After all the bows had been taken and the metaphorical confetti was cleared, a few unpleasant observations could be gleaned from the Jets’ week three victory over a sinking Tennessee Titans team. They had been soundly outplayed after the first quarter, offense totally neutralized aside from the timely execution of a few low percentage plays. The defense, unfathomably stout to that point, overcame its initial cracks. And ultimately, thanks largely to a spectacularly horrendous performance from opposing return man Ryan Mouton; the Jets escaped unscathed, ledger perfect and confidence high.
New York was praised for vanquishing a desperate, winless foe. The negatives could be duly disregarded, revisited only in the unexpected circumstance of a major crash down the road.
Unfortunately enough for the Jets, this nasty collision with reality has become a key motif. All the expectations, hopes, and dreams were just a prelude to a stomach wrenching rollercoaster drop. The warning signs shrouded the summit, and once again, Jets fans would receive a cruel commission for covering their eyes. As this ride continues on full careen, the tracks appear close to running out. Pretty soon, there may only be twisted metal to inspect. What has gone wrong?
1. The Rookie played like one — not a shock
Mark Sanchez could be singled out as the player most responsible for the Jets’ collapse. His carelessness with the football has been an issue throughout the campaign, and while unwavering confidence is always a plus for any athlete, mental concessions must be made for necessary adjustments to take root. ‘”[There] is a term that Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] uses all the time, ‘You have to say uncle.’ The competitiveness of Mark has been getting him in trouble,” said Ryan after practice today, clearly supporting his quarterback, while acknowledging his flaws.
Sanchez, and the coaching staff, attribute most of his mistakes to simple overzealousness. The fact is, even a casual football follower probably understands that interceptions are not determined by stand-alone factors. A poor coverage read, a lurking safety, an athletic linebacker dropping back into coverage, a defensive lineman applying just enough pressure to force a throw, a gifted cornerback covering sloppy technique with speed, on any given interception, all of these variables may surface. Sanchez and the coaching staff are obviously simplifying his errors to the press.
Now, all this in due consideration, one essential fact must not be forgotten, for it is a superseding force over all others in relevance when diagnosing the performance of Mark Sanchez: He is a rookie. Is he enjoying the most incredible run in the history of neophyte signal callers? Nope. Has he been the worst? Absolutely not… in fact, he is having a better year than number one overall pick Matthew Stafford.
All of the different caveats have distracted people from that aforementioned, overriding freshman fact.
The Jets do possess a great deal of talent. Their painful collapse in ’08, after a promising eleven weeks, prepared a table for redemption that this roster may not have been ready to occupy. And ultimately, that quick start was bound to skew even the most measured of perceptions. Set it aside, even for a moment, and we are left dissecting a rookie year that is not exactly presenting a shocking outcome. The shallow type of conjecture, concerning hot dogs and late nights, will fade quickly, occasionally resurfacing like a low tide. Those other details outlined in the preceding paragraphs may remain through the year, but these too, will become footnotes. Whether it be impatient fans or trigger-happy analysts, those refusing to acknowledge Sanchez’s inexperience, for whatever reason, are not being entirely fair. Be that as it may, the charismatic California product was simply unable to sidestep the trap doors claiming countless rookie voyages prior to his. And it is a major reason why the 2009 Jets have seen it slip away.
2. The established core did not deliver
This heading may strike optimists [any of you left out there?] as overly cruel, but the facts are inflexible. Whether or not the underperformance could be traced to injury related absence, several of the Jets’ most valuable commodities have not enjoyed sterling success so far. Take Jerricho Cotchery, for instance. A reliable wide-out long underrated by the mainstream monster, Cotchery shot out of Training Camp primed to prove what many educated viewers already knew: That he was more than qualified as a number one option. And Cotchery stormed out of the gates, before being drastically slowed by a hamstring injury. The malady seemed to sap his explosiveness, and derailed what could have been a truly magnificent first tour with Mark Sanchez. Kris Jenkins, nose tackle extraordinaire, suffered a devastating knee injury, rendering him a total nonfactor. Dynamic scat back Leon Washington, a terror in the open field and constant special teams threat, broke his fibula in Oakland, his entire future with the Jets now in doubt.
Meanwhile, in the inexplicable realm, Kerry Rhodes’ shocking decline just may be complete, his starting spot stolen by Eric Smith, an afterthought in August. My Jets Insider colleague Daniel Troisi was all over the story of Rhodes’ benching.
Whether the apparent collapse of Rhodes, who previously could have been labeled pro-bowl caliber, can be reversed is not a pressing short-term issue. Right now, it is in the Jets’ best interest that Eric Smith performs well in his new role, and that Rhodes maintains focus with reduced responsibilities. One big play, and Rhodes could be right back out there. Keep in mind though, that the Jets have been waiting for that play all season.
3. This team is just weird
Never mind the bizarre press items constantly circulating about the Jets, from the refined literary styling of Kerry Rhodes and David Clowney, expressed via that bastion of enlightened communication known as Twitter, or private locker room speeches leaking onto notebooks, rookie passers dictating press conference terms, Head Coaches levying charges of attempted embarrassment against an opponent that his starting safety vowed to, yes, “embarrass” earlier in the season, shut off all that noise, even if it’s damn near impossible, just for now. Let’s take a moment to focus on the oddities engulfing this team within the white lines. Sure, the Jets can’t exactly be tagged as madcap. A supremely odd, season defining highlight has not been produced just yet. [An interception lodged in a helmet? A backwards touchdown? Place your bets!]
But does anyone play weirder games? It started well enough, with that win against the Titans, Ryan Mouton resembling a man with bricks for hands. But relying on weirdness is not exactly the path of champions. And, accordingly enough, things pretty much went downhill from there. Witness the tilt against New Orleans, where the high-octane Saints offense was nearly completely shutdown. Naturally, the Jets lost, and it wasn’t even close. Huh? How about that defensive showing against Miami? For no apparent reason at all, the secondary played as if underwater… stunning stuff at the time, especially against a first-year starter. The debacle against Buffalo may take the cake, though. Three hundred yards of rushing somehow equaled a home defeat against a division rival. But another home disaster, this one the Miami rematch, sure gave that calamity some competition. A special teams breakdown, courtesy of a unit coached by Mike Westhoff, a guy who practically modernized that phase of the game, may have been considered pretty surprising. But at that point, we were all pretty much well caught on. Expect the unexpected out of these Jets… and bank on the negative. The fact that this team will play on a Thursday night in Toronto next week is cosmically perfect.
Eric Smith has ascended, knocking Kerry Rhodes out of the starting lineup and carving out a place for himself. “He’s been a starter here in the past,” reminds Darrelle Revis, which is true, but never at the expense of Rhodes. That type of switch never would have been considered before this season, but Rhodes has been a titanic disappointment, and Smith seized his opportunity.
It’s a real notch for Smith, a noteworthy commendation considering his tenuous position in training camp. “A player’s role on a football team can change,” said Rex Ryan after practice. “When I got in, I never knew a whole lot about Eric Smith. He came in and was running with the third string safeties through the minicamps… I thought that was the right place to put him…. You have two ways you can react. You can feel self pity or you can grab your boots, pull them up, and say ‘let’s roll.’”
Smith has rolled to a promotion. For his part, the safety is anticipating the Panthers. “I’m looking forward to Sunday, just looking forward to playing more than I have,” said Smith after practice. Smith feels he has progressed as an overall player since last season. “Especially for this defense,” he elaborated. “You’re not as restricted. You’re freer to make plays.”
Ryan on the future of Braylon Edwards: “I’d love to have him here past this year. I’d love to see him catch a ton of balls, come out and catch ten balls, be fantastic, and he just may.”
Vernon Gholston has not made much of an impact following his disappointing rookie year, but Rex Ryan insists there has been progress. “As long as it’s going this way, that you keep improving, then he’s going to be just fine. It’s when you level off or start taking a nosedive, that’s when you have some issues. Unfortunately, he’s coming off an injury. I don’t know how much he’ll play.”
Ryan announced that corners Dwight Lowery or Donald Strickland will not be available this Sunday. Lowery is nursing an ankle injury, while Strickland is not suitably recovered from a concussion.
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