Chinks In the Armor
Florham Park, N.J.- An 8-2 record sure is a beautiful thing for the Jets and their fans, but they have been far from perfect and opponents seem to have figured out the flaws in the Jets and more importantly how to exploit them.
The Jets keep surviving, despite staring defeat directly in the face for the past three games they are showing an uncanny ability to mount repeated comebacks, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.
The last few weeks Rex Ryan has said roughly the same thing during his post game conferences, after the game yesterday Ryan said, “I apologize for keeping all of these games close, but at the end of the day, we’ll take the win.” The only difference between this and the previous post-game press conferences was Ryan did in fact apologize. With the previous wins, Ryan always stayed adamant that they needed to improve, but also refused to apologize saying they were just happy to get the win.
The Jets have a lot to be happy about being 8-2, much more than they have to be worried about, but teams continue to take advantage of the same blueprint and the Jets inability to adjust is what is making these games much closer than they should be.
This is not an article to say the Jets have simply been lucky to survive these games, it’s also not one to rebuke that idea as I’ve already expressed my views on that silly notion twice in the last couple of weeks.
This is an article about identifying the chinks in the Jets armor. Right now everyone on the Jets and their fans should be ecstatic about their 8-2 record. Obviously it’s great to win these types of the games during the season to prepare for similar situations in the playoffs and obviously it’s better than losing these same types of games, much like they did last year. However the question remains when you continuously live on the cliff, how long until you fall off?
And while the Jets have proven the ability to takeover late in games recently against the Lions, Browns, and Texans, while dangerous teams, they aren’t anywhere near the caliber of the Patriots, Ravens or Steelers. Two of those teams (Patriots and Steelers) the Jets have to travel to play in the upcoming weeks and it’s highly unlikely you’ll see those teams make the same types of mistakes the Jets have benefited from in recent weeks.
The first question that needs to be asked is, is it simply a case of the Jets playing down to their opponent or is this just the way it’s going to be no matter what? There is a case to be made that the Jets are playing down to their opponent, but the case is still pending awaiting the results of the next few games, namely the Steelers and Patriots games.
There is one thing that can’t be discounted and must be taken into consideration to place all this in the proper context. The Jets have become a marked team. Because of “Hard Knocks,’ because of all the bravado they love to show and because of all the attention the media gives the Jets each and every team comes out with a little more motivation to earn a win that week. Especially young talented teams that may have losing records, but are out to prove themselves, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that these teams are playing them tough. Still the Jets should be able to find ways to make these wins a bit easier on everyone.
The next question is, can the Jets possibly hope to earn road victories against two of the leagues elite teams while playing so inconsistently and living on the edge? Even if they can survive those games, can they survive the whole playoffs like that?
Throughout NFL history, Super Bowl champions all had to go through stretches like this at times during the regular season, so that’s a good sign for the Jets. However those teams that went on to win the Super Bowl also found ways win some dominate games along the way too.
There’s no doubt Ryan should be thrilled to take the 8-2 record, but he has to be worried about the amount of flaws this team has shown over the past couple of games, namely the way offenses are exploiting their defense.
The Jets defensive problems aren’t nearly as bad as some would leave you to believe, in fact their stats are eerily similar to where they were at this point last year as Ryan was quick to point out today.
“For instance this (holds up league defensive ranking sheet) I’m proud of our defense, I’m proud of the way our defense is playing, we’re I think ,seventh in the league right now (in total defense), but compared to this time last year, I got all the stats and you guys can look at them, the only thing that we haven’t improved on from this time last year was red zone defense.” Ryan said, “Which is important, without question. It’s actually red zone offense and red zone defense, but everything else we’re ahead of at this point last year. Now my vision for this team is, we build this team to get better in December and January, so we’ll see. We’ll see whose right and I know where my moneys at.”
Still the general consensus is this defense isn’t playing up to it’s standards and maybe thats due to people holding them to a higher standard than most, as many teams would love to have the seventh ranked defense, but Ryan holds the defense to an even higher standard than anyone else and he knows they still have to improve.
“Look nobody’s harder on the defense than I am, because my expectations are so high, for that unit, and for this football team.” Ryan said, “But that unit in-particular, I just expect so much from them and sometimes, guys make mistakes, but we got to try and get them fixed, try to get those mistake eliminated and tighten up our communication, our responsibilities and all that kind of stuff. Myself I got to do a better job and I think when we do that, we’ll be where I said we’re going to be.”
The ugly word that was so prevalent at the beginning of the season seems to be creeping back to haunt the Jets defense, and that word is miscommunication. Numerous defenders and Ryan himself continued to stress that miscommunication is largely to blame for the blown coverages the Jets have been suffering from.
Shaun Ellis said, “Everything has been different, communication errors, teams scheme up a good pass play or they make a good catch. So the thing for us is we just got to correct it and make the tough plays.”
Bryan Thomas was asked about the timing of the communications coming so late in the season and said, “I don’t think it’s because it’s late in the season or whatever. I look at it like a lot of teams come with different formations, different schemes and when your seeing it and it’s new out there, or you did see it one time in practice, it’s just things you have to talk out. All 11 guys have to get on the same page and work the thing out and talk it out.”
However it’s not something that Thomas thinks can’t and won’t get fixed. Thomas said, “We always look at ourselves as a good defense no matter what, but out there yesterday there was just a lot of, in the passing game, a lot of communication problems. Those things can be rectified, they can be fixed, but just allowing them to come back we just look at it as unacceptable.”
Ryan also addressed the communication issues saying, “There were some issues there for sure. We can dial in. We can get better. I think our communication has to get better this week. We’re really going to be challenged by this group.”
“Yes, well certainly that could have been one. I think the big thing is also the communication. I know Jason, he’s trying to own that. That’s my mistake.” Ryan said, “Our communication wasn’t 100 percent there. Jason was dropping off number three and not number two (On the touchdown pass to Dressen). Our communication has got get better and that starts with me. That was my responsibility (and) really not Jason’s.”
The problem with the defense hasn’t been the run defense, and it hasn’t been holding the opposing teams’ top receiving threats under wraps, as Revis and Cromartie are both playing excellent football. The problem has been teams using their third, fourth and sometimes fifth option to beat the Jets. Mostly the Jets are getting beat on underneath plays across the middle.
It appears with all the different defenders blitzing, the Jets tend to leave the middle wide open and quarterbacks react quickly to avoid the pass rush and deliver a quick pass across the middle. When linebackers and safeties blitz that means coverage responsibility falls on others and it seems that is where the mix ups on communication are occurring.
When Thomas was asked if the blitz packages could be part of the problem he quickly debunked that notion. Thomas said, “I think it’s more just being focused. It comes through out the week, because a lot of the same plays you se during the week, they are running and this is a league where you are going to see a lot of the stuff the same time and it’s just when the plays get called you just got to go out and execute. That’s the main thing we just have to go out and execute.”
There seems to be a growing concern about the pass rush, but the Jets are applying pressure, teams are just more prepared for it, they are running more shotgun formations and designing plays to throw the ball away quicker. Ryan certainly isn’t worried about the state of the pass rush.
“I think we get a lead and then we turn them loose. That’s something that we’ve got to really look at. We have excellent pass rushers led by Jason Taylor, Shaun Ellis, Trevor Pryce (and) Calvin Pace. That’s a pretty good group of pass rushers.” Ryan said, “Now, we don’t always ask those guys to rush the passer. Maybe we need to do more of that. I don’t know. But, when we look at it, that’s certainly something that we’ve got to really look at. Those guys can rush the passers.”
The Jets also need to be worried about the play of their safeties. All their safeties have been struggling when asked to cover the other teams tight-ends and it is something they are often asked to do. Something needs to be done about this, whether it’s the safeties improving or different schemes needing to be drawn up. Of course when watching the tape many of these problems seemed to have come from communication issues as well.
Which means that the Jets, while more than happy to be 8-2, need to focus on making sure they all have crystal clear communication with each other if they want to keep tacking on wins, and keeping this armor fully in tact, all the way into the month of February.