catching wide open passes.
- Former fan favorite Danny Woodhead, who Tannenbaum waived in favor of Joe McKnight who rarely plays, is doing better for the arch enemy New England Patriots than any of the running backs the Jets have. Woodhead's story is the type of thing Disney makes movies about.
- They've tried to force feed 2008 first round pick Vernon Gholston by putting him in situations where they think he can succeed rushing the passer, in fact they've even started him at times, but the guy seems to be a field ghost.
- Second round pick Vladimir Ducasse who was supposed to replace All Pro guard Alan Faneca who Tannenbaum decided to let go, doesn't even suit up and the ground and pound attack the Jets once had has been virtually grounded.
- Jay Feely who Tannenbaum chose not to resign has been seen kicking six field goals in a game and running for touchdowns in Arizona while the Jets are left wondering if their kicker will ultimately do them in.
- Rex Ryan's game management has come into question wasting as he challenges plays that he intends to go for anyway if the challenge goes against him, and he's allowed the offensive to come out with a predictable run, run, pass (incomplete), punt game plan on a week by week basis. And as for Ryans' vaunted defense, statistically they are doing well but anyone who has watched closely knows that they have has trouble getting off the field on third downs and have given up an insulting number of first downs on third and long; very long.
- No matter what they do, the defense can't seem to generate a conventional pass rush without sending the house which consistently places the secondary in vulnerable positions.
- While Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie may be strengths of the defense in pass coverage, linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris who take a back seat to no one stuffing the run, couldn't cover you or I over the middle much less an NFL tight end or slot receiver. The opposing teams are running jerk routs o-plenty on them and they clearly can't keep up, making them look like...., well...., frankly they look like jerks.
- Speaking of NFL tight ends, did Dustin Keller offend Brain Schottenheimer or Mark Sanchez somewhere along the line? Did they forget that he's an eligible receiver? Ever since Santonio Holmes came back from his suspension, they've avoided throwing him the ball as if he had cooties and they didn't want him to touch it! Adding Holmes to the mix was supposed to add an additional threat, not substitute one for another.
Like I said, it certainly doesn't feel like the Jets are 9-4 and have a great shot at making the playoffs. That negativity however can all come to a screeching halt on Sunday at about 7:15pm if the coaching staff does their job smartly and the players execute the game plan efficiently and with confidence. There is no question this team has the talent, however even in many of their wins the team has played down to the competition and had to pull the game out of the fire.
Make no mistake about it, this is a winnable game for the Jets who come into the game as 6 point underdogs. The Steelers have had their own offensive problems as they have not scored an offensive touchdown in 11 quarters and their pass defense has been suspect to say the least. It appears as though both Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller will be inactive for this week as they are both dealing with injuries and that too works in the Jets favor.
How the Jets Can Win
The Steelers practically invented stopping the run, so the Jets are going to have to throw the ball. If they are going to do that, they must get Wayne Hunter some help blocking Lamarr Woodley. If the Jets can pass the ball early, Shonn Green and should be able to run the ball late as Pittsburgh will have to refrain from stacking the box. Look for the Jets to throw on first and second down early in the game in traditional running situations and watch for Brad Smith to throw the ball as the Steelers will be looking to stuff his inside runs and outside sweep/options. Also, while this Jets defense may be best known for blitzing, Dick LeBeau has been sending backers since he coached against Buddy Ryan, so look for LT to get our on some slip screens and for the Jets to be able to create one on one mismatches with him against line backers. Mark Sanchez proved everyone wrong down the stretch and in and through the playoffs last year, if the Jets are going to do anything worthwhile this season, he's going to have to do it again.
Sunday's forecast in Pittsburgh calls for mostly cloudy with a game time temperature of about 20 degrees. One would think that Santonio Holmes will bring his best game in his return to the steel city; it remains to be seen if the rest of his teammates will show some guts and glory too. Kickoff is at 4:15 EST and the perception and outlook on whether this is the "same old Jets" or if this Jets team will be going to the 2010 NFL Playoffs flying high will become a lot clearer to all interested observers about 3 hours later. - Mike Cardano
Mike is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball & Xtra Point Football.
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