Jets Progress Report Through Week 7 and a Look Ahead

Florham Park, N.J.- This bye week presented Jets fans with a new emotional challenge, one that most fans are hardly shy to admit. Jets fans aren’t used to this feeling, this Jets team has been exemplifying all the signs that they are to be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders and frankly many fans have no idea how to cope with this new sense of comfort.

I’ve written about this before, it’s not as if Jets fans aren’t used to having quality teams that will occasionally make a deep playoff run. It’s just that they aren’t used to trusting that the good early season play they have seen isn’t just a mirage. After all, excluding the fans that are old enough to remember Joe Namath win the only Super Bowl in Jets history, the Jets historically taunt and tease their fans in a dramatically cruel and unusual fashion.

Standard operating procedure for being a Jets fan is; always keep your guard up, don’t get too excited too early (whether talking about a single game or entire season) and always, and I mean always prepare for the worst. Because no matter how good things look, no matter how much you want to believe, the Jets have always found a way to implode right before your eyes and crush your football loving soul.

Mark Sanchez deserves a lot of credit for the Jets 5-1 record, but the second-year QB will have to continue improving if the Jets want that elusive Super Bowl ring. (Jetsinsider.com Photo).

Does the third quarter of a game played on January 17 1999 mean anything to you? After taking a 10-0 lead early in the third of the AFC Championship game the Jets fell apart giving up 20 points in the rest of the quarter as the Broncos went on to win 23-10.

What about the name Doug Brien, does just seeing his name typed out drive a metaphorically stake through your heart? Do you still have nightmares about those two late missed field goals?

Fans of other NFL teams may think it’s just plain mean to bring this up, but the fact is over the past 40 years or so this is the only thing Jets fans have been able to hold on to. They have learned to twist their misery into a badge of honor they wear with pride. Yeah maybe they haven’t won a Super Bowl in 41 years, but through all the pain and torture they have been through the fans are still here, still rooting for Gang Green.

So an identity was formed by the fans that has been recognized throughout the league and many Jet teams have seemed to fallen into the same mind games that plagued the fans. All that has changed now and it’s changed because of one man, Rex Ryan.

Ryan is often criticized for his brash confidence, many call it arrogance, but he lives by the code of, if he doesn’t believe it, who will? And how can he ever hope to achieve something if he doesn’t believe it himself? That bravado, that level of recognition that a Super Bowl is in fact a very real possibility has slowly begun to implant itself in Jets fans. The players bought in immediately, they believed everything Ryan said as soon as he got here, before last season even started, and all preseason all the players wanted to talk about was their focus on the Super Bowl, Jets fans weren’t sold as quickly though.

Losing the AFC Championship game last season didn’t hurt quite as much as previous playoff losses, because A) no one really expected them to make it that far with a rookie QB and coach and B) even though they lost, Jets fans have never had so much to look forward to when saying, ‘wait until next year.’

So now after going 5-1 to start the season Jets fans are having to battle between their learned behavior for how to handle being a Jets fan with the distinct possibility that all of that is dead and buried in the past. On Monday Ryan said, “We looked at the coaches. We’ve had some great meetings self-scouting each other and planning like we were going to play against the Jets and giving that information to each other.”

Well after some scouting of my own (Disclaimer: In no way am I saying I can do this nearly as well as I’m sure they did) I figured I’d point out what went right for the Jets during the first six games as well as what went wrong. Then we will take a look at how everything projects for the rest of the season.

What’s Gone Right?

Chemistry: Remember all that fuss everyone was making about the Jets having all types of chemistry issues with letting Jones and Faneca go and bringing other teams cast-offs? Yeah well that clearly hasn’t been an issue at all. The chemistry on this team is amazing, the players are constantly joking with each other they get along great and the energy and atmosphere in the locker room is always good. Despite the extra attention, controversy and scrutiny this team has faced they have responded resiliently by keeping their focus on football.

And as for replacing those two players production, the Jets have done just fine with that as well. Matt Slauson struggled early in that first game against Baltimore, but has responded nicely and become a dependable cog on the dominating offensive line and L.T. has been well, L.T. his success so far this season has been well documented as he has entered the discussion for early season MVP.

The Offensive-Line: Once again the Jets o-line is one of, if not the, best in football. There are some offensive lines that excel in run blocking, but don’t do such a a good job in pass blocking and others vice-versa, the Jets don’t have this problem. They can be a devastating force, bulldozing their way down field, opening holes for the running backs (4.9 yards per carry) and they can build a wall around their quarterback just as well, proven by the fact that they have only allowed nine sacks on the year. Slauson deserves extra recognition because he was the question mark coming into the season and has more than held his own, the rest of the guys have been great, but no one is surprised by that right?

The Front-Seven: While all the talk of the Jets defense not being nearly as dominating as last season has been true, it’s to no fault of the front-seven, the problems are in the secondary and it’s only right the Jets rushing defense get the credit it deserves. Even after giving up 149 yards to the Broncos, the Jets still have the fourth ranked rushing defense in the league, holding their opponents to 540 yard (90 yards a game) at an average of 3.5 yards a carry. The defense as a whole does a great job of swarming the running backs and suffocating their running game and while the sack numbers haven’t been as high as they would of liked, they have done a great job of applying pressure to the quarterbacks forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly, but in Ryan’s scheme it’s up to the secondary to hold up their end of the bargain. And the addition of Jason Taylor and the ability to rotate him in with Pace and Bryan Thomas gives this defense more ways to beat opposing quarterbacks. The Jets defenders aren’t racking up high personal stats for the most part, but that’s because of the way this amoeba style of defense is set up, players attack from any and all angles and there are always plenty of plays to be made, they credit in the stat sheet just gets shuffled around.

The Secondary (Sans Revis): As whole the secondary has been this team’s biggest weakness so far, but it’s misleading to say the players who have been playing haven’t played up to their expectations. The problem’s that have been effecting the secondary will be discussed shortly, but it’s only right that Antonio Cromartie, Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman get some credit, especially Cromartie.

Cromartie: With Revis hurt and either missing time or not playing at 100 percent Cromartie has had to be the team’s shutdown corner and he has really done a tremendous job. Yes, he got beat a few too many times in Miami by Brandon Marshall, but in-case you haven’t noticed Marshall has been terrorizing everyone he sees and it’s not like Cromartie didn’t make a couple of big stops in that game too. Cromartie was expected to come in and handle the opposing team’s number two receiver, but he has had to face off against the number one receivers and has done just about everything Ryan and company have asked of him. Lowery has of course made two game clinching plays to earn his spot on here and Coleman has played solid, it’s not his fault he isn’t Revis so it’s hard to fault him for not being able to do things they normally ask Revis to do.

The Evolution of Mark Sanchez and the Offense: Sanchez’s evolution as a quarterback combined with the chemistry he has formed with his teammates, most notably Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller and just the mere presence of L.T. in the backfield, has changed the entire dynamic of this offense. Sanchez himself has said after last season ended he went back and studied the game tapes and realized his mistakes were the difference between them losing games they should have won, he vowed to work as hard as possible to eliminate those mistakes and until the last game in Denver he did just that. But even after he made those mistakes in Denver he didn’t get down, he didn’t beat himself up like he would of done last year, instead he took the field with the confidence that somehow someway he was going to get the job done and steal a win and that’s exactly what happened.

The more Sanchez continues to make plays and limit his mistakes the more defenses will have to respect the Jets passing attack and lean away from loading the box, which will of course open the field for the Jets to then run the ball down team’s proverbial throats.

Edwards and Keller and More L.T.: Edwards has proven to be a solid reliable receiver for Sanchez now that he has a full understanding of the playbook and his teammates. He also has the ability to stretch the field deep that defenses must respect, which opens things up underneath for Sanchez to then turn to his other dependable target, Keller. Both Keller and Edwards do are great down field blockers which really helps the running backs break long tackles or bounce it outside. Sanchez has also said over and over again since the first days of training camp how much more comfortable he feels just because he has L.T. lined up behind him. L.T. can help get a last second block on a defender, provide a security blanket as a check-down receiver and just knowing he is there gives Sanchez more confidence to work through his progressions.

Turnover Differential: The Jets have only turned the ball over four times through six games, three of those turnovers coming in the last game against the Broncos (two picks by Sanchez and a Holmes fumble) and still managed to pull out the victory and the other turnover coming from a Shonn Greene fumble in the first game of the season against the Ravens. Meanwhile the defense has created 14 turnovers (five picks and nine fumbles) giving the Jets the best plus/minus turnover differential of plus 10.

Special Teams: Ryan summed up the play of the special teams perfectly on Monday when asked if he felt this team has reached it’s ceiling, ryan said,  ”I don’t think we’re close on either side of the ball.I think the group that’s there is probably the one that we had the most questions about and that’s special teams.I think what we’re doing punting, kicking and then our returns, is about as good as there is. That’s probably the strength of our team right now, over the defense (and) over the offense.” Between the field-goal kicking of Nick Folk, the great punting by Steve Weatherford, the long returns by Brad Smith and the kick/punt coverage teams the special teams is playing exceptional right now and when you win the special teams battle you win the field position battle, which if the Jets can win the field of position battles in any given game, there is no logical reason they should lose that game.

Winning By Any Means Necessary: During the Jets five-game winning streak the Jets have managed to win in almost every conceivable way. Their first win came in a shootout where Sanchez out Bradyed Tom Brady as Cromartie and the defense shut the Patriots out in the second-half. In the second win, the Jets blew an early 14-0 allowing the Dolphins to take the lead before the came back to win in another shootout, which ended with a Drew Coleman interception on a goal-line stand.

They then went to Buffalo and trounced all over the Bills, never giving Bills fans even a sliver of hope that they could win that game, then that’s when the offensive juggernaut got derailed and the Jets were forced to win ugly. The Jets should of easily put the Viking’s away early in the game, but due to the weather, some critical penalties and sloppy play all around they let the Viking’s hang around too long. Twice the Vikings managed to come within two points, but both times the Jets managed to step up when needed and extend their lead.

And of course there was the last game where the team often looked like a pile of hot-garbage, but even though they didn’t play like they were the better team somehow they managed to win one ugly football game. That’s what championship caliber teams do, they find ways to win and sometimes leaving everyone wondering how they managed to win? Anyone watch the Steelers-Dolphins game? Yeah the Steelers got lucky with that horrifically bad call, but still they won.

There seems to be this general consensus that the NFL is a passing league now, I disagree. Is the passing game more important than ever in today’s NFL? Of course, but you still have to have balance if you can only do one thing great you can only get so far, so yes you need to have a capable passing attack to win a Super Bowl nowadays, but in reality you need to be able to win however the game dictates you can win, whether it’s by running the ball, passing it or winning on special teams and defense. If you can win in all those different ways your setting yourself up for success.

Where thing’s went wrong

Week One Vs. Ravens: Everything about this entire week went wrong. I’m not sure what it was, but there was a weird energy here the week leading up to the game and somehow I came away fully expecting the Jets to lose that game, I can’t explain it it was just eerie. The good news is whatever it was disappeared immediately after that game. Still it’s important to remember as horrible as the Jets played that game they still came just one point and a couple of questionable calls away from winning that game.

Revis: I could start with the holdout, but that would be beating a dead horse, it’s over and done with, he got hurt, he says he is 100 percent now so it’s time to move forward. With Revis missing games, then playing a couple of games at less then a 100 percent the secondary became the biggest weakness of this Jets team, which is crazy considering it was the strength of the team last year, but then again remember how the Steelers defense completely feel apart last year as soon as they lost Troy Polamalu? With Revis out or hobbled the defense couldn’t play the way they like to play effectively as they need Revis for their pressure scheme to work, but that didn’t stop Ryan from trying and because he didn’t have his full arsenal of weapons teams often took advantage of this making the secondary the Jets biggest weakness so far.

The good news is Revis is healthy now (He was a full participant in practice today) and the early communication troubles that were confusing the secondary appear to be behind them. With Revis back in the mix and Cromartie sliding to the number two receiver as well as getting more acclimated to this defense, along with safety Brodney Pool, the secondary will start to gel and there is no reason to think it won’t end up among the league’s elite and another strength of this team. More good news is that, as the secondary improves so will the pass rush, which will of course both help lead to more turnovers.

Sanchez: I know this might seem confusing seeing as he was mentioned as a big part of what’s gone right so far, but he is still just a second year quarterback so it’s only right to say he still has some work to do before he can be a Super Bowl quarterback. He needs to continue to limit his mistakes, but he also needs to continue not being scared to throw the ball down the field. Sometimes it seems his comfort with having L.T. as a check-down option can backfire as he seems to rely on him too often and not always make his full progression reads. If Sanchez can continue to prove to teams that he will beat them if they give him a chance defenses will have to respect him more and allow the Jets to win in a multitude of ways.

Third-Down Conversions On Both Sides Of The Ball: This has been by far the biggest glaring weakness of this team. When Ryan was asked about the third-down problems on defense he said, “It’s good news, bad news. We lead the league, by far and away, with the most third-and-long situations, so that’s real positive. Normally, that’s our trademark because you might as well punt. Right now, teams have hit some plays on us and we’ve been penalized a bunch on those plays. I think that’s the biggest thing, staying away from the penalties. Those things are generally bad plays for an offense. If you get them in those kind of situations, that’s either an interception for us or a hit on your quarterback. That’s what we’ve got to get back to doing.”

Ryan is correct to point out the silver lining in the third-down problems, it’s not first and second downs that are killing them they are doing a great job on that, it’s the third-and-longs where they blitz seven people and the opposing quarterback finds the open seem, I have to assume that was one of the areas they focused on most during their self-scouting sessions. Revis returning should go along way to helping solve these problems, but right now the Jets are allowing teams to convert on third-down at a ridiculous rate of 42 percent of the time. That can not continue if the Jets seriously want to win the Super Bowl, and it’s obvious they seriously want to so this has to be what they focus on fixing the most.

The third-down conversions on offense aren’t any better, the offense is only converting on 37.5 percent of their third-downs so far. There are many reasons for this; too many penalties, dropped balls, overthrown balls, timing issues and they all need to be fixed. It’s great to not turn the ball over, but you still have to steadily move the ball in this league and can’t win every game relying on field-goals.

Get Santonio Holmes More Involved: Nothing they could do about this in the first four games, and excluding the Ravens game the offense was in full swing doing anything they wanted. It’s definitely not Holmes fault that the offense has struggled since he returned, but he and Sanchez clearly had some timing and communication issues in that first game against the Vikings and that fumble against Denver won’t be appearing on his highlight reels. Still Holmes is potentially the Jets most dangerous weapon on offense and the team needs to make sure they take advantage of his explosive abilities.

Shonn Greene Needs More Carries: Obviously L.T. has been great, so I’m not saying don’t use L.T., but Greene needs to get himself in a nice steady rhythm to prepare himself for when the temperature starts to drop. Right now L.T. has been getting more reps than Greene, but that is mostly because of the focus of passing the ball, with L.T. in, the passing game is much more effective and they can still run the ball just as easily so defenses still have to respect him. It seems like there is a clear focus to try and work on getting the passing game completely smoothed out now as anyone can clearly tell by listening to Ryan that he has all the confidence in the world that the running game will be there when needed. As the season continues and the passing game is in more of a rhythm look for the Jets to pound the ball more and you can expect to see Greene touches skyrocket anytime the Jets build a decent lead as they will be looking for him to come in and finish off the tiring defense.

How The Rest Of The Season Should Play Out

The Jets have only played one and half, full complete all around games to earn victories, the half game was against the Patriots and the full game against Buffalo and while this teams has had it’s problems on both sides of the ball, the other side (or special teams) has done a great job of responding when needed. After a tough opening schedule the Jets emerged 5-1 without playing anywhere near the level they are capable of. When you rewind this with the bye week behind us, it’s hard to not like the Jets chances at finishing the season as one of the top teams.

Now let’s look at the schedule and because the NFL is a unpredictable league on a week-to-week basis I’m not going to pick a win or loss for every game, instead I will group them into categories; Games they should very easily win, games in which they are the better team and should win, games that could go either way. I will use the totals of each category to come up with a estimate for how many games the Jets will win throughout the rest of the season.

Week 8 – Home against Green Bay- This game will be previewed in detail later this week, but the Packers are a dangerous passing team, but they have no running game and have a leaky offensive line, with the Jets pressure and blitz schemes expect to see the familiar sight of Aaron Rodgers falling on his back. This game falls into the teams they are better than and should win category, but the Packers will be no push over.

Week 9 – At Detroit – The Lions get their starting quarterback back this week and the Lions aren’t the same laughing stock of a team as they were a couple of seasons ago. The team has dramatically improved, even saying that though, they haven’t improved nearly enough to be even considered an equal team with the Jets even with home-field advantage. The Jets are clearly the better team here and should win easily.

Week 10 – At Cleveland – Rex gets to face off against his brother and the Jets ex-head coach all at once. Just like the Lions the Browns have improved on both sides of the ball, but there’s no way to think Colt McCoy should be able to beat the Jets.

Week 11 – Home against Houston – Houston has been an up-and-down team, flashing signs of dominance as well as signs of futility. They have a deadly passing attack if Andre Johnson is healthy and the emergence of Arian Foster has given the Texans a running game they have never had, making them much harder to defend. Their defense however is full of holes and the Jets should be able to take advantage of this and win, even if it takes a shootout. This is a team they are better than and should beat.

Week 12 – Home, Thanksgiving night against Cincinnati – The Bengals were getting a lot of Super Bowl sleeper buzz before the season started, all of those people must of forgot Carson Palmer was still their quarterback and not the same Carson Palmer who played before he had that brutal knee injury, this is an entirely new Carson Palmer and the Jets should feast on his play once again. This should be an easy win and the Jets and their fans can be thankful for the NFL giving them the Bengals to play.

Week 13- At New England – Now is where it starts to get dicey. The Patriots are playing really good football and it does seem they have found a better rhythm since Moss left, but maybe most importantly they are getting plenty of lucky bounces and breaks, just like the Pats teams who used to win Super Bowls. The Jets are still more likely the better team, but the Patriots are sneaky scary and regardless they are the Patriots and it’s a division road game, so this game will be a battle.

Week 14 – Home against Miami – The Jets already beat the Dolphins, in Miami, but then again the “Fins have yet to win at home and are winning all their road games. The Jets are clearly the superior team here, but the Jets-Dolphins games are always a crap shoot, so yes the Jets should win but it’s far from a lock.

Week 15 – At Pittsburgh – This will be the biggest litmus test the Jets will face in the regular season. Pittsburgh might just be the best team in football and they just got their Super Bowl QB back a couple of games ago, expect the Steelers to only keep getting better. The Jets, Ravens, Steelers and Patriots clearly look like the best four teams in the league right now and this will be a great test for Sanchez and company to go into the hostile territory of Pittsburgh and try and beat that dominating defense and well-balanced offense. This game is a toss-up and it’s far too early to pick a winner, but to be safe I’m going to just count this as a loss so it’s not like I’m reaching when I total up the predicted wins.

Week 16 – At Chicago – Has anyone seen the Bears offensive line? No seriously I mean have you seen them, Jay Cutler isn’t even convinced that they are actually lined up in front of him. The Jets defense has to be foaming at the mouth for this match-up. The Jets are clearly the better team and should easily win.

Week 17 – Remember what happened in Buffalo? Assuming the Jets have to play this game all out there is no reason to expect anything different. Yes Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked great the last couple of games and suddenly the Bills have some life in their offense, but the D is still a mess and they clearly aren’t on the Jets level, Jets should easily win this as well.

Again because of the unpredictable nature of the NFL I’m going to assume at least one loss from the games they should easily win and split the toss-up games as well as count the Steelers game as a loss.

I have five games marked down as easy wins, subtract one for a letdown game/upset and that gives the Jets four more wins. Two games are listed as should wins (Green Bay and Houston), but to play it safe I’ll split those two games, as well as the two toss-up games (Patriots and Miami). Then I’m going to count the Steelers game as a loss, although Im definitely not saying the Jets can’t win that game, it’s just a focus to stay conservative and not just blindly say the Jets are the better team in these games and therefore they will win, that’s not how it works in the NFL.

So a conservative estimate has me assessing the schedule and seeing the Jets finishing no worse than 6-4 the rest of the season to give them an 11-5 record. Honestly I fully expect the Jets to be at least 12-4 at the end of the season with a legit shot at 13-3, but assuming they have a couple of hiccups and a bad game here or there they should finish absolutely no worse than 11-5 and if everyone stays healthy it’s almost impossible to think this team won’t make the playoffs and be pushing for a first-round bye.

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