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Jets’ Run Proves Ryan’s the Real Deal

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

When Giants Stadium first opened its doors to the Giants on Oct. 10, 1976, Joe Namath was across the Hudson at Shea Stadium, where he was quarterbacking the Jets out of an 0-4 hole. The Jets were eight seasons removed from their miracle victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III and already the franchise’s fortune was wearing thin.

Rex Ryan's loud demeanor has often irritated his opponents, but like it or not, he's in the playoffs (JI Photo).

Since the memorable 16-7 win over the heavily favored Colts, the Jets had played in just one playoff game and lost. Namath, the franchise’s most recognizable star, was also winding down his Hall of Fame career.

The Jets called Shea Stadium home until 1983, where they forgettably closed out their digs with a 34-7 loss to the Steelers in front of 53,996 fans. Their next home would also be the Giants’ home and would bare the Giants’ logo, minus the ten games a year the Jets played there.

The “Meadowlands” as the Jets often referred to it, was sparse of memorable memories for Gang Green. Perhaps it was fitting, that after 33 years at Giants Stadium, the Jets ended up being the team to close out the building in style.

Unlike the Giants, who were embarrassed in their home finale by the playoff-less Panthers 41-9, the Jets gave their fans a reason to celebrate in the frigid temperatures.

With their resounding 37-0 win over the Bengals, the Jets clinched a playoff birth for the first time since 2006. This time however, these are not the “Same Old Jets.”

Those duds would have fumbled away last week’s “win-and-in” opportunity. They would have taken an 8-3 record into late November, only to watch the Super Bowl, division title and wild card hopes trickle away one by one.

From the moment Rex Ryan stepped into the team’s headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. one year ago, he promised his team would not fall under the same spell. This team, especially his defense, carried a brash, new attitude from day one.

“This is a good football team. There really doesn’t have to be a drastic change, but I think you’re going to see a drastic change in some of the style of play, in particular on defense,” Ryan explained at his introductory press conference last offseason. “We’re going to let the fur fly and see what happens.”

Ryan’s masterful blitz-scheming carried Gang Green’s defense to the top of the league and his pledge for an “all-weather offense” has delivered as well. Behind another Pro-Bowl calibur year from Thomas Jones (1,402 yards, 14 TD) and some steady contributions from rookie Shonn Greene (540 yards) and Leon Washington (330 yards), the Jets ran for a league-best 172 yards per game. The last Jets offense to come close to that production was in 1979 (165 yards/game).

Ryan was confident enough in his defense and rushing attack that he could make the playoffs with a rookie quarterback, which he did. Whether Ryan irritated opponents with his outspoken demeanor or his coaching strategies backfired, the man deserves his credit.

Ryan resurrected a franchise that was beaten down after last year’s collapse under Brett Favre and Eric Mangini and has not only made the Jets relevant again, he’s made them dangerous. When was the last time any Jets fan could say that? You would probably have to turn back to 2002, when a rising star Chad Pennington helped the Jets pound Peyton Manning’s Colts 41-0 in the Wild Card game.

The blowout victory seemed like ages ago, and in a sense, it was.

When the Jets hit the field tomorrow in Cincinnati, in what is expected to be below freezing temps, Ryan has a chance to put his mark in his young head coaching tenure. With a win, he would become only the third Jets head coach in the last 22 years to deliver a playoff win.

Many observers have laughed off the Jets’ run to the playoffs due to their 9-7 record and victories over the Colts’ and Bengals’ junior varsity teams, but a win tomorrow will prove that Ryan’s coaching style isn’t just a bunch of hot air.

With eight of 11 starters returning from last year’s defense which coughed up 315 points, Ryan has crafted a unit that has allowed a league-best 236 points. Much of that production has been without one of the league’s premier nose tackles, Kris Jenkins, who was lost for the season in Week Six after tearing his ACL.

Ryan has his players believing in him and he’s got the Jets’ fanbase believing too. With a win tomorrow, the rest of the league will begin to notice as well.

Now’s Not the Time for Jets to Mute Loud Approach

Saturday, October 17th, 2009
Through the first four weeks, head coach Rex Ryan delivered on his promise to field a smashmouth defense. Behind his patented “K.I.L.L.” philosophy-Keep It Likeable and Learnable-the defense anchored the Jets to a 3-1 start, despite entering the season with a rookie quarterback under center. Ryan’s pressure-filled scheme turned opposing quarterbacks into pinatas and suddenly the unit played with the “swaggerlicious” attitude that linebacker Bart Scott envisioned back in training camp.
 

The Jets defense adopted its swaggerlicious attitude upon LB Bart Scotts arrival in February (JI Photo).

The Jets' defense adopted its "swaggerlicious" attitude upon LB Bart Scott's arrival in February (JI Photo).

The Jets’ defense talked a big game, but most importantly, they played one as well. The defensive statistics against a few of the league’s premier offenses (Texans, Patriots, Titans, Saints) were enough to cause sleepless nights for offensive coordinators: 277 yards allowed/game, 14 points allowed/game.

Even Ryan shared trash-talk with Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder heading into last Monday’s matchup in Miami, but for the first time all season, the Jets’ bark did not match their bite. The Dolphins trashed the Jets for 413 total yards (262 passing, 151 rushing) and notched 21 points in the fourth quarter, en route to a 31-27 victory.

Afterword, a fiery Ryan denounced that they made rookie quarterback Chad Henne (20-26, 241 yards, 2 TD) ”look like Dan Marino.”

The Jets were beaten by their rivals in every facet and were clearly embarassed. Their performance on defense was poor enough to warrant a muzzle on the their war-of-words. After all, justifying a “swaggerlicious” attitude and then succeeding to allow 31 points to a quarterback making his second-career start is not the road to take.

Luckily for Ryan and company, the Jets’ defense can quiet its doubters with a strong showing against the beleagured Bills tomorrow. The defense adopted its brash attitude in the moments Ryan stepped onto the podium in Florham Park, N.J. back in January and they have carried it to a first-place tie with the Patriots five weeks into the season.

The refreshing attitude has delivered new life for a team starting a rookie quarterback and has created a relaxed atmosphere around the team. The team has been more vocal through five games under Ryan than it had in three seasons under the ultra-secretive Eric Mangini. Anyone care to recall those days? Anyone?

The defense has placed a target on its back with its hard-nosed attitude and there is little reason for them to change it now. One loss should not send the Jets into hiding, nor should one win anoint them as Super Bowl favorites. Looking at the big picture, they are 3-2 and remain atop the AFC East with the Patriots, who they beat 16-9 last month. Sure they would be 4-1 if they could have ever solved the Dolphins’ wildcat attack, however they just need to take care of business tomorrow and move on.

There is no reason for the Jets to abandon their “swaggerlicious” approach and start panicking now. Then again, a loss to the last-place Bills at home could do just that.

Beginning a New Era

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

From the moment the Jets handed the football to their $50 million phenom, quarterback Mark Sanchez, the future grew bright for one of the league’s snakebitten franchises.

Rookie QB Mark Sanchez will make his regular-season debut tomorrow as the new face of the franchise (Jets Insider.com photo).

Rookie QB Mark Sanchez will make his regular-season debut tomorrow as the new face of the franchise (Jets Insider.com photo).

While Sanchez arrived with heightened fanfare and steep expectations following a near record-setting campaign (34 TD passes in 2008) at the University of Southern California, he didn’t disappoint in his home opener with the Jets.

 
On Sanchez’s first play from scrimmage in the Jets’ 23-20 preseason loss to the Rams on Aug. 14, he sent the Meadowlands crowd roaring to its feet with a 48-yard strike to David Clowney. The lethal combination of arm strength and accuracy was the package Jets’ fans thought they were delivered one year earlier when future Hall of Famer Brett Favre jetted to New York, albeit with a shoulder that later deteriorated.

Sanchez did face his share of growing pains the following week as the Ravens’ ballhawking defense (3-8, 43 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) tossed their kitchen sink of blitz packages at him, yet he didn’t crumble. The Jets’ golden boy drove the offense 64 yards late in the first half and threw a 19-yard scoring strike to Leon Washington.

He finished the preseason with a robust 64.9 completion percentage (24-for-37) with three touchdowns and only one interception, but the last four weeks have been a mere dress rehearsal for Sanchez. When the fifth overall pick takes the field tomorrow in Houston, the lights will shine brighter and the training wheels will be removed. Tomorrow, a new era officially begins for the Jets.

Sanchez’s strong preseason made Rex Ryan’s decision on naming a starting quarterback fairly easy, but the rookie’s highlight reel tosses against the Rams and Eagles will be forgotten if he gets off to a rocky start. In hindsight, it would be difficult to ask Sanchez to replicate the performance of last year’s rookie starting quarterbacks, Matt Ryan (16 TD, 3,440 yards) and Joe Flacco (14 TD, 60.0 completion percentage). Both Ryan and Flacco shoved aside the belief that rookie quarterbacks cannot win and instead made the playoffs.

For the Jets, taking a gamble on high-profile rookie quarterbacks remains a rarity. Since the start of the 1962 season (franchise’s final year as the Titans) the franchise has drafted only six quarterbacks in the first round. Of the six, Sanchez will be the first to start a season opener. The franchise’s most recognizable player, Hall of Famer Joe Namath (third overall, 1965), made his first start in the third game of his rookie season and was later named the Rookie of the Year.

Despite the Jets’ recent failures at quarterback, they certainly hope that Sanchez’s arrival will breathe new life into their offense. The Jets are stacked at running back with Washington, Thomas Jones and rookie third-round pick Shonn Greene  and therefore Ryan likely will not ask his quarterback to gun the football up and down the field. Sanchez will get his opportunities, but the key for any rookie signal-caller is to protect the ball. If he does not, the growing pains will mount early.

Most importantly for the Jets, Sanchez’s regular-season debut will bring renewed excitement to a success-starving franchise and provide hope that they are on a winning path. The Jets’ golden-boy might not ride on the same smooth path as Ryan did last year, however the expectations remain that he can deliver.

Judging by Sanchez’s impressive arm strength and accuracy, he will find his way into the highlight reels this season. He can start building on that collection tomorrow.

Preseason Opener Brings Intrigue for Gang Green

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

In the world of sports, where dynasties are about as seldom as a chalkboard-material quote heard from the mouth of Browns head coach Eric Mangini, change routinely becomes the norm. Fresh off old, unsuccessful regimes, franchises breath new life into players and fan bases by echoing the sentiment, “each season brings a new attitude.”

If there was ever a poster boy for that ancient slogan, Rex Ryan might as well take a stand.

Just moments after being introduced as the Jets new head coach back in January, Ryan delivered as bold a statement a new man on the job could ever dare to touch upon. Glaring out to a throng of cameras and reporters, Ryan suggested, “With all the cameras and all that, I was looking for our new president back there. You know, I think we’ll get to meet him in the next couple years anyway.” 

Wow, just wow. Before even stepping foot on the practice field with his new team, Ryan had already guaranteed a trip to the Super Bowl. For the writers who had listened to even a snippet of a press conference during Mangini’s three seasons with the Jets, Ryan’s ultra-confident approach had the same effect as a baseball slugger anticipating a 95 mph fastball and instead being tossed a changeup. For the players, Ryan’s brash, trash-talking approach provided a relaxed, yet determined approach.

Linebacker Bart Scott later termed Gang Green’s new attitude as “swaggerlicious” and Ryan’s bulletin-board statements quickly irked Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. The Jets had not even played a single snap under their new, fiery head coach, yet it felt like they had new life.

The renewed attitude certainly has created one of the most entertaining offseasons and one that was very much needed after last year’s collapse. The players are energized and the atmosphere on the practice field is loose. Heck, even D’Brickashaw Ferguson is predicting a Pro Bowl season for himself and a trip to the Super Bowl for his team.

A lot has changed in Jets land these days and their first crack at bringing their “swaggerlicious” attitude in full pads will be Friday, when they open their preseason slate against the Rams. The sound of a football game in August certainly does not get your blood rushing aside from the few diehards, but there is a different feel surrounding Gang Green this season. One of the most intriguing aspects of Friday’s game will be to what extent will Ryan let his defensive schemes out of the bag? Will he throw most of his blitz packages during the few snaps that the starters actually play? Nose tackle Kris Jenkins (calf) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) will not play due to injury, but every Jets fan will finally catch a glimpse of newcomers Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. 

Starting back to March when the Jets held their first voluntary workouts, one of the most intriguing aspects was watching the level of chatter between the defensive players before each snap. There were the occasional barks delivered back and forth between Scott and the offensive line, but much of the volume was the defense communicating with each other. Ryan had only been named head coach two months prior and yet the defense already seemed to run his crafty blitz packages like a well-oiled machine. With months of OTA’s and training camp practices now in the books, Friday’s tilt will show how much the defense has progressed. 

The Jets have a new head coach, new players and a refreshed attitude. Will it lead to an improved style of play? 

As intriguing as Ryan’s ball-hawking defense could potentially be, there is also plenty of news on the offensive side of the ball. The battle between quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and rookie Mark Sanchez has been a near draw thus far. However, an equally impressive performance from each signal caller probably bodes best for Sanchez. Clemens has already spent four years in the Jets’ system, while Sanchez has spent just four months, so any coach would hope that the elder statesman would take a giant step forward in the competition. Clemens will start Friday, as he and Sanchez will likely share an equal number of snaps with the starters. If Clemens is outplayed, he could already find himself battling out of a deep hole.

Tanny Continues to Wheel and Deal

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Update II: The details of the Jets-Lions trade are in…In return for shipping the 65th overall pick to the Jets, the Lions receive the 76th (third-round), 115h (fourth-round) and 228th (seventh-round) overall picks.

Dealing up certainly seems like a king’s ransom and now the Jets are left with just one pick  (193rd overall) today. With several holes to fill on offense, the move seems quite puzzling to me. The Jets must really, really, really like Greene.

Update: Tannenbaum and Company got off to another quick start today, as they acquired the Lions’ third-round pick (65th overall). The Jets had several holes on offense to fill, specifically at tight end and wide receiver. Instead, Gang Green selected Iowa running back Shonn Greene. The selection drew a smattering of boos from the remaining diehards at the Radio City Music Hall.  

Original: Welcome to Day Two (Rounds 3-7) of the NFL draft. Yesterday the Jets grabbed a potential franchise quarterback by trading up to fifth overall and selecting USC’s Mark Sanchez, but now the high-profile names are off the board.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum took some criticism at the end of last season for trading for quarterback Brett Favre and then dumping Chad Pennington, but he pulled off a steal yesterday. Tannenbaum not only was able to keep next year’s first-round pick, he was able to keep some picks today. The Jets have four picks today (76th, 115th, 193rd, 228).

The Jets Select…

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

The Jets have their new face of the franchise. Gang Green traded with the Browns to move up to fifth overall and selected USC’s Mark Sanchez. For their quarterback of the future, the Jets traded away this year’s first-round pick (17th overall), second-round pick (52nd overall), defensive end Kenyon Coleman, quarterback Brett Ratliff and safety Abram Elam.

It surely looks as though the Jets made a steal of a deal with their former head coach, Eric Mangini. Coleman was an underperforming starter on the defensive line and both Elam and Ratliff figured to be backups this season.

Sanchez only made 16 career starts in his two seasons at USC, but he should step in and be the Jets’ starter from Day One.

Greetings from Florham Park

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Greetings from Florham Park, N.J. We’ve seen three teams already come off the clock, with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford heading to the Lions, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith to the Rams and LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson to the Chiefs.

The Seahawks are now on the clock. If the Seahawks choose either Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry or Texas Tech reciever Michael Crabtree, it will be interesting to see where USC’s Mark Sanchez drops. New Browns head coach Eric Mangini and company could bring Sanchez to the ‘Dogpound,’ which could create a tricke-down effect.

Selecting Sanchez would leave the Browns invested heavily in three quarterbacks (Sanchez, Anderson, Quinn). The Browns would likely have to trade either Anderson or Quinn. Will the Jets come calling?

Questions, Questions and More for Gang Green

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Well it’s finally here…almost. We’ve hit the eve of the NFL draft and the Jets have a New York-sized boat of questions to answer tomorrow. Does general manager Mike Tannenbaum decide to sit tight at 17th overall and fill the Jets’ recieving void with Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey or Florida’s Percy Harvin? Does he choose to beef up the team’s paper-thin tight end corps and select Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew? Does he again decide to pull the plug on Kellen Clemens’ opportunity and grab Southern California’s Mark Sanchez or Kansas State’s Josh Freeman, or spin a deal for Jason Campbell or Brady Quinn? Does he surprise everyone and continue to build upon Rex Ryan’s revamped defense? No matter what direction the Jets choose, Ryan’s first draft day figures to be filled with drama.

The most appealing move for the Jets would be to deal for Sanchez, but that opportunity will be contingent on him slipping to eighth overall (Jaguars). Sanchez would instantly give owner Woody Johnson a face to market for the team’s new stadium in 2010, yet the cost could be too heavy for the team to handle. The Jets only have six draft picks and trading into the top ten would cost them atleast two of those.

Sanchez’s performance in last year’s Rose Bowl against a dominant Penn State defense (28-35, 413 yards, four TD) is hard to ignore, however that was just one of his 16 career starts. That is not exactly a thick track record for a quarterback looking to become the face of the franchise. The discussion, of course, could turn into a moot point for the Jets if Sanchez is selected before the Jaguars’ slot or if the Redskins deliver a sweeter trade offer.

The Jets’ desire for a quarterback is certainly understandable because they currently have the most unproven tandem in the league. Clemens started just eight games in 2007 and struggled behind a pourous offensive line (five TD, ten INT) and Ratliff has never taken a snap during a regular season game. However, Gang Green’s interest in Sanchez continues to beg the question…when do the Jets finally commit to Clemens? Their romance with other quarterbacks began last August when they shipped draft picks to the Packers for Brett Favre and then continued last month when Jay Cutler begged his way out of Denver.

Clemens ran with his opportunity and performed admirably at last week’s voluntary minicamp. He’s preparing as if he will lead the Jets next season and has been in midst of praise from Ryan, who’s hoping to build a run-based offense. Will he get that chance? The clouds will likely clear tomorrow.

The Jets could grab a cap casualty later this offseason (Marc Bulger?) but Clemens opportunity will likely depend on the Jets’ pickings tomorrow. If Sanchez or Freeman is available, will the Jets come calling? Gang Green’s war room is already filled will questions and the answers are soon to pour out.

Passing on Cutler the Right Move

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

When Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff learned that the Broncos had traded the face of their franchise, quarterback Jay Cutler, to the Bears, both Jets quarterbacks must have taken a huge sigh of relief. At this point last season, Clemens was thrust into a open quarterback competition with Chad Pennington but the opportunity to become a full-time starter ended on the eve of the Jets’ preseason opener. General manager Mike Tannenbaum pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade with the Packers for Brett Favre and Clemens was once again handed the clipboard. Clemens had only eight starts under his belt (2-6 record) and had tossed twice as many interceptions (ten) as touchdowns (five), yet he had still shown flashes that he could lead the team’s sputtering offense.

Tannenbaum could have easily closed the door on Clemens’ future with the Jets had he been able to orchestrate his second blockbuster trade for a star quarterback in as many years, but the Bears beat him to the punch. The Jets could still draft a young quarterback in April’s NFL draft (Josh Freeman?) or sign an underacheiving veteran (Byron Leftwich? JP Losman?) but the road appears open for Clemens and Ratliff to take over as the starter. While a deal for Cutler would have landed the Jets a franchise quarterback and possibly the strongest arm in the league, sometimes the best deals are those you don’t make.

There is no doubt that Cutler is more talented than Clemens and Ratliff, but there’s more to being a quarterback than just throwing touchdown passes. Quarterbacks are supposed to be leaders in the locker room and Cutler’s recent antics with the Broncos portrayed him as a whiny diva. Several Jets took offense to Cutler’s repeated trash talking in a 34-17 loss to the Broncos last November and bringing that fiery attitude into the locker room could have been trouble from the start.

“A lot of guys don’t like that,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said yesterday of Cutler’s trash talking. “If he would come here, I think [teammates] would question him a lot about that.”

Cutler didn’t exactly receive a ringing endorsement within the Jets’ locker room, as most players, including wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, sounded eager about giving Clemens and Ratliff a chance to start.

“I have a bunch of confidence in those guys. I’ve been watching them work since they have been here. Those guys have been preparing like starters. Definitely, playing behind Brett [Favre] you know you are not going to get a chance to play at all,” Cotchery said. “[Favre] played I don’t know how many consecutive games, but those guys still prepared like they had a chance to play and you can respect that.”

Cutler would certainly make some friends at Florham Park, N.J. after tossing towndown passes and leading the Jets to victories, but his me-first attitude would grow old after losses. Quarterbacks have to become leaders, especially in New York, where the spotlight would be centered on Cutler every week.

While Cutler is still just 25 years old and has both a 4,000 yard passing season and a Pro-Bowl appearance on his resume, the Broncos’ asking price was enormous. The Broncos cannot be blamed for asking the moon for a franchise quarterback who has yet to reach his prime, but bringing aboard Cutler’s whiny attitude was too much of a risk. The Bears shipped their first (18th overall) and third round picks in this year’s draft, their first round pick in next year’s draft, plus quarterback Kyle Orton. The Jets could have surrendered their 2009 first round pick (17th overall) but there were rumblings that Denver also asked for cornerback Darrelle Revis or linebacker David Harris. Quarterbacks with Cutler’s abilities come around very sparingly, but defense helps win championships. Head coach Rex Ryan envisioned building a dominant, ball-hawking defense from the moment he accepted the job in January and dealing either Revis or Harris would have set the Jets back. Revis has already developed into one of the league’s true shutdown corners, which are almost as difficult to find as a polished quarterback.

Cutler could very well lead the Bears to the playoffs in the weak NFC North next season, but would it deal a black eye on Tannenbaum’s regime? It will likely depend on the play at the quarterback position next year for the Jets. Clemens could prove to be a capable starter or the same signal-caller who was fairly inaccurate during his opening audition in 2007. Ratliff could prove that his strong preseason last year was a true portrayal of his abilities, or he could show that his league-leading passer rating (122.5) was simply a matter of feasting on second-string defenses. Either way, it’s time to find out.

The Jets may still target Freeman at 17th overall in April’s draft, but it’s now important to keep an eye on the Broncos, who hold both the and 12th and 18th overall picks. The Broncos obviously would not have been in play for a quarterback had they kept Cutler, but with Orton and Chris Simms on their depth chart, their plans have likely changed. With the extra draft picks acquired, they could jump the Jets and trade up for either Southern California’s Mark Sanchez or Freeman.

Clemens and Ratliff will likely keep an eye on the proceedings, but barring a late surprise, they remain the Jets’ top options. Surely all good things come to those who wait.

Update: Leonhard to Fly with Jets

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Update: NFL Network’s Adam Schefter is now reporting that the Jets reached an agreement with Jim Leonhard on a three-year deal.

Original: The Jets thought they had Bart Scott wrapped up last Friday before the Ravens swept in and matched the Jets’ initial five-year, $40 million offer. Negotiations between Scott and the two teams intensified throughout the afternoon, but the free-agent linebacker ultimately decided that New York was the place to be.

Could the Jets now be traveling down the same road with free-agent safety Jim Leonhard?

After reports earlier today stated that Leonhard had verbally agreed to sign with the Jets, foxsports.com is now reporting that the Broncos have made a late push to sign the former Raven. Leonhard is now “reconsidering” his agreement.

Leonhard could still end up with the Jets after all is said and done, but it shows you how much verbal agreements mean.