Friday Notes from the Complex: First Quarter
It sure can fly by. The Jets are through the first quarter of their season, and off to a strong start. Here are ten observations, predictions, and descriptions gleaned from this initial act.
1. Sanchez is an original
After watching Mark Sanchez play his first games as a New York Jet, I am at a loss to conjure a legitimate comparison, in terms of style and approach, with another quarterback in this league. Of course, most passers possess distinctive qualities cementing their individuality, but Sanchez’s multifaceted strengths are truly unique. He is athletic, able to bounce around in the pocket and occasionally dodge the pass rush, but he holds the ball far too long. He can scramble, but doesn’t seem to intuitively sense his own fragility beyond the line of scrimmage. He has a strong, accurate arm, but is often guilty of overthrowing his targets. At this early juncture, Sanchez’s strongest attribute has been his fearlessness, which borders on recklessness. At times Sanchez very vaguely reminds me of Jeff Garcia, though his arm is superior, and Garcia was probably quicker, in his prime anyway. Whether or not Sanchez will convert this dynamic talent into consistent excellence remains to be seen, but the kid’s shown more than enough to justify his role as starter. The fact this was even a question seems implausible now, but it may have taken a disappointing training camp by a more seasoned Kellen Clemens for Sanchez to get his shot. Abysmal performance against the Saints not withstanding, Sanchez will not be returning the job anytime soon.
Mark Sanchez has held his own.
2. The Offensive Line has been underwhelming
It’s a quiet story, simmering around the edges, but the offensive line, loaded with high draft picks and massive salaries, has been handled far too easily by opposing defenses. This issue would be viewed as far more pressing had Tennessee not been undone by their own sloppiness week three, handing the Jets a win. The Titans imposed their will on Nick Mangold and company after the first quarter, harassing Mark Sanchez and stuffing the run. The win hid these difficulties, but again the rookie was assaulted in week four, this time by the blitz happy New Orleans Saints. For whatever reason, despite spending another year together, the group seems out of sync, slow in reacting to more intricate blitzes. With Sanchez showing a disturbing propensity to lose the football after being hit, this weakness could prove toxic if not improved upon. And considering the past production of Leon Washington and Thomas Jones, the merely solid output of the ground game has been a letdown, as well.
3. Jerricho Cotchery is a number one receiver
Case closed. Cotchery excelled while carrying an inexperienced crew of pass catchers. Though Chansi Stuckey was showing improvement before being dealt, other teams didn’t have to think twice about double-teaming Cotchery. With Braylon Edwards in the fold, Cotchery could have more open field to work with after catching the ball, catering to his skill at piling up yards after pulling in receptions.
4. Rookie quarterback or not, the Jets are all in
After adding three key pieces to the defense during the offseason, this statement may have been self-evident. But the decision to start Mark Sanchez had many marking this down as a rebuilding campaign for gang green. Those predictions have already been proven wrong, and the acquisition of Edwards shows, without a doubt, New York’s commitment to achieving something special immediately under Rex Ryan.
5. Eric Smith is a very valuable backup
Smith was key against New England, as he totally shut down Ben Watson, and followed up that excellent game with an interception of Kerry Collins against Tennessee. His competence in coverage allows Ryan to liberally blitz other defensive backs. He may be a liability playing four quarters, but Smith could be an effective weapon if employed in situations tailored to his strengths.
6. Schottenheimer’s play calling could come under scrutiny
When Eric Mangini was fired, his offensive coordinator’s role in formulating a suspect game plan overly reliant on an obviously injured quarterback was largely forgotten. Rex Ryan opted to keep Schottenheimer on his staff, and with good reason. The guy is obviously a bright football mind, and highly regarded around the league. He was offered the Dolphins head coaching after a successful first season with the Jets and Chad Pennington. But as a seemingly endless sequence of third and short situations went awry for the Jets last week, those lingering memories of ’08’s collapse may have begun to resurface. If the Jets get too pass happy with a rookie pulling the trigger, they leave themselves susceptible to losing time of possession, which would play right into the hands of Miami this Monday.
7. Bart Scott is an elite linebacker
Well, many readers probably just let out a big “Duh!” in regards to this one. But your writer must admit that watching Bart Scott play every down has redefined my perception of him as a player. Say what you will about his tendency to talk trash [which means nothing to me, personally] the guy is a force on the field. Bart Scott wreaks havoc. His lockdown performance covering Steve Slaton week one was simply masterful. This high caliber of play has been there every week, especially against the Saints, whose explosive running back cell was kept in check. There’s nothing defensively beyond the capabilities of Scott, pass rushing, coverage, tackling, he can do it all, and well. This is the best free agent signing by the Jets in a long while.
8. David Harris is an elite linebacker
Yes. Many Jets fans were slow to embrace Harris. He was seen as the replacement for Jonathan Vilma, who was beloved during his brief New York tenure. Harris’ mind-blowing performance as a rookie was overshadowed by a terrible Jets season. His success last year, again, was not recognized properly because of a nightmarish finish for the team. He’s also had to battle through a few injuries. All that has congealed into a perception that does not match reality. And the reality is, David Harris is a total tackling machine, and could be the best draft pick made during Eric Mangini’s coaching tenure. Jonathan Vilma didn’t have the New York career he seemed destined for, but the man in his stead just may be better.
9. Jay Feely has been absolutely money
Without much fanfare, the Jets may have the best special teams unit in football.
10. Mystery man Shonn Greene can run a little
Greene was basically forgotten for the first three weeks, a confounding afterthought. Last week’s cameo displayed why the Jets traded up to acquire his services. Greene can become a major factor very quickly.
Jerricho Cotchery was held out of practice today with a hamstring injury. “It’s still bothering him some,” said Rex Ryan at his presser. “I’m not definitely not ruling him out [for Monday], but he’s not 100 percent healthy.”
David Clowney was excused from practice for what Ryan termed “personal reasons.” Clowney did not miss the entire session.
In light of Cotchery’s malady, Ryan jokingly longed for a recently dealt receiver. “We had a clause in that trade to bring Stuckey back,” cracked the head coach.
Ryan continued expressing his gratitude for gaining another weapon in Calvin Pace. “The gazelle is back,” he said with a smile.
This column earlier addressed the offensive line. It’s interesting to note that Ryan has a very different point of view. ‘I’m definitely happy with our offensive line,” he said resolutely. “Sometimes you’ve got to credit the other team.” Ryan also alluded to other teams stacking the box to blunt the Jets rushing attack. He was confident Braylon Edwards, with his big play ability, could make other teams pay for taking that tact. “I think so,” Ryan said, before quickly correcting himself. “I know so. The proof’s gong to be in the pudding.”
Rex Ryan on the wildcat: “It’s a pain in the tail.”