Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bills
With a playoff spot clinched and nothing to play for this will be a bit of a different game preview. The outcome makes no difference nor does the opponent so I'm just going to lay out some thoughts on the team itself and be back with the usual preview for the Wildcard game the following week.
After weeks and weeks of being ineffective the offense began to turn things around in Pittsburgh and then exploded last week in Chicago. QB Mark Sanchez is dealing with a shoulder injury of some sort and the temptation is there to sit him this week because of it. With the young QB playing his best football of the year you have to wonder if that is a good idea or not. If there is one thing Sanchez has shown in his brief time in the NFL it is that he goes through hot and cold spells and sometimes it is best to try to keep him hot by playing him. If he did not cause further harm to his throwing shoulder last week it is doubtful that another week of playing would injure him. The offense is still a work in progress and expecting them to just be able to take a week off and turn it on next week is not the most reasonable thought. While the Bills are not a good defense the Jets need the work. There are pieces to this offense that are really starting to click as they make the turn to the playoffs. The offensive line is playing outstanding football. They are not allowing the pressure to get to Sanchez and making him run for his life every play. They are opening holes in the running game to where RB Shonn Greene is beginning to resemble the player from the end of last season and RB LaDainian Tomlinson could be used to gain big yards and slow a game down at a critical juncture. WR Braylon Edwards is being used in a different manner and playing great football making tough catches all over the field. Even TE Dustin Keller made a reappearance in the stat sheet last week. If you take Sanchez out of the game no work that these players gets is of any benefit. Backup QB Mark Brunell is a completely different player than Sanchez. Just the fact that he is a lefty makes things totally different. At this stage of his career he is no threat in the passing game which allows the Bills to use different defenses than they would against Sanchez. If you bench Sanchez you may as well bench Edwards, Greene, Ferguson, Mangold, and Santonio Holmes and treat the game as if it's the first preseason game of the year.
None of this means that they have to play an entire game, just that they need to play long enough to get a good amount of work in. You can accomplish that with letting them play into the 3rd quarter and then pulling them after 1 or 2 series. It will keep the offense flowing and the players sharp, something that seems to be an issue with this team when they get too much time off. The only player who should be sat for the whole game, or at least all but a possession, is Tomlinson. Tomlinson is the one piece that is on the older side and has been worn down as the season has gone on. While he has played well this year you can not compare what he did early in the season to what he has done late in the year. Even as his contributions in the passing game have grown he doesn't look to have the same legs. Moving LT out for the week also gives the Jets a chance to take a look at RB Joe McKnight in a meaningful offensive role. McKnight has turned into quite the special teams player, but if the offense falters in the playoffs they could use his explosive potential to make a big play. You would rather see him fumble his chance here than next week in a move of desperation. Seeing him this week with the starters can at least give the staff an idea of if he could be used in a pinch next week. He is the only offensive non-starter worth evaluating this week.
Wile the offense is playing its best football of the year the defense is playing its worst. Really the whole season has been a disappointment for this unit, though one that was relatively expected if you follow the historic trends of great defenses. The pass defense has been poor all season and CB Darrelle Revis even admitted that he did not think he was going to go to the Pro Bowl this year based on his decline in play. Revis is still a lockdown player but no longer a difference maker in the scheme as teams just avoid him unless he falls down or is spotted playing zone. Really the problems with the pass defense is the fact that they have no third or fourth corner and never found an adequate replacement for S Kerry Rhodes, traded due to his poor attitude about the team. CB Drew Coleman isn't capable of covering anyone, especially those who can go down the field while CB Kyle Wilson is hidden on the bench most of the game. Really the best asset of any of the Jets other corners is that they can be effective on a blitz, which is where Coleman and CB Marquice Cole have made their contributions. The Safety play is bad. They don't have much range and all are limited in some way. S Brodney Pool has not been effective and S Eric Smith is a disaster waiting to happen most plays. CB Dwight Lowery has the ball skills to be good at the position but his speed is so poor that he cant keep up when he has to go one on one or make up large ground to help out one of the corners. Perhaps due to all of the shuffling of the lineup due to injuries, holdouts, and ineffectiveness also hurt as the communication between the players has been terrible all year and it shows when players are wide open on 3rd and long with nobody around them. They have gotten no aid from the pass rush which has just been dead this season. The team never pressures the QB, often giving them all day to throw the football. There is really nobody who should escape the blame here as all have been bad. It is likely not something that can be fixed until the offseason.
However, the recent most alarming trend is the terrible run defense being shown by the team. The coach has attributed it to a lack of fundamentals and that they need to go back to practicing fundamentals, but I believe its more than that. It is very rare for a team to go from being a dominant run defense to a swiss cheese defense because they forgot their fundamentals late in the year. Run defense is often all about willpower and out willing your opponent. I think the Jets have simply worn down. There is a lot of age between DE Shaun Ellis and LB Jason Taylor and DE Mike DeVito and NT Sione Pouha have logged so much time between the playoffs and regular seasons after years of being benchwarmers that they are probably a bit tired. Even LB Bart Scott, who is now 30, is looking slower. Scott takes a lot of punishment on the field that goes unnoticed every week and it may also be taking its toll on him. These players all need the week off. This is different than the offense which needs to stay in sync and keep executing plays. The defense isn't going to fix itself by overwhelming a bad Bills offense. If anything it just provides a false sense of security when they head on the road next weekend. They have to get to the root of their problem in their run game which is that their players need rest. The Jets have plenty of depth on defense where they can find fill ins even if it means playing more of a 43 front and being undersized in the middle.
Obviously Rex Ryan has the big decisions about who to play and how long to play them for. Hopefully the decision is totally his to make and he is not getting pressure from upstairs to give the fans the starters if does not feel it is in the best interest of the team. The thing Ryan has to do this week is stay out of the controversial decision making if only to keep the questions off him about certain aspects of his game management. Controversial special teams decisions, improper use of challenges, poor clock management, and substitution problems have been noticed more frequent of late and that can become a distraction to a coach, especially one like Ryan. Ryan can be a bit stubborn and when something doesn't work he is the kind of guy to shoot back “and if happened again Id do it the same way”, which in some cases may be right, but in most is probably just chasing a dream. Why get the thought in your head that you have to do something to prove everyone else wrong in a totally meaningless game?
The one thing that I hope is that the Jets do not do something disingenuous and try to spin 11 wins as some big accomplishment. It isn't. It is good, but it is no better than 10 wins. The facts are the Jets did not meet their regular season goals they set for themselves and the fans in the preseason. They essentially are in the same exact spot they were in last season. But the Jets have to put that all behind them and aim for the future.
The Jets had two sets of goals going into the season. One was that regular season goal of having the best record in the NFL, which the team can not meet, but the second goal of winning the Super Bowl is certainly still within reach. Is this years path to the Super Bowl that much harder than last season? Everyone may point to the Patriots having home field and playing so well, but the Jets did beat them early in the year and are they really that much better than a Colts team that made a run at the unbeaten season/? I don't believe so. Are the Chiefs any different than the upstart Bengals of last season? No. Are this years Colts or Jaguars better than last seasons Chargers? Not in a million years. The Jets already beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this year and were within a point of the Ravens, a game that the Jets should have won.
If the Jets had a chance last year they have a similar chance this year. The field is wide open and on paper the Jets are as talented as any of these teams. Their best chances to win are keeping the offense hot and getting the players on defense some rest as they get ready for next week. That has to be the goal this week. The final score of the game is completely secondary to that. If Sanchez continues to play high percentage football and the defense can recover their desire to stop the run they will have a great chance against a team such as the Chiefs in round 1. Happy New Year.
Jets 17 Bills 10