Archive for December, 2009

Previewing Jets-Colts with some Holiday Cheer

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Ho. Ho. Ho. I’d like to wish a merry Christmas to everyone reading Jets Insider! And if the reverie of this day doesn’t quite apply to your beliefs, hey man, that’s cool too. Hope you had a superb December 25th regardless. 

Now, I’m borderline surprised to have written such a trite, stereotypical opening to a column being crafted on this unique night. [Ho? Ho? Ho? Oh yeah, baby]

But then again, perhaps it was my subconscious channeling some common sense. After all, if an individual were logging onto this site in a festive mood, only to come upon a dry, clinical analysis of why the Jets season is going to crash and burn this Sunday, it just may preclude his continued merriment. It could negatively jolt his jolliness. Hey now, I’m no grinch.

Sure, I come hauling poor tidings. I think the Jets roller-coaster ride of a campaign will, for all meaningful intents and purposes, reach an unsatisfying conclusion against the unblemished Colts. But this article is still going to be jovial. Like a sloshed reveler at the Christmas party sporting a beaming, eggnog induced smile and slightly titled Santa Claus hat, I shall present my case with a damn near uncomfortable amount of good cheer. And nothing reeks of that breezy entertainment vibe quite like a list article. So let’s fire it up!

Five observations about this Jets-Colts tilt. 

1. The Offensive Philosophies of these teams couldn’t be more different

Not in terms of raw productivity, just basically in the control these two outfits give to their respective quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning is the engine of the Indianapolis Colts. They have drafted wonderfully, surrounding their franchise player with key offensive pieces, and refused to rely on free agency to build a stable core. They are cohesively put together in every sense.

All that said, if Peyton Manning weren’t dropping back, these Colts would be far from invincible; still a competitor without question, but nowhere near the rampaging juggernaut that currently resides on the verge of becoming the league’s signature team. Manning is that vital.

He runs this offense with a command that is both cunning and brutish. As he wildly motions pre-snap and occasionally gets caught chewing out a receiver, the genius may appear a borderline madman, treading a fine line between intensity and outright boorishness. But Manning shines brightest when one considers details. The endless hours of film study, the carefully constructed he’s-a-pitchman-but-still-an-everyman-image, the razor precision placement of certain passes.

Manning wins while defining an organization, and has a chance to define an entire era, too. Heavy stuff.

Meanwhile, the Jets have implemented a color-coded system to reel in the overly aggressive tendencies of their rookie quarterback. Slight advantage: Indianapolis. Call me crazy.

 Mark Sanchez may very well be a great passer one day. Peyton Manning stopped by the town of great many years ago and kept moving along…   

2. The quarterback disparity has to be considered a mitigating factor when comparing two teams closely matched in talent [especially in this one]

Bingo. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned writing up these game previews this season, it’s this! And sure, experienced chroniclers of the National Football League may file this fact under common knowledge, but for someone who considers Dedric Ward “old-school” [As opposed to say, Don Maynard or even Joe Klecko] this revelation taught me a ton about how one position can be a compromising force.

 Basically, trying to nail down results of games that have not been played is an extremely difficult task. Everyone from me to Paulie down in the Village who has his thumbs riding on the point spread will try correlating key match-ups and tendencies, in order to make what amounts to an educated guess.

Home field advantage could be a huge deal, or maybe not. A shutdown cornerback like Darrelle Revis affects the potency of an opposing offense. These are factors that are pretty consistent. A team is what a team is, to echo a similar sentiment originated by Bill Parcells. 

The one major variable, injuries, is duly accounted for in every major American newspaper throughout the week.

But a rookie quarterback, or even a shaky quarterback, can throw all of that research and reasoning out for a loop. Forget about it. Take last week’s game, an infuriating affair for the Jets. My preview was appearing pretty prescient, especially the points about Matt Ryan struggling in his return from the toe injury in raw conditions. I thought Thomas Jones would carry the mail, but the Falcons stacked the box to stymie him, and Sanchez couldn’t quite make them pay. Different ballgame than the one I foresaw, basically chalked up to one huge factor.

Quarterback is the most important position in football. Everything flows outward from that artery. Last year, not many gave the Arizona Cardinals a chance against the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional playoffs. The Panthers appeared the best team in the NFC after a late season slide by the Giants. But they were beaten badly, because an otherwise ordinary Cardinals defense had feasted on turnovers all year, and the Panthers’ quarterback served them up by the barrel-full at a most inopportune time. Everything else that had been debated and decided about the game before it took place evaporated the second Jake Delhomme started throwing the ball to the wrong team. Hey, I’m learning. “It’s a process.”

So, while I do believe the Jets’ defense is going to give Peyton Manning all he can handle, and that Thomas Jones could potentially control the clock, the uncertainty haunting New York at it’s most pivotal position leaves me unable to give them the nod. Flashback to the last Jets’ road game approaching this degree of difficulty: At Foxboro. They would have been right there, if only… you know the rest. 

3. I do think the Colts available starters will play the whole way 

This meaning, of course, no major burn for Curtis Painter. The Colts offense is predicated on timing and rhythm. A great team risking the acquisition of rust with a game at Buffalo looming in week seventeen as the perfect opportunity for a respite does not seem likely.

I could be wrong, but I believe Manning and the first team plays four quarters. The Colts do have a long list of players nursing injuries, though, and it would be not be a surprise if questionable participants sit out completely.

Dwight Freeney has an abdomen issue which has limited his reps in practice. Pierre Gracon is missing in action with a hand injury. Clint Session is out. Defensive back Antoine Bethea and linebacker Gary Brackett have been unhindered in practice this week despite being banged up.

4. Thomas Jones may be slowing down

How many times, when assessing the Jets’ chances for victory in a given week, has Thomas Jones been the unquestionable focal point of any potential attack? More often than not, circumstances have demanded the best from Jones. The distinct lack of balance, in reliance, between the Jets running and passing game may be wearing on it’s most taxed individual.

If Jones is running on fumes, the awful injury suffered by Leon Washington surely has something to do with it, in addition to constantly running against a stacked box. Braylon Edwards’ may have stretched defenses at first, but the all around mediocre state of the Jets’ passing game has teams daring the Jets to make big plays consistently. Had Edwards and Sanchez hooked up just once more against the Falcons, even for a more moderate gain than an instant touchdown, the Jets may have coasted with Jones when it mattered most.

Should Jones be simply out of gas, and his performance against a very pedestrian Falcons run-defense was certainly eye opening, the Jets will be in serious trouble this Sunday on the road. He definitely needs some support. Will he get it?

The loss of Leon Washington put almost all the weight of the running game on Thomas Jones.

The loss of Leon Washington put almost all the weight of the running game on Thomas Jones.

5. Rex Ryan’s defense has one more stand left in them

Ryan is well aware that harassing and confusing Peyton Manning is the key to disrupting the Colts’ downright vicious aerial assault. The Ravens’ defense certainly couldn’t be blamed for their ’05 playoff ouster at the hands of Manning, as he looked downright lost at junctures against the aggressive, Ryan led unit. The Jets will be blitzing with ferocity, and with one of the leagues best collection of defensive backs providing support, they just may prop up an offense trending downward.

Last stand?

Last stand?

The Colts have nothing to play for, other than a historical milestone they may not even truly care about. Their battered offensive line will surely not be pushed into mandatory service against the Jets.

 Even still, Manning will be aware of these circumstances. It is unlikely, unless a staggering Jets offense attains an early lead, that he will force low percentage throws.

 This one is likely to develop into a physical battle, to be won easily by the better game manager.

The Jets will probably be close at halftime, but, as they have proven time after time in 2009, they are not ready to step toward the elite.

 Colts 23 Jets 12

Previewing Jets-Falcons, plus Friday Notes

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Mystery abounds as the Atlanta Falcons fly into Meadowlands for the second time this season, seeking a victory to momentarily steady a crumbling campaign once containing endless promise.

The Falcons’ inconsistent opponent is flirting with a playoff berth, in the midst of a bizarre excursion of their own, featuring two separate three game losing streaks sprinkled amid spectacular, championship caliber play.

While a detailed study of the schizophrenic identities defining these two teams sure would be interesting, more tangible matters provide plenty of intrigue.  

Quarterback play, perhaps the most vital aspect of any game analysis, is impossible to predict as it concerns this Sunday’s crucial throw-down. Indeed, there are far more questions than answers. Will Matt Ryan, nursing an injured big toe on his right foot, suit up? He returned to practice this Thursday. Ryan’s effectiveness, in cold weather against a tough defense backed by a boisterous crowd and playing banged up, will not be certain until the definitive results begin bearing themselves out.

 The Boston College product enjoyed a magic carpet ride in his rookie season, a key catalyst lifting the Falcons from a complete abyss. Ryan was faced with elevating a team that had seen its previous franchise quarterback placed under arrest and behind bars, not to mention the embarrassing exit of Bobby Petrino, who abandoned a fractured locker room. Ryan, along with new Coach Mike Smith, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, and running back Michael Turner, were seen as saviors after producing a shocking output of eleven wins in 2008.

This year, Ryan has been unable to avoid the earthbound gravitational pull claiming most inexperienced pro signal callers. His immediate excellence practically screamed outlier. But it seemed the freshman follies Ryan previously parried were haunting him before the toe injury, his completion percentage plummeting and interceptions rising.

The regression of Ryan, an injury to Turner, and a far less explosive defense, have conspired against a continued Falcons renaissance. John Abraham, in particular, has seen his statistics take a nosedive. “John has not had the sack production that he had last year in 2008. He had 16.5 sacks. His production is down this year,” admitted Smith, though he did add, “But I think he’s had a very solid year.”

 Though Atlanta’s core remains extremely strong, their current level of performance brands them a team the Jets should definitely beat, especially at home.

And New York is primed to complete such a task.  But the Jets are not without their own set of fragile variables.

Mark Sanchez was seen at practice wearing braces on both knees. His forward dive against Buffalo cost him a game, and drew the ire of his head coach. The organization obviously hopes a lesson has been learned, and that Sanchez is totally healthy against the Falcons. But even if his knees weren’t an issue, the inconsistent performance of the rookie has been a detriment all year long, outright costing the Jets multiple games. 

 

How will this man play on Sunday? Stay tuned for Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack to find out.

How will this man play on Sunday? Stay tuned for "Unsolved Mysteries" with Robert Stack to find out.

While Matt Ryan’s weaknesses took time to manifest, Sanchez’s pro Baptism has taken a more predictable track. There were superb flashes early, a fleeting preview of a fully developed quarterback. Those initial fantasies disintegrated, a nauseating roller-coaster ride left in wake. The Jets made this bargain on their own volition, fully aware that a volatile rookie could submarine an otherwise accomplished roster. Considering the other available options, this painful learning experience will probably be viewed successful, in the long run. The short-term presents uncertainty, and potential disappointment, considering that nearly every other facet of the team is operating at peak capacity.

Jay Feely is tearing it up, receiving plaudits from Special Teams coach Mike Westhoff. “He’s done a heck of a job,” said Westhoff. “He’s as solid as can be. We’re really happy with Jay. I don’t know where the heck we’d be without the field goals because we’ve had to score. He’s done a good job every time we’ve asked him. Last week, we’re trying three of them at 49 yards or so. It’s just tough. Jay has been very consistent. He’s a good pro.” The special teams struggled to recover from the loss of key parts like Jason Trusnik after the depth depleting Braylon Edwards acquisition, but Mike Westhoff has his troops back in line, including new return man Brad Smith, displaying considerable potential in his new role.  

The defensive line has performed admirably in the absence of Kris Jenkins, especially lately. Shaun Ellis has been a certifiable monster. Darrelle Revis leads a solid secondary, which jumps a few levels upward whenever Lito Sheppard is healthy, and Kerry Rhodes properly motivated. Take a good look at the Jets, and it’s hard to find fault… except in the passing game.  

After a spectacular debut, Edwards has struggled to find stride. Jerricho Cotchery started strong but has seen his production curtailed by injuries and other extenuating factors. These issues shouldn’t be blamed all on the quarterback, though Sanchez does possess a fair share of responsibility.

If the Jets could mount even a respectable aerial assault in these final three weeks, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Otherwise, this potentially devastating collection of talent still has an Achilles heel.

As it concerns this Sunday, I see too many advantages favoring New York for the Falcons to steal one.  The potential for a blizzard sets the Jets up quite nicely to test a below average Atlanta run defense. The Falcons overall defense is mediocre, but the Jets will feel totally comfortable camouflaging their principal weakness with a slew of handoffs to Jones and Shonn Greene, especially if the precipitation is falling. The Falcons sport a variety of nifty offensive toys, including all world tight end Tony Gonzalez and big play receiver Roddy White. But freezing conditions, brutal wind, and snow do not present the ideal setting for the returns of Ryan and Turner. Ryan, especially, will be hard pressed not to struggle against a cohesive Jets defense.  Should Ryan and Turner be absent, and they are game-time decisions according to Mike Smith, the Falcons’ will be at an even greater disadvantage. Chris Redman lit up against New Orleans, but that was at home in a dome.

It may not be pretty, but Thomas Jones will have the last word.

 

This guy? Less mysterious.

This guy? Less mysterious.

New York Jets 20 Atlanta Falcons 9 

 ………………………..

Notes:

Rex Ryan shared a few interesting morsels of information during his daily press conference.

Mark Sanchez will start this Sunday.  Though this decision was never in serious doubt, an official announcement was held back until today.

On when Ryan made the call: “After practice. We went into practice thinking he would be fine, so he was going to get 100 percent of the reps. After talking with the doctors, they felt great. Our medical staff felt great about where he was at. Mark feels strong… we will never put any athlete out there if we don’t think he’s ready to play, able to protect himself and stay healthy.”

On preparing Sanchez for the snow: “We put so UGG boot stuff in his helmet so he’s going to be warmer. I’m not kidding. Look at his helmet. He’s got some of that in there.”

Did Sanchez take all the snaps today? : “He took all the snaps with the ones.”

Jay Feely is having a monster season, but Ryan is well aware that the Jets need to finish more drives with six points more often, instead of three: “You would definitely like to finish and if you’re in those kind of games, the math doesn’t work. You need to score when you’re in the red zone. We’ve probably worked down there as much anybody. We feel good about our red zone. We just need to make sure we knock it in there somehow. Sometimes, like last week, we weren’t going to risk it. Any type of risk at all we were like, ‘We’ve got the game pretty well where we want it. We feel good about it. We got three. We feel great about Jay…’ I think it might have been a little product of why we couldn’t get it in there.”

Feel the consistency.

Feel the consistency.

Nick Mangold continues to battle an unspecified illness. He is listed as probable for this week, and was sent home from the facility again today. Ryan was reassuring about Mangold’s chances of playing this Sunday: “He was here and we sent him home again. That’s two days in a row… give him his meds and let him stay home and get rested. He’s going to be fine. He knows this system better than anybody.”

Sixth Round offensive lineman Matt Slauson is developing well, according to Ryan. The versatile Slauson may see action at center should Mangold be unavailable against the Falcons. Ryan doesn’t seemed concerned about a possible downgrade: “He’s [Slauson] really come on. He’s a left guard only… that was where we were working him.. then it’s left guard and right guard. Now he’s backing up center. I feel good about him. I think he can do the job. I think he’s a little nervous right now with his shout gun snaps. He’s maybe not as consistent as I think he will be down the road.”

Chris Redman began his NFL career in Baltimore, giving Ryan a unique perspective of his talents: “He’s no slouch. I was with him in Baltimore.” No doubt.

Calvin Pace is terrorizing offenses, collecting six sacks despite missing the first four games of the season. Ryan is duly impressed with the mayhem. “Right now this is his defense. In other words, he’s really bought into it, I think he knows it. We do some different things with him and [Bryan] Thomas. We can flip who is the SAM and who is the rush. We can do all those different things. He’s got an excellent grasp of our system. You’re seeing his physical talents, which we all know. They’re obvious. He’s a very gifted player.”

Friday Notes from the Complex, plus a few thoughts about commercialism, individualism, and athletes

Friday, December 11th, 2009

The alibis outlined for Kellen Clemens are certainly within reason. In fact, this column advocated restraint when assessing his admittedly unimpressive relief appearance last Thursday in Toronto.

I argued that the negative reaction to Clemens, in some corners of Jets fandom anyway, could be attributed to a poor performance record tainted by several extenuating factors, most importantly a porous offensive line.

Now having said all that, it really could not be overstated how huge this upcoming game is, in the career of one Kellen Clemens.

When a player slips to second string, for whatever the reasons, his opportunities become more limited, and accordingly, margin for error nearly nonexistent.

The line between trusted alternative option and total washout is perilously thin. While gaining future employment may not be at stake for Clemens, his chances of starting again anytime soon may depend on this Sunday afternoon.

For everything that may have been set against his favor back in that tumultuous 2007 season, Clemens will be holding an excellent hand against the Buccaneers.

Now, the capabilities of his line are indisputable. The Jets boast an excellent troupe of trench-men, one of the best collections in the league. His wide receiving core is solidly above average. Though Braylon Edwards has been infuriatingly inconsistent, keeping the group from being called excellent overall, he is still a big play threat on every snap.  Meanwhile, the turgid version of Thomas Jones from two years ago is a distant memory, obviously held back by substandard run blocking. All told, Clemens has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal compared to opposing quarterback Josh Freeman.

Rex Ryan has high expectations for Clemens this Sunday, casting aside his past. “I remember playing against him when I was in Baltimore,” started the Head Coach. “For three quarters they struggled offensively, but then they lit us up in the fourth quarter. He made some nice passes that day. That was how familiar I was with Kellen. It was based on that. I never went back and looked at the other tapes. I know we have an outstanding offensive line now. We have an excellent group of receivers, great backs. I expect Kellen to play great. I expect him to have a big game for us.”

He may not be asked for much. But this is definitely Clemens’ time for shine. Should he struggle, recovery may be an impossibility.

This is life as a backup. A status Clemens can still escape. But the clock is ticking.  

Clemens will be flying solo this Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Clemens will be flying solo this Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Josh Freeman endured a total red-zone meltdown last Sunday, but the mountainous signal caller will still present plenty of problems for the Jets’ defense. Rex Ryan is cognizant of the potential pratfalls entailed with underestimating Freeman.  “He did struggle in the red zone in particular,” Ryan acknowledged. “He threw the five interceptions. All that’s true, but he [did throw] for 370 [yards]… he had a huge day statistically, but he did make those mistakes and that’s what happens a lot of times with young quarterbacks. He’s got a big arm. He’s a big man. He’ll take it off with it, so that’s something you’ve got to be ready for.”

The Buccaneers’ future impresses with his rare mix of size and athleticism. Add a high level of intelligence into the mix, and it’s no surprise Tampa tabbed him as the focal point of their franchise moving forward.  “I was really impressed with Freeman when we went on his interview,” said Ryan. “He’s a smart guy, very bright and physically, he fills a room.”

When the Jets avoid turnovers, they are a fearsome foe. No surprise, considering the team’s reliance on a superb running game and defense. But the Jets’ tendency toward self-destruction is a major reason why their statistical performance and record do not correspond.

The turnover rate through this stretch run will speak volumes about the Jets’ postseason hopes as the season winds down.

“The facts are what they are,” admitted Ryan. “We’re 5-0 when we win the turnover battle and 0-4 when we lose it. That’s got to be a point of emphasis any week and it should be every single week. “

Lito Sheppard has provided outstanding support for Darrelle Revis when he has been healthy enough to lineup at game time. But nagging maladies dogged him through October and November, spoiling what could have been a resounding bounce back campaign. Instead of illustrating the mistake Philadelphia made giving up on him, Sheppard has confirmed many of his critics. Though Sheppard’s play has been high level, his health has held him back, not exactly a new development.  “I’ll tell you, it’s been a frustrating year for Lito,” said Ryan, regarding the oft-injured cornerback. “He started the season off playing terrific, then he gets the injury. [He] probably came back a little too early, so he gets another injury on top of it, a more severe injury. We’ve been wanting to make sure he was back before we really felt comfortable putting him out there and trying to ease him in. There’s no easing in anymore. He played a tremendous game [last week]. In fact, we gave him a game ball last week. He gave up one completion.” 

 

 

Training camp optimism has given way to this cold reality: The talented Lito Sheppard hasnt been healthy in 2009.

Training camp optimism has given way to this cold reality: The talented Lito Sheppard hasn't been healthy in 2009.

 

The Jets would greatly benefit if Sheppard can maintain his health for the remainder of this campaign.

On the injury front, Dwight Lowery will be out this week with an ankle injury. Mark Sanchez and Robert Tuner will also be missing. Turner has a knee injury.

Alan Faneca and Wayne Hunter are both questionable, listed as having illnesses.  

………………………………….

Now a few thoughts about commercialism, individualism, and athlete

Nothing in life is quite so suitable for surface waves than the grand pastime of sport.  Since games exist in a simplified realm determined by irrefutable scores, the entire operation seems impervious to deep analysis. While this assessment could not be further from the truth, the overwhelming, first glance evidence supporting opposite possibilities represents a definite line of demarcation, separating informed thoughts from rabble rousing rhetoric.

Take armchair psychoanalysis as a perfect example. 

Those seeking a career in the field of psychology must put in thousands of hours studying to qualify as professionals. Yet, when it comes to the quarterback who struggles winning playoff games, every columnist or fan in the country suddenly becomes a master of the mental processes. One bad performance at an inopportune occasion, and the definitive diagnoses start rolling in. And if the patient is really high profile, cognitive dissonance may follow, thoughtless designations becoming the safe substitute for studying an entire career.

Thankfully, there is variety. The ball doesn’t always bounce in this direction. Countless sports books and articles have been written with such eloquence that their mere existence serves as a protest against lesser coverage. Whole message boards are dedicated to crunching numbers and finding deeper reasons for success and failure. These persist due to contributors who write and research solely through their passion.  And of course, those with the nerve to take this kind of rational tact are often assigned labels themselves, ‘dorks’ without credibility living in ‘their mother’s basement’, or some similar dank fortress.  

The most accepted American forms of escape, entertainment, and information are mired in reactionary muck. Why are these powerful channels resisting evolution? This is mystery. Sensibility would dictate that the continuing passage of time demands constant improvement from our institutions, consistently flexible, adaptable to an increasingly complicated world. But the complete stagnation is undeniable.

The landscape does need altering. Influential websites have corralled massive audiences simply by lampooning the entrenched establishment. Sure, faceless networks and personalities following a script are exceedingly easy to rip apart. But the endless barrage of criticism and continuing corporate stubbornness eventually became part of the same senseless game.

They play, while the audience loses.

The net result produces an astonishingly boring elite athlete.

The rare splinter cell who flashes his individuality becomes a curious case, instead of a new model. Michael Jordan is an all-powerful avatar.

Charles Barkley was more than willing to abdicate his expected status as a “role-model,” but keep in mind this declaration took place on a commercial. This was a projection of his identity through marketability.

The value of an individual should not be weighed in dollars, but this fallacy is a reoccurring theme. These rich, commercially willing star athletes get elevated onto a societal pedestal simply by playing a public relations puppet. And hey, no problem… not everyone needs to be a dynamite quote. But the scarcity of truly interesting characters willing to put their opinions out there is really amazing. In my view, consciously crafting these boring personas is a natural reaction by athletes, a response to the ridiculously unfair standards that they are measured by. A cocoon effect, another game being played where nobody really gains anything, besides money and the continued misguidance of public perception.

This may seem like playing it safe, but when so little of an individual is revealed, the slightest crack in the armor could propel a feeding frenzy. See Tiger Woods.  

It is not the right of a journalist to completely know an athlete, and it is not a fan’s special privilege either. And honestly, there’s nothing morally wrong with a guy pocketing a few dollars off a commercial.

The problem lies with a curious willingness from the masses to believe fantasy projections. To measure their own success through a fractured mirror.

It’s all connected, the broken television network sphere, the armchair psychoanalysis… all the useless, phony garbage that has been so effectively integrated within our consciousness.

The pandemonium surrounding this Tiger Woods scandal is equivalent to a public discovering the tooth fairy is not, in fact, real. When did carefully manufactured façades become reality, and reality so extraordinary? Before being aghast, check the sources of commonly held beliefs. The faces will change but the message will remain the same.  

Surface waves and sports… they go together great. But sports do say a lot about society. Maybe more than you think.

The Friday column, including notes, quotes and Sanchez update

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Despite the sporting world being dominated by sensible statistics, I find that ultimately, knee-jerk reactions, narrow-minded perceptions, and scapegoat creation determines the grand athletic totem pole. Unfortunate, yes, but true.

Like anything else in life, labels are difficult to transcend once they have fully fastened. In an increasingly simplified analytical landscape, these generalizations become extremely familiar. For example, there’s the “big game choker” label. Yeah, Peyton Manning could never win a big game, until he did. Tony Romo quickly became a worthy heir to this throne. Across other sports, the “choker” designation has been applied to countless victims, including Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who allegedly had never recorded a postseason hit… before this October, of course. The big game choker label is really handy because it allows for the criticism of even elite caliber players, so long as that player has not won a title. In this wacky world, Trent Dilfer had a better career than Dan Marino.  Huh?    

Though coaches and talent evaluators must pay little mind to these fickle whims, the impatience of the masses can produce very real effects, including increased pressure on the targeted performer.

Is it fair?

Of course not, but sports is an unbalanced reality anyway, bound to spur illogical reactions.

Last night provided the perfect opportunity for another failure of reason: the ideal scenario for an overreaction. The subject involved was Kellen Clemens, the Jets’ backup quarterback. Clemens lost a battle for the starting position with Mark Sanchez in training camp.

Kellen Clemens is receiving some harsh criticism for his performance last night, and the thought of him starting against Tampa Bay has many Jets fans worried. But is he being given a fair shake?

Kellen Clemens is receiving some harsh criticism for his performance last night, and the thought of him starting against Tampa Bay has many Jets fans worried. But is he being given a fair shake?

Clemens’ Jets career has taken a rudderless path. Drafted as the successor to physically fragile incumbent Chad Pennington, Clemens received one legitimate shot at consistent playing time, struggling as a first time starter with the 2007 Jets. It was a team with a very weak offensive line, so terrible in retrospect that even Thomas Jones had a disappointing, aberrational campaign. Playing under these conditions, Clemens did not shine, unable to secure the job. He showed flashes, nearly finishing an incredible comeback on the road against Baltimore, undone by key Justin McCareins drops. But overall, Clemens had not shown enough, and was a forgotten man after the acquisition of Brett Favre, pushed even further out of mind when Mark Sanchez was drafted. Clemens still had his share of supporters among the fan base, but there wasn’t exactly mass indignation when Sanchez was announced victor in August. Ultimately, Clemens lost the contest because he made rookie mistakes. Though his command of the offense was impressive, and there were moments of perfect rhythm during training camp drives against the defense, Clemens’ inconsistency made the decision obvious. If a quarterback were to be developed for the Jets in 2009, it may as well have been the first round pick, not the stopgap. “You improve more by being out there,” said Clemens at the team complex today.  “There is no substitute for live bullets.  There is a lot of growth that can come from sitting back, from learning, from watching, but there is no substitute for being out there in live action and I think that’s where I think a lot of the development comes to young QBs and you have to have that to continue to improve.” The Jets understandably preferred to grant Sanchez that opportunity right away, casting their lot with the freshman, instead of Clemens.  

The fall of Clemens was not uncommon in a League that often plays quarterback roulette. The signal caller of the future can become yesterday’s news with a few bad games, which is pretty much what happened to Clemens. And hey, he did cede pole position on the depth chart to a rookie. Obviously there are weaknesses in his game. But the perception of Clemens dropped to an unreasonable level, the abyss really, with just a few sloppy snaps against the Bills last night. After Mark Sanchez injured his knee, a cold Clemens arrived on the field. He took a few sacks, overly cautious with the football, obviously leery of throwing an interception. As the seconds ticked away, the Jets seemed content to play it ultra-conservative, certainly a sensible strategy. Clemens would fumble a snap, and be separated from the ball deep in his own territory after being drilled from his blindside. The Jets recovered. He appeared uncomfortable, falling over his own feet on one play.  Protecting a lead in a game the Jets desperately needed to keep their playoff aspirations alive, Clemens did little to inspire confidence. In fact, he probably downright petrified a fair amount of Jets fans. The assessment of his performance after the win was downright brutal in some quarters. Even his staunchest fans abandoned their defenses.

Jeff Garcia was bandied about as a possibility in the event of a long term Sanchez injury, which, while not an unreasonable idea by any means, would have been very unlikely at this late juncture of the season.

I am not calling Kellen Clemens an outstanding quarterback. But I will argue that it is the perception of Clemens, not the reality of his performance; that is causing this extremely harsh backlash. And a fair assessment of performance includes a consideration of circumstances. Consider the difficulty of establishing tempo off the bench in the second half. Consider the dysfunctional team he was piloting when compiling the bulk of an admittedly poor statistical profile.

If the Jets decide on a cautious route with Mark Sanchez, opting to give Clemens a shot versus Tampa Bay, it does not necessarily equal doom. Far from… Right now the perception of Kellen Clemens is in the tank. But as previously outlined, these things can change quickly. It has before. It will again. Clemens may not deserve the benefit of the doubt. It remains to be the seen. Maybe we will see. Until more evidence is presented, freaking out is a reactionary waste of time. 

 …………………………………………………………………..

Rex Ryan had his daily press conference, revealing plenty of noteworthy news:

The first order of business was obvious. What was the status of Mark Sanchez? “We’ll start (with) the MRI,” said Ryan.  “We got the news back on that.  Mark (Sanchez) has a sprained PCL.  We’re optimistic that he’ll be ready to play against Tampa Bay, but we’ll see how he progresses throughout the week.  Obviously, that’ll be a decision that I’ll have to make with advice from our medical staff.  I’ll make the decision that is always in the best interests of Mark and any player in that situation and then the team second.  That’s how we’ll progress.  We’ll see how he is through the week.  It was encouraging news.”

Ryan was happy with the win, but acknowledges the other issues surrounding his team: “It’s two wins in five days.  It kind of doesn’t feel like it because we’ve had other issues come up, namely Mark having the injury.  It’s good that the Jets won their second game in a row.”

More on Sanchez:

The method of treatment: “They’ll put a brace on him initially to stabilize the leg a little bit.  There is a real possibility that he won’t have to have that thing on for the whole season anyway.”

On the risk of re-injury:  “We’ll never put a guy out there if we think he’s going to be in jeopardy.  If he can’t protect himself, whether it’s Mark, a kicker, anybody, I would never put a guy out there that I don’t think can protect himself.  We feel pretty confident about this.  We’ll see how he progresses through the week.  If we had to play today, obviously, he wouldn’t play.  We think he’ll progress through the week and, hopefully, he’ll be ready to roll against Tampa.”

On speaking to Sanchez today, and the sliding issue: “No, I haven’t talked to him today.  We just had a team meeting, but I have not talked to Mark specifically.  Everything I mentioned is for the safety of him.  I want him to be around a long time.  My comments are because I care about him.  I care about our football team. I care about him and I want him to be healthy.  It’s been proved by some tough guys, (if) you don’t slide and you’re a quarterback, you get hurt.  From Steve McNair, you name it, look around, guys get concussions, guys get ribs broke, and I don’t want that to happen to Mark.”

On Sanchez’s instincts:  “It’s funny because right now, Mark’s instincts are to dive head first and not slide.  That’s obviously what he’s more comfortable doing, but in the long run, he’s going to stay healthier longer by sliding.  That’s all I’m trying to do is get his instincts to, “OK, I need to slide,” (even) if it means a public bashing by me, if you will.  This is like one of my sons here.  That’s how you approach it.” 

Regarding Kerry Rhodes:

Rhodes is an interesting case. He was benched for the Panthers game and recorded two interceptions, but still had plenty of pine time against the Bills. The Jets may prefer Eric Smith in run situations. Smith was strong against the Panthers, but slightly less visible against the Bills, though he had a notable quarterback pressure, cracking Ryan Fitzpatrick on a blitz. Meanwhile, Rhodes’ suddenly passive tackling style remains a concern. Ryan had plenty to say about his former Pro Bowl safety today.

On using a variety of players:  “Kerry was in a lot of the plays anyway, but I was trying to give Smitty (Eric Smith) a break.  He’s playing on every special teams (unit).  It’s funny because I heard, “Eric’s had 13 plays.”  I’m like, ‘What!  That’s it?  We’re putting Kerry back in.’ We’re trying to use our players.  This is a team.  We’re going to do what’s best for our team.  The more players you can play and have a bigger role, the better your team is going to be whether it’s putting (Jamaal) Westerman in, whether it’s putting big Howard Green in there.  We’re going to do that.  We don’t just have 11 good football players.  We have several good football players.  We’re trying to do that.”

On having Rhodes speak with Dennis Thurman:  “Dennis Thurman, we’re fortunate to have a secondary coach that taught Ronnie Lott how to study opponents and film.  He had a decent pupil in Troy Polamalu.  He had another one in Ed Reed and Rod Woodson.  He played a long time in this league as a tremendous player.  Why anybody wouldn’t take advantage of that is beyond me.  I don’t want Kerry Rhodes to be average.  I want Kerry Rhodes to be great.  If he has that ability and maybe I’m not quite seeing it, then I’m laying it out there to him.  I want him to meet with Dennis Thurman.”

On Rhodes’ suspect approach in pursuit of Marshawn Lynch last night: “You want to take the proper angle.  You want to get the guy down.  When you’re the last guy, you’ve got to get them down anyway you can.  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  You’ve just got to get him down.  You have to ask Kerry what he was thinking.  I was thinking when I first saw it, I thought (Darrelle) Revis was going to strip the ball from him because the guy never saw Revis come back after he lit up T.O. (Terrell Owens) to come back in.  I thought he had a strip opportunity and Revis was going for it.  I don’t know that it had anything to do with it or not.  Yes, I’d like to see him get him down as fast as he can, anyway, anyhow.”

Praising the Big Cat

The season best performance of Shaun Ellis in Toronto did not go unnoticed by his coach.  “He’s always been a playmaker,” said Ryan. “Obviously, he’s been an outstanding player here for a long time.  He still plays young.  I love the passion he plays with.  He had the two sacks and had big time production there, but the best play he made was on a screen pass.  He comes in and two guys trip him up.  He’s actually on the ground and he gets up, runs down and makes a key stop on a third-and-long situation.  The guy is going to get the first down if he doesn’t hustle like he did.  He still plays like a young man.  He’s gives great effort.  He’s always hustling and he’s always productive.”

Jets 19 Bills 13

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled forward before launching a desperate heave downfield, intended for Terrell Owens. The Jets had played solid game on this Thursday night in Toronto, but a season-long tendency toward inexplicable mistakes had kept Buffalo within striking distance. The wobbly prayer from Fitzpatrick very easily could have meant nothing, had New York exhibited that elusive quality of consistency, a championship trait escaping their grip throughout the campaign. Instead, their lead was a slender six points, margin for error nonexistent.

Considering these uneasy circumstances, the throw may have inspired fear from all those associated with the Green and White, as it hung ominously, pressed against the dreary domed backdrop of the Rogers Centre. But any potential concerns were quickly erased, and probably should have been assuaged in the first place. For, somewhere in the Jets’ secondary lurked a cornerback named Darrelle Revis, a field presence so commanding he sometimes seems cloned, more than one player out there. 

Revis corralled the pigskin and settled the pivotal contest, as his sideline went wild. The Pittsburgh product is a great equalizer, a nullifier capable of quieting the most elite receivers this game has to offer. No one else possesses a weapon quite like this. And largely for that reason, the Jets are alive in this playoff race.

“I’m just trying to do my job,” said the humble Revis after the game. “One thing I do, I study these receivers very well… I just try keeping their catches to a minimum,” the corner elaborated. His blanketing was so effective that the usually caustic Owens seemed dispirited. “First you can see body language,” said Revis, acknowledging that Owens was demoralized. “Second of all, you can just see how he’s running his routes, how he’s not blocking, doing those types of things.”

Revis was not alone, shining on Primetime. Along with their running game, which sliced and diced the Bills’ defense for the second time in 2009, the rest of the Jets’ defensive unit performed superbly. These two facets have kept the team afloat through a series of frustrating battles against the meddling forces of inconsistency and inexperience, and appropriately enough, will define the stretch drive.

 The Jets were able to pressure Fitzpatrick into ugly, under-thrown passes, knocking a temporarily rejuvenated Bills offense way off stride. End Shaun Ellis provided a fearsome impact in particular, racking up two sacks. But Ellis had plenty of impressive company on the stat sheet. David Harris continues to terrorize opposing offenses, collecting eleven tackles, eight of which tallied solo. Harris spread his ferocity liberally, notching a key quarterback takedown and strip, setting up New York for a lead in the second quarter. Fellow linebacker Bart Scott was credited with nine tackles and a quarterback hit. Veteran defensive tackle Howard Green forced another Fitzpatrick fumble in the first half. In the secondary, Revis received capable aid from Lito Sheppard, who rebounded well from a shaky first quarter. The most damaging slip by the defense occurred in the second, as they allowed a thirty-five yard run from Lynch, abided by an overly passive Kerry Rhodes. Lynch would power Buffalo into the end zone immediately thereafter, punctuating the Bills’ final lead of the evening.

The Jets’ offensive outlook did not seem to deviate much from the smash mouth course taken against Buffalo earlier this season. This time, the ground and pound paid off with a win, despite a few aerial malfunctions.

Promising rookie Shonn Greene and the ever-dependable Thomas Jones paced a clock controlling running game. Jones compiled just over one hundred yards, surpassing a thousand overall for the fifth consecutive season. Greene mixed up the tempo, chipping in with eleven carries and a commendable 5.4 average. Even fullback Tony Richardson joined the party, contributing two sizable jaunts for thirty-six yards overall. The backs shouldered their heavy burden with ease, carrying a passing game that approached spectacular, only to let it slip through their fingers, or more accurately, off their facemasks.

Critically dissected quarterback Mark Sanchez seemed to develop accordingly coming off an improved effort against Carolina. Sanchez avoided the egregious coverage miscalculations usually preceding his interceptions, correctly diagnosing the Bills’ defense and making intelligent decisions. This improvement set the Jets up for an absolutely explosive offensive show. With the running game churning and Sanchez in-sync, the Bills being blown off the field was a definite possibility. Unfortunately for the offense, however, the same mistakes typifying their middling overall results returned.

Fourteen gift-wrapped points were wiped away in the first quarter when Sanchez overthrew a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery eight yards into the paint. The Jets were forced to make due with a Jay Feely field goal, a refrain that became familiar, the experienced kicker continuing his strong season. But that mistake was a mere prelude to the incredulity awaiting on the first play of the proceeding drive. Planted on his own 16, Sanchez identified an abandoned Braylon Edwards at the Buffalo thirty-five. Here was an obviously blown defensive assignment, a total breakdown by the Bills. The Jets could not take advantage. The high-arching spiral, perfectly thrown, somehow nailed Edwards in the facemask instead of landing in his hands. The pass was incomplete, and a rout had been averted.

Sanchez would not be able to amend these debacles, suffering a knee injury early in the second half, following a headfirst dive for a first down. Sanchez had been warned by Head Coach Rex Ryan to curtail his reckless scrambling methods. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had visited the Jets’ facility earlier in the week to teach the rookie had to properly slide. These warnings went evidently unheeded.

The injury to Mark Sanchez clouded a commendable job by the defense, including another masterful performance from Darrelle Revis.

The injury to Mark Sanchez clouded a commendable job by the defense, including another masterful performance from Darrelle Revis.

“He’s got to understand that it’s in the organization’s best interests to slide, and that was disappointing,” said an agitated Rex Ryan during his post-game press conference. “I love the kid,” Ryan added, “But he’s got to grow up and understand that he represents our entire organization.” The head coach was unsure whether Sanchez would be able to play against Tampa Bay.

“It started to hurt shortly after that play,” Sanchez said, referring to the dive when asked to pinpoint the pain. “It just didn’t feel right when I got back to the huddle. I put some weight on it to bend down under center and it just didn’t feel right when I tried to hand it off and get it to [David] Clowney on the end-around.”

Sanchez is a ferocious competitor, and admitted that in the midst of his intensity, instincts are difficult to ignore. “I’m probably going to take some heat for not sliding. But in the heat of the momentum I was just trying to get the first down,” he said, before adding, “Tough play.”

The Jets’ passing game did enjoy a highlight when Braylon Edwards scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter. Sanchez nimbly escaped the pocket and found Edwards over the middle, the receiver impressively barreling his way through defenders for a hard earned score. Had Sanchez not been injured, he and Edwards may have connected for more big plays. The two were definitely on the same page.

For the Bills, it was a game that could have gone much worse. Ryan Fitzpatrick was totally ineffective, completing only nine passes out of twenty-three. Though Marshawn Lynch made the most of his six carries, starter Fred Jackson was shutdown. Factor in Terrell Owens’ invisibility, covered by the cloak of Revis, and the Bills were suffocated on offense. Considering the defense was also below par, the Bills were fortunate to even have a chance late. Their first drive spoke of possibilities, Fitzpatrick hitting Lee Evans for 38 yards, but they would have to settle for a field goal, and little else as the evening wore on.