- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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The New York Jets' season is all but over, one lame loss in Miami away from utter disappointment. Already, fans and critics are armed with pitchforks and torches at the metaphorical gates of Fort Florham. Those most in danger of being tarred and feathered are offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Coach Rex Ryan backs both Sanchez and, less unequivocally, Schottenheimer -- aka The Usual Target.
So why does the angry mob give general manager Mike Tannenbaum a free pass?
Many in recent days have defended Sanchez by pointing to an inconsistent offensive line and a revolving door at wide receiver over the last three years.
But who is responsible for that?
This offseason, the Jets chased Nnamdi Asomugha like a besotted schoolboy on Valentine's Day, letting reliable returner Brad Smith slip off to Buffalo. Offensive lineman Damien Woody had already been unceremoniously dumped after he needed surgery to repair an Achilles tendon. Wayne Hunter was deservedly -- at the time -- named the starting right tackle, but when the team's only other reliable offensive backup, Rob Turner, went out with a broken leg, Tannenbaum never pursued a veteran backup.
Small moves all, with big implications later.
Schottenheimer can't fix his personnel, and Sanchez had the snot knocked out of him by the Ravens.
Go down the Jets' roster. Safety, outside linebacker, wide receivers, special teams -- have the Jets improved in the last three years? Have enough of the draft picks lived up to their promise?
How about backups? Ryan's predecessor, Eric Mangini, valued players like safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Drew Coleman, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Jason Trusnik -- versatile guys, special teams contributors who may not start but are capable of performing in their roles at a reliable level.
"Where's the middle class on this team?" said one source who is intimately familiar with the team. "There's no middle class on the roster."
Instead, when a Pro Bowler like Mangold gets hurt two games in, you have a rookie serving as a revolving door at center.
So over to the wide receivers:
Braylon Edwards (53 catches for 904 yards and 7 TDs in 2010) was a more productive wide receiver for the Jets than Plaxico Burress (41 catches for 555 yards and 8 TDs so far) has been this season. Yes, Edwards had personal and legal issues, but he also had chemistry with Sanchez.
Coming out of last season, you could make a reasonable argument that Edwards was a better receiver than Santonio Holmes, but the Jets had clearly made their choice by the start of the offseason. Tannenbaum gave Holmes $45 million and Ryan added the title of captain. Holmes had 746 yards and 6 TDs last season -- and he missed four games -- compared to 654 yards and 8 TDs this season with a game left to play.
Edwards, 28, ended up in San Francisco and the Jet signed 34-year-old Burress.
But those weren't the only changes to the receiver corps.
Those moves didn't make the Jets better. That's not scheme stuff, that's personnel stuff. That's Tannenbaum stuff.
The Jets' general manager gets a lot of credit for the 2007 draft, when Darrelle Revis and David Harris became Jets, and for 2006, when Tannenbaum brought in Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. But it's not easy to overlook Vernon Gholston in 2008; and Vlad Ducasse, taken in the second round in 2010, has some ground to make up.
This is not to defend the 59 passes against the Giants, or a game plan that keeps Sanchez from throwing more than 15 yards downfield. Schottenheimer deserves a share of the blame for a disappointing season. So does Sanchez.
But Tannenbaum's name is rarely raised when it comes to blame.
Fans' anger will dissipate in a whiff if the Jets beat Miami and if the three other games the Jets need break their way. If the Jets can wend their way to a third straight AFC Championship Game in some surreal way, you can end the argument with a distracted "Never mind."
But that seems unlikely with the dreadful ways that the team has found to lose recent games to the Eagles and the Giants. And those two teams are hardly the class of the NFL.
There will be a lot of work to do in the offseason if the season ends as expected in Miami. Perhaps Schottenheimer will get a pink slip and Sanchez will be put on notice.
But Tannenbaum should also be held to a higher standard. Ryan performed well with what was predominantly Mangini's personnel. Tannenbaum needs to bring in locker room leaders and solid role players to shore up a team that can weather inevitable injuries.
Plan B shouldn't stand for Baxter.
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