It’s been a tough week all around in this neighborhood as people continue to dig out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Power’s still not restored in many places, trees are lying on people’s houses and in roadways, gas lines hearken back to the late Seventies.
The Jets have fared OK in the sense that the Atlantic Health Training Center is in good shape, the building has full power, and we haven’t heard any ugly storm stories from the players and the coaches.
But the Jets have needed to correct their different kind of power outage as much as possible this bye week before they gather back together next week to get ready for the NFC West leg of their schedule, road games at Seattle and St. Louis, then two weeks later at home for Arizona. (Not to mention the Patriots’ visit on Thanksgiving night.)
“You’re at the halfway point of the season and you really analyze where you’re at. And 3-and-5′s not getting it done,” head coach Rex Ryan told my partner, Eric Allen, late this week in video remarks that you can see and hear on this week’s “Jets Flight Plan” on Sunday morning on WCBS-TV. “We have to really look at what we’re doing and see areas where we can improve, expand roles, take roles away, those types of things. At the same time you start your preparation for Seattle and other teams down the road.”
Ryan and his coaches were making those analyses throughout the week here. What had they found at the time of this interview?
“I think we’ve been inconsistent throughout as a football team,” he said. “Usually a strength of ours would clearly be the defense and clearly be our special teams. And we’ve had moments where that’s been the case, but then we also had moments where those two areas have hurt us.
“Then offensively we’re searching for our identity. Sometimes we’ve been running the ball very effectively, other times not as much. I think we’ve had some excellent days protecting the quarterback, then other times when it hasn’t been as good. So we’ve really got to focus on how we can improve this team and see what happens. But clearly, 3-5, that’s certainly not acceptable, not to our fan base, nobody accepts it. We have to do a better job, and I always say it starts with me.”
“Inconsistency” comes through loud and clear in these stats, rankings and factoids that I’ve shaken out of my databases and spreadsheets at this season’s midpoint:
It’s a mixed bag with the quarterback.
■ His ball-in-the-air-yardage is at a career-high clip of 8.6 yards per pass. But his receivers’ yards after catch is at a career-low rate of 4.0.
■ He followed one of the best-passing fourth quarters of his career at New England (10-for-12, 114 yards, 1 TD, 134.0 rating) with one of the worst-passing third quarters of his career vs. Miami (5-for-14, 53 yards, 1 INT, 17.9 rating).
■ Some key passing numbers, if sustained through the final eight games, would be career lows (52.9% accuracy, 6.38 yards/attempt), while the passer rating of 72.8 would end his increases there since his rookie year.
■ Three-and-outs continue to be an issue. Sanchez’s three-and-out drive rate of .292 (26-of-89) is 31st out of 33 qualifying QBs, ahead of Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert (.316) and Oakland’s Carson Palmer (.298).
Tebow’s been on the field for 54 offensive plays, 6.8 per game, plus 49 special-teams plays, giving him 103 snaps this season, about 13 a game. With those he has compiled 23 runs for 78 yards (3.4 yards/carry) and two completions on three passes for 32 yards, one sack and a 102.1 passer rating. He’s moved the chains nine times.
Ryan was asked on his Monday conference call if the Jets look at ways to use Tebow more in the second half of the season. “I definitely think that’s a fair statement,” he said.
Inconsistent fits here as well. The Jets are 16th, right in the middle of the NFL rankings, in rushing yards per game, 22nd in yards per carry. Shonn Greene had a career day with his 32-carry, 161-yard, three-TD outing vs. the Colts and a regular-season-long 36-yard bolt against the Dolphins. But for all eight games he’s at a career-low pace of 3.7 yards/carry, which breaks down unofficially to 1.3 yards before first contact, 2.4 yards after.
The good news, perhaps, is that Greene started slow in last year’s first half, too (1.5 before, 2.3 after, 3.8 total) before finishing muscularly (1.8-2.8-4.6) in the second half. The returns of a healthier Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight to the RB mix and Shonn’s November-December push could help the offense pick things up.
A big difference from a year ago is the performance on drives inside the opponents’ 20. In ’11 with Plaxico Burress doing his best work as a Jet, Sanchez had 10 TD passes at the midway point of the season, compared to eight this year — without Santonio Holmes, that’s not bad.
But Sanchez has already thrown three RZ interceptions this season, equaling last season’s total, and in the last 11 games dating to last year he’s had six giveaways inside the 20.
And the offense’s rate has dropped off, from last season’s franchise-record 65.5% touchdown rate to 48.1% (13 TDs in 27 drives) this year. Again, like many other areas on the team, the Jets’ five TDs in five tries vs. Indianapolis and a good showing at New England (two TDs, two FGs in 4 trips) were negated by the 1-for-4 showing against the Dolphins — one of only two times since ’78 that the Jets failed to score any points on three RZ trips in a home game (Atlanta, 2009).
Meanwhile, the defense has given up TDs at a too-high rate of 60.9% (14 on 23 opportunities), 26th in the NFL through eight weeks and the team’s highest rate since the ’87 strike-year team yielded TDs at a 61.5% pace. And the last time Jets opponents averaged more than this year’s 5.2 points per red zone trip was in 1980 (5.6).
As we laid out last Friday, the Jets’ short-yardage rushing game on third down has been strong. Greene is 7-for-7 on converting third-and-1′s, and with Lex Hilliard’s pair of “and-one” rushing conversions vs. Miami, the Jets remain the NFL’s only perfect team when running on third-and-1-or-2/fourth-and-1-or-2 combined at 15-for-15.
Getting to third-and-short has been successful as well. The Jets on average face 6.2 yards to go on third down this season, which if it holds up would be their best third-down yardage figure since averaging third-and-6.1 in 1993. But with such favorable yardage on third down, they need to convert better than their 39.5% rate, which is 17th in the NFL.
Through six games Mike Westhoff’s special forces were doing very well. Using a simple rating system for ST big plays (7 points for return scores, 3 points for blocked FGs, 1 point for takeaways, non-TD blocked kicks and successful onsides kicks), the Jets were purring along with a plus-12 through six games.
Then came long kickoff returns at New England and vs. Miami, plus all the other issues vs. the Dolphins. The Miami game by this scoring system was a minus-11. The only worse game in Coach Westy’s Jets phase (2001-present) was the “Ted Ginn Game” vs. Miami in 2009 (minus-13).
Even with his sore ankle, Joe McKnight has been close to the once-in-a-quarter-century form he displayed last year in returning kickoffs. He had his second career TD return vs. Houston and his 29.3-yard average is sixth in the NFL.
Jeremy Kerley has been equally impressive on punt returns with the Jets’ first PR TD since Santana Moss at Pittsburgh in the 2004 playoffs and the first one at home since ‘Tana vs. Cleveland in ’02. JK’s 14.1-yard average is third in the league. But his 50% fair-catch rate (10 of 20 punts fielded) is among the league’s highest.
Nick Folk was on a season-opening 11-for-11 tear before suffering the block late in the first half vs. Miami. Still, his 4-for-4 from mostly long range at Gillette was “remarkable” (Westhoff) and his first half has been “phenomenal” (Ryan). He and his KO cover unit were No. 1 in the NFL in opponents’ average drive start after kickoffs until the last two games, when two long returns dropped them to 20th.
Robert Malone’s first half is comparable to Steve Weatherford’s 2010 first half. Malone has a better gross than Weatherford did (46.9 to 44.7), Weatherford had the better net (39.7 to 39.1), inside-the-20 total (17 to 12) and average hangtime (4.77 to 4.53). Weatherford fell off in the second half of ’10 (except for his NFL-record-tying I-20s). If Malone suffers only minor slippage on his gross and he and his punt cover team improve their net (and cut out the punt blocks), he could threaten the franchise records set by Curley Johnson in 1965 (45.3 gross, 39.7 net).
Individually, the Jets have some shining lights. LB David Harris is on pace for another 100-tackle season with 62 at the halfway point.
DE Muhammad Wilkerson leads the defense with 8.0 tackles for loss/no gain, putting him on track for the best total since Bart Scott’s 18.5 TFLNGs in 2010 and the best by a D-lineman since DE Marvin Washington’s 16.0 in ’95.
Antonio Cromartie is picking up where Darrelle Revis left off with his season-ending knee injury in Week 3. Cro leads the defense with 10 pass defenses and three interceptions, including the fifth return-TD of his career and his first as a Jet with his INT-return TD in the opener vs. Buffalo.
Teamwise, the numbers are not what we’re used to seeing from a Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine defense:
Overall yards/game — 16th in the NFL. Ryan’s previous seven defenses as coordinator or head coach never finished a season lower than 6th.
Rushing yards/game — 29th. The last time the Jets finished that low in a season was 29th in ’07 and before that in ’05.
Net passing yards/game — 6th. This is still in the Ryan ballpark. Rex’s Ravens finished 8th, 6th, 20th and 2nd, and his three previous Jets teams came in 1st, 6th and 5th.
Points allowed/game — 24th. Ryan’s ’07 Ravens scuffled to a tie for 22nd. The last time the Jets finished lower was 29th in ’96.
What would make everything better would be a big-time rush. With only 12 sacks, the Jets’ sack rate is 25th in the league, and their 24-sack pace would produce the fewest sacks in a 16-game season since the ’78 and ’79 squads each had 22 sacks.
Something else that would improve things would be fewer flags on the D. The defense has had 25 penalties marked off for 286 yards. The most penalties on a Jets defense were the 59 in ’95 and the most yardage since ’78 was 533 in ’86. Leading the way individually: Cromartie with six flags for 81 yards and fellow CB Kyle Wilson with five for 49.
That’s it on the raw midterm facts and figures. The Jets face an uphill road in the second half, one that seems in equal parts their making and that of the injury gods. But a few good teams overcome the bad IR and injury hands that they’re dealt to do great things (the ’11 Giants and the ’10 Packers among others). How did Rex want his players handling this week between Games 1-8 and Games 9-16:?
“I hope they get away from it for a little bit,” he said, “but also they have to look at what they want. I think we all want the same thing. There’s no magic formula. I think the big thing is hard work and dedication. And I’m confident that they’re recharging their batteries to be ready for Monday.”
Barring any unforeseen events over the weekend, we’ll recharge our batteries —literally and figuratively — this weekend and we’ll check back in with you the fan on Monday when the Jets return to work.
Tags: Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, joe McKnight, David Harris, Nick Folk, Seattle Seahawks, Shonn Greene, Antonio Cromartie, Tim Tebow, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jeremy Kerley, Midseason
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