Archive for August, 2011

The Morning After Report

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011


FLORHAM PARK, NJ — The Jets front office may still be without power here at the Atlantic Health Training Facility but that’s not stopping me from wrapping up last night’s Battle for NY Bragging Rights. Okay, so maybe the game was ugly enough on both ends that no one deserves to be bragging about one’s performance, but hey, the Jets’ Rex Ryan was the one hoisting the MetLife Bowl’s coveted (?) Snoopy trophy.

The offense often looked as stagnant as the water that’s still residing on the streets of Long Island from Hurricane Irene, but made the most of their opportunities. The defense looked sharp despite the lack of a consistent pass rush, while the special teams look, well, special –  sparking two key plays that sealed the 17-3 victory over the Giants.

PASSING OFFENSE: C

  • There’s two schools of thought on the outlook of the Jets’ passing offense. 1) They scored when they had, making the most of their opportunities (67% in red zone attempts). 2) Given their favorable field positioning, the should have scored. Against a good pass rush, like the Giants, this offense needs to show they can sustain drives –  not just scoring from 30-yards out.
  • Going 4-14 on third downs is a pause for concern with this team, as it was a glaring problem last year as well.
  • Against this stout Giants front seven, the Jets o-line gave up zero sacks. Credit this unit for protecting their franchise player. Also credit Sanchez for keeping plays alive with his legs.
  • No catches for Plaxico Burress? No problem. It was easy to tell both teams had their eyes on Burress the whole game, with the Giants not wanting to see him make a big play on his former team. His time will come.

MISSING! Have you seen this man? LaDanian Tomlinson, future HOFer, has shown little to nothing this pre-season. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

RUSHING OFFENSE: F

  • Thirty-eight attempts, 112 total rushing yards, 2.9 yards per attempt: They definitely pounded the ground, but with little to no effectiveness. The lack of a rushing attack allowed the Giants to zero in on Sanchez and focus more on coverage –  with a passing attack that plays off of their ground game, they have to be able to run the ball effectively.
  • Speaking of effectiveness, Shonn Greene has been exactly that. Through the pre-season Greene has been averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Watch out fantasy owners, he’s going to live up to the billing this year.
  • We are seeing the decline of a legend, folks. LaDanian Tomlinson averaged 1.93 yards per carry this pre-season on only 11 carries. Are they trying to save his legs? Or has he reached the end of the road?

PASSING DEFENSE: A

  • Two turnovers by a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL in turnovers last year is a great sign. An even better sign? Seeing S Jim Leonhard get his second INT of the pre-season. He’s a huge cog on this defense.
  • You’d think after last season CB Antonio Cromartie would be used to all the attention he receives from opposing quarterbacks. Eli Manning took a lot of shots at Cromartie last night. He needs to be able to respond without getting penalized.
  • Rookie ILB Nick Bellore will not be a starter but he definitely has shown he has a nose for the ball. He had two huge plays, disrupting the timing of the Giants QB — including a huge open-field sack on third down. Remember his name down the road.

RUSHING DEFENSE: B-

  • Holding up a goal line stand on the 4th & goal, as well as stop another 4th & 1 attempt is a great sign for the front seven that faced the bruising attack of Brandon Jacobs, without the help of DT Sione Pouha (knee).
  • The problem was, however, stopping the outside speed of RB Ahmad Bradshaw (34 total yards on four touches).
  • The defense allowed 105 total rushing yards on 4.2 yards per carry.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

  • Cromartie’s 70-yard KR set-up Holmes’ 17-yard TD catch. The guy is explosive from back there, but is it smart to have your starting corner returning kicks?
  • Jarron Gilbert’s blocked FG killed the Giants’ hopes of mounting any sort of a comeback, and ultimately set-up Bilal Powell’s 1-yard TD score, putting the game out of reach.
  • Looks like Nick Folk has won the starting kicking job. It has been reported that the Jets released Nick Novak today.

COACHING: B-

  • Mike Westhoff is a special teams guru, but can he be counted on to win games for this team consistently? He shouldn’t be put in that position to be, that’s all I’ll say.
  • The Jets were undisciplined getting plenty of personal foul calls that hurt the team, both offensively and defensively. You can’t keep giving the opposing team free plays or, worse, taking away plays from your offense.
  • Yes, the Giants offense put up big yardage on the Jets defense, but credit DC Mike Pettine and Ryan on dialing up the intensity as well as the play calling when they got backed up against their own goal.

Jets topple Giants, 17-3; Win MetLife Bowl

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — In a game that was more gritty than pretty, the New York Jets got the job done against their in-town rivals, the New York Giants, as they won the first annual MetLife Bowl at the newly named MetLife Stadium, 17-3, on Monday night.

During the game there were plenty of personal foul calls — including two ejections for Muhammed Wilkerson and Brandon Jacobs throwing haymakers — and, obviously, no love lost between these two teams, but Rex Ryan was all smiles when he was handed the MetLife Bowl “Snoopy” trophy.

“This is awesome,” Ryan said, whose Jets also won a $40,000 donation to Public Land, which aids in developing public parks around the country. “I’ll tell you what, this thing looks good. I’m glad we got it.”

He’s glad he got the trophy, but he may not be happy about the overall game. Both the Jets and Giants looked to be suffering from the layoff due to Hurricane Irene, which postponed the game from Saturday night to Monday. Neither first team offenses looked sharp, with the Jets gaining only two first downs in the first half while the Giants continually shot themselves in the foot on drives.

“I think, with this wacky schedule this week, it just kind of got us off to a sluggish start,” said Jets quaterback Mark Sanchez, who was 8-for-16 for 64 yards and 1 TD. “It was a good test to see how we’re going to come out with distractions during the week.  It was a good reminder of how focused we need to be, but without a gameplan, it’s tough to tell what to expect.”

And a good test it was. The game may have been ugly, but the Jets outplayed and outfought the Giants — a testament to the team’s resolve. In short, the game was won after a 17-yard strike from Sanchez to Santonio Holmes, capitalizing on two interceptions from Eli Manning, cashing in on some big special teams plays and holding back the Giant offense on a key goal line stand.

“I don’t know if there are any tickets available to that December 24th game, but I think we just sold them because that was a typical Jets-Giants slugfest right there,” Ryan said. “That’s a fun game. That’s two good football teams going at it. Obviously, it’s a preseason game, but it is great competition, there’s no doubt and the fireworks will fly come December 24th, that’s for sure.”

Rookie DE Muhammed Wilkerson poured fuel on the Jets-Giants rivalry as he & Giants RB Brandon Jacobs were ejected for fighting. The Jets outfought the Giants, 17-3, on Monday, August 29, 2011 at MetLife Stadium. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

A one-yard touchdown run from rookie Bilal Powell and a late fourth quarter 33-yard field goal from Nick Folk put the game out of reach for the Giants, whose lone score came in the second quarter — a 34-yard field goal from Rhys Lloyd.

The Jets (2-1) will face the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Thursday. While the Giants (1-2) finish up their pre-season on the road against the New England Patriots on Thursday as well. Monday’s game will likely be the the final tune up for the Jets before they kick off their regular season at home on September 11th against the Dallas Cowboys.

“No question, we’re ready.  We played well in the red zone.  We were real conservative with our calls.  It was definitely a slow start.  We were feeling things out,” Sanchez told reporters after the game.

Special teams coach Mike Westhoff looked to be in mid-season as his unit had two game-solidifying plays. Cornerback and kick returner Antonio Cromartie had a 70-yard kick return while defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert blocked a third quarter field goal attempt in the third quarter to keep the Jets ahead, 7-3.

The Giants took the initial lead off of Lloyd’s 34-yard field goal with five minutes remaining in the first half.

Cromartie’s 70-yard return came on the ensuing kickoff, as he initially bobbled the ball before taking it down to the Jets own 35-yard line.

Sanchez took the next 6-plays to find Holmes in the end zone on a post route, on a play that also had former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, a game day captain who had zero catches in the game, wide open going across the middle of the field.

“It was a big play for us to end that half by putting up a touchdown. It kind of got our guys fired up and we came back out in the second half moving the ball just as well,” Holmes said.

Prior to that touchdown pass, however, Sanchez looked to be having trouble against the Giants coverage, consistently checking down and scrambling with the ball trying to make a play.

“They didn’t bring a ton of blitzes, but just kept all the routes and all the throws in front of them on defense, hoping I would get impatient.  I showed a little progress from last year in getting it to the backs, scrambling for a couple of yards on first down, giving us a second-and-manageable and keeping the chains moving,” Sanchez said.

Despite the lack of offensive sharpness, both defenses came to play. The Giants did outgained the Jets 224-73 in first half yardage yet trailed 7-3 because of Manning’s two costly turnovers.

On a pass intended for Victor Cruz, Manning threw too high due to linebacker David Harris closing in, and the ball was intercepted by safety Jim Leonhard, his second of the pre-season. Harris got the other interception after Manning under threw a ball intended for Ahmad Bradshaw while under pressure.

“It is great. I think that is the big thing we want to focus on. The coaching staff has been harping on us a lot about that,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said about his defense that ranked 25th in the league in turnovers in 2010.

Manning and the Giants got the early 3-0 lead thanks to Clint Sintim’s fumble recovery at their own 39-yard line after Sanchez fumbled the snap. Bradshaw then pulled off a big play, taking a dump pass 29-yards, juking linebacker Bart Scott in the process.

“We have to get cleaned up, but that’s the great thing, about the preseason, it doesn’t count.  The lessons learned are something that we value,” Scott said.

The Jets were 0 for 6 on third downs in the first half and didn’t register their first first down until they got a favorable spot on a fourth-and-1 from their own 28 late in the first quarter.

The Giants had a chance to retake the lead early in the third quarter against the Jets’ second-string defense when Manning drove them from their own 15 to the Jets 1. However, the Jets stopped D.J. Ware cold on a fourth-down attempt from the 1, on a play that normally would have been handled by Jacobs. The big-bruising back was not available because he has been ejected four plays earlier for trading what appeared to be slaps with Wilkerson.

Gilbert blocked Lloyd’s 42-yard attempt with 1:13 left in the third quarter and rookies Greg McElroy and Jeremy Kerley— playing the wildcat— led the Jets 68-yard, 9-play drive.

Jets-Giants MetLife Bowl

Monday, August 29th, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Sure it’s only a pre-season game. Yes, it doesn’t count in the standings. And, heck, maybe it is meaningless, but the stakes of Monday’s Jets-Giants game may have just gotten higher. The newly named MetLife Stadium, home to both the Jets and Giants (although it will be the Giants who will be the home team), have added a college-like atmosphere to tonight’s highly anticipated match-up.

And, no, I am not talking about the keg stands and beer bongs that will be present during pre-game tailgate parties.

Sione Pouha (knee) is the headliner name being held out of Monday's Jets-Giants game. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

For the first time in this annual meeting, the winner will be rewarded a Snoopy Trophy. Snoopy, of course, is the mascot for MetLife, giving the match-up a bit of a bowl game atmosphere — still meaningless, yet adding a bit of glitz to this oh-so-glamorous match-up.

The match-up as of late, however, has been more grit than glitz since the arrival of Rex Ryan, who has immediately marked his territory in New York, claiming his Jets are New York’s new football team. With his bravado and renewed mentality the Jets have outplayed the Giants over the past two years.

Ryan’s smash-mouth style of play and in-your-face attitude has won over players from all over the league, most notably former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who will be making his first start against his former team after being out of the league for nearly two and a half years.

Of course this pre-season match-up, while considered to be the most physical of all the warm-up games, will count for nothing, one has to imagine both teams get a little more amped up to battle for bragging rights. This game will be the pre-cursor to their Christmas Eve match-up, where the Jets will be the home team, and will most likely seal both teams’ playoff positioning.

The battle for New York supremacy kicks off in 18 minutes, however the war is far from over.

TONIGHT’S INACTIVES: JETS – QB M. Brunell (calf), OL T. Canfield (knee), OT R.Turner (ankle), TE J.Cumberland (hamstring), & DT S.Pouha (knee). GIANTS – K L. Tynes, QB S. Rosenfels, CB P. Amukamara, DB B. Jackson, DE O. Umenyiora, RB A. Bradshaw, DB A. Brown & WR D. Calhoun.

Bay Area Brawls Give Ball Games Bad Name

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — After going 150-plus days without a single snap of football being seen by any Americans, you’d think fans would rejoice to see their favorite teams play bitter rivals. Instead it ignited one of the worst football brawls the NFL has ever seen. During the Oakland Raiders – San Francisco 49ers game, a vicious brawl broke out in the stands that lasted over two minutes. This, coming off the heels of a San Francisco Giants fan being beaten into a coma on Opening Night by a few Los Angeles Dodgers fans, is hardly how America’s most beloved sport should be celebrated in its return.

I know this site is usually used to highlight the highs and lows of the New York Jets, but there are some stories that transcend the lines of individual teams and force us, as Americans, to take a look at our actions. This is one of those stories.

For diehard fans, Like "Fireman" Ed Anzalone, a line has been drawn between fandom and pandemonium. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

Forty-Niners running back Frank Gore said it best: “I think some fans take it too serious. It’s [just] a football game.” It is just a game. And we all do take it too seriously. From the amount of coverage that the sport commands, to the effect it has on our moods and emotions, even to the pay rate the players receive for playing “just a game”. But then again, it’s easy for me to state that as someone who’s attempting to make a career to covering the NFL.

The NFL, as with all sports, were created to entertain the public, bring together the community and inflame emotion — sparking a sense of nationalism as well as local pride. And that has never stopped, in fact, that sense of local pride has turned into local egotism. Sports bring people together and also creates divides amongst their fans. Don’t think so? Go walk through the Bronx in a David Ortiz jersey at roughly 11:39 pm EST and then get back to me. Better yet, tell a group of Giants fans that the Jets are New York’s new team.

Arguments are what makes sports so intoxicating. It’s what gives people like me a platform to voice my opinion and hear those who agree and disagree. But when the line gets blurred between competitive banter and aggravated assault, it makes one question the level of importance our culture places on sport.

A local rivalry that was once looked at in anticipation is now being canceled indefinitely. 49ers CEO Jed York has recommended that NFL cancels the annual pre-season match-up between the two Bay Area teams indefinitely. Additionally DUI checkpoints will be located outside the stadium as well as heightened security inside and outside the stadium, making themselves more visible to fans in attendance. This statement was issued by 49ers vice president of stadium operations and security Jim Mercurio issued this statement after the unsightly brawl:

“To those of you who decide to come to our games, and it really doesn’t matter what jersey you may be wearing, or what hat you may wear, or what team you may support, your behavior on Saturday night is not welcome. Don’t come here. You’re not welcome.”

His words are echoed by those who still believe that football games are not about getting loaded at tailgates and slurring profanities at rivaled fans, but rather enjoying the game with not only fellow fans but family members as well. For Brian Stow’s family, whom still hope their husband and father recovers from severe brain damage after that frightful night leaving Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles those words have come too late.

The Morning After Report: Late Edition

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Call the second pre-season game of the year what you may — a Super Bowl caliber team showing up to play or simply defeating a team recoiling back into the abyss of the NFL cellar — but the New York Jets looked primed to have another stellar season. Of course, it is important to point out that it is only pre-season and that it was a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Regardless of the time or the opponent, the Jets did what they were supposed to do on Sunday: beat the teams they are supposed to. Last year they made a regular season out beating opponents they were supposed to: going 9-1 against teams with a record of .500 or worse. And on Sunday they were able to easily hand a defeat to the Cincinnati Bungles — a team who is expected to take a step back, maybe two, this year — despite missing their a slew of the regular starters (i.e. C. Pace, B. Scott, S. Greene, B. Moore, S. Pouha).

Mark Sanchez and the rest of the Jets were all smiles after their 27-7 thwarting of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, August 21, 2011 at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

PASSING OFFENSE: A

  • Mark Sanchez: 12-20, 170 yards, 2 TDs, 0 TO. Those numbers would have been a standout game for Sanchez for four quarters last year. This year? It’s to be expected. Given it was only a half, Sanchez played extraordinary — highlighted by the perfect touch pass in the corner of the end zone to Plaxico Burress.
  • Speaking of Burress, you saw his rust on his first catch, nearly swallowing the ball. But he looked to be in mid-season form as evidence of his touchdown that has made national headlines– and deservedly so. He may have earned his contract with that catch alone.
  • After giving up 7 sacks against an aggressive Texans defensive front, the offensive line only allowed two this time around. Vlad Ducasse, who did not let his quarterback get decapitated, did have two false start penalties. Much like Wilson at the end of the year, it appears his lack of confidence is visibly affecting his play.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D

  • Yes, the team rushed for 156 total yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but the stats don’t always tell the whole story. Most of those numbers are attributed to rookie RB Chris Jennings’ 69-yard scamper.
  • LaDanian Tomlinson (9 rushes, 16 yards, 1.8 YPC) concerns me. He seems to be missing the whole by a split second – which is the difference between five yards and getting stuffed at the line in this league. His leadership and locker room presence may make him invaluable, but thus far his on-the-field performance looks like that of a player who’s beginning to realize the clock will soon strike 0:00 on him.
  • Think Joe McKnight (7 rushes, 36 yards/2 rec, 7 yards, 1 TD) is the same whipping boy that coaches and fans alike harped on during training camp last year? Think again. McKnight may supplant LT as number two on the depth chart sooner than anyone had anticipated.

PASSING DEFENSE: B-

  • Sure it was against a rookie QB on the Bengals, but two interceptions by the safeties Eric Smith and Jim Leonhard quickly set the tone for the game, allowing for two quick scores.
  • The pass rush is still a pause for concern: producing only one sack the entire game. Rex Ryan has talked up his defensive line as a deep unit this year, citing his usage for a 6-or-7 man rotation, but they’re walk has not lived up to Ryan’s talk…yet.
  • Two coverage areas that were problems for Jets defense last year are still lingering in 2011: running backs catching passes in the flat against outside ‘backers and safeties defending larger, athletic tight ends.

RUSHING DEFENSE: A

  • Bungles rushing attack: 24 carries, 50 net yards, 2.1 yards per carry. ‘Nuff said.
  • This is always be my shortest area in breaking down the team as a Ryan defense hardly needs to be critiqued on how to stop the run.
  • Rookie DT Kenrick Ellis is showing more than brute strength in his first two games. Players like Bart Scott said he’s going to need more than just size in this league to dominate. So far, it looks like he’s got the message.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+

  • If it wasn’t a legitimate kicking competition before, there’s certainly one now. Nick “Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde” Folk has always left a queasy feeling amongst Jets fans, as evidence of him missing a 43-yard FG before nailing a 50-yarder. Nick “The Kick” Novak, thus far, seems to have more of a consistent leg.
  • Jeremy Kerley had six touches on special teams on Sunday. Brad Smith who? ST coach Mike Westhoff loves everything about Kerley and his faith in the rookie from TCU is showing.

COACHING: B+

  • Fantasy owners take notes: Dustin Keller will be a top 10 TE this season. And if the over/under for TDs by Jeff Cumberland is at 6, I just might take the over. Why? Tom Moore’s influence (see Indianapolis Colts dating back the last 5 years).
  • Third-down efficiency seems to still be a thorn on the side for the Jets (5-for-17). A big part of that falls on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who questionably called running play after running play on third down Sunday.

Official JetsInsider.com Morning After Report

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Monday night’s 20-16 road loss to the Houston Texans could be tossed up as a mixed bag — filled with the good, the bad and the downright ugly. No need to press the panic button just yet. It’s the first pre-season game after the most unusual off-season in recent memory of the NFL. There’s plenty to improve, a couple things to smile at, and a few things that just left you scratching your head.

Rex Ryan was not pleased with the outcome, a loss that ended with rookie quarterback-led drive that stalled in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Pre-season or not, Ryan wants to win. If there was a Rocks, Paper, Scissors match to decide who rides shotgun to the corner store, he’d want to win and expect to win that too. But regardless, the first game of the season is chalked up to a loss. Now let’s break down their performance in the very first edition of the Official JetsInsider.com’s Morning After Report of the 2011 unlocked season.

Rookie QB Greg McElroy looked poised in the pocket and showed some moxy in his first pro start. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

PASSING: B +

  • Mark Sanchez couldn’t have looked much better in his two series stint with the starting offense, going 6-for-7 for 43 yards. And after the loss of back-up OL Rob Turner, you saw a whole of hand-offs from the third-year starter. Don’t want to risk injury to the team’s franchise QB.
  • Rookie Greg McElroy showed some serious moxy, playing the remaining three quarters and throwing the ball 39 times in his first pro game. Sure the arm strength wasn’t there, as he missed pretty badly on a few deep balls, but he did what he had to do to keep his team in the game. Checking down to receivers and working slant routes on the outside got him into a rhythm. And no turnovers adds to his reputation as one of the smartest guys in the NFL.
  • Yes, the o-line was thin going into the season and the injury to Turner doesn’t help. But they went without starters Nick Mangold & Brandon Moore. Second-year lineman Vlad Ducasse looked lost on the field, getting beat a couple of times. He could get someone killed out there.
  • TE Jeff Cumberland (6 rec, 77 yards) & WR Patrick Turner (6 rec, 32 yards, 1 TD) are huge targets. Could be solution to poor redzone efficiency from last year.

RUSHING: B

  • Shonn Greene was running real mean last night behind “The Terminator” John Conner. When he ran behind Conner, Greene pulled off runs of 5, 7 and 19 yards. Greene, if healthy, could be in for a big year.
  • Second-year RB Joe McKnight, a whipping boy of sorts last year, has looked great in training camp and showed it Monday night averaging 4.8 yards per carry before leaving with possible concussion.
  • Rookie Bilal Powell looked impressive tallying 52 total yards on 12 carries. May find small role on offense, especially if McKnight injury is serious.

PASSING DEFENSE: C

  • You CANNOT let Matt Leinart light you up on defense. The secondary didn’t get beat often over the top, but were susceptible to the underneath passes and missed tackles.
  • The problem last year with the secondary was the safety-on-TE coverage. A glaring weakness last year that the team didn’t do to upgrade in personnel, rather just re-signed the same players. Could be problematic against strong TE teams like the Patriots or Colts.
  • The pass rush produced three sacks and one interception, thanks to pressure from rookie DT Kenrick Ellis. A young unit, look for them to grow as season progresses.

RUSHING DEFENSE: B+

  • Net rushing yards allowed: 42. ‘Nuff said.
  • Houston native and second-year RB Chris Ogbonnaya did cause problems for the defense, however. He totaled 104 yards with 2 scores. What was troublesome for the Jets were the outside ‘backers picking up the running backs out in the flats and out of the backfield.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

  • Nick Folk is the starter, but Nick “The Kick” Novak is certainly making a run to have this be a two-man race. He nailed one field from 35-yards out. But Ryan’s faith is still with Folk, who he trotted out in the fourth quarter to try and make a 40-yard go-ahead field goal.
  • This was the first game of the pre-season that we saw the majority of kick-offs being returned on Monday. Expect Mike Westhoff to continue this throughout pre-season.
  • The punting game wasn’t bad, but the loss of P Steve Weatherford to the crosstown Giants hurts. At times, last season he was their best weapon.

COACHING: C+

  • Nine penalties for a total of 65-yards. Discipline was a problem for this team last year. Can’t give away first downs and free plays like that.
  • I like what Tom Moore brings to the table with twin TE sets and properly utilizing his new personnel. Too many times last year I was left scratching my head at how formations and players were used (cough-Wildcat -cough).

Defining Ropati Pitoitua

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Ropati Pitoitua [Roe-POT-ti Pito-IT-tuah] – pronoun/0f Samoan decent; 1. referring to the third-year 6-foot-8, 315 pound defensive end out Washington State University. 2. a monstrous defensive lineman whose physical attributes leaves Rex Ryan and Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine salivating at the thought of utilizing his skill set in their aggressive 3-4 defensive schemes. 3. potentially game-changing defensive player looking to bounce back from a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in 2010.

Pitoitua made a name for himself on HBO’s Hard Knocks, albeit a tough one to pronounce, during last year’s training camp. His physical presence aside, Ryan was impressed with his agility and ability to get to the quarterback. But before Ryan and Pettine could unleash the beast that is Pitoitua, he went down with a torn Achilles’ tendon — losing out on the entire season.

But 2011 is a new year and Pitoitua is 100% healthy and ready to make an XL-size entrance.”I feel great,” he said. “I feel like I’m close to where I need to be. Everything’s on schedule, as it was. I feel like I’m where I need to be.”

The loss of Shaun Ellis left a hole on the defensive line. Will the 6'8"/315lb. Ropati Pitoitua be able to fill that gap? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

A healthy Pitoitua is necessary for a Jets defensive line that is thing at experience but thick with youth and potential. The public breakup with 11-year veteran Shaun Ellis and the infusion of first-round pick Muhammed Wilkerson leaves a question mark in the present about how the Jets will do at rushing the passer.

“He’s a guy who gives us a little insurance,” Pettine said of the former Wazzu. “I think it’s a lot to ask of Muhammed to come in and play every snap as a rookie. I think Ropati is going to be one of those guys who isn’t a big name for us but is going to step up and be a big part of what we do.”

Pitoitua, Wilkerson, and second-year defensive end Marcus Dixon are just a few of the youthful names that will be making plays on this defensive line this season. Ryan has a lot of faith in this group and expects to use all his linemen in a five or six-man rotation.

“[A rotation] is the ideal thing. Last year, there were three [defensive linemen]. Three guys really slugging it out on early downs. Now, I feel really good. When you look at [this] group out here now, there’s seven, eight guys that you feel really good about,” Ryan said.

If Pitoitua can stay healthy, it might be hard for Ryan to sub him out of the rotation. Bart Scott put it best when he said that, with his weight, Pitoitua is nearly unblockable due to the leverage he can create.”I’m really excited about Ropati,” Scott would go on to say. “We were excited about him last year, but unfortunately, he was injured. To be 6-foot-8 and be able to move that well at 315 pounds and be to to run and be long…he just has to keep his pads down. I don’t think anybody will be able to block him.”

With the first game of the pre-season under way, Ryan and Pettine still don’t have a proper definition for the freakish Pitoitua. But whatever role he is given, he’s ready to characterize himself a playmaker in the NFL. “The only thing I can do right now is to get ready and do the best I can to help out.”

PREVIEW: NY Jets (0-0) @ Houston Texans (0-0)

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — How does one go about writing a preview for a football game that’s been, roughly, 200 days in the making? Where to even begin? In a game that will seemingly mean nothing, will mean everything to a Jets’ Nation group that has been in an aroused mourning since the final whistle blew on the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh last January.

Monday’s game in Houston may be over-hyped by few, but it will most definitely be over-analyzed. That’s just the recent life of a New York Jet — a big spotlight made by a bigger head coach who has the biggest aspirations for his team. So without further adieu, let’s move on from the word play and get on with the over-analyzing.

WHEN: Monday 8/15 @ 8 pm EST via ESPN

STADIUM: Reliant Stadium — Houston, TX (capacity: 71,500)

LAST MEETING: Jets 30 — Texans 27 @ Reliant Stadium on November 21, 2010

HEAD COACHES: Rex Ryan, Jets — third season, 20-12 regular season (4-2 postseason record); Gary Kubiak, Texans — sixth season, 37-43 regular season (0-0 postseason record).

The 2011 Jets season is ready to take flight on Monday, August 15, 2011. The Jets hope they can soar like Santonio Holmes. (JetsInsider.com)

X-FACTORS:

  • Antonio Cromartie, CB: He said it on the first day of camp: “I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder, this year. Just watch.” With the starters likely playing the full first quarter, at least for the Jets, don’t be surprised if Cromartie will hit the field amped up and ready to go. His skill set, regarded by many, gives him the potential to be the best in the league…yes, even better than Nnamdi Asomugha. It’s just a matter of keeping him mentally focused.
  • Mo Wilkerson, DE & Kenrick Ellis, DT: These guys, with Wilkerson in particular, have been giving the keys to castle. Now all they have to do is prove they deserve to live in it. Wilkerson has looked very impressive through out training camp, while we’ll see if Ellis’ brute strength is enough to overpower a more skilled offensive lineman.
  • Kyle Wilson, CB: The second-year corner is trying to bounce back from a rookie campaign that was filled with high expectations that were never reached. He showed flashes of brilliance, but the rocky road of an NFL rookie is what dominated his season. This year, however, he has showed up with a revamped sense of confidence and is preparing himself for a more concrete role in the defense — not having to worry about playing no. 2 without having Revis on the field.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

  • Jeremy Kerley, WR/KR: The rookie out of TCU has been one of the shining stars at Jets training camp. Already becoming a fan favorite and earning praise from the likes of Mark Sanchez and Mike Westhoff, Kerley is the heir apparent to Brad Smith. You’ll see him running out of the slot — perhaps used like Wes Welker — returning kicks and punts and maybe even taking a few snaps out of the Wildcat Offense. Keep an eye on number 11, he’ll be a big factor in the regular season.
  • Joe McKnight, RB: A whipping boy in his first year by the coaching staff and fans alike, McKnight exploded in the final game of the season — showing his potential as a change-of-pace back to Shonn Greene. He’ll likely be the shifty/speedy backup to LaDanian Tomlinson, who still is taking the first team reps. However I’m not completely sold on the endurance of the 30-something running back who seemingly disappeared down the stretch last year.
  • Courtney Smith, WR: An undrafted free agent out of South Alabama, the Courtney Smith project is about 2-3 years in the making. However his physical attributes is reminiscent of Brandon Marshall at his best. At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds Smith runs a 4.66 40-yard dash and is a huge redzone target. Learning under 6-foot-5 Plaxico Burress will only help this probable practice squad player make the most of his daunting physical attributes.

O-Line: If it ain’t broke, still tweak it

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Continuity plays a huge role in football, no question. But for an offensive line? Continuity is nearly everything — having trust in the guys next to you to call out any last minute protection slides, reading what the defense gives you and knowing if they have to pick up an extra pass rusher or not.

Last year the big question mark was Matt Slauson. Can a second-year guy really come in and replace an All-Pro like Alan Faneca? It may have taken him a couple of games early, but Slauson did a bang up job working in between D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. In fact, you barely heard from him towards the end of the season — the ultimate sign of a job well done for an offensive lineman. In their case, the less they’re heard from the better.

Matt Slauson (68) slide right in the whole Alan Faneca left next to Nick Mangold (74). Who says Wayne Hunter can't do the same? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

The guy who’s in a similar situation as Slauson is Wayne Hunter. He’s got the task of fulfilling the hole left by the lovable and outspoken Damien Woody. Throw in second-year lineman Vladimir Ducasse, utility lineman Rob Turner and the rest of the second unit, the Jets are focusing their attention to dominating the battle in the trenches. Of course the o-line has been one of the back-bones of past Jets teams, but in football the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t exist.

Slauson and the offensive line didn’t skip a beat last season and after Woody went down against the Indianapolis Colts in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs, Hunter came in and performed brilliantly in the following two games. Used regularly in jumbo TE sets, Hunter was rewarded with the starting job during the off-season after paying his dues and making the most of his opportunities. The team did not re-sign Woody.

“It was huge. It was definitely a blessing in disguise. You never want to wish harm on anyone, but it’s a part of the game. And when it happened I took the opportunity and ran with it,” Hunter told JetsInsider.com. “Just having those games – important games, not just any old games – offered great experience that helped me to take over the starting job this year.”

The ability and effectiveness of plugging guys in after one goes down is a testament to offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s preparation of all members of that unit. They wouldn’t have let Woody go if the front office didn’t believe Callahan had prepared for someone else to step up. With current starting right guard Brandon Moore on the PUP list after hip surgery, Rex Ryan and Callahan have called on Turner to take the reps with the starting unit until Moore is back at full health.

The reason? They plan on switching Ducasse, who primarily got his reps in at right guard, to be the back-up tackle. Ducasse was an All-Atlantic 10 tackle when he played at the University of Massachusetts, but struggled in his first year with in the NFL.

“That’s the big thing we needed to do, make sure that Vlad is getting work at tackle,” Ryan said.

The change may only be temporary as Ryan would go on to say that they might move him back after Moore returns. Expanding the role of the second-year lineman may be the right move as he has wowed his linemates with his work ethic and willingness to get better.

“I think [Ducasse] came in with a mission this year, I don’t know what the mission was. He’s looking real good at both guard and tackle positions. He’s looking stronger and he’s talking more – which is huge for us linemen. Communication among the offensive line is so critical. Last year he didn’t say a word, which frustrated a bunch of us,” Hunter, who would go on to say that Ducasse would see time in his former role in the jumbo TE set, told JI.com.

“Right now they expect me to make my own calls – even if it’s the wrong call – I know Nick or Wayne can fix it. But as long as I’m communicating with them we can be on the same page,” Ducasse said.

Communication aside, Ducasse would be the first one to tell you that he was slacking last year. As far as realizing what the coaches expect of him, understanding the playbook and just staying focused, the difference between this year and last year, he said, “was not even close”.

And that’s not even the end of it. Ryan and Callahan have converted defensive lineman Matt Kroul, an Iowa state champion in wrestling, into an offensive lineman.

“He certainly has the mentality [of an o-lineman],” Ryan said. “He’s a tough guy and he looked pretty good over there. I know Bart [Scott] was calling him ‘The Fat Faneca.” That’s got to be a compliment right?

It never ends with the Jets offensive line. And who ever said the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” anyway? Whoever he was, he definitely didn’t ‘play like a Jet’.

Shaun Ellis signs 1-year, $5 million contract with Patriots

Monday, August 8th, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – The story broke last week that the longest tenured New York Jet, Shaun Ellis at 11 years with the team, visited Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots about the possibility of signing with his former arch rival. The team offered Ellis a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum of roughly$910,000. According to sources via ESPN’s John Clayton, the Patriots have signed Ellis to a one-year deal at $4 million with about $1 million in incentives.

As it stands right now Ellis, 34, is making more than Giants DE Osi Umenyiora.

Don't get used to this photo, Jets fans. Ellis signed a 1-year, $5 mil deal with the Patriots today. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

“The fact that he chose [the Patriots], there’s no way I’m going to wish him well,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said on Sunday. “There’s no chance of that. I wish him to be healthy, but I don’t want him to play well. He’s gong to be revved up, ready to go. So it’ll be fun going against him. I’ve got a great deal of respect for Shaun.”

The coupling of Ellis and Belichick in New England is poetic justice for two men who’s careers have been juxtaposed by the actions of the Patriots head coach. After the announcement of former Jets head coach Bill Parcells’ retirement, Parcells had left the keys of the Jets castle to his predecessor Belichick. But a day into his Jets tenure, he quit, scribbling on a piece of loose leaf “I resign as HC from the NYJ” just minutes before his first press conference on the job. He then spent the next 30 minutes explaining the decision to a room full of the New York media. Soon after, he was introduced by owner Robert Kraft as the new head coach of the Patriots. Parcells, a former Patriots coach, and the Jets claimed that, with Belichick still under contract to the Jets, were due some sort of compensation for their loss. Then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed. In exchange for their future Super Bowl winning coach, the Jets were given the 12th overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft.

The selection turned out to be Tennessee defensive end Shaun Ellis. He was a standout his rookie year, recording 8 sacks. Only Hugh Douglas has recorded more sacks (10) during his rookie campaign. For his 11-year career, Ellis has recorded 72 sacks and forced 13 fumbles on his way to being named to the Pro Bowl twice (2003, 2009).

Ellis’ paralleled life with Belichick met on a collision-course in the AFC Divisional round of the 2010 NFL playoffs, where Ellis may have had the best game of his career. He sacked Patriots QB Tom Brady twice, but added constant pressure, disrupting the timing of many routes.

Now with Ellis in a Patriots uniform, Belichick can focus on the other problems the Jets present other than the worrying about the troublesome Big Katt.