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.

My Week 15 NFL Picks

Again, did not have a lot of time this week, but trying to get back in my rhythm. Next week will be back to normal. Here's a screenshot for my picks this week.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Which Way Did Lee Go?

The biggest name of the 2010/2011 Major League Baseball offseason has found himself a new home; or should I say an old home? Former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee was being courted by the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers ever since the season ended, and most experts believed that one of these two clubs would sign the all-star to a long-term deal. That was, until a mystery team stepped in.

Sometime Monday afternoon, word had gone around that a third team had entered the sweepstakes as a serious contender. By Monday night, Lee had agreed to a five-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. This will be Lee’s second go-round with the Phillies. He was traded to Philadelphia at the trade deadline during the 2009 season. Lee was the Phillies’ ace throughout their playoff run, and won two games in the World Series before the Phillies inevitably lost to the Yankees.

Lee will receive about $120 million in guaranteed salary from the Phillies over the next five seasons with a player option for a sixth season. The Yankees’ offer would have totaled close to $30 million more over seven seasons. Lee expressed some disappointment after the Phillies traded him to the Seattle Mariners before the 2010 season, a trade that led to the Phillies acquiring Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays. Lee was then traded near the trade deadline to the Texas Rangers, who he led to the World Series before they lost to the San Francisco Giants. Cliff Lee’s signing now gives the Phillies the most feared rotation in the Major Leagues. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cliff Lee have three of the top eight winning percentages of current major league pitchers, and Cole Hamels is a former World Series MVP. Half of the teams in the MLB would kill to have one pitcher like these four.

One has to wonder if the heckling of Cliff Lee’s wife at Yankee Stadium during the postseason had something to do with his decision to turn down the Yankees’ offer. Is it that ridiculous to think that some drunken fools may have cost the Yankees an ace pitcher? If it turns out that this was the case, these guys could become as notorious to Yankee fans as Steve Bartman is to Cub fans. Whatever the reason may be, Lee joining the Phillies makes them serious contenders, if not, World Series favorites.

Monday, December 13, 2010

We Wanted It Less: Dolphins 10 – Jets 6

I believe the title says it all here. The Jets knew they needed to start fast and score points this week, and again they came out cold. Some may say it was the rain that was to blame for this pitiful effort, but there was a much deeper reason for the Jets’ defeat.

Mark Sanchez had his third bad game in a row on Sunday. This time, he fumbled 4 times (losing 1), threw an interception, and completed only 37% of his passes. Both Sanchez turnovers occurred in the 1st quarter in Jets territory and led to all of Miami’s 10 points. He also got very lucky on about 3 or 4 more passes that could have also been intercepted. The Jets recovered 3 fumbles from the Dolphins, 2 of them from quarterback Chad Henne. However, all 3 of Miami’s turnovers took place in Jets territory as well, and turned out to be the difference in the game.

The Jets failed to drive from wherever they started on the field. Sanchez may have been terrible, but he sure was not given any help. It was very evident that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s play calling was horrendous. The offense has been very predictable for a while, and it was made clear on Sunday. The Jets scored 31 points in their last meeting with the Dolphins, but could barely get into Miami territory in the loss. They ran on the majority of their first downs and rarely ran to the outside. With Sanchez’s struggles, the Dolphins took the opportunity to stack the box and stop the run, and they made it look easy. The Jets managed a dismal 2.8 yards per carry and failed once again to use the Wildcat formation effectively. The Jets called for the Wildcat on a 4th and 1 in the 2nd quarter and failed to convert on the trick play. The Jets were 0/3 on 4th down conversions and only 6/21 on 3rd down conversions.

The Jets receiving core also let Sanchez down. The most obvious instance was Santonio Holmes’ wide-open drop in the end zone in the 2nd quarter. Jerricho Cotchery and LaDainian Tomlinson also had a couple drops of their own. Braylon Edwards was only targeted twice and made only 1 reception. On one play, tight end Dustin Keller paused in his route, almost causing Sanchez to throw an interception to a defender that kept running after Keller had stopped.

Believe it or not, there are some positives to take out of this game. The Jets’ defense played extremely well, only giving up points off turnovers by the offense. The Jets outgained the Dolphins 280 to 131 yards and also had the ball for about 7.5 minutes longer. Chad Henne went 5/18 for only 55 yards and was sacked 5 times. No Dolphin receiver made more than 2 receptions, including Brandon Marshall who had 10 of them for 166 yards in the week 3 matchup. Safety Brodney Pool had his best game as a Jet, recording a sack and recovering a fumble along with 4 tackles. Kicker Nick Folk, who has struggled lately, made both of his field goal attempts from 35 and 42 yards, accounting for all of the Jets’ points.

It is clear that something needs to change with the Jets if they want to avoid a late season meltdown. Head coach Rex Ryan admitted after the game that he is worried and that they even considered benching Sanchez at one point, but felt that it was not his fault. The Jets are now 9-4 and fall 2 games back of the New England Patriots in the AFC East.

Note: Player of the game goes to Dolphins’ punter, Brandon Fields. Fields averaged 56.4 yards on 10 punts with a long of 69 yards. He made a huge difference in the field position game and the Jets slumping offense never started closer than midfield, which occurred after a fumble recovery.