Insider Mid-Season Report Card

The Jets 2009 season has had enough ups and downs and twists and turns to make a fan seasick.  And its only Week 9.

Heading into the bye with a 4-4 record, it’s time to sit back and evaluate what’s worked, what hasn’t and what needs to be improved. Here are your mid-season grades:

Bart Scott and the defensive unit earn top marks (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Bart Scott and the defensive unit earn top marks (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Quarterbacks

After a strong start, Mark Sanchez has been anything but consistent.  While the rookie signal-caller has put up some solid numbers through eight games (53.5 completion percentage, 1,443 yards, 8 touchdowns), he has also shown a propensity for turning the ball over (10 interceptions, 8 fumbles).

While Sanchez’s ball-security issues and turnovers flat-out cost the Jets two games against New Orleans and Buffalo, the bottom-line is that he’s a 22 year-old rookie.  The Jets knew what they were getting into by starting a rookie quarterback and the growing pains that would follow.  Bet they never saw the hot dog coming though.

We haven’t seen much on-field action from Kellen Clemens or Erik Ainge so far, but boy can they wield a clipboard with unbridled ease.

Grade:  C

Running Backs

Grinding.  That’s the one word that embodies the Jets’ ground game since Week 1 in Houston.  Week by week, the rushing attack has slowly but steadily ground and pounded its way to the top of the NFL’s ranks.  Gang Green’s number one ranked ground game is averaging a boisterous 177.6 yards per game.

10-year veteran Thomas Jones is running like a rookie, spearheading the offense with 704 yards and 7 touchdowns through eight games.

The loss of Leon Washington definitely hurts, but the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene (144 rushing yards against Oakland in Week 7) will help ease the pain.

Veteran fullback Tony Richardson, the unsung hero of the Jets’ running game, has been rock-solid as usual.

Grade:  B+

Receivers:

Jerricho Cotchery (27 receptions for 430 yards) is putting together another stellar campaign.  The sixth-year receiver out of N.C. State has developed a strong rapport with Sanchez, and has once again proven to be one of the league’s finest possession receivers.

Braylon Edwards has been as good as advertised since being acquired in Week 5.  It’s early, but Edwards has already shown glimpses of the outstanding playmaking ability he is capable of.

In limited action, David Clowney has stepped up and ridden himself of the “Mr. August” tags.  Clowney has emerged as a legitimate downfield threat in the slot position and is getting better by the week.

Grade: B

Tight Ends:

Aside from his big game against Miami on Sunday (8 catches, 76 yards, 1 TD), Dustin Keller has been a non-factor in the first half of the season.  Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to find a way to get Keller more involved in the offense.  Meanwhile, Rex Ryan needs to find a way to get TE Ben Hartsock less-involved.  Hartsock has been a mess, committing key bonehead penalties in the home losses to both Buffalo and Miami.

Grade: C-

Offensive Line

While the veteran group has done a phenomenal job in the running game, they’ve been less than stellar in protecting their rookie quarterback.  The fleet-footed Sanchez has been sacked a total of fifteen times so far this season.  Guard Alan Faneca has given up a team-leading four sacks, and is beginning to show his age.  The unit also needs to cut down on the false start and illegal shift penalties which have become a common occurrence.

Grade:  B

Offense

While the rushing game has dominated, the passing game has struggled.  The Jets’ 164.5 yards per game through the air is 27th in the NFL.  Overall, the Jets rank 16th in total offense (342.1 yards per game) and 18th in points scored (22 per game).  The offense has struggled to convert on third down all season and has turned the ball over way too many times in or around the red zone.

In the second half of the season, the Jets need to continue to focus the offense around their running game, easing the burden on Mark Sanchez.  A few less turnovers from the rookie wouldn’t hurt either.

Grade:  C+

Defensive Line

Much like the rest of the team, the performance of the defensive line has fell-off a bit since the Sept. 20 victory over New England at the Meadowlands.  Since then, the Jets have struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks and apply pressure in the backfield.  While the blame doesn’t fall solely on the line, a majority of it does.  DE Shaun Ellis has been relatively quiet so far and the injury to NT Kris Jenkins was a huge blow.

Still with all that being said, even with their flaws, the d-line has been pretty rock solid.  Sione Pouha and Howard Green have played well in the absence of the big fella, Jenkins.  They’re not flashy, but make the plays when they need to.

Grade: B -

Linebackers

The heart and soul of the Jet defense and the reason why the team has four wins.  The linebacking unit has been exceptional, led by David Harris and Bart Scott.  Harris leads the team in tackles (65) and sacks (3.5), while Scott’s “swaggerlicious” demeanor has payed dividends on and off the field.  Calvin Pace is  beginning to get back into the swing of things after missing four games with his suspension.  That’s a scary thought for opposing offensive coordinators.

Grade: B+

Secondary

Darrelle Revis is on an entire different planet.  The third-year corner has officially earned the title of “shutdown corner” with his outstanding play so far in ‘09.  Revis, who has registered 29 tackles and 2 interceptions has locked up the likes of Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, and Marques Colston while anchoring a secondary which has given up only a handful of big plays.  Safeties Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard have been solid, while Eric Smith has stepped up.

Lito Sheppard, when healthy, has shown that he still can make plays.  The problem is he can’t stay on the field.  The same goes for CB Donald Strickland, who’s been banged up since September.

Grade: B

Defense

The defensive unit as a whole has been a model of consistency for a team that has been plagued by inconsistency.  From the get-go this defense has stepped up and gone above and beyond their potential.  With the exception of the Monday night game in Miami, the defense has put this team in a position to win every game, and you really can’t ask for more than that.

The Jets rank second in the league in total yards allowed per game (273.4) and have only allowed seven offensive touchdowns all season.

However, this group is not without its flaws.  Again, they need to do a better job of getting to opposing quarterbacks.  The defense also needs to do a better job of forcing turnovers.  Playmaker Kerry Rhodes needs to start making things happen in the secondary.

Grade: A -

Special Teams

Jay Feely has been absolute money, converting 13 of 15 field goal attempts this season.  Punter Steve Weatherford has also been solid, especially when executing the fakes.  Mike Westhoff’s unit has been one of the Jets’ strengths all season, even with their blemishes against Ted Ginn Jr.  While special teams can undoubtedly be blamed for this past week’s loss to Miami, don’t forget that they were also responsible for the win against Tennessee in Week 3.

The impact of Leon Washington’s injury has yet to sink in, but Washington had been setting the Jet offense up with great field position all season.  Justin Miller is no Leon, but he can get the job done.

Grade: B -

Coaching

Rex Ryan has done wonders with the defense and has been successful in changing the culture around the Jet locker room.  However, his in-game management has been poor and has hurt the team in spots.  Ryan also needs to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check.  At times, his wavering moods have been bad for the team.  In the second half, Ryan must stick to his running attack and do a better job of managing the team at the end of games.

Grade: C

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