In succeeding weeks, the Jets will take to the road against opponents which, on paper, possess inferior talent. Individual football games are often determined by a myriad of factors beyond the abilities of the opposing teams. Coaching enters into the equation, luck certainly a factor, but trends and statistical regressions also play a major role. For instance, sometimes a team seemingly clicking on all cylinders may see its successes exposed as a mirage. The games pile up, breaks even out, and usually, the answers become obvious through the course of an entire season. This is why single game results can be deceiving, and constant rumination over four quarters sometimes unnecessary. This upcoming Jets-Lions game will be rightly dissected by a wide variety of analysts, [and I’d recommend Christopher Nimbley’s preview: http://www.jetsinsider.com/blogs/christopher_nimbley/?p=497 ] but beyond these Detroit and Cleveland contests, which storylines, and the players around which the operas revolve, will ultimately determine the fate of this 2010 edition of the Jets? At this juncture of the campaign, it’s timely to at least begin considering the question.
1. Two Mark’s
In sports coverage, nothing beats a good label. When a player’s performance becomes increasingly impossible to predict, he is naturally identified as inconsistent. It’s really an all-purpose adjective, an easy escape hatch from unsightly predictions. When nary a rhyme or reason for an athlete’s successes or failures, writers such as I are liberated from accountability, while trying to assess future performances. Mark Sanchez is a young quarterback, which may easily explain his near weekly veering between brilliance and putridity. But youth and inexperience were hardly factors as he piloted the Jets to a Conference Championship last January. Judging from Sanchez’s quotes, he seems eager to be liberated from youthful tags, which could be interpreted as ready-made excuses for poor play. For this, the second year slinger from USC should be congratulated. He holds himself to high standards. But it’s difficult to explain the peak and valley nature of his performance without resorting to the sophomore card. The Jets are attempting something special in 2010, a season which may ultimately remembered as the one preceding an infuriating lockout, raising the stakes even higher. And they may be ultimately defined by which Mark makes his appearance when it matters most. Who will emerge from the tunnel with more regularity for the remainder of the calendar? Shall it be Sanchez as finished product, deftly mixing laser beam intermediate spirals with downfield bombs, the expert collaborator with Dustin Keller, exposing a weekly mismatch in the defensive secondary? Or will the other Mark make more appearances, struggling with questionable decision-making, operating an offense out of tune, susceptible to interceptions as a result of inaccuracy? As illustrated up until the tilt with Denver, which the Jets were extremely fortunate to win; this seems to be an elite team when its quarterback is in rhythm? But, as opposed to last season, where they managed a victory or two in spite of Sanchez, the Jets now seem very lost when he is off his game. Which makes his story number one; without dispute.
2. The Unheralded Hit Man
David Harris appeared very special immediately, totaling 90 solo tackles during a rookie year in which he only started nine games. He also jarred free two fumbles, and collected five sacks. More than anything, he crystallized John Vilma’s struggles within Eric Mangini’s defensive scheme, and summarily replaced the departed star in 2008. Ever since that machination, Harris’ reliability has slightly overshadowed his massive presence. Before the year, as Darrelle Revis held out, many associated with the team opined about his irreplaceability. Considering Revis was primarily responsible for the 2009 Jets making the playoffs, it was a fair tact to take. But for all the Jets incredible depth on defense, especially in the secondary, where Revis roams, how much would the linebackers drop off without Harris? Bart Scott is an affable, honest player, a go-to quote and Rex Ryan stalwart. But Harris has to be considered the most valuable ‘backer. After a spectacular 2009, which included five sacks, two interceptions, three pass deflections and two forced fumbles, Harris receded into the shadows, lost amid Sanchez’s wild rookie ride and Revis’ contractual concerns. The Jets silently rely on him, and when he tweaked his back this past week while lifting weights, the fright had to be off the charts. Despite missing five games in 2008, Harris always seems to be there. For New York to make a run deep into January, he must be.
3. The Straw that stirs the Drink
The Jets defense was robbed of deserving plaudits after completely shutting down the Green Bay Packers’ aerial show. Because their own offense struggled so mightily, Darrelle Revis and company received the empty kudos of consolation. The Packers represented a fascinating test for the Jets’ secondary, considering their ineffective run attack, sans Ryan Grant, would force them to attempt pitting their team strength against a road opponent’s peak capability. And with Revis rounding back into shape, following a predictable nagging injury after his holdout, the Jets’ secondary is the class of the league. The pass happy Packers were indeed stifled. Revis may not be the most popular Jet at the moment. His contractual stance was logical, but ill-timed in the eyes of a fan-base desperate for a championship, and stoked by an advertising campaign, and front office, going for broke. Revis was attacked for putting his interests ahead of a team on the cusp, but in the business of sports, it must be remembered that the team always put their interests ahead of the player, so messy incidents such as these simply even the ledger. The disappointing aspect of these holdouts occurs when nothing tangible arrives from the contentious circumstances. The player doesn’t get a shiny new contract, the fans stay angry, and the team remains steadfast within their projected budget. In Revis’ case, this reporter finds it odd that such a special player hasn’t been unequivocally forgiven for such an understandable transgression, especially considering that the Jets ended up paying. Isn’t it obvious that Revis and his agents had a point, if the Jets caved? And yet, a degree of iciness still must thaw between the best corner in the league and the fans. Aside from public relations, Revis is an essential piece to the Jets’ puzzle. With sacks once again at a premium, as Revis continues returning to full strength, his deft coverage skills will allow Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to create complex packages designed to confuse, and eventually trap, the opposing quarterback. And, as has been consistently proven, the flood blitzing Jets rely heavily on their corners, when their machinations are identified and neutralized by the opponent.
Notes from Rex:
Rex Ryan held his daily presser and shared a few insights:
- On the injury report: “Probable on the injuries, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Brodney Pool, Darrelle Revis (are) all probable. Brodney is fine. All those guys were full (participation) today. Nobody missed anything.”
- On Brodney Pool: “He checked out. We gave him the finger test, how many fingers and things and he’s fine. I’m kidding. Really though, when any player gets hit in the head or has that kind of collision, his helmet kind of smacked him in the eye a little bit, but you’re cautious. As soon as (you see) Brodney Pool, out with a head injury, everybody’s like, “Oh, there’s that concussion thing.” Really, we haven’t seen (that). He’s been great and he’s physical and all that kind of stuff. We’re happy with Brodney and he’ll be ready to play well this week.”