Houston we have a Problem!!!...One that could be exacerbated still further by the arrival of Gary Kubiak’s imperious Texans outfit in East Rutherford on Monday night.
Since the beginning of his tenure in 2009, Rex Ryan has moulded a side very much in his image – loud, brash, and combative.
But lately it appears that attitude has amounted to little more than a facade, as since they marched into Foxborough on the 16th of January 2011, and left, quite literally in the case of Braylon Edwards, doing summersaults following a 28–21 upset of the Patriots, there has been a regression.
One that has left them not only looking second best in their own division, but very much second best in their own city, as ‘Big Blue’ have ruled the roost, winning one Superbowl title before Ryan’s arrival, and kick–starting their march to a second triumph with a 29–14 win over Ryan’s big–talking Jets in week 17 of last season.
So, what exactly is the problem with a team that for two straight seasons, 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively, appeared on the verge of something really substantial by twice reaching the AFC Championship game? The offense, the defense, ‘Tebowmania’, or is the decline down to an amalgamation of all three?
Let’s start by looking the campaign thus far. In week one, New York took on divisional rivals the Buffalo Bills, and despite the concession of 28 points, Mark Sanchez led ‘Gang Green’ to an emphatic 48–28 win, going 19–of–27 for 266 yards, three touchdowns, and only throwing the one interception.
Week two brought Ryan’s men face to face with the ‘Steel Curtain’, who quite literally put the curtain down on the New York Jets, suffocating Mark Sanchez and his offense to the a meagre 138–yards, one touchdown, and putting up 331 net yards in total offence of their own, culminating in a 27–10 success. Mark Sanchez said in the aftermath of the Buffalo win – “It’s a great win, there’s no doubt about it. But, we’ve got lots of work to do”. - Seems fairly insignificant on the face of it, but a statement that was to prove remarkably prophetic in the coming weeks.
The third week of the season took the Jets to sunny Florida, and hopefully a brighter performance. They got the win, culminating in Nick Folks 33 yard field goal with 6:04 left on the clock, but the nature of the performance left much to ponder, particularly Sanchez who offered up a highly erratic display that brought several wild throws that missed open receivers by some distance, although it hardly helps when your receiving corps conspire to make matters worse by shelling a succession of makeable receptions. He finished 21-for-45 for 306 yards and two interceptions.
But, a wins a win, right? No matter how it comes about? Though there is some truth in this, the 23–20 win over Miami merely papered over cracks, cracks that were to be brutally exposed by Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, who in week 4, who proceeded to pulverise the Jets to the tune of a 34–0 hiding, and represented the biggest beating since their 37–0 shut–out against Buffalo in 1989.
The nature of the capitulation was so bad that it left Rex Ryan, usually the epitome of self–assurance and ebullience, visibly shaken and almost unable to surmise – “It’s obviously unacceptable. It starts with the coaches. The players…..they’ve got to dig deep, look down at themselves”.
But what of ‘themselves?’ Just who or what is to blame? Results would suggest both offense and defense are equal corroborators in this unfortunate situation, as a pass completion percentage of 49.2% (a hugely influential factor in putting up of no more than an average of 20.2 points per game), a 21st ranked defense that’s being gashed for an average of 370.2 yards per game, an eventuality that’s led to the concession of 109 points in four games. But what do the analysts and experts make of the situation?
During a live studio debate with NFL network presenter Fran Charles, former Saints safety Darren Sharper was unequivocal in his assertion that the current crisis in New York lay squarely with the defence “you know I’m going to go with this defense, because this defensive ranking has slipped. Since 2009, they were 1st in defence, but 1st in scoring defence. Now, they’ve dropped all the way to 21st in total defence, but worse than that, 22nd in scoring defense, and when you have an offence that cannot put up a lot of points. Back in 09’ when I faced this team, they had a young Quarterback in Mark Sanchez. They didn’t score a lot of points then, but they had a stout defense that did not allow you to score points. Now with them giving up the amount of points that they are, they’re forcing this offense to do what they cannot do, and that’s putting points up on the board. So this combination is not working right now, with the lack of a rush defense is making it tough for them to win games”.
Also present during the debate was Tom Waddle, the former Bears wide receiver, although he cited the offense, and in particular, Quarterback Mark Sanchez as the definitive reason for the teams struggles of late. He said “It’s obviously the Quarterback in my world. The way this team is playing and the way this team is currently constructed, they need more from the Quarterback position and Mark Sanchez has not provided that spark. The last three week he’s completed less than 50% of his passes. In a perfect world for Rex Ryan, you would have an explosive running game – something they’re not getting form Shonn Greene, whose contribution thus far has been pretty minimal to say the least, as on 68 attempts he’s fashioned 191 yards and only found the end–zone once – and a dominant defense, and a Quarterback that manages things without making a mistakes.
"So far Shonn Greene has not evolved into the no.1 runningback. The defense is middle of the road, and that means the Quarterback has got to provide the spark! Sanchez hasn’t done that for the last couple of years Fran (Charles). You can win games with Mark Sanchez. You can’t win games because of Mark Sanchez”.
So, two contrasting opinions, all very apt, as in truth the current crisis engulfing the Jets has come about courtesy of a cumulative effort of poor play on both sides of the ball. However, is there a third force at play? And could that force be the cloud of ‘Tebowmania’ that has cast such a distractive shadow, not only over The New Meadowlands, but more importantly within the mind of Mark Sanchez? Tom Jackson, former Broncos, and now analyst for
ESPN’s ‘The Blitz’, certainly thinks so “First of all I think his psyche is already being affected by bringing Tim Tebow in. I didn’t think he was able to stand up to it anyway”.
The team is going to be what it is now. So if in fact they play like that (against the 49ers) why wouldn’t you play Tim Tebow? (9 passing yards, 38 rushing, 47 in total may provide a clue) I’m not a psychologist, but I’m watching this kid, and his psyche has been destroyed, and you knew it was going to happen.
Interestingly enough, prior to the start of the season, another ESPN analyst Skip Bayless asserted, in typically colourful fashion “Mark Sanchez will crumble under the pressure of having Tim Tebow waiting in the wings, on the Jets side line, and Tim Tebow will get his chance at being the STARTING Quarterback of the New York Jets. The STARTING Quarterback of the New York Jets, and he will have that opportunity, just in the way that he seized it in Denver, when he took over from Kyle Orton at 1 – 4, and all he’ll do IS WIN GAMES”.
Steven A. Smith, colleague and regular sparring partner of Bayless, had an altogether different theory where it concerns the mind-set of Mark Sanchez and how it’s impacting upon the Jets offensive struggles “I get where he (Tom Jackson) coming from and so far he seems prophetic. No doubt about it. But here’s where I do disagree with him – I do not believe that Tim Tebow’s arrival has damaged the psyche of Mark Sanchez. I believe that Rex Ryan and Mike Tennenbaum (General Manager) have damaged the psyche of Mark Sanchez from the time he came into the NFL."
He continued – “They drafted him no.5 overall. They handed the starting job to him. They’re definition of a back – up Quarterback was ‘Mr.Warp’ himself – Mark Brunell, who we all know would not take a snap in the NFL ever again OK!, because of his age and attrition alone. That was their definition of a back–up Quarterback, which was the height of job security, if you’re somebody at the Quarterback position. If your Mark Sanchez that made it not only inexplicable but asinine, because he had the development to kick in. He had the stages of growth and maturation, he had to go though”.
Smith went on to say - “And to give him the starting job and to never have any challenges whatsoever, the first three seasons alienated half the Jets locker room, because they know how coddled he has been over the three years. So even though you can point to Tebow’s arrival, my contention is that this is the easy way out because this is the latest in all the things that have contributed to the damaging of Mark Sanchez, because you should never had handed him security in the first place, so he (Sanchez) felt like it was being taken away from him when Tebow arrived”.
One team that has no such problems are the Jets next opponents – the Houston Texans, who look very much the cream of the AFC crop, on both sides of the ball. At this present moment, Gary Kubiak’s Texans are sat atop the AFC South. Though you may argue they are contesting a weak division with a combined win record of 3, and 3 of the 4 teams beaten all have losing records going into this weekend (Miami Dolphins: 1–3, Jacksonville Jaguars: 1–3, and Tennessee Titans: 1–3), you can only beat what’s in front of you, and in any case, though Denver are going through an obvious transitional phase, replacing Tebow with the more seasoned Peyton Manning, a man that though in the mould of the more classical passer, still needs time to fully master the Broncos play – book and execute it accordingly, and by all accounts Houston have been utterly brilliant and uncompromising in doing so.
Chief protagonists beings being Quarterback Matt Schaub, who looks every inch the elite Quarterback he’s so often threatened to be by amassing 953 passing yards, completing 83 of 124 passes (66.9% completion rate), Runningback Arian Foster, who on 103 carries has totalled 380 – yards, taking it to the house on four occasions, and defensive leviathan J.J Watt, a man who’s become the nucleus of one the most intimidating defensive fronts in football, with a sack in all four games played so far, and is also on course to beat his rookie total of 5.5 achieved in 2011. He has an NFL leading 7.5 overall.
In summary, the Jets face what can only be described as a mountainous task, one that will only grow bigger if the issues that have plagued their season so far, rear their ugly heads live on national television come Monday night – these Jets will be in for one nasty crash landing that will cascade over from now until the end of what could wind up being a long and painful season.
image: © fermentarium