AFC East: LaDanian Tomlinson

Previewing the New York Jets

September, 1, 2011
Of the five panelists asked to pick the AFC East, four have the Jets finishing second and Matt Williamson picked them to finish third. Here's my intelligence report on New York:

Five things you need to know about the Jets:

1. Mark Sanchez is going to have a shaky start: The third-year quarterback lost three-quarters of his receiving corps on the eve of training camp (Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith), and it's going to take time to get comfortable with his new weapons, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Fortunately, he still has Santonio Holmes, who will be the go-to guy. During this transition period, the Jets will have to rely on their running game and defense to carry the day. Once the passing game is up to speed, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be able to open things up. After two years of protecting him with the strong running game, the plan is to put more on Sanchez's shoulders. He'll be fine as long as he improves his accuracy.

2. The defense could dominate: If there's one thing Rex Ryan does well -- other than yapping -- it's coaching defense. Barring injuries, this should be a top-three unit for the third straight year. The Jets return 10 starters, nine of whom have been in Ryan's system for two years -- rare continuity. There should be very few mental mistakes, and the familiarity with the scheme should allow Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to cook up some exotic packages. The major flaw is the lack of an elite pass-rusher, but they'll manufacture pressure with an array of blitzes.

3. They're not going to win many footraces: Save for Holmes, TE Dustin Keller and CB Antonio Cromartie, you can't say the Jets have any players exceedingly fast for their positions. The Jets are a big, physical team; they're not going to out-quick many opponents. Burress and Mason are 34 and 37, respectively; third-down back LaDainian Tomlinson is 32; and the middle of the pass defense -- safeties and linebackers -- will get exploited by certain teams. They will continue to struggle between the hashmarks against tight ends and slot receivers.

4. The new kickoff rule will hurt: You could argue that the Jets won three games last season, including a playoff game, because of long kickoff returns. It was an absolute weapon for the Jets, who relied on the return game to change field position. Now, with Smith gone and with touchbacks expected to increase, the Jets are losing a bullet in their revolver. Mike Westhoff is one of the smartest special-teams coaches in the business, but it's hard to scheme up a kickoff return when the ball is flying out of the end zone.

5. Built to win now: This is a smart, veteran team that knows what it takes to get to the playoffs. They're hungry, too, having lost the last two AFC Championship Games. It has to happen this season because they probably won't have Tomlinson, Burress and Mason in 2012, and the highly paid linebacking corps is one year away from an overhaul. They have 19 starters back, which gives them an edge in the post-lockout world. The key is staying healthy, because there are thin areas on both sides of the ball.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 38, Jets 34

December, 26, 2010
CHICAGO -- A look at the New York Jets' loss against the Chicago Bears.

What it means: The New York Jets lucked out -- just like last season. They played Arena League defense and fell to the Chicago Bears 38-34, but they backed into the playoffs because the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Washington Redskins. It was a hollow way to make it for the second straight year, but Rex Ryan, no doubt, will say defiantly, “We’ll take it. We’re not apologizing to anyone.” Right.

The shoulder: Mark Sanchez, he of the ballyhooed sore throwing shoulder, played remarkably well under the circumstances -- until his final throw. At his own 33 with just under a minute to play, he broke a cardinal rule, trying to throw down the sideline against a Cover 2 defense. It was intercepted by Chris Harris, ending the game. His throws lacked some zip, perhaps because of his shoulder.

Too bad, because Sanchez had played wonderfully until then. He opened by hitting his first nine passes, and he finished 24-for-37 for 269 yards and one touchdown. He should’ve had two touchdown passes, but tight end Dustin Keller dropped a pass in the end zone.

Sanchez showed patience against the Bears’ Cover 2 defense, throwing short passes and finding seams in their zone scheme. The slant routes and in-cuts were there all day, and he consistently found Braylon Edwards (6 catches for 78 yards).

If Sanchez’s shoulder was bothering him -- he has minor cartilage damage -- it didn’t show. His improved play over the past two weeks is a positive for the Jets.

Weird call: The Jets got cute with a seven-point halftime lead, trying a fake punt from their 40 on the opening possession of the third quarter. Sanchez, the up-back in punt formation, rolled right and threw an incompletion to Brad Smith. It was a strange decision, to be sure, but it should’ve worked. Smith was open and had enough for the first down -- three yards -- but he dropped it. It was a huge momentum shift.

Where’s the D? Facing the league’s 30th-rated offense, the Jets’ defense sprung leaks everywhere -- no pass rush, porous coverage in the secondary and shoddy tackling. The Bears opened the second half by scoring on three straight possessions. The Jets made offensive coordinator Mike Martz look like the genius he thinks he is.

In the past two games, the Jets have allowed 700 total yards -- a major concern as they head into a likely postseason appearance. They prepared to stop the Bears’ running game, but the Bears adjusted and put the ball in Jay Cutler’s hands.

Cutler shredded them in the third quarter, throwing three touchdowns and passing for 117 yards. Naturally, he stayed away from cornerback Darrelle Revis and picked on everybody else, burning safety Dwight Lowery, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and nickel back Drew Coleman for touchdowns.

Greene day: Shonn Greene, not LaDainian Tomlinson, was the feature back. Very interesting. Tomlinson didn’t appear on the injury report, so this had to be a coach’s decision. Not only did Greene (12 carries for 70 yards) take a lot of reps for Tomlinson in the base offense, but he also replaced him as the third-down back in many situations.

Pick-six, burn-six: Lowery, starting his second game at safety for Eric Smith (concussion), was involved in three scoring plays -- two negative, one positive. He scored on a 20-yard interception return (his second of the season), but he also got torched by receiver Johnny Knox on a 40-yard touchdown and missed a tackle on a 22-yard scoring run by Matt Forte.

Brick wall: Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had a quiet game, and there was a reason for that -- left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson did a fantastic job in pass protection, locking down Sanchez’s blind side.

What’s ahead: The Jets close the regular season with a home game against the Buffalo Bills (4-11). They crushed the Bills in October 38-14, but Chan Gailey’s team has improved -- Sunday’s blowout loss to the New England Patriots notwithstanding.