Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Long Road to Pittsburgh

Out of all the wild and newsworthy weeks this season in Jet Nation, this may be one of the craziest we have seen. The Jets have been getting more than enough media attention since before HBO’s Hard Knocks started in the summer, but the talk is turning bitter and the criticism is coming from all directions.

The top story is the Tripgate scandal, which has been blown way out of proportion. This went from an isolated internal affair to an NFL-wide matter. I could write this entire post about Tripgate, but I think we can all agree we have heard enough of it.

Every NFL fan and their grandmother knows about the Jets’ offensive woes over the last two weeks. Gang Green scored a total of 9 points against their division rivals The New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, and has not scored a touchdown in nine consecutive quarters. It is clear that quarterback Mark Sanchez is having his struggles, but he is not alone. The Jets’ talented wide receiver core has been dropping a lot of Sanchez’s passes, as well as failing to get open. Dustin Keller was a perfect example of a receiver letting Sanchez down last Sunday when he stopped running his route as Sanchez tried to hit him in stride, almost leading to an interception. Santonio Holmes had a huge drop in the end zone that may have been the difference between a win and a loss against the Dolphins. That’s not to say that none of the blame belongs to Sanchez. One of his biggest issues is that he still stares down his receivers throughout the play, making it easy for some of the better defensive backs to jump a receiver’s route or be ready for a play to come their way. After having an outstanding start to the season, Sanchez is reverting back to some of his rookie instincts, something that needs to change if the Jets want to find their way into the playoffs.

The Jets’ ground game is not what it was last season, but I also feel that much of the reason for this is because the Jets’ talented backs are not being used the correct way. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seems to be trying to use LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene like the Jets used their backs season, just pounding the ball up the middle and hoping something will break. The offensive line has had its struggles this season, especially with Damien Woody battling, and now out, with a knee injury. It has allowed defenses to pressure Mark Sanchez a lot more than last season and is not creating many holes for the running game. Tomlinson is an excellent outside runner and receiver, but the majority of his runs (actually almost all of them) have been up the gut. Shonn Greene has also had some of his best runs go to the outside this season even though he is usually a great off-tackle runner. The offensive play calling has become so predictable that defenses can stack seven or eight men in the box and easily stop any attempt at running through the line, and yet, the Jets’ game plan still has not changed to get around this.

After taking much criticism this week, Schottenheimer fired back saying, "I know I'm a damn good football coach. I'm good at what I do." This statement surely won’t change my opinion. Schottenheimer has not proven that he is capable of handling an offensive coordinator job. It is evident that Mark Sanchez has not progressed much under his teaching and as I said before, his play calling is very predictable. He admitted to having a predictable game plan earlier in the season, but has not done anything to change that. He attempts unnecessary and risky trick plays, one of which being the Wildcat in crucial third down situations. It has proven to be ineffective and, again, predictable, and is a formation that ruins the offensive rhythm rather than boosting momentum. Schotty needs to make a significant change in his game plan soon; otherwise, it may cost the Jets a playoff spot, and more likely, his job.

In the last two games, the Jets seem like they have given up. Last season this team was 4-6 before catching lightning in a bottle and making an unlikely and unexpected playoff run. There are three games left and the Jets can control their own destiny. Jet fans would like to see a better effort out of the players and coaching staff than what we have seen recently. Once they clinch a playoff spot, that’s when I and other Jet fans will be confident again.

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