Archive for December, 2010

JETS-BEARS PREVIEW: A snowy skirmish in the Chi

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

28 degrees in the snow and wind against one of the most feared front-sevens in the National Football League, in their building.

Your erratic second-year quarterback will be playing with a sore right throwing shoulder and has passed for one touchdown, tossed five picks, and coughed up the football five times in the past four games.  Oh and by the way, this game has playoff implications.

Rex Ryan most likely didn’t fantasize about this back in Chicago.  Mercy mercy me (that Murciélago).

Nick Mangold and the Jet offensive line cannot afford to turn in a shoddy performance Sunday against the vaunted Bears defense. ( Photo)

And so goes the script for the 2010 “It’s never easy” campaign of the New York Jets: Another week, another likely dogfight.  Legit canines wouldn’t have much of a shot against the Chicago Bears linebacking core of Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the newest bully on the block, defensive end Julius Peppers.

“Julius Peppers is an unbelievable player,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, earlier this week.  “It’s ridiculous.  A guy shouldn’t be that fast and that athletic.  I guess he’s right there in the discussion of the Defensive Player of the Year.  He is every year.  He is a tremendous player and you certainly need to know where he is every snap.  No question about it.”

The indomitable 6-foot-7, 285 pound Peppers is the weapon of choice for a Chicago defense which boasts one of the most impressive arsenals in the NFL.  Lovie Smith’s defensive unit has returned to prominence this season under the direction of Rod Marinelli.  Through Week 15, the Bears find themselves at the top of nearly every defensive category: 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.3), 8th in total yards allowed (310.9), and third in rush defense (89.8).

The secret of Chicago’s defensive revival lies within their ability to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  While Peppers has only registered eight sacks on the season, his presence on the field goes beyond the numbers.  The need to double-team Peppers has drawn one-on-one matchups for fellow end Israel Idonije and defensive tackle Anthony Adams all season.  The success of the Bears Cover 2 zone defense hinges on this pressure.

The Jets offensive line, thought to be the team’s strong suit before the season started has been a picture of inconsistency all year.  Another underwhelming performance on Sunday could end in disaster.  Despite their public denials, Briggs, Urlacher and Peppers are licking their chops, primed for a diabolical assailment of the right shoulder of Mark Sanchez.

If the pass protection is up to the challenge, the Jets have a fighting shot as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is likely to employ an offensive gameplan similar to last week in Pittsburgh.  A steady diet of short passes and a consistent running attack.  Patience.

The ultimate weakness of the Cover 2 zone that Chicago rolls out is its susceptibility to passes in the deep middle zone and the underneath zones, three to four yards past the line of scrimmage.  The ‘dink and dunk’ attack is best suited for Sanchez, rather than force a big play and put the second-year quarterback in a position to make a bad decision.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears aren’t quite as intimidating.  Mike Martz’s offense is the statistical inverse of the defense, ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category.  As inconsistent as the offense has been, quarterback Jay Cutler remains a formidable threat with his cannon right arm.  The 27-year-old Cutler has been impressive this season, limiting his turnovers considerably from years past (13 interceptions in 2010).

Jets linebacker Bart Scott has taken note of Cutler’s improved play this season. “He’s streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on, says Scott.  “He can fit the ball into a hole.  We like to say that he can probably sink a battleship.  He’s strong enough.  He has that type of power.  He can throw the ball off balance.  He’s playing well.”

The Jets defense, who have stepped up their pass-rush in recent weeks, must look to expose the Bears offensive line which has struggled with protections all season.


In the cold, and likely snow, the Jets will struggle to move the ball against the Chicago defense.  Whether Sanchez can play and how effective he can be with the sore shoulder are too big of question marks right now.  Especially in the arctic conditions. D’Brickashaw Ferguson will be the ultimate key for Gang Green on the offensive side of the ball.  If he can keep Julius Peppers in check and off Sanchez, there’s hope for Schotty’s unit.


Sunday clincher?

The Jets can clinch a playoff berth win or tie in Chicago Sunday.  Gang Green also clinches with either a Jacksonville loss or tie ( at home against Washington) or an Indianapolis loss or tie (at Oakland).

A Jets playoff berth would mark only the fifth time in franchise history that the team has qualified for the postseason in consecutive seasons.

Matchup history

Sunday’s tilt at Soldier Field marks the tenth meeting between the two teams, with the Bears holding a steady 6-3 all-time advantage.  Chicago also currently holds a two-game series winning streak against the Jets.  Sunday will mark a return to the state of Illinois for the Jets, where the team hasn’t played since 2002.  In ‘02, Gang Green fell to the Bears, 20-13, at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, during the renovation of Soldier Field.

Last time they met…

Brian Urlacher and the Chicago defense blanked the Jets in a 10-0 victory at the Meadowlands in November of 2006.  Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was intercepted twice on the day, once in the red zone.  The knockout blow for Gang Green came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when then-rookie corner Drew Coleman tripped up while in one-on-one coverage on Mark Bradley, leading to a 57-yard touchdown reception for the Chicago receiver.

Injury Report

For the Jets, defensive end Trevor Pryce (hip) and right tackle Damien Woody (knee) have been ruled out for the second straight week.  Safety Eric Smith (concussion) was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. Safety James Ihedigbo (knee/ankle) is listed as questionable.  Corners Drew Coleman (groin), Darelle Revis (hamstring), and Antonio Cromartie (groin) are all listed as probable, along with center Nick Mangold (shoulder), quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), and receivers Santonio Holmes (turf toe) and Brad Smith (hand).

Listed as probable for Chicago are receiver Earl Bennett (ankle) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee).

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 1:00 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)

JETS-STEELERS PREVIEW: No keys, push to start (the Jet offense)

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Who are the New York Jets?

After 14 weeks of heroic comeback wins, anemic offensive exhibitions, and one of the worst drubbings in franchise history, the 9-4 Jets are the ultimate enigmatic Rubik’s Cube of the National Football League.  Multi-faceted, unable to crack, and one big box of frustration for their fans and football pundits alike.

Mark Sanchez and the Jet offense needs to get going against the Steelers after being stuck in the mud for two-straight weeks. ( Photo)

The highly-sought after answer to this polysemous puzzle  may finally arrive Sunday in Pittsburgh, the setting for the proverbial crossroads of their season.

Losers of two straight to divisional opponents in deplorable fashion, the Jets find themselves in desperate need of a win Sunday to restore confidence to both their deflated offensive unit and their post-season dreams.  A season which began with much optimism and fanfare has begun to fade, faster than one can say “Black and Yellow”.

While a win on Sunday is not out of the question, it most certainly will not be easy.  In the Steelers, the Jets see everything they wish to be — a highly disciplined elite football team which prides itself on a hard-nosed running attack and a shutdown defense.  First in the league in rush defense, second in points allowed, fourth in total yards allowed, Mike Tomlin’s defensive unit appears to be anything but the perfect remedy for a Jet offense which hasn’t reached the end zone since Thanksgiving night.

Jets receiver Santonio Holmes sure knows a thing or two about the Steeler defense after going up against in practice every day for four years in Pittsburgh.

“These guys run to the ball, said Holmes on Thursday.  ”They’re eleven men attacking the football.  They don’t try to give up any big plays.  They try to keep everything in front of them.”

“They use the strength of their defensive line and their linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback and cause a lot of confusion with zone blitzes and things like that. That’s probably one of the biggest aspects that we have to focus on with that game.”

In order to have any shot, the Jets must beat Pittsburgh at their own game.  The same game that Rex Ryan has been spitting since July–ground and pound.

“We have to be ourselves and go out and be the team we put together,” said Ryan, Friday.  The team we had envisioned for this season.  (We want) to be a physical football team, a team that will play sound and great defense and a team that (has) an all-weather offense.”

“If we do those things and we’re true to ourselves, we’ll be just fine.”

It’ll definitely be easier for the Jets to “do their thing” with Steeler’s star safety Troy Polamalu likely to be sidelined with an Achilles heel injury.  Polamalu aggravated the injury last week against Cincinnati and is likely to sit out until the playoffs.  Without Polamalu manning center field, the Steeler secondary becomes a lot more average than it already is (232.9 passing yards allowed per game).

Offensively, Pittsburgh has had similar struggles to that of the Jets.  The Steelers have scored all of two touchdowns in their past 31 drives, while settling for 9 field goals.  Regardless of their recent struggles, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a sizable threat out of the pocket with his arm and has demonstrated an affinity for making plays with his feet.

“He’s a big guy, said Jets linebacker Jason Taylor, Thursday.  ”He’s like a defensive end playing quarterback.  He’s strong.  He’ll shrug you off (and) he’ll stiff-arm you.  He keeps plays alive with his legs very well and he can throw the ball down-the-field.”

“Their offense almost becomes kind of street ball-ish after it breaks down.  A lot of quarterbacks try to do it, but none as effectively as Ben.”

In the end, Sunday’s outcome will once again come down to the Jets being able to get out of their own way, offensively.  If Sanchez and the offense can establish any semblance of a rhythm and put some points on the board, the Jet defense should be up to the task of shutting down Roethlisberger.  With Polamalu out, Brian Schottenheimer must go to the air early and often and test the Pittsburgh secondary.  Looking to feature guest-of-honor Santonio Holmes wouldn’t be  a bad idea either.

Establishing the passing game early will open things up for Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson to see some daylight in the running game — the bread and butter of the Jets’ gameplan.


The Jet defense holds up for the second-straight week, while Sanchez finally pilots the offense back into the end zone–at least once.  The Jets win a hard-fought slugfest, which definitely won’t be pretty.


Matchup history

Sunday’s scrap at Heinz Field will mark the 19th meeting between the two teams.  Pittsburgh has historically dominated the Jets, posting an all-time record of 15-3 against New York.  In fact, the Jets have never registered a victory in Pittsburgh, posting an 0-6 lifetime record in the Steel City.  As far as recent history goes, the Steelers have also won seven of the last ten meetings.

Last time they met…

The then 1-8 Jets, with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, squeaked out an improbably 19-16 overtime victory over the Steelers in the Meadowlands on November 18, 2007.  The Jet offense was led by 117 yards on the ground by running back Thomas Jones.  After exchanging punts in the first two possessions of overtime, a 38-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent sealed the win for New York.  This victory would serve as one of the few bright spots for Eric Mangini’s Jets in an otherwise disappointing 2007 campaign.

No place like Holme

One of Sunday’s underlying subplots is the return to Pittsburgh for Jets receiver Santonio Holmes.  Holmes, who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in the Black and Gold, downplayed the notion of Sunday being an emotional matchup for him.  ”I honestly don’t know,” said Holmes on Wednesday. ” Right now, I’m focused on the (plan) that we put in this week, how we’re going to practice, how we’re going to prepare for this week and I’ll let all the emotions out come Sunday.”

Injury Report:

For the Jets, S Eric Smith (concussion), OT Damien Woody (knee), and DE Trevor Pryce have all been ruled out for Sunday after missing practice this week.  S James Ihedigbo, who was limited in practice all week (ankle and knee) is listed as questionable. C Nick Mangold (shoulder), DT Sione Pouha (finger), CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring), and WR Brad Smith (hand) are all probable.

Along with Polamalu, listed as doubtful for Pittsburgh is DT Steve McClendon (stinger).  Steelers DE Aaron Smith (triceps) has been ruled out.

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 4:15 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons

JETS-DOLPHINS: Previewing Round 2 of the Rivalry

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Wednesday morning the Jets (9-3) buried the game ball from their embarrassing, 45-3 Monday night loss to the Patriots.

Sunday afternoon, they look to do much of the same to the Miami Dolphins (6-6).

Rex Ryan and company will look to send the playoff hopes and season of their much-maligned foes six-feet under, while synchronously stabilizing their own ship, which saw its prospective Super Bowl quest hit some choppy waters Monday in Foxboro.

Looking for a bounce-back performance, Gang Green couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting.  Home crowd? Check.  One of your most hated rivals? Check.  An opportunity to sweep those rivals and end their season in Week 14? Triple whammy.

Darrelle Revis, who missed the first game in Miami, figures to play a big role in containing Brandon Marshall on Sunday. ( Photo)

One Jet who is definitely eager to get back on the gridiron and put last week on the backburner is quarterback Mark Sanchez.  Sanchez is coming off his most dismal performance of his sophomore campaign, as he passed for only 164 yards while throwing three interceptions Monday night.

The former Trojan is primed for a fish-frying.

“They’ve traditionally played us tough since I’ve been here,” said Sanchez earlier this week.  “They’ll be ready to play again. I know they’re excited.  They need to win out to make the playoffs or to keep their playoff hopes alive.”

“Winning this one for us might settle some things.  We want to come out firing, have a great game, start fast, finish strong and be ready for their defense that always plays well.”

Mike Nolan’s hard-nosed defensive unit, begins and ends with one man: Cameron Wake.

Wake, a second-year defensive end, has had an improbable rise to prominence in 2010.  Undrafted in 2005 coming out of Penn State, Wake has seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the NFL in sacks this season (12) and emerge as one of the league’s most feared pass-rushers.

“Cameron Wake is tough,” said Ryan on Friday.  “You know he’s blitzing and you have to do something about it.  He’s doing a great job.  He’s a speed rusher, but he has inside moves and he does inside moves with power.  He’s really an outstanding rusher.”

Operating out of the 3-4 scheme, the Dolphin defensive gameplan is predicated upon sending a lot of pressure from the sides, with Wake wreaking most of his havoc from the right side.  This is a definite issue of concern for the Jets, with right tackle Damien Woody banged up with a knee injury.

Running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson must step up and protect the edges to sustain pressure, and keep Sanchez protected.

Greene and Tomlinson also figure to play a huge role in jumpstarting a Jet offense which was unable to find the end zone last week in New England.   Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should lean on the “ground and pound” running game, early and often, something the offense has shied away from in recent weeks.  This is the Jets’ greatest offensive strength and against a blitz-heavy team like Miami, it should be put to good use.  Establishing the run will also open things up for Sanchez and the receivers, especially Dustin Keller.

Keller, who was seemingly unguardable during the Jets’ Week 3 victory in Miami, has also been noticeably absent from the offensive gameplan as of late.  The second-year tight-end, who has arguably the best rapport with the neophytic Sanchez, must be brought to the forefront this week.

Defensively, this will be another one of the tougher matchups for Jet secondary.  Miami QB Chad Henne torched the Jets for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns back in Week 3, with a majority of those throws going to WR Brandon Marshall (10 catches, 166 yards) and Davone Bess (6 catches, 86 yards).

One man the Jets were without in that Week 3 meeting was the eminent Darrelle Revis.  Surely the presence of Revis will aid in the neutralization of Marshall on Sunday.  Marshall, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, is expected to return on to the Miami lineup on Sunday.  Eager to get back on the field, look for the always dangerous Marshall to be extra motivated for his matchup on Revis Island.

With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s pledge to utilize LB Jason Taylor more effectively, the Jets should be able to lay a hand or two on Henne.  The 25-year-old Henne, much like his young counterpart Sanchez, has shown an tendency to make poor decisions with the football when facing pressure.  His 15 interceptions this season are indicative of that.


Coming off their worst performance of the season, Gang Green bounces back with a stellar game on both sides of the ball.  The defensive unit proves their worth, with at least two turnovers.


Matchup history

Sunday afternoon’s clash at the New Meadowlands will mark the 89th meeting between the two teams.  Gang Green holds the all-time series advantage, posting a record of 47-41-1 against Miami.  New York also has had the upper-hand in recent history, winning 9 of the last 13 meetings.

Last time they met…

A Drew Coleman interception of Miami QB Chad Henne in the end zone with 27 seconds remaining sealed a hard fought, 31-23 victory for the Jets during the Week 3 Sunday night matchup at Sun Life Stadium.  The Jets were lead by outstanding performances by QB Mark Sanchez (15 for 28, 256 yards, 3 TD) and TE Dustin Keller ( 6 receptions, 98 yards, 2 TD).

10 for 10

With a win Sunday, the Jets can record a 10-win season for the tenth time in franchise history.  The team’s last 10-win season came in 2006, under head coach Eric Mangini.

Injury Report: No ‘Dig’-itty, No Doubt

The wounds from Monday night’s thrashing in Foxboro continue to burn for the Jets, as they will be without safety and special team standout James Ihedigbo on Sunday against Miami.  Ihedigbo left Monday’s game against New England with a high ankle sprain and an injured MCL and did not practice all week.

While Rex Ryan was unable to offer a definite table for Digs’ return Friday, he remained hopeful that the veteran safety would return to the lineup sooner than later.  “He’s getting better, he’s tough and he’s here all the time getting treatment,” said Ryan. “You never know, but he may be out there next week.   You never know with that guy.  It’s an injury that should take longer with a high ankle sprain, but with him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s out there soon.”

Right tackle Damien Woody missed practice for the third straight day on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday.  Woody sprained his right MCL against Houston two weeks ago, but has continued to play through the injury.

Listed as probable for the Jets are DE Shaun Ellis (knee), LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson (shoulder), WR Santonio Holmes (back), C Nick Mangold (shoulder), DT Sione Pouha (ankle), and WR Brad Smith (hand).  All participated in the full practice on Friday.

For the Dolphins, OT Vernon Carey (knee) and WR Brian Hartline (finger) have been ruled out for Sunday.  Listed as questionable for Miami are LB Channing Crowder (knee), LB Karlos Dansby (toe), DE Kendall Langford (neck), OT Jake Long (knee), S Sean Smith (ankle) and WR Brandon Marshall (hamstring).

Broadcast Info: Sunday, 4:15 P.M. ET, TV: CBS (Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts) Radio: 1050 AM ESPN Radio (Bob Wischusen/Marty Lyons)

Waking Point

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Foxboro flogging could serve as must needed wake-up call for sleepy Jets

They couldn’t do diddly-pooh offensively. They couldn’t make a first down.

They couldn’t run the ball; they didn’t try to run the ball.

They couldn’t complete a pass – they stunk. Whichever way you cut it and dissect it,(in this case, parpaphrasing former Saints head coach Jim Mora’s infamous rant) the Jets couldn’t do much of anything right, Monday night in Foxboro.

It is time for Rex's Jets to finally start living up to expectations ( Photo)

Call it the Mora Bowl. Or call it a much needed wake up call for Rex Ryan’s unit.

After weeks of consistent glass-walking and narrow escapes to such prominent world-beaters as the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Texans, New York’s month-long game of Russian Roulette concluded in the oppositional graveyard that is Gillette Stadium. It ended with Tom Brady as the executioner.

With every blown coverage and secondary mishap by Gang Green, the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback calmly sat back in the stonewall pocket fortified by his offensive line, loading bullets into the chamber. Firing round after round into the heart of the Jet defense.

25 yards on a quick slant to Deion Branch. Bang.


Danny Woodhead up the seam for 35 yards. Boom.


35 yards up the middle to Aaron Hernandez. Pow.

By the third shot, the Jets were dead. Lying mercilessly, leaving Rex Ryan and his staff to pick up the pierces after a 45-3 thrashing, the franchise’s worst beat-down in nearly a quarter century. And likely their most necessary.

The Jets haven’t been this good in a long while, at least on paper. With the talent that Mike Tannenbaum and Woody Johnson assembled on both sides of the ball this off-season, it’s no surprise that New York stands at 9-3 through Week 13. The route in which they’ve taken to reach 9 wins however, is more than a bit perplexing and concerning.

An offense which features a future hall-of-fame running back in the backfield, a former Super Bowl MVP and former Pro Bowler in the receiver core, and a young talented quarterback under center, shouldn’t struggle to score points. Through 12 games, Brian Schottenheimer’s unit has been less than a powerhouse, averaging just over 22 points a game (14th in the NFL).

The colossally-hyped passing game has struggled especially, with Mark Sanchez and company yielding only 208 yards per game though the air (21st in the NFL). To put things into perspective, the Buffalo Bills (21), Detroit Lions (21), and Kansas City Chiefs (23) have all thrown more passing touchdowns this season than the Jets (17). All three of these teams have about half the talent and offensive firepower of Schottenheimer’s unit.

Instead of attacking opponents with the big play threats of Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, too often Schottenheimer has gotten cute and conservative with the playcalling. No brainer fly and post routes have been replaced with reverses, bubble screens and short-yardage passing plays. In other cases, as seen last night, the ground and pound running game which has been executed to much success has been completely abandoned and forgotten late in games.

More times than not, the offense has come out of the gate flat, relying heavily on the defense to keep them in games until they locate their mojo. While the Jet defense has been solid for the majority of the season, getting key stops when needed, they have certainly had their moments. Last night was one of those moments, giving up a total of 405 yards to the Patriots’ offense, 304 coming through the air. It is unlikely that Mike Pettine’s defense will turn in another performance like that this season, but there are some definite issues that need to get corrected.
If anything, the brash beating in New England definitely served as more of a severe exploitation of the Jet’s defensive holes than a fluke or aberration. The unit’s two-biggest weaknesses, lack of a consistent pass rush and a severe susceptibility to the interior passing game, were brought to light by Belichick and his staff. Brady had all day to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Jets secondary. Jet defensive backs and linebackers were a step-slow in coverage all night, looking just as flat and uninspired as their offensive counterparts.

The pass defense which was once seen as the ultimate strength of the unit, leading the league in nearly every statistical category a season ago, has developed into the Achilles hell of the defense. With the additions of Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, and Brodney Pool this past offseason, the secondary has taken a definite step back, instead of the expected mammoth leap towards invincibility.

The unit which surrendered all of 8 passing touchdowns in 2009, has already given up 19 this season. Another problem has been an inability to create turnovers, as the Jets have only intercepted 7 passes in 2010, tied for second-worst in the NFL. They are also allowing nearly 65 more yards through the air per game in 2010 (218.4) than 2009 (153.7).

Part of the problem has been injuries (Darrelle Revis and now Jim Leonhard). Most of the problem stems from simple inconsistency. Cromartie, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times, has looked as clueless as rookie Kyle Wilson in other instances. With Leonhard, the signal-caller and veteran brain of the secondary now likely shelved for the rest of the season, the secondary must somehow find a way to schematically and emotionally overcome that void.

The sleepwalking has lasted long enough, on both sides of the ball for the New York Jets. If their Monday Night embarrassment isn’t enough to wake them up, nothing will. They’ve seemingly waited three quarters of a season to play truly motivated, inspired football for 60 minutes and it certainly won’t get much easier for this team, from this point forward.

New York closes the regular season with road stops in Chicago and Pittsburgh sandwiched between home division tilts against Miami and Buffalo, respectively. While two wins probably guarantees a playoff berth, the Jets would like to secure themselves at least one home playoff game at the New Meadowlands Stadium. Such a feat would likely require three wins or even a highly improbable clean sweep of their final four games.

If there was ever a time to start playing your best ball of the season, it is now for these Jets. It’s either wake up now or be resigned to winter hibernation.