Learning curve for the Jets’ rookie QB? Mark Sanchez got an A. The Dolphins? They had lost their QB and team leader Chad Pennington for the season.
Let’s return to the present. One game separates Rex Ryan’s Jets and Tony Sparano’s Dolphins in the AFC East. The season isn’t over after all, not after five weeks. Imagine that in the wacky NFL (No Forecast League).
The last two weeks are a reminder that it’s a long season, and that the difference between winning and losing in the NFL has never been so narrow. Ask the Titans. Thirteen-game winners a season ago, Tennessee lost their first three games by 3, 3, and 7 points. Had a handful of plays gone their way maybe they would have been 3-0.
Few teams dominate opponents week in and week out. So many games are decided by one possession, a handful of plays swinging the decision. The Broncos are 5-0? The Bengals 4-1? Titans 0-5? What about the Jets? My preseason prediction of 9-7 doesn’t look so bad anymore (my prediction that they’d beat Miami was a real stinker). All I know is that after five weeks I don’t know anything. Maybe some teams still have us fooled.
So, what’s up with the Jets?
1) As Conan the Destroyer, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, exclaimed in the 1984 film of the same name, “Enough talk!!” When a team wins, the swagger and machismo and smack talk are cool. After the defense got mauled by the Dolphins for 413 yards and three 4th quarter touchdowns (on drives of 64, 84, and 70 yards!), my ear drums are hurting. For Calvin Pace to call the wildcat offense “nonsense” is embarrassing. Maybe he and his teammates should heed Kris Jenkins’ words. The Jets got a big (and much needed) dose of “shut up.” Enough talk!
2) Have teams exposed the Jets’ run defense? Hard to say. The Dolphins use an unconventional attack. The wildcat picked up 110 of Miami’s 413 yards. The Dolphins gashed the Jets for 151 yards on the ground. The Saints ripped Gang Green for 153 rushing yards. Both teams physically beat the Jets front seven, which may have tired late in both games. Credit Miami center Jake Grove. He neutralized Jenkins. When the big NT is held in check, the entire run defense suffers. Pace also looked rusty.
3) Rex Ryan. His clock management at the end of Monday night’s game contributed to loss. I also didn’t expect the Dolphins to score a touchdown on that drive. But I’m not the coach! Ryan, who wasn’t sitting next to me on the couch, had nothing to lose by saving his offense some time, regardless of whether the Dolphins would kick a FG or score a TD. We all like the climate change Ryan has brought to the Jets, but his blunder Monday was inexcusable, even for a rookie head coach.
4) Why did it take five games to play David Clowney? If Jerricho Cotchery hadn’t been hobbled, would Clowney have been on the sideline instead of catching that gorgeous 53-yard bomb from Sanchez?
5) Braylon Edwards. I don’t understand why he’s dropped so many passes after watching him snare Sanchez’ bullets against the Dolphins. Not since Al Toon have the Jets had a WR who can leap like Edwards. He did drop what would have been a touchdown bomb late in the 4th quarter, only to be bailed out by an awful pass interference call. He gets an A- for his first performance.
6) Despite scoring 27 points and totaling 309 yards, it was an uneven game for the Jets offense again. They needed two fake punts (one was an accident) to keep drives going in the first half. To their credit, OC Brian Schottenheimer’s troops hit on big plays in the second half to compensate for what I call a lack of flow. Sanchez’ fourth quarter, 34-yard completion to Edwards on 3rd-and-21 was HUGE. Big plays have been missing for the last few weeks. You have to take the field in chunks once in a while instead of nibbling away 5 yards at a time. The running game was just okay. Of 138 rushing yards, 44 came on fake punts or QB scrambles.
7) Sacks. The Jets have NONE in two weeks. Four sacks in five games is surprisingly low. I’ve written here before that sacks are overrated. Consistent pressure is enough to disrupt an opponent’s passing attack. Brees wasn’t sacked but the Saints scored only one offensive TD in ten possessions. But sacks are still nice to get. They kill drives and cause turnovers. Ryan might have a terrific scheme but he doesn’t have an elite pass rusher to go with it.
So the Jets are facing their first adversity of the season: two straight losses and their defense knocked down to reality. But sometimes in the NFL the schedule presents a better remedy than anything else. Up next: the terrible, injury-ravaged Buffalo Bills. Then it’s the minor league Oakland Raiders. If the Jets aren’t 5-2 when they play the Dolphins November 1, I’ll submit my resignation from the NFL predictions business for good.