Tag Archives: Mark Sanchez

Headlines 1/4/2013

act_carmelo_anthonyThe Knicks had been struggling for some time on defense and needed a team to come in to reinvigorate them on that end and wouldn’t you know it, the schedule read: San Antonio Spurs!  Yep, the Knicks not only beat the Spurs, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks dominated the Spurs on their home court.  Al Iannazzone of Newsday wrote that this was one of the more impressive showings by the Knicks this season beating what Mike Woodson calls “the best team in the NBA.”  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that after watching footage from games just six weeks ago when they had the best defense and offense, they were able to put on a vintage 2012 performance for the second game of 2013.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post thinks that there are stretches within the game that make you think about what can be for the Knicks.  Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that maybe Spurs coach Greg Popovich should have sent his stars home, maybe the reserves would have put up a better effort against these Knicks in their fourth game in five night stretch.

A few things about this Knick game were encouraging, first and foremost being the defense.  Certain coaches bring an identity and can typecast their team.  Mike D’Antoni certainly has a reputation of being an offensive genius while ignoring defensive principles, while Mike Woodson is known for emphasizing defense.  I don’t doubt that both preach the other side of the ball that they are supposed to be not so well versed in, but sometimes you just get that reputation and its hard to shake it unless there’s a dramatic shift in their team’s play in that other side of the ball.  But the Knicks forged a defensive intensity that you just hadn’t seen from them.  My theories, in order, were 1. Jason Kidd, 2. Tyson Chandler, 3. Mike Woodson.  These three guys have won and know that the only way to win games in May and June is on the defensive side of the ball.  Kidd in particular has impressed me because he faces quicker guards on a regular basis, but his intelligence and quick hands are great equalizers and allow him to keep up with even the quickest of guards.  

Chandler has always played defense and last year was like the lone wolf howling at the moon and the Garden faithful enjoyed watching him play.  This season he has more help and certainly stands to gain more once Iman Shumpert returns.  This season, the Knicks just seem to know how to rotate better and know how to play with each other better because they have so many leaders on this team.  Whether its Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (one Defensive player of the Year and the other, a member of the no-name Pistons squad in 04 that won the title), or Kurt Thomas on the bench, there’s so much veteran guidance and leadership and call me crazy, but maybe this was Grunwald’s plan all along: to have as many veteran voices on the bench to plead with Carmelo to play more defense and play more efficiently on offense.  

This win also speaks to the play of Pablo Prigioni.  Last year’s clear weakness was point guard play.  No doubt it contributed to the hype that Linsanity got and maybe inflated his value, but this year, the trio of Kidd, Felton and Prigioni have been such a better unit that its hard to remember the last time the Knicks got this kind of production from the position.  Prigioni, since preseason, has been doing that sneaky steal atleast twice a game and he again got a key steal and fed Carmelo for an easy two.  Every member of that team is confident with Prigioni in there and now with Felton out for four to six weeks, you don’t feel as uncertain.  Yes, I understand the concern people have with playing 35 and 40 year old point guards major minutes in games in January, but the hand has been dealt.  Its interesting that the Knicks have been experimenting with Shumpert at the point.  Perhaps getting youthful legs in there will be helpful, but having him as a primary ball handler is all good and well, but he has to be an instinctive point guard, otherwise he’s just another Toney Douglass: the full five second too late point guard who just never had the feel of a point guard.  Are the Knicks going to pay for playing these guys major minutes like this?  I’m sure.  But the fact is this is what they have to do and the Knicks just have to make do.

BTW, does anyone object to the whole JR Smith as our third most important player?  After Carmelo and Tyson, JR’s contributions off the bench- and its becoming nightly, are a reminder of how much of a luxury it is to have a guy that can create his own offense and can also spot up and score.  You can sit Carmelo for stretches when JR is going the way he is.  Does he have a ton of irrational confidence?  Sometimes.  But to play this game and to be good you have to.

Carmelo scored 23 but the most encouraging sign of his maturity came in two ways.  He was actively looking to pass out of double teams and rarely made a bad decision when he did and even if the relationship between he and Amare may be a forced partnership, its easy to see how comfortable and assured he is that he is the franchise cornerstone and he makes the Knicks go.  He tried desperately to get Amare involved in the offense in one series in the fourth, while the Knicks were building up their lead, passing it inside to Amare, who continued to do the fifteen pump fakes before putting up the shot that usually gets blocked (which is an indicator that he’s getting old and has lost most of the athleticism that made him a star), getting the rebound and then throwing it right back to Amare.  That comes from a confidence within that this is in fact his team and there’s no real threat there and I’m glad.  The only way for this to work is for Amare to understand his role on this team and that he’s going to be a third or fourth option depending on the set.  I do like that second team of offense that comes in behind the starting five when the Knicks bring in Novak, Prigioni, JR and Amar’e into the game.  Then you add in the stretch five of Rasheed and you certainly have the makings of a deep ten man rotation that could be formidable, depending on health, come May and June.

Rex Ryan tattoo of Mark Sanchez january 4And then there’s Rex Ryan.  The Daily News this morning published a picture of tanning Rex on a beach in the Bahamas sporting a tattoo of a woman (presumably his wife) sporting a Mark Sanchez jersey and….nothing else on his right arm.  This article in the Daily News is sure to make the rounds in the talk show universe today and adds another level of weirdness to this whole Jet soap opera.   Gary Meyers of the Daily News talks out all the problems that can arise from having a specific player’s name tatooed on the arm.  Mark Cannizzaro of the Post lists several enticing candidates for the Jets GM job and lists Tom Gamble the Director of Player Personnel of the San Francisco 49ers as the guy the Jets and Korn/Ferry should target to lead the Jets.  Finally the Pro Football Writers of America are ok with the fact that the Jets will only meet with the media on January 8th as opposed to the usual schedule of 7 days after the season ends.

This morning’s commute was extra  hilarious because of this story and usually when silly things like this happen, it makes radio and sports personalities very happy because it gives them a chance to be silly and boy do Boomer and Carton love doing silly.  Look, there’s nothing left to say about this except that the Jets look to be targeted by the media and they give them every reason to be targets.  In what universe could Rex think getting a tattoo of his wife ONLY wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey was a good idea?  There’s not a good enough explanation that you can have and one that I hope that we will hear come that very anticipated January 8th press conference.  For those wondering, I think if you were to rank what the Jets brain trust should be questioned about, it goes:

1. Why Mike Tannenbaum was fired and not Rex?

2. What were they thinking about with Tim Tebow and why, in their minds, were they not successful with him?

3.  How confident are you that Mark Sanchez can be fixed?

4.  Rex are you brain dead?  Why would you get a tattoo of your wife in a Sanchez jersey?

Those should be the first four questions out of the media’s mouth come January 8th.  How its anything else is beyond me.  Anyway, I hope Korn/Ferry is a PR firm as well because the Jets could use some good advice. 

Meanwhile, not so far off Crazy Island, the Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was apparently walking around like a crazy man as he described in this interview with Mike Francesa.  Antrelle Rolle apologized for the Giant letdown of a stretch run this season.

Its always fun to see Tom Coughlin red in the face, screaming from the sideline but I totally understand his pain and frustration when having to answer questions about a team he has seen time and time again come through in big games, not be able to even offer a whimper when it truly mattered.  Like any Giant fan, I expected a win against the Ravens and I expected it to be competitive against the Falcons who I don’t think scare anyone in the NFC.  The Giants should have never been in this position and who knows if this collapse by the Giants means that Washington was just meant to win this year or if this is a seismic power shift in the NFC East and that the Redskins are coming of age so quickly under the guidance of the young padawan, RGIII.  Regardless, these are the kind of final weeks that make a team look deep into its soul.  Certainly there is the talent to win atleast 10 games a year but the up and down show of effort leaves you wondering sometimes about whether the players are either understanding the situation they are in or even motivated to play a football game late in December.  Its crazy to think that this team, this unit wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in those situations but it happened.  Which makes Tom Coughlin crazy.  Which makes Jerry Reese crazy.  Which should make every Giant hoping to return back to a championship core very very scared.  

Finally, what to watch for tonight:  Bulls at Heat on ESPN at 8, Nets at Wizards on YES at 8 (just kidding).

Later today, I’m posting my AFC/NFC Wild Card weekend Previews

For your viewing pleasure…

Enjoy everyone!

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Jets post game reacts vs. the Steelers

Did one for the Giants, and now here it is for the Jets.

The Jets (1-1) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Heinz Field Sunday.  Here is the boxscore.

STORYLINES:

1. The Jets started off the game hot, but then, what had happened was…  We don’t know.  The first drive of the game seemed like it was a continuation of last week where the Jets ran off to a 21-0 start before Buffalo could tighten the laces on their shoes, and yet on Sunday, the Jets failed to gain any momentum after their first two drives that resulted in 10 points.  Why?  Having two completions to a WR after the first quarter sure won’t help, the first coming at the :22 second mark of the 4th quarter with the game over with.  Some poorly thrown passes by Mark Sanchez to relatively open players won’t help either.  The fact is, after the first two drives the Jets stalled and Sanchez was afraid to throw down the field when he had opportunities to do so.

The Jets were playing this game without Darrelle Revis but the Steelers were playing with Troy Polamalu.  Both teams were without significant players to their defense and yet it seemed like the Steelers, with each passing second, gained more and more momentum and strength.  The Jets, particularly Sanchez seemed confused by the varying blitz packages that Steelers’ legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau threw at him.

There were times when the offense just didn’t seem to have a flow.  They ran the ball effectively and yet couldn’t take advantage of it with the play action pass which is where Sanchez is most effective.  Sanchez’ footwork is something I’ve always lauded.  He has excellent balance and has an ability to sell the fake very well and incorporating more trick plays into the game plan could help take advantage of one of his strengths.  I’m not saying that the Jets should turn into a gimmicky offense but, let’s be real, didn’t they do that by bringing in Tim Tebow?

2. They have Roethlisberger for a sack….no they don’t.  Sanchez’ opposite, Ben Roethlisberger, does a few things VERY well.  Two things in particular were on display on Sunday.  His ability to elude defenders is by now a staple in every team’s scouting report.  And yet, teams can’t help but try and tackle him like a normal QB who doesn’t possess the ability to slide away from danger or the kind of awareness that Ben has.  This has helped mask terrible offensive lines throughout the last 6 years that he has had to play behind.  He’s able to extend plays and any defense that has to cover receivers for an extended period of time become vulnerable and it allows the Steelers to pick up so many first downs.

Many would regard those plays broken plays but at this point, you have to consider re-naming that in Roethlisberger’s case because he becomes more comfortable when the pocket breaks down.  He always manages to shift his body around so defenders can’t get their arms around his body.  Its not that he has world class speed like Vick or even his elusiveness, its that he’s so big and weirdly configured that defenders end up wailing at his hips and no one is going to grab hold of him there to bring him down.  This affords Steeler receivers to not just break from their route, but sit in areas of the zone that is not being covered.  Mike Francesa said this Monday and I want to echo it, most people figure that the Steelers are a run first team, but they transitioned from that almost 4 years ago when Bruce Arians became the offensive coordinator and are now an excellent passing team.  It was only this year when they drafted two linemen early in the draft that they addressed the weakness of their offensive line.  They scored huge with Maurkice Pouncey but otherwise its a patchwork line that will be an area of concern moving forward.  The team relies on Ben’s ability to avoid pressure because he sees so much thanks to the line, and Ben routinely makes plays when in that kind of danger.  Its as if he loves the pressure and  his teammates never get frazzled when the play breaks down because at this point its becoming second nature to deal with it.

His other great trait is his ability to make it 3rd and manageable.  So many QB’s forget that and lose sight of game situations and managing the game.  Big Ben is NOT one of them.  When he has 2nd and 10 he goes to his check down which create 3rd and short.  Execution is simple when you’re asking your receiver to go up the field five yards and turn and get a pass.  Its also very tough to defend without being called for a penalty.  Here’s also why its important to Pittsburgh’s offense and any offense: when you have speedy recievers like Pittsburgh you could be vulnerable to the double move and no one recovers from that.

By putting the team in a manageable 3rd down situation, they can go with a short pass or a run play.  They sometimes go deep in that situation too thanks to the speed on the outside of their receivers.  But Ben gets them to those positions thanks to his shiftyness and his ability to manage the situation.  When you can get in a 3rd and short in any decent offense you will convert more often than not, and Ben is right to play the percentages and get his team in that position.  On Sunday he did that time and time again.

3. What exactly IS the Jets passing game?  The story coming out of preseason was that the Jet offense couldn’t score points.  Then they dropped 48 on the Bills and the team got a good laugh at the expense of all the critics that had given them a hard time.  But against a top flight defensive unit (and that’s more on reputation nowadays), the Jets were abysmal.  We can talk about Mark Sanchez’ numbers for the game but the fact is, his receivers weren’t doing him any favors.  After the first drive where he went 4/5 for 80 yards, Sanchez went 6 for 22.  That’s like the QB-who-shall-not-be-mentioned was playing.

Two plays crystallize what went wrong.  On the very next drive, during the 2nd quarter,  with 13:04 left on a 1st and 10- Stephen Hill was one on one vs. Ryan Clark.  Sanchez threw a good ball but Ryan Clark got his hand on Hill’s hand and Hill couldn’t open his hands to get the throw.  Yes, that technically isn’t Hill’s fault but its a case of anything that can go wrong, will.

Three running plays later, Sanchez rolls to this left, play actions, and then turns and runs to his right and tries to throw off balance to Santonio Holmes who is open in the end zone.  Naturally he throws it above his head.  Sanchez had enough time to stop, set his feet and make a confident throw into the end zone but he never did that probably figuring that he would not have that kind of time to make that throw.  Again, I love Sanchez’ foot work when he rolls out and his fake, they are above average, but basics like throwing on the run and knowing that to begin with, he isn’t the most accurate of quarterbacks increases the degree of difficulty on that play for no reason.  Stop and gain balance and throw OR, tuck it and run for another first down.  Just like Ben doesn’t try to make crazy plays, Sanchez has to learn that skill.  Its a very difficult talent to grasp and Sanchez is still finding it difficult to do so.

What the Jets need to do is get them running slant patters and quick out patterns.  When Ben Roethlisberger came out of college he wasn’t given this huge playbook to learn, and make reads from a complex offense.  He was put in positions to succeed and he was coached up well.  You can blame coaching but its also putting your players in a position to succeed and the Jets did Sanchez no favors by completely reversing the course of this team by going from ground and pound to the air show.  They seemingly have come back to a combination of both creating this weird hybrid that scored 1 TD this entire preseason and then scored a whole bunch in the first regular season.  In week 2, they looked like they were building momentum but the Jet offense went to sleep and made some critical errors.  Both self inflicted and those out of their control.  Those things happen but it happens to the Jets alot which would lead me to believe that maybe they aren’t good.

4. What offensive player needs to step up? Can Step up? In my preview I put Jeremy Kerley as the guy to watch for the Jets this year and I stand by that selection for two reasons.  One, I think he can be another security blanket for Mark Sanchez, just like Dustin Keller is.  He is the guy I’m looking at to do that for the Jets and I think he can this team’s Wes Welker.

The player that stuck out in that game was Bilal Powell who many had expected to separate himself.  The worst kept secret is that they want ANYONE to step up in that second RB slot other than Joe McKnight who has been a colossal disappointment.  McKnight was supposed to be the  change of pace back but he hasn’t performed the way that the Jets would like and so they would love Powell to step up in his stead.  Powell will be important.  Austin Howard is the final player that needs to step up.  His play in week 1 was great, limiting Mario Williams to “where the heck is he playing?” status.  But going against Lamar Woodley and co is a whole other challenge that he should not feel he flunked.  He did well at times and others he looked like a guy who only had one career start.  Howard is still a better option than Wayne Hunter was so there’s nothing to be dismissive over his performance on Sunday.  He will need a few more games to get his feet set in the right places but there’s enough tape there now to see that he will be fine which for the Jets is a huge relief.  If he stays healthy, Austin Howard will be effective as the season wears on and he gets more reps.

4. Missed Opportunities- Forget all the missed tackles on Roethlisberger, the missed opportunities on defense that they had were also huge.  Here’s a sequence that took place during the 3rd quarter:

3Q, 9:45

1st and 10- Roethlisberger tries to throw it to Jerricho Cotchery and David Harris turns and bats his pass, ALMOST intercepting it.  A second later with that throw, and it would’ve been picked off.

9:40

2nd and 10- The Jets tackle Jonathan Dwyer for a 6 yard loss thanks to Muhammad Wilkerson’s ability to get a great push against Max Starks.

8:53

3rd and 16,

Roethlisberger slips away from a would be sacker.  Steps into a heave and Mike Wallace stops on a dime and frees himself from Antonio Cromartie and catches the ball while putting both feet inbounds to complete the catch.

Two plays and the Jets seem to get great momentum and the very next they get beat for a touchdown.  It shows Roethlisberger’s strength and what makes him special and why the Jets can’t afford to take a single play off.  But plays like the David Harris ALMOST interception are plays that you HAVE to make against Ben because you will pay.

 

NOTES:

– The Jets schedule reads as such, @Miami vs the Dolphins and then home for the 49ers and Texans.  I know after week 5 is when you want to make conclusions about a team but it will be extra true for the Jets as they face, arguably, two of the best teams in the NFL .  The Niners and Texans coming to Metlife will help but let’s be realistic.  Heading into week 6 vs the Colts the Jets should probably be 2-3.  So is Sunday’s game a must win for the Jets?  Yes.  The Jets must win.  Starting the season 1-4 will be tough if the Jets have any aspirations to make the playoffs.

– Shonn Greene is one of my favorite runners because he reminds me of how Brandon Jacobs used to run when the Giants were a great running team.  Tough, physical and never afraid of contact.  But he has two or three runs in which he goes head first into a defensive player and winds up missing three or four plays in succession and make you wonder if that style of running won’t affect him in the long run.  Perhaps those are the conversations the Giants had with Jacobs that eventually made him soft at the line and had him start to dance and tippy toe around the line of scrimmage, but the Jets have to hope that he can keep his health and be smarter about how he finishes runs off.  There’s no problem with going down if you know you will get hit.  Trying to run through everything won’t work and Greene needs to be taught that if he wants any longevity in the NFL.

– Safety seems to be an area of concern for the Jets.  Last year, the Giants used Antrell Rolle as a nickel corner and Deon Grant as a linebacker to pick up the tight end closer to the line of scrimmage, and it seems like the Jets are employing that strategy with Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell who often times play in the line of scrimmage.  Bell is their best deep cover safety and that isn’t exactly a good thing for the Jets because last year Brodney Poole did a poor job for them and they still haven’t found a guy yet that gives them that back end support.  Perhaps Antonio Allen is that guy but the Jets had better hope he comes of age very quickly because the Patriots loom and there are plenty of big play threats coming up on their schedule.  Remember, they still have the Patriots twice.

– I know this is almost a “duhhh” statement but without Darelle Revis, the best defensive player in the NFL in my opinion, they were vulnerable in the passing game and it showed.  After the first quarter, the Steelers realized that Landry couldn’t cover anybody and he was in there more so to hit guys after the catch because it wasn’t like he could pass defend.  The Jets shouldn’t need Revis on Sunday to beat the Dolphins but it bears watching if they bring Revis back for this game because it will tell you how important the Jets view Sunday’s game at the Dolphins is.  Remember, the Jets destroyed Buffalo and they HAVE to win all the games that they are favored in because they face some difficult tests this season because it looks like the NFC West, at least in the early going, is a much improved division and no cake walk and if the Jets don’t get their offensive issues figured out, that schedule that many thought would help the Jets get to the playoffs may not be as easy as we all once thought.

GAME BALL

Goes to Ben Roethlisberger who continues to play effectively despite a terrible offensive line.  The Steelers were excellent defensively without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, and the offense keeps doing its thing whether it be running or having those excellent group of receivers.

 

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Daily Rounds 12/12/2011

First off let me apologize for yesterday’s second part not being put up.  Unfortunately technology let me down and erased my entire 2200 word post as I was finishing it up.   Not too proud of that but hey, in this business you move on to the next one and here we are.  More NBA.  More player movement.  More on the Ryan Braun positive test front.  But first we begin with football and boy is there a lot to talk about.

In a must win game that was essentially for the season and keeping their playoff hopes alive.  The Giants were down 34-22 with 5:41 left in the game.  The Giants scored two touchdowns and a two point conversion to go ahead 37-34 with :46 left.  Romo helped drive the Cowboys the length of the field setting up Dan Bailey for a game tying field goal.  He had hit two from 40+ deep already in the game.  He kicked it, and it went through….only, Tom Coughlin called the timeout prior to the kick and so the Boys had to kick it again.  Wouldn’t you know it, Jason Pierre Paul gets his long arms on the ball on the second kick and the Giants end up winning the game 37-34.  Mike Vacarro says JPP deserves a lot of the credit for this win.  Tom Rock of Newsday says its no wonder Brandon Jacobs had his best game of the season against the Cowboys: he hates them.  Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star Telegram found out that not even Tony Romo’s 4 TD 0 INT game could save the Cowboys from its porous defense.  

Forget arm chair analysis.  Forget Monday Morning QB.  The Cowboys AND the Giants defense were clueless and giving up yards in bunches.  Eli Manning threw for 400 yards.  Romo threw for 321.  Eli threw for 2 TD’s and 1 INT, and Romo threw 4 TD’s and 0 Int. The Giants rushing game had 110 yards, and the Cowboys had 139.  The Boys gave up 510 yards and the Giants gave up 444 yards.  This was not for defensive purists.  Two times you saw the Giants and Cowboys with defensive lapses leaving receivers wide, wide, wiiiiide open.  But when both defenses needed plays only ONE guy from either side stood out and he wore Giants blue Sunday.

Jason Pierre Paul was a man amongst boys yesterday in so many ways.  Let’s count how many game changing plays he had ok?  He had a safety on Tony Romo.  He had two sacks that forced the Cowboys to punt on both occasions.  Six tackles including a critical stop on second down on Felix Jones which forced the Cowboys into a critical third down.  His pressure on that next play made Romo throw a hurried pass that JUST, and I mean JUST miss Miles Austin.  When I tell you that the game is over if Austin catches that pass, I mean it, he was led perfectly, he had four yards on Aaron Ross and if he catches it, he’s gone.  Touchdown.  Game.  Season.

But the pass dropped two yards in front of Austin’s outstretched arm because of Romo being hurried.  Because of JPP’s pressure.  Then on the game tying field goal, after icing the kicker, JPP comes right through the middle and blocks the FG attempt.  What an amazing play.  What an amazing game.  What an amazing player.

On the same field with Justin Tuck, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, the best player on the field was a young second year player who JUST started playing the game five years ago.  Not professionally, I mean started playing the game of football.  He’s doing this all from pure physical talent.  Once he learns scheme and the little tricks that all the greats know, this kid is going to be among the best in all of football, earning annual trips to Hawaii.  If he didn’t earn it with yesterdays game alone, I dont know what you have to do, to get it.

Most of the narrative this morning will be on Eli’s come from behind heroics as it should be.  The Giants have had little to no running game.  The Giants defense has given up points in bunches.  The stress on Eli to make plays and correct decisions has gone way up this year and he’s responded with the kind of game that you didn’t expect as a Giant fan.  Why?  Because you’ve seen the throws like the one that got intercepted by Sean Lee, the ones that leave you scratching your head and wondering WHAT Eli saw.  Some of the playcalling was questionable as well.  How many times did they run that draw play to little to NO success?  But Eli made some terrific throws including on a 3rd and1 in the fourth quarter, he lofts a pass off his back foot (traditionally a troublesome thing for ANY Giant fan and had me screaming NO ELI NOOOO) which make its way to Victor Cruz who somehow, someway knows where to be when Manning needs him to be there.  I love the trust that he has in his receivers.  He’s been working Cruz into the game plan.  He goes to Manningham, and trusts him even after what could’ve been a critical drop.  Anyone miss Kevin Boss?  No, because Eli has built up Jake Ballard in much the same way.  Then there’s Hakeem Nicks who the Giants know is an elite receiver.  Eli picks and chooses when he goes to Nicks and you can see if he’s got one on one matchups with Nicks the ball is going to be up there and will find his way to him.  There’s a built in trust there and that’s what elite quarterbacks do.  No need to get into that conversation right?  I mean we can put that one to bed can’t we?  Ok good.

Now comes the bad.  Aaron Ross is a liability on the secondary.  Romo knew exactly WHO to pick on when it came to crunch time.  Prince Amukamara is still a liability.  He has the speed to keep up with fast receivers but he doesn’t have the scheme down yet.  Antrell Rolle and Deon Grant are both better when they are in the box making plays.  The Giants were missing Kenny Phillips who by definition is their best coverage safety.  But he’s their ONLY coverage guy in that group and he’s lost a lot of his elite speed thanks to a chronic Knee arthritis which will always have him lacking that speed.  The Giants front line need to do a better job on the run.  The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones, who historically has played the Giants VERY WELL, ran the ball up and down the field on them with nothing stopping him.  The Giants were not playing the run well at all much of the game and that’s a weak area.  They are so focused on rushing the passer that they open up lanes for runners and that’s problematic for this team.  They aren’t disciplined in their gaps and constantly leave gaping holes.  Let’s not congratulate the running game yet.  We’ve yet to see Brandon Jacobs run with that kind of purpose, though to the offensive line’s credit, a much maligned group, they opened up HUGE holes and Jacobs obliged to run through those lanes, but it was no surprise it was against the Cowboys, whom he HATES.  If you need any evidence you can just watch that video of his celebration.

It was funny watching that game because the Cowboys and Giants have so many similar issues its like looking in the mirror.  Its no wonder that both have the same record and have the same question marks moving forward.  Victory masks alot of the bad as Trent Dilfer said in the post game and that’s true.  Romo converts that third down with 2:12 remaining in the game and its all over.  JPP doesn’t make the block then we’re headed to overtime and who knows what happens there?  Either way, the Giants AND Cowboys have much to improve upon if they have any dreams of making a run in the playoffs.

Knowing they have to win out, the Jets can rest a little bit easier this morning as they got some help and now control their own fate.  The Jets bludgeoned the Chiefs 37-10 yesterday in what was their most convincing win of the season, next to that Jags game in week 2.  Mark Cannizaro of the Post says that Rex’s message was loud and clear.  Manish Mehta though reported after the game that Jim Leonhard was lost for the season with a knee injury marking the second consecutive season in which the very important member of their defensive secondary goes down.  

The Jets were comfortably out in front by the fourth quarter and yet for some reason Mark Sanchez was still in the game.  These are the moments where Rex scares me.  You have to know to TAKE HIM OUT.   The Jets also, opened the game by having the wrong personnel grouping and had to call a very embarassing timeout, six seconds into the game.  Something I had never seen before.

Those were the TWO negative things I took from that game.  The Jets played unbelivably.  The Chiefs had 4 yards in the first half.  Total.  Yep, you read it right.  The crazyness of that statement can’t be overstated.  The Jets defense was confident they would have their way with the Chiefs and they played that way and were able to win the game in the first half scoring 28 points, the first time they’ve done that in about 5 years.

The best part of this game?  Shonn Greene rushed for 129yards.  The Jets are undefeated when he goes over 100 yards which tells you that when Greene is going, the Jets are rolling.  He looks stronger and healthier than I’ve seen him all season and he seems to be getting better as the season wears on which bodes well for the Jets.  They are going to rely heavily on that running game much like they did for the last two post seasons and will depend on Greene to get those hard fought yards.  In the playoffs the Jets face rush defenses of the Steelers and Ravens who don’t give you yards, they give up inches.  Those are the times when the offensive line has to man up and right now they are manning up for the Jets.  Wayne Hunter had his best game of the season in my opinion.  Looks like Mangold is fully healthy and the Jets seem to be getting more conservative in their playcalling and working their offense through the running game.  Everybody knows about their passing weapons, once the running game gets rolling, those receivers will look MUCH more open.

Yes, Tim Tebow did it again.  Down 10 with more than 6 minutes left in the game, he drove them  the length of the field and got a touchdown.  Then a huge running gaffe by Marion Barber to get out of bounds which conserved time for the Broncos set Tebow up and Matt Prater made a 59 yard field goal.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post says that God’s plan continues.  The magic of Tim Tebow continues to grow, and its in Denver’s locker room where they believe they can’t lose says Mark Kiszla.  Want debate?  Here’s Frank Bruni of the New York Times wondering if God can win games and Chuck Klosterman of Grantland.com takes a look at the people who hate Tim Tebow.  

We’d like to believe that sports statistics can tell you a reason for everything.  Every stat purist, which is the in thing now in sports, and new stat purist believes that the numbers don’t lie. In fact ESPN has a show everyday with that moniker and in 99 out of 100 cases that’s true.  Meet the 1 case in which it isn’t.

Tim Tebow is THE most polarizing athlete of our generation.  Why?  Because he challenges our perception of everything we know to be true.  A QB with his mechanics CAN NOT succeed.  That’s what we’ve been told as ardent football fans.  3-16 through three quarters?  Overthrowing receivers by five yards?  Running a college style offense because your coach doesn’t really believe in you?  The critics of Tebow are many and they are all based on reason.

We can’t find a reason to believe he’s going to be successful.  But how to explain those fourth quarters?  You can’t.  You can’t explain why Marion Barber steps out of bounds.  You can’t put into numbers how you absolutely knew heading into overtime that Chicago had absolutely NO CHANCE of winning that game.  You can’t put into words why you felt confident in Matt Prater hitting that 59 yard field goal.  You can’t tell people why you knew that Barber was going to fumble that ball when they were in field goal territory already.  If you saw that play, if Barber breaks free that tackle which he was close to doing, he’s going to the house.  Done.

But the Broncos believe in Tebow.  The world believes in Tim Tebow.  Somehow receivers get open in the flat and get to go out of bounds.  The Red Sea opens up and pushes these players to play harder than they ever have.  That catch by DeMayrius Thomas was unbelievable.  There are no numbers that do this man justice.  There’s only the result on the field.  7-1 record.  Six straight victories.  Another fourth quarter comeback.  Look at John Elway.  During the first five weeks of this he was firmly against the Tebow momentum that was building.  These last three he’s been firmly aboard.  He’s hi-fiving and smiling and wondering exactly what he did to deserve this fate.  You can’t explain to anyone exactly what is going on with Tim Tebow, but what you can do is say you’re having a great time doing it.

Will Carroll of SI.com and author of the book “Juiced” explains in wonderful detail why the Ryan Braun positive dope testing must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Sunday, when everyone found out the usual statement came out from the Braun/Brewer camp: be careful to judge.  As Will explains, the positive sampling could’ve just been a trigger as part of  the B testing.  We must know if the A testing had a positive test to make the report even true.  As he explains an “A” test positive would trigger further, deeper look at “B” testing which would then be unequivocal.  There were reports coming out that Braun’s tests were OFF THE CHARTS positive which would be damning to him.  Alarming for the reigning MVP.  Braun’s reputation is basically smoked if the aggressive appeal that his camp is preparing doesn’t go through.

But in the court of public opinion, its over.  They have decided.  Braun is guilty.  And no matter what comes out next, even a sliver of doubt will hover over his career.  Its sad that a mistake could’ve cost him this.  Putting supplements that even he had no idea what was inside of them, into his body was a bad idea and may have cost him his reputation.  Its sad, but unfortunately in today’s day and age, an initial positive is a HUGE permanent negative.

On the heels of this morning’s news that the Clippers have submitted a multiplayer deal to the league with the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN writes that fate is changing in Clipper land but it all depends on what the Clips can stomach in a deal and if Paul will opt in on an extension for one more season.  The Lakers meanwhile completed their deal to send Lamar Odom to the Mavs, but the compensation was interesting and something that made Kobe VERY unhappy according to Mike Breshnahan of the LA Times.    Kevin Ding is still wondering why they traded Lamar Odom, oh wait that’s right, its the money.  Meanwhile in Orlando, Dwight Howard appears to be pulling a power move and he isnt happy that his suggestions weren’t heard according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

I’ve held on to the belief that the Clippers HAD to make a move.  For either Dwight OR CP3.  For the sake of keeping Blake long term they had to prove they were serious.  They are.  Oh boy they are.  This deal that includes PG Eric Bledsoe, former All Star Center Chris Kaman, Al Farooq Aminu, and most importantly the unprotected first round pick of the Minny-Ha-Ha Timberwolves as Peter Vecsey lovingly calls them is a deal that NEEDS to be made.  Of course the caveat and catch here is that CP3 opts into his final year.  That’s the deal breaker and we’ll see how badly CP3 wants to leave and how much he’s in love with Southern California and the obviously talented young nucleus of the Clippers who on promise alone offer more than the Lakers ever did.  The Lakers offer a legacy, star power and tradition.  The Clippers meanwhile have a history of being morbid and terrible.  A history that this team can change and that has to be alluring for any competitive person.  Unless you’re Lebron James and you just decide to bolt your hometown who’s been sick for ANY kind of title since the Paul Brown days.  But I digress.

The Dwight Howard situation seems teneable.  He wants to go to New Jersey.  Go figure.  But the Lakers pulled a move to get a first round pick and a trade exception which would allow them to swallow a contract of say a Hedo Turkoglou.  Now its on Otis Smith’s lap.  The offer of Brook Lopez and two first rounders or Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and a first round pick for Dwight and Hedo’s bad contract.  I dont know that the Lakers automatically send both but its possible now that Gasol and Bynum know they are expendable in the Laker’s eyes.  IF the Lakers don’t do this trade and wind up with them on the court, trust me when I say this will come back to bite them in the ass.

Phil Jackson famously punched Gasol in the chest, openly questioning his heart without ever uttering a word.  Now Gasol is going to have to man up and realize that this is JUST a business.  An interesting option that was opened up by the Chicago Tribune yesterday is the chance that the Bulls tell the Magic to pick any grouping of players not named Derrick Rose.  Would Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a first round pick be enticing enough?  Would they have to include Omer Asik?  Probably.  But if you’re the Bulls, don’t you do that trade?  There are rumblings that Dwight wouldn’t resign there so there is that problem.  Without any assurance of that happening how can the Bulls ever truly think they could keep him.

Also the problem with Howard’s request to move to Brooklyn via New Jersey, is that Deron Williams has openly stated he plans on opting out and testing free agency.  Suitors like his hometown Mavs will have cap space now to pursue him and that would be a very enticing option for Deron.  Why would Dwight go to New Jersey knowing that there’s a chance that they don’t resign Deron?  Which means that Dwight will be a free agent at the end of the year.

My prediction?  Dwight doesn’t get traded.  Lakers DO trade Pau Gasol for picks, young players and cap relief and try to win with Kobe and Bynum (no chance of that happening) and then reload next summer.  Dwight would love to come to LA as most predict but who knows what can happen.  What I do know is that the Clippers NEED to do something to combat their current legacy which stands as a major roadblock against them.

Its wait and see time.

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Jets post game reax loss to Denver

What can you say about this guy Tebow that hasn’t been said?  I’ll let the national script play itself out.  95 yards with over 5 minutes left against a Jets defense that had pretty much shut them down.  But the fact remains, that he wins and say what you will about his mechanics and how the option offense won’t work at the NFL level, but he’s a winner.  I dont want to hear anything but his 4-1 record.  Tim Tebow is singlehandedly changing the conversation from his being unable to make an NFL throw (which hasn’t changed: he can’t do it on a regular basis) and being unable to be a viable starting QB option in the NFL to making plays and being a football player.

So this morning before you ask who’s to blame and what’s wrong with the Jets, maybe the question you should be asking is: IS THIS the real Jets team?

– Those who’ve watched the Jets this season can admit this now after watching the Denver game: Mark Sanchez has regressed.  We’re not saying he’s a Tebow now, Sanchez was given the chance to  sling the rock 40 times which was twice the amount of times that Tebow threw it, but Sanchez isn’t making simple reads and throwing it four and five yards short.  I wrote this in the last postgame reax column about the Pats loss: Sanchez was NOT making the simple throws you expect QBs in this league to make.  This is his third year in this system under Brian Schottenheimer.  This is not something new and he’s not green anymore (he is literally, not figuratively), the playbook can and SHOULD at this point be opened up to him and yet Sanchez is proving week after week that he’s not ready for that responsibility.

The Jets this year forced the issue with Sanchez’ progression.  The theory was, give him another deep threat.  Put more passing attempts in the game plan and let’s watch and see.  He’s going to have career highs in passing attempts, completions, touchdowns and INT’s this year.  Well, it would go without saying that he would do these things when he’s attempting more passes but there is evidence of small incremental progress there.  But with the Jets in win now mode its difficult to really see that.  Again, here were the throws that I saw where an average NFL QB can make and Sanchez just couldn’t.

10:56 3rd quarter Bad throw on 2nd and goal, play set up beautifully but he just throws it way too high for Keller to make a catch on it.
2nd and 6 on 4:33 3rd quarter- Underthrows Plaxico Burress by five yards.
3rd and 6- Behind the receiver- TD Denver
3rd and 6 4th quarter 9:19- Doesn’t step into throw.  Rushes throw, and throws in front of Santonio Holmes by 3-4 yards preventing the Jets from getting a first down.  If Sanchez had thrown it into the middle of the field instead, where there was NOBODY, Holmes walks in for a touchdown.

– These plays are costing his team a game but again, the major difference is that Tim Tebow’s limitations are not preventing Denver from being creative.  They are finding ways to win despite Tim Tebow’s lack of making a throw.  Look, as many examples as there are for Sanchez’ ineptitude as a QB, there are plenty more of Tebow and up until that final drive EVERY TIME he went three and out in that game he was being showered with boos.  Tebow is the most polarizing figure in sports.  He does not apologize for who he is spiritually and as a person, which I find ridiculous that he has to make excuses for his overt Christianity, but he makes no excuses when he plays poorly but the guy makes plays.  At the end of the game, he knew he had to take over.  The Jets had forced Denver into 8 three and outs out of their twelve drives.  EIGHT THREE AND OUTS.  Thats not a winning formula.  So how does a team with an inept QB win a game like this?

Special teams: Out of their 12 drives, the Broncos started on the Jets side of the field 5 times.
Defense:  That pick six, on a horrendous throw by Sanchez helped alot.  But look at the Jets offense, minus Shonn Greene for pretty much the entire game and playing without LDT to begin with, only rushed for 83 while the Broncos ran for 125.  A stout defense and good special teams can ALWAYS help.

– Instead of the usual breakdown of one series of either the Jets or Giants, I wanted to get into the final drive by Tebow and look at all the tackles and missed opportunities the Jets had to clinch this game

“the only way you get beat right now is if something crazy happens.  Your defense is playing so well”- Famous last words from Mike Mayock as the Jets were punting to the Broncos

1st-10, DEN4 5:54 T. Tebow passed to E. Royal to the right for 8 yard gain- Jim Leonhard ends this game right here.  This is a safety.  Tebow makes a boneheaded play to throw a pass across the  line of scrimmage and Eddie Royal misses a tackle by Jim Leonhard and Mike Mayock says it right: “That was scary.”  –1
2nd-2, DEN13 5:25 T. Tebow rushed to the right for 15 yard gain- Tebow running the option and breaks 3 tackles and nearly escapes another, so the Jets have now missed three more.  -3
1st-10, DEN28 4:43 T. Tebow passed to D. Thomas to the left for 9 yard gain Shotgun, rolls to his left and hits his guy on an out.
2nd-1, DEN37 4:36 T. Tebow incomplete pass to the left- Empty backfield, shotgun and Tebow throws a wobbly backshoulder throw that goes 5 yards short.
3rd-1, DEN37 4:32 T. Tebow rushed to the right for 7 yard gain Tebow in shotgun takes it himself and escapes two would be tacklers but gets taken down but not before he gets the first down. 
1st-10, DEN44 3:53 T. Tebow rushed to the right for 9 yard gain Runs right by Darrelle Revis, who as Deion Sanders said so perfectly made a business decision and basically oley’d the tackle and let him go by him and then Tebow runs over another Jet defender. -1
2nd-1, NYJ47 3:45 T. Tebow rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain Empty backfield goes right up the gut himself and breaks two more tackles. -2
1st-10, NYJ44 3:02 T. Tebow incomplete pass to the left Throws it on the ground.  Tebow in the pocket and can’t seem to get a good rhythm going when he’s there.  
2nd-10, NYJ44 2:57 T. Tebow passed to D. Rosario to the left for 18 yard gain While being hit the ball comes out wobbly but hits his receiver for another huge gain.  
1st-10, NYJ26 2:31 L. Ball rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain – keeping the defense honest.  That’s all.  They are in field goal range. THEY SHOULD BE GOING VANILLA trying to get a few more yards and make it a makeable field goal.  Remember the Broncos are ONLY down 3 they don’t have to go for the TD.  
2nd-7, NYJ23 2:00 T. Tebow rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain Fakes the throw to his right and keeps it and runs into the heart of the D.
3rd-4, NYJ20 0:58 T. Tebow rushed to the left for 20 yard touchdown. Here’s where things really come unglued in Denver.  Don’t believe me?  There’s a knucklehead who comes on to the field to try and get cured of leprosy by touching Tebow’s jersey.  EVEN if the Broncos don’t get the TD, they have a very makeable FG here and the game is at the very least going into OT.  But what happens?  Jets do an all out blitz for the first time ALL GAME.  They had not called a single blitz all game, had stayed disciplined in their gaps and Tebow makes one guy miss who’s nibbling at his knees.  Eric Smith comes up WAYYY too hard and leaves the outside wide open for Tebow to go around to get the first down at the first least and then some as Tebow navigates himself through the melee going on and finds the end zone.  -1 
M. Prater made PAT

A defense can not constantly be asked to pitch shutouts against really good football players because at some point that really good football player WILL make a play.  The Broncos game plan was this: keep the score close.  Wait for Tebow to make a play.  They did their part, and Tebow did his.  That final defensive call was totally moronic.  Don’t over commit.  Why break discipline?  That falls on Rex.  The offensive game calling falls on Schottenheimer.  The playmaking falls on the players.  The Special teams miscues which continued falls on Westhoff.  This was a complete utter breakdown of the highest order and this final drive, the Jets defense finally broke and Tebow broke them.  TEBOW broke them.  They had nothing left and were incapable of making a play at that point in the game.  It was so plain to see.  As a matter of fact, it was painful to see if you were a Jet fan.

– So what do we make of this loss?  Well, let’s break this down.  The skinny?  The Jets have no choice BUT to win out.  They have to win all six of their remaining games to even begin thinking about the playoffs.  The Jets now don’t have the tie breaker within the AFC against the Raiders, Ravens, and Broncos, three teams that will most likely be with a similar record as the Jets.  The Jets have to win out and now hope some of those guys lose all their games.  Basically the Jets have put themselves in a position that is untenable.  IF the Jets want to win they MUST go back to ground and pound.  The Broncos put the ball in Tebow’s hands and don’t ask him to do anything outside of his comfort zone.  Why would the Jets expect Sanchez to?  Or maybe it would be better if the Jets lost the next two games and let Sanchez just sling the ball and get more and more comfortable being a pocket passer and get more comfortable with the recievers in real game situations.  He’s not yet in that place where the Jets can trust him in those spots.

The quick foolhardy explanation will be that the Jets defense choked.  That the offense sucks.  I’m not saying either of those explanations aren’t good, I’m just saying that the Jets need to re-evaluate what they are doing on offense.  Brian Schottenheimer has NEVER been one of my favorite Jets.  In fact, I’ve thought that his up and down play calling ability has limited Sanchez in a great way but Schotty needs to put him in those quick step slant screen options where he makes a very quick read.  When Sanchez is out there shuffling his feet, pointing at some receiver and throwing on the run, he’s in trouble.  Sanchez doesn’t know when to loft the ball or throw it soft or when to drill it in.  Its one speed with his throws and it goes back to basic quarterbacking.  Remember last week’s dumbest play in the history of football?  Those are the kind of plays that get you benched but he gets more burn virtue of being a number 5 selection in the draft.

But that slack will only go a long way.  The rest of the season in my opinion, will be Sanchez fighting for his job.  The Jets are in a win now mode and for a majority of that game, the Jets defense was more than stifling, it was Super Bowl calibre and when it came time for the final drive Tebow was in a familiar position: his team needed him to make a play and more times than not, Tebow will make that play.  I won’t say the defense choked in that spot, I’d rather more of the onus on the offense and its inability to keep the Jets defense from being in that position on the road.  Tebow was a one man wrecking crew but it was because the defense had done such a stellar job all game that it was difficult for them to continue to do so when it was clearly Tebow time.

For the Jets to make the playoffs I think they have to go 60/40 run/pass.  They have to put Sanchez into easier reads as an offense.  They need to dumb down the offense.  If you see them continue to sling it, Sanchez had better make the throws and the plays to win the Jets some games.  If not, you can bet Mike Tannenbaum will be on the phone with the Colts come draft time giving up his draft picks for the right to either select Luck or trade for Peyton Manning

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Jets/Patriots post game reax

Why I’m not waving the white flag on the season or deep in worry and the encouraging signs I saw from the Jets 3rd straight loss and their first divisional game against their hated rivals Patriots.

But first, a word from the hater:

– Much has been made of the finger pointing coming from the receivers.  We all know that Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress are not the quiet types.  Let’s be honest, you can’t blame them if they told you that they were following the lead of their coach, Rex Ryan.  But Santonio Holmes did a huge no no.  Or was it Mark Sanchez?  Sanchez responding to Holmes’ critique about his play said this was an in house matter and something he and Holmes had discussed.  Well, that was news to Santonio because when he was asked a few moments later about the talk he and Sanchez had, he knew nothing about such a meeting.  They later denied and said that things were lost in translation but I think we all speak the language of discord and that’s exactly what is rearing its ugly head.  Sanchez is the leader of this group, as young as he is, and he has to know that if he tells the media something, they will do their due diligence to check with Santonio on his side.  The damage is done now with Santonio denying the meeting ever took place which speaks to the lack of communication going on.  Or it means that Santonio is an idiot and doesn’t know how to play along OR that he refused to play along.

I’ve never been a fan of Brian Schottenheimer.  I think he holds this team back.  I think in their playoff losses he’s played a direct role in them.  I said this during the Giants post game reaction piece and I’ll say it again.  All the offenses have a certain rhythm they play to.  The defense’s job is to disrupt that rhythm.  The really good offenses continue to play the game at the pace they want.  The Jets have a built in rhythm with their run game.  That’s their strength and I will get to the idea that they are changing the dynamic of their franchise with the way they’ve been throwing the football.  They need to rely on their strength which is the run game and play off of that.  But even with the notion that your strength is in your run game and that you have an above average offensive line,  he refuses to use it with authority.  I’m of the belief that you play the game to your strength to your pace.  You allow the other team to dictate pace and game speed you will lose. As in life, if you’re not true to yourself you will eventually lose.  The Recievers dropped 4 passes including one sure fire touchdown.  If you want to blame your Quarterback for not making the proper reads, that’s fine Santonio, just make sure you’re doing your job first.

–  Ben Jarvis Green Ellis had a huge game.  And when I say huge game I don’t mean just for the Patriots.  I mean for the sake of this rivalry and also for the sake of his job he had a breakout game.  Why? Steven Ridley is an emerging running back who rushed for over 100 yards in 10 carries last week and many within the organization see him as the eventual replacement.  Aside from Welker, the Patriots have never had a physically gifted superior athlete since Randy Moss.  The kind that can change the way defenses play you and many within the organization see Ridley, a 3rd round pick, as that guy necessitating his high draft selection.  Now, a guy like Ben Jarvis Green Ellis is a workhorse, powerback but also an undrafted running back.  Guys like that respond to the challenge of a person trying to get their job because nothing has been promised to them.  They live and die each week with their performance.  Add in the spice of the Patriots/Jets rivalry its easy to see why the guy was determined to have a monster game.  The Jets need be worried about another running back gashing them which has been a terrible trend.  Its becoming clear that teams are finding running lanes within this Jets D and finally finding ways to take advantage of their blitzing packages to find lanes.  To be fair, the Patriots packages make teams run out 6 and 7 defensive backs on every play so its not fair to say that the Jet D was completely outclassed but the Patriots run the ball in the past as more of a oh by the way.  This year they are more determined to run the ball with the changes on the offensive line and the Jets could NOT stop the running game when it mattered and for Jets it has to be a sad sight to behold.  The Patriots looked the part of the more physical team at the point of the attack.  That should be something to watch as the season progresses.

– I have to say that as much as people hate on the running game I give the running game some credit.  Shonn Greene has been awful, both from a fantasy and reality perspective but Sunday’s output for him was his best showing.  Why?  Because he was running down hill.  That’s his strength and the Jets need to drill it in Shonn Greene’s head that he is at his most useful when he does that.  The funny thing is, LaDanian Tomlinson has been the much better back through the season’s first five games but the Jets continue to run the pass heavy offense.  It will be interesting how they go carry wise and how they share in the running game but LDT seems like the fresher back.  But I loved the improvement by Shonn Greene.  He just seemed to run with more purpose instead of always hitting a brick wall like he looked for the first four games.  Hopefully this game will start a string of better starts for him.

– Speaking of which, the Jets reliance on the pass is not the end all of this team.  I believe the Jets, were screwed the most by the lack of an offseason.  They have been trying to be better at the pass for quite some time with the signing of Plaxico Burress thinking this would speed up the maturation of Mark Sanchez.  This is all about Mark Sanchez by the way folks.  They believe in their heart of hearts that if you surround a young QB with enough weapons his progression will multiply and it will take shorter for him to look the part.  In some ways its true.  Sanchez has looked the part of a good NFL QB in certain times.  He’s definitely looked the part in his four road wins which are the most for a player at this juncture of his career or any career for that matter.  But Sanchez still has many moments when he’s lost and he’s making the wrong read and being a third year player we’re not going to fault him.  But this was the year that QB’s take the leap.  If they are going to be good, or great, they show it in year three and so the Jets went out and shopped for some groceries.  They were confident in the run game they had so they left that alone thinking they didn’t need lineman or anyone else.  Of course when Damien Woody retired it took them by surprise.  It was another piece of the line disappearing from the Jets.  But the Jets still had D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold there.  Then there were the receiver additions.  I hated the move to cut Jerricho Cotchery for Derrick Mason but the Jets did that as a poke move against the Ravens.  But the Jets thought Plaxico Burress was going to revert back to his old self and immediately propel the Jets forward.  Now, this is five games in and things can change but there’s something Jet fans need to know about Plax before you continue.

Eli Manning got vilified by Plax for not being there for him when he was going through his prison sentence.  It would be understandable for a stand up guy to be upset had he himself been there at every turn for Eli, but that’s never been the case.  How the media turned it around on him and every black journalist ran to Plax’s defense was absurd and beyond me.  This was a man who selfishly shot himself in the foot and ultimately ruined the Giants season.  He was the most fined player in Giants history for simply not showing up to meetings on time.  And when he did, he was usually asleep.  In the 80’s Bill Parcells had a similar player in his locker room.  A player he excused and treated differently because he was made so that way.  His name was Lawrence Taylor.  Who’s going to tell me that Plaxico Burress is on the same level as LT?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  This was a man that the Giants, a team I believe is the most professional in all of football and one of the last family owned from the beginning teams in the NFL, treated like family and he went and lost his shot at that.  And now he’s the man we should feel sorry for?  He’s the man Eli should come visit in prison?  The same man who would constantly criticize Eli?  The man who’s one great postseason (and Giant fans know how great he was, and honestly I’ve never seen a receiver dominate a game of that magnitude like he did in that NFC Championship game in Green Bay) and seemingly reaching his potential as a football player was the guy we were supposed to defend and drop Eli Manning on the drop of a dime?

Now, Eli is an easy target.  He looks aloof and half the times he looks confused and we can argue whether that’s just the Southern Miss in him, but let’s rest that case because it isn’t about the Giants anymore with Plax.  His main duty is to help nurture Mark Sanchez.  Help to give him his confidence.  If I were a Jet fan, I’d be concerned.  Having Cotchery was a life saver and he was the longest tenured Jet among receivers.  He was the guy that should’ve had the job of helping Mark Sanchez out.  Instead, you have malcontent Derrick Mason.  You have a rookie receiver in Kerney.  You have Santonio Holmes with his brand new rich contract so you know he doesn’t care anymore, and you have Plaxico Burress.  I dont know if Plax has changed and frankly no one does.  But for the sake of Mark Sanchez I hope he has.

– I think the Jets passing so much in these first four games is by design.  Thanks to a limited offseason, they weren’t able to get all the kinks worked out and it will take time.  But if they got the running game moving in the right direction, I think the Jets become scarier.  As time goes on and barring injuries, the offensive line will get better thanks to the work of Bill Calahan who is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game.  So there isn’t worry setting in for me if i were a Jet fan.  Its more of hope.  How the Jets do in their next four games will be important.  I dont think now is the time to worry.  If you look at the Patriots and Bills, there are far more legitemate concerns on different sides of the ball.  The Bills have forced turnovers at a completely unreliable rate.  You can’t expect it to continue.  The Patriots meanwhile have an offensive line that has been playing sneakingly bad.  Look how often the Jets got into the Patriots face?  The Jets have a good pass rush because of their scheme but they were in the face of Tom Brady for much of the night.  Their defense is statistically one of the worst and Belichiek won’t be able to hide that deficiency for too long.  Albert Haynesworth has been a bust and Devin McCourty has regressed as a corner and they can’t guard anyone which puts the onus on the offense to put up points in bunches.  The Jets have a run game somewhere hidden.  I think they have been trying out their passing game to work out the kinks they weren’t able to do without a full preseason.  Look for the Jets to emerge in the next few weeks and put together some good games and for all the fretting and worrying to stop.

– Don’t pay attention to the final score and pregame hype.  Divisional games always carry a bigger sense of doom and added hype that teams feed into.  Its clear that both teams played harder because of who they were facing.  I still think the Patriots are on a downward trend unless Devin McCourty begins to improve and Albert Haynesworth does the same.  Losing Jerrod Mayo is going to suck huge for the Patriots.  He’s led them in tackles the last two years.  The Pats have no real pass rusher on the roster.  Eventually the Patriots will need production from Chad OchoCinco to offset all the attention that Wes Welker is going to receive.  The Jets meanwhile will need to begin fixing that run/pass ratio and start leaning heavier on the run as the weather gets tougher.  Give some more carries to LDT and allow Shonn Greene to run downhill and not do all the shimmying that he’s been prone to do for some reason.  Also, getting your receivers in line and relying heavier on Dustin Keller will be more appreciated.  By the way, that can only happen if Keller doesn’t drop catches.

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AFC Championship Reaction

First off, apologies to all the Jet fans torturing yourself reading this post game recap of the Jets loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

IF it makes you feel any better, Brian Schottenheimer is coming back as offensive coordinator according to Rex Ryan.

Oh, that didn’t make you happy?  You’re going to do WHAT with that knife to your arm?

Oye.  Yes, all the air of the Jets bandwagon tires have been sucked out and suddenly the party is very much dead but there are a few reasons to be optimistic and I’ll give you two:

Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan- they don’t appear to go anywhere.  I agree with Rex- you don’t get to two AFC Conference Championship games without being good.  In fact the last team to accomplish such a feat were the 2006 and 2007 New England Patriots.  The team that lost to the Manning brothers in the AFC Championship game in 06 and Super Bowl in 07.  Of course since then, they haven’t won a playoff game.  Ok so that news didn’t make you feel better either, but Mark Sanchez’ performance should make every single Jet fan proud that they have a 25 year old QB who ONLY has better days ahead of him.

Unfortunately yesterday’s performance wasn’t enough.  Lets get to it shall we?

– The Steelers set the tone for the game with their opening drive.  The Steelers went 66 yards in 15 plays and held the ball for 9:02 seconds.  Incredible.  Also remember that on that drive Markice Pouncey, their rookie Pro Bowl Center, had his leg rolled over and was taken out of the game and never returned.  On that drive, it went 10 running plays and 5 passing plays.  Also, add to the fact that Ben was injured on said drive and you have everything you need to know about the Jets first half ability to stop the Steelers.  No matter what ill fell upon the Steelers, they seemed to overcome it and get stronger.  The Jets couldn’t stop a single thing the Steelers were doing.

– The hero of that drive, which is also the drive of the game was Rashard Mendenhall who ran like a man that got called out by Rex Ryan in a press conference.  Every single time he ran the ball in the first half, he got met 2 yards in the back field and yet managed to always eke out 5 yards or more every single time.  Twisting, stopping in full stride, changing direction, just a lot of tackles being broken.  The Jets just could NOT stop Mendenhall who ran behind a very inconsistent offensive line and played the same way.  I’m not going to say that ALL 22 teams that drafted ahead him in the 2008 NFL draft will regret letting him pass by but THIS is the kind of game breaking ability the Steelers expected when they got him.

– Heath Miller’s blocking was an underrated aspect of the Pittsburgh offense that was missing from the previous game.  His presence was more important to this game than Troy Polamalu’s which may surprise those of us who sat and watched that long drive of the Jets that resulted in 0 points.  We will get to that drive in a minute.

– Last week after playing a terrible first half, the Steelers completely turned the momentum of the game by opening the second half by forcing the Ravens into a fumble, punt, INT and Fumble which led to 17 points- all off turnovers.  The Ravens had drives of 3, 3, 1, and 2 plays during that 3rd quarter for a grand total of -4 yards.  Yup MINUS four.

Last night, during a crippling 2nd quarter the Steelers scored 2 touchdowns in 47 seconds.  This after the Jets had held them to a field goal to go up 10-0 only.  I say only because if you saw how easy it was for the Steelers to go up and down the field you’d agree.  In a manner of 47 seconds the Jets lost the game.  The deficit jumped from 10 to 24 in the blink of an eye and you just knew that the Steelers were NOT going to lose this lead.

The game was a tale of two halves.  The first half the Steelers domination really was on old school Steeler football: defense and running the football.  They scored more points in the first half (24) than Jets had run plays (22).  One rushing yard by the Jets compared to 135 for the Steelers and the most telling stat of them all: Time of Possession in favor of the Steelers: 21:04 to 8:56 thanks to that opening 9 minute drive.  Thankfully the Jets shut out the Steelers in the second half and played alot better to make a game of it but the Steelers made the plays when they had to.

Missed opportunities were plenty for the Jets and there are three that I want to highlight that could’ve changed the complexion of the game.

1. Second quarter and the Steelers are once again driving down the field with relative ease.  The Steelers call a timeout after getting to the Jets 2 yard line and its 3rd and goal.  Roethlisberger is in shotgun formation and looks for Emmanuel Sanders who runs an inside slant.  Eric Smith makes a terrific bat of the ball on first glance but replays show that had he NOT touched the football, Darrell Revis would’ve made the interception and who knows with his athleticism if he could’ve ran the field to score a touchdown.  The replay clearly shows that the ball’s trajectory would’ve landed right into Revis’ lap because Revis was initially on Hines Ward who came on motion to the right side of Big Ben.  Revis sniffed out the inside slant and guessed correctly as usual and got off Ward and went to Sanders.  Instead of the interception, the Steelers get 3  and go up 10-0.  The Steelers momentum was slowed but only momentarily.  With the ebb and flow of games like this- the bounce of the ball NOT going the Jets way was more evidence that the football gods did NOT want the Jets to win this game.  Would that have stopped the strip sack and fumble and run in for the touchdown?  Who knows, but if Revis gets the pick, the Jets start off on the 20 and its only 7-0 if Revis doesn’t get a single yard on the run back.  That’s a huge swing of momentum for the Jets defense which up until that point had NOT been good.

2. 3rd and 2 with 10:41 left in the 3rd quarter.  The Jets have JUST scored a touchdown to make it 24-10 and they are slowly building momentum.  Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator of the Steelers inexplicably decides to go empty backfield on 3rd and short since, you know their running game was so atrocious in the first half.  Roethlisberger tries to zip one in to Antonio Brown who doesn’t fight through the Jets rookie corner Kyle Wilson and the ball smacks Wilson right in the face.  The pass went right to Wilson because he stepped in front but never made a play on the ball and it hit him in the face.  If he makes the interception there’s a great chance he goes to the house and suddenly its 24-17 and just as quickly as the Steelers scored two touchdowns, the Jets have a chance at matching them and making this a game.  With the way the Jets were driving on the Steelers in the second half- who knows.  Can’t drop those passes son.  Ya just can’t.

3. 4th quarter 7:44 at their own 1 the Steelers take the ball after holding the Jets on fourth down.  Last time these two teams played the Jets got a safety in a similar scenario and then went on to win the game.  This time, Roethlisberger mishandled the snap and he pins the ball to his leg and goes down and takes the safety.  If the ball had just bounced, one more time the Jets players may have had time to recover it and it would’ve been the touchdown they needed.

– The drive of the game on the Jets side is probably the one that’s most difficult to revisit but we will.

Start of the drive: on the NYJ 19- :50 left

1st-10, NYJ19 0:50 M. Sanchez passed to B. Edwards down the middle for 18 yard gain- That was Braylon Edwards FIRST catch of the game.

1st-10, NYJ37 0:15 L. Tomlinson rushed to the left for 5 yard gain

4th Quarter
2nd-5, NYJ42 15:00 M. Sanchez passed to D. Keller to the left for 19 yard gain- I can’t say enough about what a great TE Dustin Keller IS- not becoming.  The guy is a match up nightmare and continues to be one.  He’s overlooked in so many of ways but the guy makes important catch after important catch and is crucial to this offense.  Very underrated portion of his game that has improved by leaps and bounds: his ability on the running game.
1st-10, PIT39 14:32 M. Sanchez incomplete pass to the right- Went for the homerun ball with Braylon Edwards having single coverage on him.  But Randall Gay gave him very little space.
2nd-10, PIT39 14:26 M. Sanchez passed to J. Cotchery to the right for 6 yard gain
3rd-4, PIT33 13:53 M. Sanchez passed to D. Keller down the middle for 6 yard gain- ANOTHER huge catch for a first down.
1st-10, PIT27 13:18 S. Greene rushed up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd-9, PIT26 12:38 M. Sanchez rushed up the middle for 6 yard gain- The Giant fan in me was yelling DONT SLIDE HEAD FIRST!
3rd-3, PIT20 11:53 S. Greene rushed to the left for 2 yard gain- Toughest two yards I’ve seen in a while.  Clearly this was a helmet to helmet on James Farrior yet it wasn’t called despite the fact that it was right in the referee’s face.  If the NFL is to enforce this rule then clear cut examples of it should be called.  This is also the point that I knew that LDT was NOT the man for this game and Shonn Greene had to take over and his physical presence is what the Jets were without in Indy last year.  Greene ran tough and showed that he was the better back in this game.
4th-1, PIT18 11:19 S. Greene rushed to the right for 2 yard gain- First of all this is the right decision and I think 99 out of 100 football fans would agree so let’s end the argument right here about whether the Jets should’ve gone for it or kicked the field goal because saying field goal in hindsight is stupid.  Here is what irks me about this drive.  4th and 1 and WHO is in the backfield?  That’s right- Shonn Greene.  The more physical runner for a grind em out play that needed toughness.  He got the one yard they needed.  Remember this later on in the drive.
1st-10, PIT16 10:31 M. Sanchez rushed up the middle for no gain. M. Sanchez fumbled. M. Sanchez recovered fumble
2nd-18, PIT24 9:57 S. Greene rushed to the left for 16 yard gain- Toughest run to date.  Greene once AGAIN runs over Ryan Clark which was like watching the same scene over again whenever those two met on the field.  Clark got run over and Polamalu got hit too but he held on to the leg to slow him down in time for reinforcements to come and hold him from any more gain.  If he slipped past that tackle he would’ve had room for maybe 3 more yards and a first down.  Greene looked like Rashard Mendenhall in the first half- tough, physical- and it took multiple Steelers to bring him down and multiple tackles seemingly were broken with each run.
3rd-2, PIT8 9:20 M. Sanchez passed to J. Cotchery to the right for 6 yard gain

AND HERE Is where the Jets lost the game.  I have NO problem with the first two play calls by Brian Schottenheimer.  None.  This is four down territory.  IF you take all four downs you want to pass on ONE of these downs and the safest down to pass is second because now you’ve put the element of surprise into the defense’s mind: we are a running team but we WILL pass on you if necessary.  But if you throw it on second down from the two and you dont make it, you run on the next two.  You don’t pitch it or do anything fancy: you give it to your most physical back who’s been the steadying hand throughout the drive: who was that?  Shonn Greene.  You put all your fattest guys in there and as a top 5 running team with a very good offensive line you trust that your guys can get that one yard.  So let’s see what the Jets do:

1st-2, PIT2 8:39 S. Greene rushed up the middle for 1 yard gain- Absolutely correct play call.

Prior to the next play call, Sanchez was having problems getting the play into his head set which was something he complained about after the game.  By the time he lined up there was four seconds left on the play clock and without any time to spare, the Jets snapped and the play got off.

2nd-1, PIT1 7:56 M. Sanchez incomplete pass to the right- Don’t get me wrong, Keller could’ve caught this.  But the entire feel of the play was very shaky with Sanchez being unable to hear the play call and just the rushing up to the line and Sanchez not having anytime to do any pre snap reads.  It was just a messy play call and yet you feel as though if this were run in normal game speed without the rushing or hurrying, Sanchez would’ve hooked up with Keller who had been stellar till that drop.

Prior to this play- Phil Simms even said it “If I were the Jets, two running plays.”

3rd-1, PIT1 7:53 M. Sanchez incomplete pass to the right- The pass was nearly intercepted by Lamar Woodley who was playing coverage the whole way.  First of all, Shonn Greene was out of the game, but LDT should’ve still had an opportunity to try and punch it in but again, terrible play calling by Schottenheimer.
4th-1, PIT1 7:44 L. Tomlinson rushed up the middle for no gain- Did you expect any other result?  When I saw LDT in the backfield on this play I knew they wouldn’t get it.  You need your young horse in there.  Why on EARTH do you have a 30 something year old running back in there?  Experience?  Its one yard and you need someone who can push the pile into the end zone, not someone who can finesse his way in.

All in all it was four crushing downs, two of which were absolutely crushing.  Here’s what I’ve never understood about Schottenheimer’s play calling: you have the horses to play the game one way and yet you continue to want to play it a totally different way.  Why?  What’s so wrong about your running game in that situation?  All year you’ve been one of the best and yet you decide you’re not only going to throw it on two of the four downs that you’re going to have Shonn Greene you’re best option at the goal line on the bench for the critical fourth and 1.  Call it fourth and season.  THIS is where the Jets lost the game.  They matriculated down the field in Jet fashion for 8 minutes and 12 seconds with a punishing running game that had on 9 plays been fantastic.  Their ratio may have pleased stat mavens but in the end it should’ve been 10 running plays and 7 passing plays.

The entire season THIS was my biggest complaint: why are the Jets and specifically their offensive coaching staff running away from their identity?  They are a running team.  They RUN the football very well and yet on the most crucial two downs of their season they pass and run.  It should’ve read run and run and this is not based on hindsight.  If the Steelers had stuffed them on both then fine give them their kudos.  But I contend and so will Jet fans that if they had handed off to Shonn Greene with Tony Richardson leading the way for two straight downs, ONE of those would’ve resulted in Shonn Greene in the end zone.  Yet for some reason, once again the Jets decided to PASS UP their strength.  Good job Schotty.

Isn’t it ironic that the second generation of Schottenheimers are killing their teams with the pass instead of the run?  I bet the Jets would love to see Marty Ball on that sequence.  Marty Ball would’ve gotten us the touchdown.  But then again I suppose that NO Schottenheimer coached team will get to a Super Bowl- its their curse to endure.

-Consensus opinion after the NFC Championship game was that Jay Cutler quit on the Bears after leaving the game at the half with a knee injury.  That wasn’t the case with the Jets and their franchise QB Mark Sanchez.  Before the Patriots game the knock on Mark was that he was a California kid who didn’t play well in cold weather games but after two consecutive performances in cold weather games, we can put that conversation to rest.  On the fumble, Sanchez definitely injured his arm and surely every Jet fan must’ve felt a sense of surrender at this point.  But for Sanchez to come back and lead his team down for a field goal and get his team SOME kind of points before the half and before they got the ball back, Jet fans can say proudly that their QB has some guts and heart.  His stat line won’t make your eyes pop but consider that prior to his field goal drive to get the Jets on the board he was 3 for 9 for 24 yards with a sack and a fumble.  He went 17 for 24 for 209 yards the rest of the way, including two touchdowns.  He outperformed Ben statistically and was much more comfortable as the game wore on.

Think about what that opening drive on the second half and scoring a touchdown on a great rollout and throwing off balance to Santonio Holmes for the touchdown must have done for the Jet sideline.  After being thoroughly dominated during the first half for Sanchez to pull that off- it was one of those moments where Jet fans were the proudest.  Watching a young QB doing what he needed to do.  Credit Sanchez for coming back and keeping his team in the game.  There is no one in the Jet locker room that doubts him.  Like I said, he’s 25 and he’ll ONLY get better.

 

At the end of the day, the Steelers had to make ONE play the ENTIRE second half to end the game.  That’s all.  They had built up such a big lead and had such a good defense that all they had to do was make ONE play and there it was 3rd and 6 with 2:00.  Jets are out of timeouts.  Sure, they can run it and then give the Jets the ball back with a little under 1:20 left.  That’s plenty of time.  The Jets have to score a touchdown remember, but its still plenty of time and this season there’s been evidence that Mark Sanchez can lead game winning drives when called upon to do so and if I’m a Jet fan I’d like to think fear played a little bit into the Steelers decision to have Ben throw the football to get a first down.

The Jets had played stellar defensively in the second half.  They put up a goose egg in the second half but too much damage had been done in the first half and all it came down to was ONE play.

Having the two minute warning helped so that the Steelers could pick the perfect play out but even in the back of their minds, they knew this was typical Ben scrambling out of the pocket and making a play.  This is why he won’t ever win an MVP or be in the discussion of greatest QB’s in NFL history just like Terry Bradshaw, another proven Steeler QB won’t.  They dont wow you with stat lines, and in fact this playoff game was probably his worst since Super Bowl 40, but that ONE play made you forget about that.

Ben scrambled out of the pocket and found one of his young rookie receivers, Antonio Brown and just like that the game was over.  This was about the game being placed in Ben’s hands and Ben once again, whether you like him or not, proving he was a winner and making a play.  That’s all the Steelers had to do in the second half.  MAKE A SINGLE PLAY and they won.  Consider the risk involved: if its incomplete the Jets get the ball back with 1:51.  I’d like to think however that Roethlisberger would’ve taken the sack and let the play clock dwindle.  He’s a smart guy and more importantly a winner- he knows not to tempt fate by trying to make a play when its not there.

–  How crushing a loss is this?  Consider that the Jets have 8 players of importance who will become free agents and without any knowledge of the new CBA it will be difficult to say who will be brought back.  If Rex Ryan is so beloved by his players imagine the fall out if the team doesn’t invite certain players.  Is this the end for guys like Jason Taylor and LaDanian Tomlinson?  Taylor sounded unsure about his playing days while LDT said he would love to come back.  What about Shaun Ellis?  The longest tenured Jet had a huge week last week against New England and has been here for it all- it would be injustice if the Jets reload and win a Super Bowl without him on the roster.  What about Antonio Cromartie?  Do the Jets dump him and go after Nnamdi Asomugha who has already put the Jets on his rumored list of teams he’d love to join which would form the greatest corner tandem the league has perhaps EVER seen.  Think Rex is having hard ons about having those two guys?  What about Santonio Holmes?  He threw Schottenheimer under the bus after the game complaining about his lack of touches.  He caught two passes and one of them was for a touchdown.  What about Braylon Edwards who’s inconsistency is still an issue but not to the extent that you would automatically dump him?  This was their year if the rumor is true that there will be a cap.  Woody Johnson spent a lot on this team and the Jets were unable to bring it home.  How will Mike Tannenbaum recover and regroup?  No one knows until after the labor process clears up and things become clearer.

Till next year, its another long offseason for Rex who seemed emotional after the game, naturally.  A guy like that always leaves everything out in the open for the world to see.  Not everyone has the stomach for him but if you’re a Jet fan you love him.  He gives an emotionally scarred fan base more swagger than they’ve EVER had.  They are a good football team but consider how well this team played WITHOUT Kris Jenkins their beast of a nose tackle who will be eligible to come back next year but who knows if the Jets will.  Again, there are more questions to this team than answers, answers which will only come once the labor process is cleared up.  Either way, does anyone doubt Rex when he says that he won’t ever stop chasing that ring?  Does anyone doubt that at some point he will reach the mountain top?  Jet fans hope to see that day soon.

Until then its another year and another long offseason.

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The Jets win postgame reax!

A few observations from the Jets divisional playoff victory over the New England Patriots.

-Go ahead Jet fans, get excited.  You deserve it.  You do.  Rex Ryan deserves a ton of credit for a few reasons.  First, the game plan on Tom Brady was excellent and make no mistake, the game plan was against Tom Brady.  Take out the head and the rest of the body basically crumbles and that’s precisely what the Jet defense did.  Peter King reported that the Jets dressed 11 defensive backs.  Prior to the game the Jets injury report had Drew Coleman and Brad Smith on it.  Coleman was declared active by game time and I thought that not having Brad Smith would be a much bigger loss than having Drew Coleman in the game but turns out, for the game plan to work, they needed the extra corner out there.  We’ll get to the game plan later.

Second, much has been made of Rex Ryan and his press conferences, but give the man credit.  An underrated part of coaching is going beyond the X’s and O’s and being able to motivate his team and making them believe in what you’re preaching.  Rex has the undivided attention of his players and their undying loyalty and by making all of the pre-game bluster about him and his antics, it takes a lot of the pressure off his second year QB who may have too much expectations heaped on him now that he’s entering his second consecutive AFC Championship game.  On a defense that he’s constantly called the best in the game.  On an offense that he thinks is Super Bowl caliber.  All of the pressure is put mainly on his wide back.  Good thing he’s built the way he is, that’s a ton to be carrying around on the lonesome.

Interesting side theory that was brought up recently on the Bill Simmons podcast where Cousin Sal said perhaps the whole foot fetish video was staged so that the opposition would use it to tease the Jets which in turn would motivate the Jets more to catch their coach’s back which actually worked.  Wes Welker’s backhanded shots at Rex Ryan’s expense was not received well by the Jet locker room (Bart Scott replied by saying his days in a uniform were numbered) OR the Patriot locker room (Bill Belichiek held him out of the first drive of the game).  I don’t think it was that underhanded but if years later Rex writes a book and admits to it, just know that I acknowledged the actual person who made the suggestion.

– Brady’s discomfort was so evident all day.  Every single drive had no fluidity to it.  They weren’t marching up and down the field like they were during their 8 game stretch where they looked unbeatable.  Watching the game for a second time I came to one conclusion: a major reason the Patriots lost was because of Tom Brady.  He saved his worst throws for the most important times.  Check this out:

8:02 left in the 1st quarter-  Brady on a double fake tries to throw a screen pass to the law firm, BenJarvis Green-Ellis and shoots it about 4 feet over his head.  Phil Simms, like most broadcasters will do in his position so I won’t kill him for it, said that Calvin Pace’s arm being raised made Brady re-load and throw it higher, but I watched it and No it didn’t.  I’m not going to kill Phil Simms for 3 reasons: he’s a former Giant, he’s one of the best in the business at getting right to the point, and in the midst of action I’m sure that’s what it looked like.  But Brady just straight overthrew the football to a cutting David Harris who was going for the tackle until he realized the ball was coming to him.  He caught the pass and if he had any kind of speed- the Jets would’ve been up 7-0.  Also if you look at the pass, Ellis immediately gives up on the play and just watches the ball sail over his head not even trying to make an attempt at the catch which tells you how high the pass was- so Brady just threw a terrible pass.

2nd quarter- 8:58 left- 3rd and 2-  The Jets just scored and now lead the game 7-3.  Pats are on their own 34.  Brady only has a 3 man rush and can’t find a man open.  Looks for Gronkowski after he comes out of his blocking assignment and he throws it 3 yards behind him.  Terrible throw on a sure-fire first down which would’ve extended the play, instead its a 3 and out.

2nd quarter- 1:24 left- 3rd and 4- Jets show 7, bring three.  The Pats run their patented pick play but Dwight Lowery wisely goes over the top to pick up Rob Gronkowski as the pass sails right by him by about four yards.  There wasn’t pressure in Brady’s face, Brady just hurried the throw and made a terrible throw.  This led to the miffed fake punt play.  No one has yet to take credit for making the call here to run this play.  Its one of those if it works then we’re geniuses and if it doesn’t we’re idiots so I’m not going to completely crap on the Pats for making the play call with such little time, but the Pats aren’t usually this sloppy in execution.

4th quarter 5:30 left on the Jets 34-  Brady looking through his progression not once but twice (That’s how much time he had- of course Shaun Ellis being out of the game and the Jets going with max coverage may have had something to do with that) and patting the ball 5 times throws it into triple coverage for Woodhead and it went in complete.  Just a terrible decision.  He had Brandon Tate going on an out route and he could’ve not only caught the pass but stopped the clock which for some strange reason the Patriots had no interest in doing considering they were down 10 with about five minutes left to play in a game that they had been outplayed up until that point.

4th quarter 5:18 left on the Jets 34- They go for it and forego the opportunity for a 52 yard field goal into the wind which I understand.  Revis is not in on this play and the person he’s been covering all game Deion Branch has Cromartie on him, so naturally on such a crucial play Brady is going to go to his safety valve, the guy he knows can make a play and he would’ve converted had he made a good throw.  The pass goes to the wrong shoulder- a terrible read by Brady who normally converts that pass.  Brady was blitzed on the play, but it was the cumulative effect of the entire day- receivers not being open, the Jets getting pressure with just three guys and the overall lack of sync on offense-  The Jets never let him feel comfortable and he just could never get anything going.

– I always kill Brian Schottenheimer for terrible play calling but beginning with the 3rd quarter of the Wild Card round against the Colts, he has been very good.   Now, I’m not going to say that he’s been a genius because he went to a game plan that I think 90% of the fan base was yelling at him to go to anyway: GROUND AND POUND.  But credit Schotty for putting Mark Sanchez, his second year QB, into manageable situations.  Sanchez faced a 3rd and long (over 10 yards) only ONCE in the game.  That was in the first quarter after the Jets had taken the interception down.  Initially I criticized their third down play call of running the football on 3rd and 18 as typical unimaginative Schottenheimer, but it being early in the game, the Jets did NOT want to rattle the young QB’s confidence and allowed him to be comfortable fro the rest of the game and not force him into a situation where he felt the onus was on him to make a play.  Smart decision.

To go further consider the 3rd down plays that Mark Sanchez, Brady’s counterpart DID make:

2nd quarter- 3rd and 5 with :39 left- Sanchez shoots it right to Braylon Edwards and he does the rest, muscling Devin McCourty AND Brandon Merriweather into the end zone.  Two of the Patriot Pro-Bowlers by the way.

4th quarter- 3rd and 4 with 13:00 left- Sanchez lofts a beautiful pass as Holmes does his now patented toe tapping corner of the end zone touchdown catch.  That’s a huge TD pass after the Patriots score and make it a field goal game.

–  The Jets did a fantastic job of answering EVERY single swing of momentum the Patriots had.

1st Q- 1st and 10 on their own 22- Brady gets sacked by Shaun Ellis for the first of his 2 sacks on the day.  This immediately followed the Jets losing any momentum after getting the interception by missing the FG attempt by Nick Folk.  Ellis played like a man possessed.  Loss of 8.  Were it NOT for a facemask penalty that would’ve been a likely 3 and out but the Patriots were able to move down the field like they seem to always do when given new life.  Shaun Ellis comes in and sacks Brady for the second time on the drive to force them to kick a field goal which is huge because the Pats were on the doorstep of scoring and had an opportunity go right through Alge Crumpler’s finger tips.  Sometimes luck is necessary, but the majority of this rally stuffer was provided thanks to Shaun Ellis’ fantastic performance.

4th quarter- 15:00- After the Patriots score and convert the two point conversion, Sanchize throws to Jerricho Cotchery who sits in the hole of the zone defense the Pats were playing and he goes for 58 yards putting the Jets deep into Patriot territory.  Three plays later, Sanchez connects with Santonio Holmes for his third TD pass and yet another clutch catch by Holmes.

– Many people want to assign specific heroes to this Jet victory and will likely gawk over Santonio Holmes’ catch or Sanchez’s numbers (3 TD’s, 0 Picks) or Bart Scott’s interview with Sal Paolontonio.  But Eric Smith, the guy who took over for Jim Leonhard, had a huge game.  I agree with Peter King that he made some of the most crucial tackles in the game.

2nd Quarter- 1:14- Smith lines up on the left side of the formation and comes off the edge and Jim Nantz opined that Patrick Chung was perhaps distracted by Smith’s presence speeding around the edge and he took his eyes off the ball long enough for it to shoot off his stomach, land on the floor, and destroy any chance of it succeeding.  Of course Smith’s role doesn’t end there because as Chung is trying to get the first down, Smith spins past his defender and smacks Chung down short of the line of scrimmage for a loss and gives the Jets fantastic field position.  Position they would use to score and go up 11 heading into the half.  So credit Smith for the fumble AND the tackle.

2nd Quarter :33 left- Jets kick off to the Patriots and Brandon Tate, gets the ball and gets a seam, and he’s a full head of steam and he just needs to beat one man to take it to the house.  Eric Smith of course is that one man and he tackles him at the 45.  Consider the change of momentum that might have occurred had Tate beaten Smith.  The Patriots score a touchdown in the final 30 seconds of the first half.  They shift all of the steam back on to their side and they get the ball back to start the second half.  Suddenly the Patriots have negated a first half full of idiotic moves so yeah, HUGE save by Smith.

Drive of the game:

I loved the opening drive of the 2nd half by the Patriots being stuffed by the Jets especially after a first down play netted them 8 yards making it a 2nd and 3rd and short.  The Jets came up huge but my drive of the game goes to the final drive of the first half by the Jets.  They force the second turnover of the game thanks to a rare miscommunication from the Patriots and they get the ball at the New England 37.  They forced Brady’s first interception in 405 pass attempts earlier in the game and hadn’t turned that into points.  In fact, they gained 0 yards in 3 downs and Nick Folk missed a 30 yard field goal.  With the Patriots giving up the ball a second time on a mistake, the Jets HAD to score on this drive and they did just that.

1st-10, NE37 1:06 L. Tomlinson rushed up the middle for 16 yard gain-  Huge to start off the drive by moving the ball on the ground like that.  LDT shot out like a cannonball and gained 16 yards.

1st-10, NE21 0:50 L. Tomlinson rushed to the right for 6 yard gain- A great run to the right edge to gain 6 yards and make it a manageable down and distance.

2nd-4, NE15 0:45 M. Sanchez incomplete pass down the middle.  Bad decision to throw here when the running game was working so well and clearly momentum was going the Jets way.

3rd-4, NE15 0:33 M. Sanchez passed to B. Edwards to the right for 15 yard touchdown.  This was all Edwards after the catch as he muscled his way into the end zone but great read and throw by Sanchez.  McCourty was ALL OVER Edwards, but being 6’5 and that big can be a useful weapon on those inside slant routes that the Jets offense uses so much and New England, thus far into the game, had done such a great job in negating.

Jets needed points here to take advantage of the New England turn over and they did just that.

What I thought was the most crucial play of the game:  1:57 left in the game- Patriots onside kick the football down the middle.  Perfectly executed, the Jets had only Darrelle Revis who almost made a disastrous play by trying to scoop up the football.  Due to the tackle on him by the Patriots special teams, the ball gets kicked all the way out to Antonio Cromartie who had been a special teams demon all day on kick returns and he takes it 23 yards to the New England 20.  Now, of course all the Jets needed to do was to run the clock out at this point.  The Patriots had two time outs.  Shonn Greene runs it in for a TD.  Most people suggested that Greene should’ve downed it at the one, forcing the Patriots to use their timeouts and still be down 7.  The Jets would have the first down, the Pats would be down to one timeout.  The clock would’ve been stopped at 1:41.  Now if the Jets just kneel with the football and force New England into their final timeout, they could’ve wasted about max 3 seconds so it would’ve been stopped at 1:38.  You kneel down the rest of the way and the game is over 21-14.  Which of course brings up did the Jets run up the score by scoring that final touchdown when strategy wise it would’ve made more sense to down it at the 1?  I think when you consider how soundly the Patriots beat them, the Jets deserved to rub it in a little.  Of course, the Patriots made a go of it and as any proud champion would do, made one final push but it was too late.

The unsportsmanlike conduct provided us a perfect opportunity to bring up the constant argument that goes on between those in the rigid conservative sector of football who scoff at any kind of emotion being shown after scoring a touchdown (Jim Nantz) and those who don’t mind a bit of celebration (Phil Simms).  Nantz talked about how the penalty gave New England some sort of life (which he was absolutely correct about)

Nantz: “I’ve never understood the absurdity of all this self aggrandizing, now your’e going to cost your team 15 yards on the kick and you’re going to give Brady and his unit a little something.”

Simms: “I’ll tell you this, there’s a time to celebrate and Jim- that was it.  What a job by the Jets.  Sometimes you can’t control yourself.”

Two polar opposite viewpoints on the subject and I must agree with Simms.  Forget the fact that Nantz is absolutely correct in the point he was making.  Strategy wise, like I said before, its a poor decision by Shonn Greene to go in for the touchdown and something his coaches should’ve been telling him about.  Should he get the opportunity, his role was to bleed the clock to :00 left.  But given the circumstances and given the nature of the rivalry and the fact that they were blown out by 42 points and had their noses rubbed in by the Patriots who everyone viewed as the classier organization because they seemed to hide their evil nature better (see Spygate for more information).  The Jets came in as the loud mouths with their chests poked out for no reason, and they left with a huge smile and vindication most importantly.  For their belief in their game plan and the joy of leaping over a huge hurdle: the Patriots.  A team for so long that had blocked the path is now just another victim of Rex Ryan’s bunch.

Look at the numbers since Rex has come into this rivalry:  Jets and Patriots have won 23 games.  The Jets have won 4 playoff games to New England’s 0.  This must be an alternate universe in which Bill Belichiek, the master of his domain is being outsmarted by a loud mouth coach who only gets credit for his wit on a stage in front of a microphone.  What we learned this weekend is that he’s more than just feet and a mouth.  He designed two excellent defensive game plans to effectively shut down the two best quarterbacks this league has.  CBS showed us a ridiculous statistic: NO TEAM had ever defeated Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks since 2001 when Tom Brady graced us with his magnificent presence.  Of course since 2001 only two other teams had the opportunity to accomplish such a feat, and that would be the 2007 San Diego Chargers but if you’ll remember, Brady and Co. were on a historic run through the playoffs that year and the 2009 Baltimore Ravens.  Indy knocked out the Ravens that year after they destroyed the Patriots at Foxboro.

What does this all mean for Belichiek and Brady’s career if they haven’t won a Super Bowl since the Spygate Scandal broke?  Does it offer up some kind of evidence of wrong doing on their part?  That perhaps their success was a byproduct of all their underhanded dealings?  That there is no genius residing in that brain of Belichiek’s?  That Brady’s post season success is built upon an unfair advantage that he had?  Is it a coincedence that since the Spygate scandal, the Patriots are a very human 2-2 in the playoffs?

I don’t think you should read much into all of that.  Belichiek’s coaching job this year will get him a Coach of the Year Plaque and Brady HAD to play lights out for this team to be 14-2 like they were.  Tom Brady played perfect for almost an entire season throwing for only four interceptions  and in the one game that he cracked under the pressure, it just so happened to be the one game he’ll most likely regret losing.  Because he didn’t lose to some non-divisional team, he lost to the team he hates the most.  The team that won’t shut up and the team he now CAN’T SHUT UP.  God forbid this team wins the Super Bowl; will Tom Brady lose it?  What will he do?  Who knows?  This Jet story has some legs and let’s see how far it runs.  If it runs to Dallas, Brady may need some psychological counseling for all the mistakes he made that led to this ugly loss to the hated Jets because make no mistake, Tom Brady lost this game with his ineffectiveness.

I’m no Jet fan or claim to be, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this off with THIS CLIP and THIS ONE to close things out with THIS CLIP.

BRING IT HOME JETS!

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Jets- Bears: Week 16 (38-34 loss)

– The Jets entered the game with a chance to control their destiny.  Win and they were in.  Instead, by the end of the day, they got into a shoot out with the Bears and lost but still wound up getting in, thanks to the Washington Redskins beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in OT.

– Yet another classic Rex playoff postgame press conference.  His reaction to getting in was priceless and exactly what any coach outside of Bill Belichiek would’ve said had he found out in mid press conference.  Here’s what endears Rex to Jet fans- he’s “real”.  Most head coaches would’ve had some prepared statement for the situation but Rex is an in-the-moment type of guy and so he has no script.

Which naturally brings us to the whole youtube controversy which annoys me to no end.  The fact that we’re even discussing this (i’m not saying that this is a silly-free space, but still) is beyond me.  This is where being a wise-cracking, outspoken head coach comes back to bite you.  In today’s twitter/social networking world this is news.  Its sad.  I asked on Facebook this week and I still believe this by the way:

“Umm, is it just me..or is the Rex Ryan foot fetish video proof that romance isn’t dead”

I still stand by that.  What’s crazy about a guy still being crazy in love with his wife and why is it a big deal?  Its one of those videos where I expected to see a lot worse than what I actually saw.  Sorry, it wasn’t that serious.

Let’s get to the notes on the actual game:

Let’s talk about turnovers and bad decisions:

A. Warning: this is NOT a fumble so before you go and make ill-comments I’ll save you, but still it set in your mind that the ball was going to be very tough to hold on to for the rest of the game and turnovers might turn into an issue.

8:35 left in the 1st quarter and LDT fumbles on a hand off after gaining about 2 yards.  That’s 3 plays into their offensive set for the Jets.  THREE!  But the Jets recovered so no harm no foul.

Two plays later….

6:47 left in the 1st quarter- Santonio Holmes takes it on an end around fumbles the football and Jim Nantz, of CBS fame, makes an interesting note: Santonio Holmes hates wearing sleeves because he feels it makes him fumble and after it caused him a touchdown in Ohio State he swore to never wear them again.  He rubs oil on his arm to warm his hands up but of course he broke his promise Sunday and it cost him a fumble which I’m sure he’s kicking himself on. Four plays later, Matt Forte takes it to the house and scores. 7 points off turnover.

B. Opening drive of the second half and the Jets attempt a fake punt on 4th and 3 and the Bears sniffed that out immediately.  How do I know this? Because you see multiple arms point out Sanchez in the formation and the Bears instinctively play the pass and bat down the Sanchez pass.  Why on earth would you call the fake punt this early?  There was no need to do so.  You had the momentum as a team after outscoring the Bears 24-7 during the second quarter and ending the first half with a field goal.  Naturally, the very next play Jay Cutler throws to Johnny Knox for a 40 yard td pass.  That’s 7 points off this bad decision.

c.  After playing keep away from Devin Hester for the first half, the very first punt of the second half the Jets attempt Devin Hester actually gets a chance to return it and return it he does, back to the Jet 37 for a 38 yard return and that sets up two plays later, a Jay Cutler TD pass to, you guessed it, Devin Hester. Thats 7 more points off the bad play. Also, kicking to Devin Hester should officially be called a turnover.

 

-Weather was certainly a factor and sure to be one.  Two weeks after being decimated by the Patriots in worse weather, the Bears and Jets saw just about all four seasons in one game.  Snow, sun, wind, low temperatures.  But the weather affects the game this way: when Matt Forte goes in slapped into the end zone.  Terrible tackling by the Jets, all day and I suppose most want to blame it on the weather but that’s what separates the good teams from the not so good ones.  The Jets did a terrible job all day of tackling and some players on certain plays seemed to play matador tackling.

– IF you choose to judge Mark Sanchez by his last throw (which happened to be his lone INT of the day) then so be it.  There are those who believe you’re ONLY as good as your last throw.  Well, I’m not going to put this loss on Sanchez’s shoulders.  The Jets defense gave up 38 points.  The Jets offense fumbled 3 times which was recovered by the Bears once.  Sunday’s game was one of Sanchez’s best.  Certain throws he made were very revealing.  Here’s a few that I thought stood out, not just in terms of degree of difficulty but situation.

(These aren’t in any order of importance):

1. Sandwiched in between a terrible first possession was a critical throw to Dustin Keller to convert on a first down.  3rd and 7 and the Jets needing to get the crowd a little quiet got a beautiful but dangerous throw.  Why is this throw in the 1st quarter an important throw?  When talent evaluators try to forecast quarterbacks they like to see them make throws like the one he made: zipped in between two defenders.  The kind of throw that if its any softer, its knocked down or worse intercepted.  The kind of throw that Chad Pennington could never make.  Its the reason that talent evaluators swear by Jay Cutler while the average fan may think he’s nothing more than average, run of the mill.  Its why Jeff George was still an NFL QB into his late 30’s.  You can’t teach height and you can’t teach arm strength.  Sanchize threw a pass that proved he had an arm.

2. 3rd quarter 10:15 left-  Jets have lost the lead and Chicago is up 31-24.  Sanchez on a 1st down threads the needle in between 4 Bears defenders and over Brian Urlacher’s outstretched arm to get it to Braylon Edwards right in his stomach in stride.  He had Dustin Keller on the inside but instead went over the top and made such a difficult throw look easy and did it with beauty.

3. Two plays later with 8:45 left in the 3rd quarter- I said it last week and I went back and checked the tape- Mark Sanchez has got to have one of the very best play action/faking the hand off plays in all of football because he sells it so well.  The key to any good play action is to mimic your movements as if you were running a running play.  Most times quarterbacks give out “tells” in the way they grip the football or even the way they move or stretch their hand trying to hand the football off.  I watched 5 or 6 plays prior to his play action and saw absolutely nothing that would tell me he was giving off a tell, and that kind of trickery is so difficult to stop.

Sanchez fakes the hand off to the left as the offensive line is pulling the defense that way and Sanchez rolls out right where there’s a stretch of land and with how fast he is, the defense covering receivers down field suddenly must respect his ability to scramble and thus they got sucked in leaving Santonio Holmes sitting wide open in the end zone.  The combination of these skills gives Mark Sanchez SUCH an advantage.  And by open I mean Holmes was 10 yards away from any defender.

 

– Here’s the thing about the Jets offense that I don’t like: they seem to look away from Dustin Keller way too much.  Sometimes I can’t seem to find him during an offensive stretch, yet he’s a match up nightmare for linebackers and corners.  He makes plays all the time and yet he seems to be lost for stretches of a game.  I went back and looked at the tape and I never saw Keller double covered or the defense shading him with a safety over the top.  He’s the safety valve.  He has the ability to get you first downs all the time.

Which brings me to my point on Mark Sanchez.  He’s a good quarterback, don’t get me wrong, but the Jets personnel department may have some explaining to do.  Here’s my take on Sanchize and its unbiased:

The Jets made a decision during the season last year prior to getting Braylon Edwards that their defense was ready to win and they had a young QB who could learn quicker with better talent surrounding him and that strategy makes sense.  They got Braylon Edwards on the cheap after he made it known he wanted out of there and also getting into a spat with Cleveland’s former first son Lebron James’ entourage.  But then the postseason happened and the mindset became: let’s load up on receivers and speed up his progression as a second year QB.  Meanwhile, the Jets had won because of their run game and their defense and Mark Sanchez being a game manager.  Not because he was this excellent passer.  Want to see?  Sure you do:

Opponent           Comp/Att         YDS        TD        INT

Bengals                   12/15                     182            1              0

Chargers                 12/23                    100            1              1

Colts                         17/30                   257             2             1

Totals           42/ 68 (61.8%)       539           4             2

 

For arguments sake I also put in Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s first 3 playoff games as well:

Opponent           Comp/Att         YDS        TD        INT

Titans (1999)            19/42                 227           0              0- LOSS

Dolphins (2000)      17/32                 194           1               0- LOSS

Jets (2002)                14/31                 137           0               2- LOSS (41-0- but something tells me Jet fans remember this)

TOTALS:       50/105 (47.6%)     558         1               2

As for Brady:

Raiders (2001)          32/52               312           0               1- WIN

Steelers (2001)         12/18                 115           0               0- WIN

Rams (2001)             16/27                145           1                0- WIN (Super Bowl)

Totals:            60/97 (61.8%)      572         1               1
Both Brady and Manning are considered the elite of QB’s whenever the topic is brought up.  Look at these stats and just understand one thing: Brady was 3-0 and Manning 0-3, while Sanchez falls right in the middle with 2-1 in his first three games.  But both of their teams asked Brady and Manning to direct their offense, especially Manning who had 37 more passing attempts than Sanchize and Brady who had 29 more (although you can make the case that those numbers are that high because of the intriguing game planning by Belichiek to go pass heavy during the now infamous Tuck Rule game where they had a couple of inches of snow laying on the field.).  The Pats and the Colts both asked their QB to do a lot more than the Jets asked Sanchez to do.

That of course became the cue for the Jets to increase his weapon load and add Santonio Holmes during the offseason, another buy low pick up by the Jets front office.  I’m not saying Sanchez isn’t capable of becoming the amazing passer that the Jets front office sees in him, but look at the win/loss record of Peyton Manning who was asked to carry the offense by passing and look at Tom Brady’s win loss record when he was asked to just manage the game.  Brady 3-0, Manning 0-3.  Its not a very difficult formula.  The Jets have a successful formula that helped them: run the football, and stay with the run even being stubborn.  Is it any coincedence that their loss in the playoffs was when Sanchez was asked to do more on the passing end?

When they got Edwards and Holmes they stacked up playmakers on offense without any thought to their roles.  Were they both going to stretch the field?  Were they both going to be possession receivers?  Apparently its the latter.  They both run the same slant route which has become their go-to play.  Which brings me to Brian Schottenheimer’s game calling which has been borderline abysmal throughout the season.  He’s had his moments but never a full game where you sat back and said that the game plan was the reason the Jets won.  The game plan should be simple: run the football.  Play the time of possession game with your opponent.  Take a few shots down the field.  Always have Sanchez throw to the underneath receivers and them be his first option.  Dink and dunk and every 5th or 6th pass when you sense a pass rush, option to a different screen.  Sound familiar?  It should, its the Patriots game plan.  Sanchize DOES have the tools to be an excellent game manager and has the arm to make the tough throws.  That’s going to be necessary come playoff time.  When the weather gets bad, the Jets need Sanchez to manage the game and Sanchez needs the Jets to call on the running game for 30-40 carries a game.

– Big strategy for the Jets was simple: play keep away from Devin Hester on the special teams department.  2 punts and 2 kickoffs and they did just that.  Kept it away from perhaps the best returner in NFL history.

2nd half different story: 1st punt- goes to Devin Hester and he takes it for 38 yards back to the Jets 37.  Two plays later, TD pass by Jay Cutler to Devin Hester.  Kick off to Devin Hester from the 11 and that’s a 40 yard return meaning the Bears once again starts off in Jets territory.

So here were the scoring runs for the day:

10-0 for the Bears, followed by 24-7 for the Jets (Jets up 24-17), then 14-0 for the Bears, (31-24 for the Bears) then the Bears and Jets scoring TD’s and a FG for the Jets (38-34 Bears).  That folks is a back and forth game.  The kind of rollercoaster game that most didn’t expect to see.  But again, the weather creates a variable that many don’t expect.

– Key drive of the game only gave the Jets 3 points but its a point I wanted to make with the Jets.  Here is where Mark Sanchez is the strongest and where the Jets are at their strongest.  Let’s consider for a second here:  The Jets have weapons on offense.  They have a very good running game and a very good offensive line with receivers who are playing very well.  The Bears in the 3rd quarter scored 3 touchdowns on possessions of 1, 3, and 5 plays.  They went 40,32, and 49 yards on three possessions thanks to a turnover on downs and then two excellent returns by All-World super freak Devin Hester.  So what do the Jets do?  They slowed the game down.

they start at the 32.  There is 6:02 left in the third quarter.  The sequence of plays was

Pass for 12 to Braylon Edwards on a slant (1st down),

Run for 2 by LDT

Pass for 7 to LDT

Run for 2 by Tony Richardson (1st down)

Run for 4 by LDT

Pass for 7 to Dustin Keller (1st down)

Run for 8 by LDT

Run for 4 by LDT (1st down)

Incompletion to Holmes

Run for 4 by LDT (end of 3rd quarter)

Start of 4th quarter

Incomplete to Holmes.

Folk hits a 34 yard field goal. –  Thats 5 passing plays, 6 running plays for 51 yards.

Why is this the drive of the game?  Because the Bears were playing a pace that the Jets couldn’t keep up and the Jets wisely slowed the game down and played time of possession.  Game is now slowed.  Neither team scored in the 4th quarter but that’s more due to the fact that the Bears were milking the clock and trying to run the football.  Also, the Jet defense was being destroyed by the Bears passing game and they needed this long rest to get their feet back under them.  If you’re wondering what their next drive was?  12 plays resulting only in a punt but again playing the time of possession game.

The key to the game?  Matt Forte.  The guy was a beast.  4th quarter with the Jets needing a stop, he comes up with a 32 yard gain.  The Bears didn’t score on the drive but Matt Forte’s final tally for the day: 19 carries 113 yards 1 TD, and 4 catches for 56 yards which set up another Bears TD.  This was the first 100 yard individual rusher that the Jets defense has had since the Rex Ryan era began.

– I’m not going to kill the Jets for punting on 4th down with 5:46 to go.  They had not converted on one 4th down, albeit it was a fake.  But here’s what I don’t get: how do you punt it to Devin Hester even with the confidence that Steve Weatherford will down them deep in their territory?  It was certainly a decision that had they taken more time to discuss might have gone the other way and who knows?  The Jets were killing the Bears on that drive.  That was two consecutive long drives that the Bears had been taken on by the Jets and perhaps they were a bit winded and getting them at their low might have been beneficial.  The Jets DID pin them back and they DID get them on a 3 and out and they got the ball back with 4:32 left which is all you can ask for.  The Jets just didn’t take advantage on the next drive.  3 and out which killed them. I can however kill the Jets defense for not being prepared for the run.  Forte got a critical first down and forced the Jets to use their timeouts.

–  The final Sanchez pass was a mixed bag.  Just a poor throw, not a bad decision.  It was a line drive throw that didn’t have enough arc.  It had to be dropped over Holmes head and if it had, it would’ve gone to the house.  That would’ve been a touchdown but Sanchez threw a ball that was low enough in trajectory that allowed the safety to come underneath and pick it off.  Good idea, poor execution.  Ball game.

 

What does this  mean for the Jets? I liked some of the things that they were able to do and some of their decisions were a lot better than prior weeks where they made key mental errors that could’ve cost them and again, this is the knock on the Jets.  In games that come down to the wire, if they can’t make good decisions, they will be in a world of trouble and they need their entire coaching staff to go to time management school and go back to basics.  They were able to get away with some mistakes but again, bad decisions and turnovers turned into 21 Chicago points and those are the kind of things that the Jets need to stay away from.  Its not just the turnovers but the bad decisions.  Hopefully the Jets will make those corrections as they head into the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

 

Lets go Jets!

 

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Jets Vs. Giants Reaction

Staying true to my laziness, I waited a full day after all the post-game analysis done by everyone else to post my thoughts.  Really it was because I didn’t get to watch the game on Monday and I was just exhausted Tuesday.*  But here are my thoughts as it stands on the very first preseason game:

*= I know, I know, you care.

First big play was the Sanchez interception.  The pass was intended for LDT and he threw it into double coverage.  My opinion on that play is, he was going to throw it to LDT on that play no matter what and the Giants had a guy covering him and another LB converging on him.  The ball bounced off his shoulder pads and hung in the air long enough for new Giant Antrell Rolle (you know, the Giants made offseason moves too), to pick off the pass and take it all the way to the one.  I think one of the biggest problems with the Giants last season was their safety play.  CC Brown was poorly cast as a starting cover safety and the lack of depth at the safety position manifested itself when Kenny Phillips went down with arthiritis in his knee.  Let me reiterate one thing for everyone: unless Kenny Phillips comes back, the Giants will continue to have problems in the secondary.

Underneath routes will be there all day for opponents of the G-Men, because the linebackers aren’t that quick and the cover corners aren’t all that great.  Everything will once again hinge on how quickly the defense can ratchet up pressure.  If the defensive line can not force its way into the quarterback’s face with regularity I can guarantee you that the Giants will have another season of disappointment.  The Giants once again come into the season with perhaps the deepest rotation of defensive linemen in the league but, if they don’t perform it won’t matter.  With the talent of wide recievers in the NFC East vastly improved with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (and maybe Riley Cooper who is emerging as a favorite receiver for new Eagles QB Kevin Kolb), and Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (he’s going to be like Randy Moss- teams are going to regret holding his character as means to not draft him).*

*=  I know I left out the Redskins, but as much as I hate to admit this, McNabb being their QB will make that entire team’s receiving corps better.

– The Jets really tried to feature LDT in the passing game alot, perhaps hinting that they want to use him as a receiver more than just a runner.  Which if that’s true, then that makes Shonn Greene a feature back, one of the few in a league that has gone to the two back system that most coaches favor.  I think if you assign roles for both guys, it makes it interesting when it comes time for LDT to run and Shonn Greene to be a pass catcher.  Eventually the Jets want Greene to do it all and I think he could, but he has to change his physical lowering his head, battering ram style of running.  The shelf life of running backs is small to begin with, but you start playing like that it becomes even smaller.  Greene however showed some moves in this game that could give him longevity in the game.  Finding when to use the battering ram style and when to use finesse will be Greene’s biggest obstacle.  LDT in the passing game makes a lot of sense.

– Antonio Cromartie dropped two sure fire interceptions.  If this Revis thing doesn’t get resolved before the season, those kind of mistakes will not be accepted.  The Jets were getting plenty of pressure on the Giants first team offensive line and alot of throws were going right to Cromartie, and I mean RIGHT to Cromartie, but he never made the play.  Of course the initial reaction will be: if Revis were there, he would’ve made that play.  Its going to be tough if this hold out goes beyond the preseason and into the season and Cromartie whiffs on those sure-fire interceptions.  For the Jets to gain any more leverage in this than what they already have, the secondary must perform.    One of the biggest plays that every Charger fan remembers from Cromartie’s last game with them was his lack of physicality on the Shonn Greene touchdown in the AFC Divisional round game.  Cromartie dodged a tackle but then ran down Greene in the end zone in time to deliver a cheap shot with his elbow.  If Cromartie shows those colors here in New York, you can bet that his value will significantly drop because those kinds of plays will not go unnoticed here in New York.

– Brandon Jacobs’ regression will be a major plot line during the pre-season.  Let’s admit it, he’s taken a step back.  Playing at 260 and being 6’4 is great and all but now teams are hitting him at the knees and its wearing the big man down.  He used to wear teams down by the third and fourth quarters but since its the other way around, the Giants have to be concerned.  I think the Giants had better hope Ahmad Bradshaw comes back healthy and with the kind of moves he flashed on the shovel pass by Eli in the second quarter.  Bradshaw played with two broken ankles (i cry when I have one broken ankle, I have no idea how he was walking playing with two) and tried to gut out the season.  I don’t think Bradshaw is a number one back in the league BUT he can be a really good complementary back.  He is most effective as a 225-250 carry back in the league with about 50-75 catches.  He can do wonders in space and I can’t help but feel that Kevin Gilbride, the Giants offensive coordinator, should look to use him in receiver formations to throw defenses a new wrinkle.  He’s an effective screen back runner and the Giants usually do well in identifying excellent in-between the tackle rushers and the Giants should really look to get Andre Brown into that mix.

– It brings us to the Eli Manning hit which of course was shown on loop on ESPN.  Seeing it for the first time it looked gruesome, but with more replays you realized the mix up on the play (Brandon Jacobs said Eli called a running play but Eli changed the play at the line of scrimmage) and the bump by Jacobs loosened the helmet which came flying off at the end of the play thanks to Calvin Pace’s hit.  The blood came gushing out thanks to the face mask of Jim Leonhard who converged from the other side seeing the ball loose.  It was totally coincidental contact on Leonhard’s part which cut Manning on the forehead.  Either way, it was kind of cool to see that kind of physicality from a preseason game.

– Preseason games get a bad rap in terms of intensity, thanks to back ups being in by basically the second quarter, but there was Eli playing in the second, there was LDT and Mark Sanchez playing the entire half.  I loved the intensity from both sides.  Clearly both teams came to win the game, so how do I grade both first teams?  I thought the first team defense of the Jets was the best unit on the field hands down.  Eli never had much time and Rex Ryan threw some blitzes to mix up timing.  Maybe not as much as Rex would but certainly the natural pressure they got affected Eli’s timing.  Here are other winners and losers:

1. Victor Cruz- Pre Season games are not meant for guys with contracts and set in stone positions on the team.  They are for the, oh i don’t know, undrafted rookies out of UMASS just trying to get noticed and if you’ve been following the tweets and reports from Giants camp like I have, Monday was NOT the first time you heard the kid’s name.  Cruz has been impressive in practice and showed on the field that perhaps the Giants plucked another gem.  Cruz’ work ethic and overall demeanor will certainly gain him favor when it comes time for coaches to make those tough decisions at the end of camp of who to go to the regular season with.  All his catches seemingly were passes lofted to him where he had to make a play on the ball and he came down with the ball.  With injuries befalling the Giants depth chart at receiver and tight end, it leaves spots that can be earned and clearly Victor Cruz (a local product from Patterson, NJ) is taking advantage.

2. Jason Pierre Paul-  Remember, he’s still a work in progress.  He JUST started playing organized football during his senior year of football.  He walked on to South Florida last year at this time and vaulted himself to first round status.  He’s a freak of nature and he showed.  Right now, he needs coaching on technique and how to use his unbelievable physical talents but when he understands what’s going on in front of him and how to leverage the offensive linemen, this guy could be a force.  In college they basically threw him out there in every part of the defensive line and basically handed him instructions to get to the QB and that he did.  This is just one guy’s opinion but with enough reps, he could average a sack per game.  He’s just that naturally gifted that if he had 10 snaps per game to start off, I predict he could easily get one sack per game.  His wing span is that of a 7 footer which means that if he gets his hands underneath the offensive lineman’s hands, the offensive lineman better start trying his best to put the brakes on because he’s going to get pushed back.

3. John Connor- The Terminator.  Loved him on Hard Knocks and I have to admit I was watching him play on the field.  He’s behind Tony Richardson one of the best fullbacks of all time and he stands to gain alot of knowledge about hustle and everything else but what a pro to be behind.  He already has mastered the one key component of a fullback: “the I am not afraid to get hit” part of being one.  On the LDT rushing TD that was negated by a holding penalty, Connor bulldozed Jonathan Goff and LDT blasted through the zone.  I think LDT is going to love running behind the rookie.  Speaking of which…

4. LaDanian Tomlinson- I’ve never been a huge LDT fan.  I think the guy quit on his team in just about every single playoff game they lost.  He pouts when he doesn’t get the ball despite the fact that it became obviously clear that in the last two seasons Darren Sproles became the Chargers better running option.  I think it was a stupid move for the Jets to let Thomas Jones and his hard working, leadership go for what turns out to be pennies, and recruited LDT to come in and take over the mentoring role for Shonn Greene.  I believe Chargers like Philip Rivers (who I’ve made no bones about being one of my favorite players in the league) told you a lot about the atmosphere around the Chargers with LDT saying “everyone can breathe now.”  But, Mike Tannenbaum took a roll of the dice and went all in for the 2010 season with the moves he did make and this represents one of his biggest gambles (other than that staring contest with Darrelle Revis’ agent) as GM.  What this game proved is that the Jets have one of the best offensive lines in all of football so it stands to reason that LDT could see a renewal here in NY.  If LDT is any kind of competitor, then you can best believe he will use this as momentum.  What I worry about is the LDT that shows up in January.  Jets fans will murder him if they see him sitting on the sidelines with the helmet with the tinted face mask and arms crossed.  I think he will have a good season behind this offensive line.

5.  Mark Sanchez- He was impressive.  Stepped into throws, showed the zip and he was more comfortable in the system that Brian Schottenheimer has installed.  Frankly I still think he’s going to have those moments like that LDT interception where you see the replay and you scratch your head but he won’t have the 12 TD 20 INT line that he had last year.  Last year, he was given a bike with training wheels.  This year, they souped up the bike and are hoping to take off the training wheels, added Santonio Holmes to the group of receivers.  I would put Holmes in the winners list, but he’s out for the first four games thanks to a league suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, so he gets penalized.

Losers:

1. Giants identity- What is it?  The Jets remind me of the Giants from 2007 which won the Super Bowl.  Great line play on both sides and a team built on the running game.  The Giants have the runners but clearly Brandon Jacobs has lost a step and Ahmad Bradshaw is recovering from ankle problems.  There’s a shift that the Giants are going through, they want William Beatty their 2nd round draft pick from a year ago to take over on the offensive line for Rich Seubert who was injured during training camp and will miss a few weeks.  So that continuity isn’t there, which coincidentally the Jets took over that streak when the Giants had a few injuries last year, but one which the Jets won’t have either thanks to Alan Faneca not being resigned.  I think the Giants have to go back to 50/50 run/pass and can not expect Eli Manning to put up 4,000 yards of passing every year.  They need to do it on the ground and get back to the formula of success that has been almost a hallmark of the franchise.  Power running games keep the team fresher and allow the QB to stay up right which is what you want more than anything.

2. Giants Special teams-  Right now, Matt Dodge looks like an absolute failure as the replacement for long time safety net Jeff Feagles who retired after 100 years in the NFL.  Dodge has been shanking punts and hitting line drives which any 9 year old kid with Madden can tell you is a no-no.  With Domenik Hixon out for the regular season with a torn ACL (thanks to the Meadowlands new turf), the return game is a big question mark as well and the Giants trotted out Aaron Ross, Andre  Brown, Duke Calhoun to name a few.  No one stood out and that could be a problem.  The last few years have shown how important the field battle can be an important one to win.  If the Giants dont fix this problem, there may not be much the defense can do.

3. Antonio Cromartie, Jets corners-  The Jets had better hope that the reputation that Cromartie left the Chargers with, (Being soft, afraid of contact, not a hard worker) don’t come to fruition here in New York.  Cromartie is playing under brighter lights especially considering all the attention the Jets are getting with Hard Knocks and all the pre season Super Bowl talk.  Add to that the whole Revis hold out, there is a ton of pressure on Cromartie to compete and hold the fort down.  IF this holdout goes into the regular season, the secondary’s play will be scrutinized and may play a role in negotiations.  Clearly Cromartie right now is the Jets best corner with Revis out and if the Jets get thrown on early and often and can’t stop the pass with regularity, it could become a situation in which the Jets will lose their leverage with Revis and may force the Jets into resigning Revis.  For those wondering the Jets first five games are against Baltimore, New England, Miami, Buffalo and Minnesota, so it will be paramount that the Jets secondary hold their own when Sexy Rexy throws those zero protection blitzes.  For those counting, Cromartie dropped 2 gimme interceptions.

4. Nick Folk- Another decision that made me scratch my head.  Jay Feely has a reputation for being one of the least likable locker room guys and maybe that will help, but Folk has been a wreck after his rookie year.  He made 3 of 4 field goals, but that 46 yard field goal makes you wonder about his head.  Feely hit those 46 yarders with regularity despite being a prick.  Maybe some decisions should be based on talent alone.  This coming from the guy who talks all day about team unity.

5. Chris Canty- He’s the guy that got the huge free agent contract with all that guaranteed money and he’s been guaranteed to be on the sideline with an injury or ineffectiveness.  For what its worth, reports from camp have been that he’s been dominant but if what I saw is true, that’s more on the offensive line being ineffective.  He’s the one guy I’m going to look at to make an impact and he didn’t do jack in the Jet game.  I’m hoping he shows up at some point during real live games because you know, thats what the Giants paid him for.

A few other small non-football related nuggets:

-Loved the fight between the jackass Giant fan who made Fireman Ed get off his post to do his customary J-E-T-S call.  Remember, this was a Jet home game.  Firemen Ed, clearly livid, elbowed the guy a few times and then led a more spirited than necessary for a pre season game rendition of the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS chant.  I’m a Giants fan but Fireman Ed is a part of New York sports.  He’s crafted a legacy for himself that he hopes to carry into this new stadium which Jets fans will call Meadowlands Stadium and Giants fans will call the New Giants Stadium.

– Can we get Woody Johnson a new white shirt and green tie, or is his wardrobe completely filled with that combo?  I mean, come on, i’m sure if he wore a green shirt and white tie, it would be a hit.

– Can’t wait for the next episode of Hard Knocks.  Just one thought relating to HBO docu-series: Rex Ryan was MADE for television.

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Divisional Predictions

We all claim to know a lot about a certain topic. I figured after last week’s 3-1 weekend, I knew all there was to know about playoff football. Last night, I figured that I knew enough to figure that the Arizona Cardinals were good enough to beat the New Orleans Saints. The reason I figured, was that
1. they had more momentum going into the game.
2. Kurt Warner hinted at retirement prior to the playoffs starting and of course God loves him so…can’t really go against that logic.
3. They were battle tested after surviving against the Packers.
4. The Saints were reeling.

Those are all fine and well, unfortunately I failed to properly analyze all the factors the Saints had going for them:

1. The Superdome. Many call it the loudest place for a visitor to come, and one of the last true home field advantages left in the NFL.
2. They resigned fan favorite Deuce McCalister to a contract simply to lead them out onto the field. On the cool scale that rates a 8 and it rightfully sends chills down my spine for them to extend that courtesy to a guy who symbolized the Saint franchise for so long.
3. Louisiana. If any one place has karma stored up, who beats N’awlins, right? This entire state deserves everything good coming to them.

So for todays game, I refuse to look past obvious signs when picking today’s games.

(Home team in caps)
Dallas (+3) over MINNESOTA- Calling it for what it is, I just don’t think the Vikings are playing the kind of football that would warrant me having any kind of confidence in them. Plain and simple. More importantly, I think the Cowboys are finally playing up to their ability which was always their knock. Whether it was Romo’s inability to win in December (which, while really funny and good to use in trash talk to Cowboy fans, shouldve never fell solely on his shoulders), the T.O. distraction, or Wade Phillips (come on, stupid coach theory in full effect here), there were always silly factors legitemately holding them back.
What’s changed? Maybe watching himself on the humongo screen has finally wisened up the bunch that they need to play better. Maybe, having all those distractions finally cast aside has freed all parties from this imaginary weight hanging over this franchise. Or maybe they realized how good they were and they decided to play hard each snap. Regardless, I believe firmly in that “a-ha moment”. That moment of epiphany which seldom few have. The Boys had it against the Saints when they decided to go all out and beat the Saints, then unbeaten. Its similiar to when the Giants, having nothing to play for, played all out against the Patriots and gained confidence from the mere fact that they could hang with what many people were already crowning the best team ever. You know how that story ended. The Cowboys walked into the Superdome needing to win that game to stay alive in the playoff race, and in a performance that was flat out dominating, thoroughly out-played the best team in football at the time. That was the sparkplug, which eventually has led them to the Hubery Humphrey Dome in the Twin Cities. Its led them to Brett Favre, Tony Romo’s idol growing up. No need to tell you that in my mind these offenses match up very well against each other. However, the strength of the defenses is a little different. The offensive line of the Vikings have played absolutely atrociously. No doubt in my mind, I see the combo platter of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, having a field day and spending so much time on Brett Favre that they may become permanent stitches of his jersey. Brett might have been his idol, but today the student will beat the master. Now, I know, you may be saying, but Swith, what about Wade Phillips, don’t you feel he will make a stupid mistake to ruin it for the ‘Boys? My answer is, remember that Brad Childress is his counterpart today. A man, I’m convinced, got that beard, and head mic for the sole reason that he felt as though no one was taking him seriously. I still don’t.Wade, you’ve met your match.

Jets (+8) over Chargers- The closer I’m getting to game day, the more I want to pick the Chargers here, but let’s see, the Chargers have one of the worst run defenses and the Jets have the best run game in the league. On the flip side, the Chargers have one of the best passong attacks in the league, while the Jets blitz from every angle exposing their secondary to one on one match ups on a receiving corps that averages 6’4 and taller. I get that the Chargers will score points regardless of how many Darell Revis’ there are on the field. I get that the Chargers won’t be run heavy today and put Darren Sproles split wide to use his speed. I get that Norv Turner is excellent at spreading the field against blitzing teams. Ok, so what is my case for the Jets? No homer-ism. I think they can control the clock. They can get enough stops, and Mark Sanchez can be capable enough for another 12-18 effort. Will he throw a pair of picks? Likely. Will he get sacked? Yes. But will the running attack go over 200 yards? Yes. Will Brad Smith be feautured? I think so. Will Jets, regardless of outcome, have a better time of possession. Yah.
As long as the Jets do that, they have a chance to keep it close. My prediction is this: either a very close Jet win, OR a San Diego blowout.

Enjoy Divisional Weekend!

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