I had to chuckle at Rex Ryan on Wednesday as he paraded through his midweek news conference in costume, an homage to his twin brother, Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. That there was actually a joke was immaterial to Ryan’s spoof on his Week 10 matchup against the Browns; there’s something inherently funny about an overweight guy wearing a long wig and stuffing his XXXL shirt with a pillow.
Humor aside, though, there was something fitting (pun not intended) about Ryan’s getup, because his team’s identity is pretty slippery these days.
At 6-2, the Jets are in good shape halfway through the season. That is, if we’re using record as a barometer.
Don’t get me wrong: To have emerged from a tough first-half slate in prime position for a postseason run is no small feat. But if you’ve watched the Jets play much at all this season, it’s quite obvious that they’ve not yet hit their stride — on offense, in particular — and I have to wonder what, exactly, that stride might be if they were to find it.
I lamented after the Jets’ maddening Week 1 loss to the Ravens on Monday Night Football that their offense was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room for Gang Green in 2010. For all their bluster, their shameless self-promotion, their appearance in Hard Knocks, their splashy moves in consecutive offseasons, the Jets still had a lot of questions to answer.
Chiefly, what of Mark Sanchez’s development, and how would the coaching staff deploy him?
Well, as evidenced by yet another uneven (to be kind) offensive performance on Sunday against the Lions, the jury remains out, and the Jets therefore remain vulnerable as they endeavor to procure a playoff berth for the second consecutive season. Vulnerability, of course, is commonplace in the NFL, particularly in this, the year of pronounced parity, but even the least analytical among us might concede that a win or a loss isn’t always the result of good or bad play.
And the Jets haven’t been playing especially well.
Sanchez has alternated between he’s-getting-it moments to he-looks-worse-than-last-year moments, but the ugly truth is that he boasts a league-worst 53.5 completion percentage, which is really, really bad. He’s not producing turnovers at least season’s prolific rate, which means he’s not costing the Jets games by his lonesome, but he’s certainly not doing much to help them, you know, win. Therein lies the rub for a so-called game-manager; one needs to manage games effectively, e.g. complete a high percentage of his passes if only for modest gainers. This is what Chad Pennington did so well when he was healthy.
Of course, Sanchez’s struggles don’t stand alone in a vacuum. Whether it’s a matter of the chicken or egg coming first, the offense’s calling card, its ground attack, has sputtered along with Sanchez. Since running roughshod over the Viking in Week 5, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene have been pretty quiet.
Finally, when you factor in some dubious decision-making among the Jets’ coaches, we’re left with an offensive unit that has been frustratingly vanilla and ineffective in its past three games. Ryan fancies his offense a footnote to his beloved defense, but if the latter isn’t regularly limiting opponents to about 10 points per game (or fewer), the Jets figure to be in dogfights each week.
For me, it’s a matter of the Jets’ conservatism playing into their opponents’ hands. Linebackers and safeties are cheating up toward the line to bottle up the powerful run game, while corners are jumping the short routes — quick slants and outs. To boot, with Jerricho Cotchery suddenly looking old and unreliable, the Jets don’t have a top-flight possession receiver to run these routes and catch the passes.
I’d like to see more deep throws off the play-action pass and more screens to keep defenses off balance. To that end, I think we can safely say that the Jets are crazy to throw the ball to Braylon Edwards on anything other than a go route, deep post or smash corner. Between his dropsies, so-so ball security and limited yards-after-catch potential, all that he’s really bringing to the table is size and jumping ability, neither of which he uses especially well. Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller have to be the go-to guys for turning modest gains into big ones.
Now, with the the second half of the season still to unfold, the Jets have plenty of time to realize who, exactly, they are, and to solidify their strengths en route to a postseason berth. If they go, say, 4-4 the rest of the way and remain a Jekyll and Hyde act, they’ll still probably wind up in the playoffs, but I can’t say it’ll bode especially well for their chances of reappearing in the AFC Championship Game, let alone making it all the way to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1968.
We know Rex Ryan isn’t his brother, Rob. Now, it’s time to find out who Rex’s Jets are.