09 December 2010
I NEVER KNEW Rex Sanchez would become a voice of reason.
Really, I never thought the moment would come when I’d turn to a fellow Jets fan, put my arm around his shoulder, and say, “Hey man, it’s just one game. Deep breath. Relax.” Relax!
But there I was this past Monday night (at halftime, as we left the bar*), talking some life back into a group of blanched, shell-shocked faces. The deficit had climbed to 24-3 as we filtered out of Dewey’s Flatiron near Union Square in Manhattan and the crew had seen enough. For me, the game was over and had been from the moment Rex sent a faultless Nick Folk out to attempt a hopeless, 53-yard field goal. The score then was just 3-0 and, with the exception of a hideous bit of coaching on and after third down earlier in the drive, the team had looked girded and ready for a long night’s work.
Yes, they were down, but you got the feeling Rex’s Jets had truly bent not broken against the Pats’ opening surge.
*Since graduating college, I’ve twice gone to the bar to watch our team play. The first was also for a Monday night game (at San Diego in 2008), with the end result similar to Monday’s. My rationale for going this week went something like: The team is 9-2. It is the regular season. If not now, then when? When can I just have a good time and watch my team? Not early in the year, when the die is still being cast. Certainly not in late December when the playoff race is in full swing. The playoffs… Playoffs!... well, I’d say even the most sanitary public house is no place for open heart surgery. Only friends and experts welcome on those afternoons.
Then came Folk. Just following orders, I suppose. Given the chance to pin the Pats deep in their own territory (or at least 12 yards down from the line of scrimmage), the coach got lost in the moment. Like his twitchy, overreaching defense, he pushed too hard, too soon, and with the missed kick, had reignited—it’s still burning now, days later—the Patriots attack.
The rest is now prologue. The ball has been buried, literally. The Pats “are on to the Bears” now, per Danny “Pat the Patriot” Woodhead. We can only hope the Jets are as smart, stupid, and angry as a football team needs to be in order to bounce back from 45-3.
A small change this week from the standard fare. Better than those Five Things We Never Knew About the 2010 Jets, let’s try Three Very Basic Things We Were Reluctant to Admit but Can No Longer Ignore About the 2010 New York Jets.
1) Myth about last season: The defense was the best in the league.
No it wasn’t. It was not the best defense in the NFL last year, just like the Patriots' pass defense is not the worst this year. Ironically, I’d say the two units are quite similar. That is, quite good when able to play on the front foot; lots of holes and easy-to-find weaknesses when trying to reverse the run of play.
For the Jets current personnel to reach its full potential, they needs help from the other two phases. Field position is obviously important for any team, but this group really struggles between the 30-yard lines. When the opposition escapes outside its own 30, it tends to meet little resistance before entering the Jets.’ It’s that basic, bend-don’t-break thing, which can work (even if doesn't fit what the head coach preaches) as long as you don’t break. On Monday night, the Jets were bent, then broken, then poleaxed into tabloid oblivion.
2) Myth about last season and how it relates to this season: Mark Sanchez came of age in the playoffs. He’s like a veteran now.
No he is not. He wasn’t during that last, glorious drive against the Texans and he wasn’t, however more apparently, on Monday. Sanchez is a second year quarterback, young in years and lacking in gameday experience (remember, just more than one season of college starts). He is not ready to carry the team. Very few quarterbacks in the history of the sport carried teams in their second season. Tom Brady, the best of our generation, sat for a few years (when you include college) before Mo Lewis dislocated Drew Bledsoe’s heart and cleared the path for the sixth-rounder to get his shot.
The point is, Sanchez still needs the running game to open up his passing options. And I don’t mean the Wildcat or Triple-Reverse Halfback Option. I’m talkin’ Shonn Greene behind T-Rich, a tight end, Mangold, and Slauson or Moore. It’s not as reliable as last year without Faneca mauling up turf and TJ holding the ball so tight, but it’s still the most necessary element in the Jets’ attack.
3) Teams have figured out Rex’s defensive schemes.
I don’t mean to sound overly dire. Just because the other coach “gets” what the Jets are trying to do doesn’t mean they can stop it. However, when that other coach is Belichick, well, he probably will. As much as Ryan and Tannenbaum talked about drafting to match certain opponents’ strengths, it was really the Pats (who, ironically, would never admit to such a thing) who the best adjustment, canning Randy Moss in favor of this current band of frisky smurfs and clever and strong tight ends.
The heart of the Jets defense is Cover Zero. That means our two corners will match up with your two best receivers and erase them without any safety help. It works. Calvin and Andre Johnson were cast asunder. With Revis back at full strength, it’s hard to imagine Brandon Marshall making a dent this Sunday. But when an offense can be as diverse and clever as New England’s, there is trouble. The safeties cannot cover—it’s basically a group of small linebackers.**
**Speaking of small linebackers, please note that while the Jets could not pry the choo-choo conductor's hat off that kid from Miss. St., LB Brashton Satele has left his frickin' pizza stand in the Bronx to rejoin the team as a practice squad player.
As we saw Monday night, the Patriots come to the line with five possible receivers (eleven minus five lineman and the QB). Once Brady identifies Revis’s mark, he can make his choice about where to go. It was all lost before the snap. Unless Rex and Co. become more clever in disguising their coverage before the play begins, what happens after becomes a fait accompli.
Like on Monday, the game scheduled for 4:15 Sunday will only count for one game in the standings. A loss does not break the season, just like a win does not mean “we’re back on track.” As I’ve posited here, this team has rarely if ever been on a proper track in 2010. So let’s just hope for a win, maybe even get it, and live on to fight another day. It’s football, after all, and it’s always about making the tournament. Lock that up, and we’ll go from there.
Prediction: Jets 24, Dolphins 14
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