FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Coming in to the year the Jets were not so different from a budding, young adolescent: growing up from humble beginnings to see a very promising future, blessed with a wealth of new abilities, gaining notice and praise from peers.
As far as the Jets have come to sit atop of the league and boast the NFL’s best record, they are still finding out their identity. For instance, the Jets, who have been known for the stingy defense and ground-and-pound running style, have been winning — late in games, no less — on the right shoulder of their equally budding, young quarterback.
The fifth-ranked defense doesn’t have to spend the final five minutes of the game trying to hold an opponent from scoring. The fourth-ranked rushing attack doesn’t have to carry the ball 80 yards in the two-minute offense if they hope to win the game late.
Why? Over the last three games Mark Sanchez has thrown for nearly 891 yards. Since Week 8 that is tops in the NFL. As he continues to mature over the course of the season, the offense will continue to shift to a more pass-oriented attack.
“I’ll tell you what, when teams play us like they have been, one-on-one coverage on the outside, with our play-makers, Mark should have a great game,” joked running back LaDanian Tomlinson. “If people want to continue to play us like that, then so be it.”
Tomlinson, one of the game’s best pass-catching backs, has a lot to do with Sanchez’s maturation under center. The trust that he has in Tomlinson to be his check-down option, sometimes his go-to option, has given Sanchez more time to read through his progressions and, at the last second, rely on him out of the backfield.
For offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer it’s been the little things that have paid the biggest dividends in the progression of Sanchez. He, with the help of back-up quarterback Mark Brunell, has begun to hit Sanchez with foam bats to simulate the importance of instincts and pocket presence.
“The first couple weeks you actually saw him wince from [being hit],” said Schottenheimer. “Obviously, it doesn’t take the place of an actual live rep, but you do get more comfortable with things around you. It’s a little thing that has paid off for us in the last two weeks.”
As much as the offensive has matured over the course of the season’s first ten weeks, there is still plenty to improve on. Their red zone efficiency (39.3%) is the third-worst in the league. Having the league’s worst red zone defense should help, but will not fix the glaring weakness of the Jets.
Schottenheimer believes that re-focusing on the execution and fundamentals will be enough right the ship, saying the game gets smaller when you get inside the twenty-yard line.
“The game does shrink,” Schottenheimer said. “We are looking at different things we can do to try to condense the playbook and not have has many things going on.”
Rex Ryan doesn’t care how it gets done, he just wants to outscore his opponent. “We are what we are,” Ryan said. “We just want to win.”
But when asked if his team has made any adjustments to fix their red zone problems, he couldn’t have been more clear. “Ideally, we’d like to run the ball more down there. If I’m tipping my hand, that’s really what we want to do, run the ball and then throw it up.”
As you learn in your adolescence, sometimes it’s what has taken you to where you are — and not what seems the best at the time — that will lead you forward. But as the season continues to grow, so will the roof of the New York Jets offense.
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