Post Game Thoughts: Jets 6 Dolphins 10
For those of you who forgot or never knew what it was like to be a Jets fan in December, welcome to the nightmare that is being a Jets fan.
A few weeks ago QB Mark Sanchez really looked like he turned a corner. He was playing great and putting up some big numbers, even if most of them were coming late in games. But he has hit a wall in the last three games and now looks just like that unsure and unconfident rookie that played in 2009. Sanchez may have had the worst start any Jets QB in recent memory has had. He probably should have had 3 passes intercepted early on and luckily the Dolphins only picked off one of them. He was clearly pressing and is now trying to throw the football with guys draped on him deep in his own territory. His arm looks tired at times and is not getting some of the deep balls to reach the way he did these last few weeks. He had shots deep at both WR Jerricho Cotchery and WR Braylon Edwards and just could not get the ball there. Early in the year those both may have been touchdowns. He did put everything he had into a beautiful bomb to WR Santonio Holmes. He is also getting the ball batted down way too often at the line of scrimmage. He made some nice throws here and there, but the defense is not good enough this season to carry a QB who shows a few plays here and there like a rookie.
That's not to say its all his fault. Holmes dropped a TD that was a picture perfect pass and Cotchery dropped two major passes right in his hands that would have extended a drive into a scoring position. Sanchez could not have thrown the ball any better on those two plays and the Jets just dropped them. That is a lack of focus. The offensive line continues to struggle, forcing him to evade pressure far too often. It is the most overpaid and over hyped unit in the NFL. RT Damien Woody had to leave the game and his backup T Wayne Hunter is not very good which made things even worse. TE Ben Hartsock is awful. Two terrible penalties on the day. He should not even be playing. Robert Turner has to be a better blocker than Hartsock and its not like Turner is any less of a threat in the passing game than Hartsock is. The Jets use Hartsock essentially as an extra lineman and he is bad in that role. Guys are just coming in unblocked and at times the line just looks like chaos. The running game continues to be a non factor. You have to give the Miami Dolphins defense credit for their run defense as well, but RB's LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene were far below average. Greene did show some nice life in the passing game, something that has been slowly making his way into the games lately. The blocking is just not there and much like how Hartsock is worthless the Fullbacks are in the same category. FB Tony Richardson misses far more blocks than he makes and just becomes a worthless body clogging up running lanes.
Of course what doomed the Jets yet again was the horrible play on third down. You had players running a few yards short of markers. You had miscommunication between Sanchez and the receivers. You had dropped passes. And you also just had horrible throws from the QB position. It is impossible to win in the NFL when you can not convert on third downs. Sanchez for whatever reason seems to only throw to two players on third down- Cotchery or Holmes. It is developing into a bad tendency and is often having players double or triple teamed when he makes those decisions to throw the football. Edwards is his biggest targt and I don't think they looked at him one time on 3rd down. Holmes may be the most dangerous player on the team, but there is almost no case that can be made to never look at Edwards and instead look at Cotchery.
Most of the Jets offensive problems were summed up perfectly on the drive that resulted in the second field goal of the game. They get a huge play to take all the momentum of the game, but just can't get capitalize on it. That happened a number of times in the game. The Jets had great field position off the opening kickoff and went nowhere. Three plays for 7 yards and a punt. They had a great chance after a huge defensive turnover put them at the 50 and proceeded to go 6 plays for 14 yards and had to punt The team just does not operate well when you ask them to be a consistent yardage producing unit. Good teams have to seize the momentum, especially at home. When a team turns the ball over as much as Miami did today it usually has a snowball effect when the offense turns those into points. The Jets did not and let an easy win pass them by.
This was another wasted defensive effort by the offense today. Miami's offense is putrid, but the Jets did everything they had to do to win the game except pick up a turnover and run it into the end zone. The team gave QB Chad Henne no breathing room on the day. The pass rush absolutely swallowed him up leading to a number of turnovers and negative yards. LB Calvin Pace made his first notable appearance in months when he came in unblocked and murdered Henne, causing a big fumble. DE Shaun Ellis had a sack. S Brodney Pool was super active in the backfield and had his most noticeable game since signing with the team. He had a fumble recovery and a sack. This was probably the most aggressive we have seen the guys play up front in weeks. NT Sione Pouha was a monster. He ate up the inside of the line all evening for New York and completely disrupted the running game. He does so many things well and never gets recognized in the media for it. His contributions allowed LB Bart Scott to freely be a tackling machine on the day. The secondary played great and gave up almost nothing. The Jets decided to mainly put CB Antonio Cromartie, rather than CB Darrelle Revis, on star WR Brandon Marshall. Cromartie I believe have up one reception and Revis game up none, though WR Davone Bess was open over Revis and just didn't get the ball on one play. The only big catch of the day went to TE Anthony Fasano on what looked like a broken coverage. In the end that catch meant nothing. Clearly the defense is the only unit that the fans have confidence in. You heard it come through the TV as they were alive when the defense was on the field and the defense seemed to feed off it.
Unfortunately the one mistake the defense made was Scott failing to knock down Marshall near the goalline. He never should have been on that assignment in the first place, but it led to the only touchdown of the day for Miami and that was the difference in the game. Every other time they had to make a play they did. They made every play they had to make in crunch time and gave the offense countless opportunities with the football. You can't ask for more than that. Sadly it all went for nothing, but hopefully it's a sign for these last three games that the defense can still be a difference maker on the field.
The real star of the game was the punter for the Miami Dolphins. He consistently hit these booming punts to flip field position. Normally when you do that against a bad offense you can win an ugly game and that is what happened here. He should be the MVP of the game. K Nick Folk made his two kicks which takes him off the hot seat for a week while P Steve Weatherford punted pretty well except for one bad punt that was under 30 yards. He did pin the Dolphins a few times. Brad Smith had a great kick return to start the game, but the Jets were clearly searching for a punt return guy. CB Antonio Cromartie got most of the looks which was a strange decision. RB Joe McKnight is more dangerous and WR Santonio Holmes should also be more dangerous in that role. Cromartie is a good open field runner off interceptions but that is a different skillset. WR Jerricho Cotchery made an awful decision to catch the football inside the 10.
Im sure there are plenty of people crucifying the coaching for the game, but maybe it is just time to admit the team is not as good as everyone thought. The Jets constantly look to be coming out flat, but other than these late game miracles, when do they not look flat during a game? If they played incredibly well during the 2nd and 3rd quarters you can start to point fingers at the staff, but it is not the case. The team stinks in quarter 1, 2, 3 and 4. That is probably a talent issue more than a coaching issue.
That is not to say that the Jets did not have their share of coaching flubs. Somehow they had not 10 men on the field but an incredible 9 men on the field which caused a blown time out which the Jets clearly could have used at the end of the first half. This is just a major problem with Rex and his staff and it is not getting better. They had some bizarre defensive play calls like putting LB Bart Scott on WR Brandon Marshall rather than letting CB Darrelle Revis play on him. A 4th and 1 situation saw the team inexplicably use Brad Smith in shotgun, with 3 other players in the backfield. That is the type of trick play insanity that drives people nuts because it has no place in any game, let alone the one team who knows the Wildcat better than any other in the NFL. Having the QB spike the ball off a short completion when you have no ability to sustain drives was a horrible decision if that came in from the sidelines. Penalties continue to be an issue which is usually attributed to a lack of preparation during the week.
This was just such a terrible loss. The only thing the Jets had to do this week was not turn the ball over and not give up a big special teams play. The accomplished the latter but failed miserably at the former. This was like a carbon copy of the way they lost the home game against Miami last season. Miami had no offense at all on the day and somehow outscored the Jets. It is a disgrace how bad the Jets play at home each week and this is two years running now that that is the case. Teams want to turn the corner in December playing their best football. The Jets are playing their worst. Luckily for New York the rest of the AFC is terrible so they may be able to sneak in with just one more win, but it is not crazy to think after these last two games that the Jets will not make the playoffs.
Quite frankly when the Jets play a good defense they cant win a football game. Blame whomever you want for that. Blame Rex Ryan. Blame Brian Schottenheimer. Blame Mike Tannenbaum. Blame Mark Sanchez. Blame them all, but it is a fact. These Jets are no different than the Chad Pennington era teams that could never do anything offensively once they matched up with a team like the Steelers. Sure these Jets make some prettier plays down the field, but the overall result is the same. No 3rd down conversions and no points on the board. It's basically a decade of frustration and rewatching the same old story every week for the fans.
The question is where do the Jets go from here? The divisional race is finished. They lost, but maybe that's a good thing. The offense stinks at home and probably have a chance to be more productive on the road. But the Jets have to think long and hard about whether or not they believe they can reach a Super Bowl this season. When they answer that question they have to be honest about it, and not just go with Rex saying “I believe these guys are the best in the league” feel good answer. Mark Sanchez is the future of this franchise. He is more important than any veteran chasing a ring, any big name free agent that won't be back next year, and any owner desperate to grab headlines to sell seats for his stadium. His confidence is rocked and his line is crumbling around him. He cost the team the game today and set up more points for the Dolphins than he did his own team. This had Ken O'Brien written all over it.
The battle for a young QB to make it in the NFL is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. When you see the progression of young QB's who were quickly thrown into the fire there is a noticeable progression. They play poorly as a rookie, are questioned in that offseason but most of the focus is positive, and then they progress in year 2. The key point though is just how much they progress. When they don't have that massive progression and the team does not show the expected improvement the offseason focus becomes overly negative. Those who don't progress enough often regress in year 3 and flop. The Jets can not have that happen with Sanchez but it is about to.
The Jets may be able to avoid it by changing the way they play offense even if it means losing their chance at playing for a Super Bowl. It would require the team to significantly tighten the reigns and start running the offense as if it was a West Coast style offense. Use short drops and quick passes to move the football and take the focus off the poor play of the QB. Find more ways to max protect him rather than making him think that the rush is going to get him every play. Play very conservative on defense to not allow plays to put the offense in a position where they have to catch up. This isn't the type of play likely to win in the playoffs, but that no longer looks like it should be the objective. If they have Sanchez look the captain of a sinking ship for the next 3 games there is danger of wiping out his career. That type of pressure and scrutiny is more or less what derailed O'Brien's career all those years ago when the coach put too much on him and then made him stand out as the scapegoat for what might have been.
Regardless of what decision they make the Jets have 3 weeks to try to get the kinks worked out. 10 wins has a good chance at getting them in, but it is not guaranteed. They are now going to have to pull off an upset win in either Pittsburgh or Chicago to guarantee the playoffs and then make sure to take care of business against Buffalo. The season at this point is going to be a bitter disappointment, but with expectations lowered maybe just making it will make the younger portion of the fan base pleased with the progress they see.
The Jets are now going to deal with a media barrage of negativity these next few weeks. Ryan in particular is going to get taken to task for the things he says and then what happens on the field. How he handles it will tell us a lot about the mental makeup of the coach and if he is going to be a real long term fixture in New York or if he is going to be another in a long line of Jets coaches that seem to last for a few years before being run out of town for seemingly never being able to handle adversity and pressurized situations. Ryan is a fun guy to have around and clearly knows the game so hopefully he gets by this, learns from it, and improves as a coach in the future. The franchise will be better off if they can have him here for more than just 2 or 3 more seasons.