Monday, December 19, 2011

New York Jets: Where do they go from here?

(Photo courtesy of

Yesterday's game in Philadelphia can be described in a few ways. Pathetic. Disgusting. Embarrassing. There's more, but there's no reason to harp too much on what happened.

The Jets' 45-19 defeat is just one loss as Rex Ryan said, but it's also the fifth time in their six losses this season that the Jets have lost by more than a touchdown. This team cannot play from behind and considering they have scored first in just three of their 13 games this season, that's a bad thing.

This New York team obviously has a lot to improve on, but thanks to Detroit's comeback against Oakland they still hold the final Wild Card spot in the AFC and control their own destiny. Before the playoffs can come to fruition, the Jets have some work to do.

-Keep Mark Sanchez effective

At this point in Sanchez's season, we know what he is and what he isn't. He is a quarterback who can succeed as a game manager with an effective rushing attack in a close football game. He is not a stud that can have success throwing the football on every down to bring a team back.

That's not to say that Sanchez can't play with the game on the line. In his three-year Jets career, Sanchez has shown a propensity for fourth-quarter comebacks. This year, he's done it against Dallas, San Diego, Buffalo and Washington, accounting for half of the Jets wins.

It seems that Sanchez is the antithesis of Tim Tebow, however. When the Broncos have won this season, Tebow gets a ton of credit he doesn't deserve when his team gave him a lot of help throughout the game. When the Jets win the credit is generally thrown at the defense or the running game, while Sanchez serves merely as a scapegoat in Jets losses.

This includes yesterday, which just wasn't his fault. Santonio Holmes' fumble that was returned for a touchdown put the Jets in an early hole and his drop deep in Eagles territory a few minutes later landed right in the hands of Asante Samuel. The Eagles turned it into a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

On the Jets next drive, Wayne Hunter's inability to contain NFL sack leader Jason Babin led to a third-down sack on the drive's only pass play. Philadelphia scored again to make it 21-0, then forced a Sanchez fumble that allowed them to go up 28-0 with a short field.

Up until that fumble, none of the Jets' deficit can be put on Sanchez. Does he overthrow receivers at times? Yes. Will he make some poor decisions with the football? Yes. But he doesn't deserve the vilification he gets most of the time and when the Jets win, he usually deserves more credit.

Being Mark Sanchez in New York is a tough gig. The Jets need to help him out by not giving up the ball on offense; if you recall, Dustin Keller got the ball ripped away from him after a catch earlier this season that turned into a Chargers touchdown and put the Jets in a hole to start the game. Sanchez makes enough mistakes on his own, but he'll also make plays when you need him to; just not when he's facing a multiple-score deficit.

-Stop putting the defense on the field first

This seems like a blasphemous statement, considering the Jets are obviously a better team on defense than on offense. Many times this season, however, that defense has allowed an opening-drive touchdown to put the offense in an early hole. From there, one three-and-out and another opposing score creates a double-digit deficit, and we know how well the Jets react to those.

It would be a novel idea to put the offense on the field first and let the Jets control the pace of the game from the start. This team has proven multiple times this season that they can only win a certain type of football game, so why not give the offense a chance to create that atmosphere?

When the Jets defense was suffocating over the past two seasons, deferring was the way to go to give them the ball in the second half. While the defense is still good, it's not the same unit we've gotten used to seeing. Rex Ryan may still have the utmost confidence in them, but maybe it's time to switch it up and show some confidence in the offense.

The Giants' defense is bad enough that the Jets can control the game on the ground in the early minutes and work off play-action, which plays right into their strengths. If the Jets win the coin toss again this week, I would love to see Ryan put Sanchez and the offense on the field first.

-Fix the run defense

This one is listed last because it's the most difficult of these three keys for the Jets to accomplish. Losing Jim Leonhard was a definite blow to this team from a leadership perspective but also against the run, something they have struggled with all season even with Leonhard in the lineup.

Bart Scott is a step slower and the Jets obviously miss veterans Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce along the defensive line, not to mention the season-ending injury to Bryan Thomas. Frankly, I'm out of ideas on how the team can fix these problems this season.

For this week, however, the Jets should be able to get away with bringing Eric Smith into the box and playing an eight-man front. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are explosive on the outside, but Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are probably the best cornerback tandem they have faced all season.

Unlike Brent Celek, Fred Davis and the other tight ends that have killed the Jets all season, Jake Ballard isn't a top-10 consideration at the position. He's had a solid season up to this point, but he's not the kind of tight end that will hurt the Jets down the field if they bring a safety up to help stop the run. If anything, slot receiver Mario Manningham is more of a threat running down the seam.

Even still, the Jets should be focused more on stopping Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Both are effective runners on the edge, the part of the field the Jets struggle most to defend in the running game. If they can stop the run early with an eight-man front, open up a lead and make the Giants throw the football, they can drop Smith back into coverage and play the pass.

It may seem like a lot to ask, but Ryan and Mike Pettine have no choice but to use smoke and mirrors to cover up their defense's biggest weakness. The Jets' season and playoff hopes depend on it.

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