This is the time of year that tries Jets fans’ souls. It’s dark out, not just outside my window at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center but for the short-term future. The improvements will get made, but they’ll be made slowly, often beneath the radar, with no competitive evidence until the games begin again in August and September.
Until then, we’ll get you the information we can as soon while we go about the other business we do on the business side of the Jets’ operations. That means covering free agency and the draft as we can, introducing you to the new coaches as we will in the coming weeks, providing player stories before and after they return to the complex in April.
All the while we’ll be working on the 2013 Yearbook. This provides the opportunities to dig up some things that were hidden during the ’12 season or to give more credit — and more hope for the future — than might have been given out during the 6-10 campaign past.
One of those early amazing notes has to do with Joe McKnight’s kickoff returning. This was a hot topic after the 2011 season’s 31.6-yard average, the best by a qualifying returner in the last quarter of a century. McKnight didn’t have quite as explosive a ’12, but his 27.5 average was still third in the league.
“Devin Hester’s the best now. Hopefully I can have my name next to his or around his somewhere. That’d be great,” McKnight told me earnestly back in November in the middle of that second season as the Jets’ prime kick returner. “I used to look up to him. He wore No. 4 and I wore No. 4 [in high school]. I always wanted to go to the University of Miami. I was a big Clinton Portis fan and a big Devin Hester fan.”
McKnight may want to readjust his sites because while Hester’s excellent, Gale Sayers is historic. Joe accomplished something that hadn’t been done in the NFL since “the Kansas Comet” hit the scene in 1965-66.
McKnight’s 29.4-yard kickoff-return average in ’11-12 combined is the best average in back-to-back seasons in the NFL (minimum of 40 total returns) since Sayers’ 31.3 mark in those first two years of his too-short Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Here are the top six returners’ numbers in this category in the last 50 seasons:
|Gale Sayers, CHI||1965-66||44||1378||31.3||3|
|Abe Woodson, SF||1963-64||61||1815||29.8||3|
|Joe McKnight, NYJ||2011-12||73||2145||29.4||2|
|Travis Williams, GB||1967-68||46||1338||29.1||4|
|Jerry Azumah, CHI||2002-03||41||1191||29.05||2|
|Brad Smith, NYJ||2009-10||60||1742||29.03||3|
One question might well arise in regard to this factoid: Was Joe helped by the new rule that placed kickoffs on the kicking team’s 35 again with the 2011 season? In fact, that could be argued. The average return in the NFL in ’11 was 23.8, the average in ’12 was 23.6. Those are two of the best three season averages for the league since 1960. A high tide lifts all boats and surely McKnight’s average benefited.
Yet on the other hand, where are all the other 29-yard returners in 2011-12? McKnight’s the only one, so while his 29.4 isn’t as impressive compared to the league as even Brad Smith’s 29.03 for the Jets in 2009-10, it still stands on its own merits as one of the best two-season kickoff-return efforts since the birth of the AFL.
Now if Joe can avoid injury and avoid putting the ball on the turf better — and the NFL doesn’t legislate kickoffs out of existence — he’ll start to build his rep as one of pro football’s best return men over a three-year period as the 2013 season unfolds.
We Hardly Knew Ye
A few ex-Jets sightings on the transaction wire: DL Marcus Dixon and WR Mardy Gilyard both signed with Kansas City on Monday. In case anyone missed it, LB Aaron Maybin signed with Cincinnati on Jan. 25.
Tags: Aaron Maybin, Abe Woodson, Brad Smith, Gale Sayers, joe McKnight, Kansas Comet, Travis Williams
Posted in Randy Lange, Uncategorized | 164 Comments »
LaRon Landry’s phone rang Wednesday afternoon and the person trying to reach him was Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
“At first I didn’t answer,” Landry told newyorkjets.com. “I was like, the GM called me, so I’m trying to figure out what the hell is wrong or what kind of insight he was trying to tell me.”
Landry would return Tannenbaum’s call once he made it home from practice and was relieved to know that he wasn’t in trouble.
“I’m contemplating the whole time, like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Landry said. “But when I got home, I heard the news and it definitely was an honor.”
The news Tannenbaum passed along to No. 30 for the Green & White was that the sixth-year pro and first-year Jet had been selected to his first Pro Bowl. Landry joins CB Antonio Cromartie as Jets reserves on the AFC roster. The game will be played Jan. 27 in Honolulu.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet kind of situation,” Landry said. “Just to have the season we’ve been having, I just wish we could have made it to the playoffs, probably made it to the championship, and I’m sorry I couldn’t contribute to get into the playoffs. It’s sweet because it’s a goal that I’ve always been looking forward to getting, being six years into it.”
Landry was the sixth overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft and spent his first five years in the league with Washington. However, his final two seasons with the Redskins he played only a combined 15 games due to his heel injury. The Jets were aware of the injury when they signed him in March and have made sure he sits out of practice one day each week. The strategy has worked to perfection as the 6”0’, 220-pounder has played at a high level while not missing a game in 2012.
“It holds a lot of weight,” Landry said of being voted into his first Pro Bowl, “and it’s very valuable to my emotions because I was coming off a two-year injury.”
Fellow safety Eric Smith said he knew when Landry first arrived in Florham Park that he had the potential to make this year’s Pro Bowl roster, adding that he’s enjoyed his time as Landry’s teammate this season.
“He’s laid-back and has a good time,” Smith said, “but when it comes gameday, he’s focused.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine felt Landry was well-deserving of the recognition.
“I think LaRon really came on late in the year,” Pettine said, “when things started to click as far as the mental part of it and he was getting on the same page as everybody else.”
There wasn’t a particular moment this season when Landry said he realized he had a shot at making the Pro Bowl. He said he was only trying to be victorious with his teammates.
“It’s all about winning ballgames,” he said.
Heading into the Jets’ final game Sunday at Buffalo, the former LSU Tiger has produced four forced fumbles, two interceptions and one touchdown return. His Pro Bowl selection makes him the first Green & White safety to make the game since Erik McMillan did it 23 years ago.
“I’m just happy the way I got it with the Jets, coming off IR two years in a row,” Landry said. “It’s definitely a great accomplishment and it means a lot to me to be voted on by my peers of the NFL, coaches, and my fans.”
Landry has never previously visited Hawaii but has been told it’s a beautiful place. He’s glad he’ll be making the trip alongside Cromartie, his teammate in the secondary, and anticipates the experience to be one he’ll hold onto for a long time.
“It was definitely a goal,” he said, “and I didn’t do it alone. This organization as a whole, training staff, everybody within this organization helped me make it.”
Thursday Injury Report\
Greg McElroy’s concussion situation is detailed in our news story on head coach Rex Ryan’s decision to sit McElroy and start Mark Sanchez on Sunday at Buffalo. The good concussion news is that two Jets with head injuries, DE Muhammad Wilkerson and CB Ellis Lankster, have been passing their tests and both were limited in today’s practice. Also limited was WR Braylon Edwards, who didn’t practice Wednesday due to a hamstring/knee flareup.
Besides McElroy, KR-RB Joe McKnight (ankle/illness) didn’t participate in practice, nor did S LaRon Landry (heel), LB Bryan Thomas (chest), WR Chaz Schilens (knee), TE Dustin Keller (ankle) and CB Aaron Berry (hamstring). Berry late today was placed on injured reserve. All 15 other Jets on the injury report were full-go.
The Bills’ injury list, and in particular their “limited” section, grew today. Three DNPs from Wednesday all were limited — S Jairus Byrd (ankle), G Andy Levitre (knee) and DT Kyle Williams (ankle). Two other players were added to the list as limited in CB Justin Rogers (foot) and LB Chris White (hamstring).
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Buffalo Bills, Greg McElroy, joe McKnight, LaRon Landry, Mike Tannenbaum, Pro Bowl
Posted in John Holt | 56 Comments »
So what about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying this week that the league’s competition committee would consider in the offseason replacing the kickoff.
Really? No kickoffs?
I don’t like it. But it doesn’t much matter what I think. However, two Jets whose opinions on the subject do matter also don’t like what they’re hearing.
“I hope not. I hope not,” ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said pensively this week. “That’s player safety, so I think I’m in tune with that. But I just like the kickoffs. I just believe in it. I know the collision part and I think that’s something you have to be careful of. If you teach it the right way, it can be done properly.”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Joe McKnight, who had a phenomenal year of returning kickoffs last season and is doing very well again this year. “What about the guys that aren’t starting. Where are they going to start? You start on kickoffs and special teams.”
Two different points of view, both agreeing that a flat-out removal of kickoffs from the game is not what we’re looking for. Safety has been the primary mover for last year’s rules revisions, which have resulted in about 50 percent of kickoffs now resulting in touchbacks and a reduction in the number of concussions and other injuries incurred on the balls that are returned.
“You already moved the kick from the 30 to the 35, which gives us 5 yards less to run instead of a whole lot of room,” McKnight said of himself and his fellow returners and coverers. “Now you’re trying to take it out of the game? People like me and Ellis [Lankster] need these special teams for us to build for later on, the next couple of years when we’re trying to win our positions on offense and defense.”
Westhoff is serious about his concern for players’ health and safety. While Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay’s first-year coach, has gotten some publicity attached to this subject with his proposal to turn all kickoff situations into fourth-and-15 punt situations (the fourth-and-15 conversion rate is about the same as the successful onsides-kick rate), Westhoff said he and assistant ST coach Ben Kotwica have canvassed the league’s teams coaches and put together their own kickoff proposal, which he said the league was interested in.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, there are also alternative methods that I think would be very productive and very competitive, so I would hope they’d go with that,” said Westhoff, who didn’t want to go into details of that plan for reporters until after the season. But he said one thing that can be done immediately in lieu of cutting kickoffs out of the game entirely is to cutting back even more on violent hits on unsuspecting players during returns.
“Blocks in the back, those types of things, used to be legal. We eliminated them from punts, but they’re still legal on kickoffs. The kickoff team can smack the blockers in the back and it’s legal,” Westhoff said. “My thing is, when is it ever good to hit somebody in the back?”
McKnight has a warrior-type mentality about returns. He didn’t talk about concussions but more the general “nicks and nacks” that returners get and playing through them, as he’s had to do this year with several injuries, such as an ankle sprain and last week’s rib injury.
“I can’t worry about injuries,” he said. “I’m still trying to make a name for myself.”
It would be a sin if an important slice of the game is made to disappear. As Westhoff reminded, “Can you imagine the Super Bowl? You’ve seen those pictures of the opening kickoff and all the bulbs are flashing? ‘Well, here we are, put the ball down, let’s go.’ C’mon, guys.”
But external and internal pressures on the game will dictate what the NFL does about kickoffs in future years. For now, the play is still alive despite the tinkering, McKnight is probable for Sunday’s game, the Jets are seventh in the league in average returns while the Jaguars are 29th in the league in average returns allowed. You know Joe and the Jets’ specialists want to do a little more reputation-building before this season is done.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Ben Kotwica, Ellis Lankster, Greg Schiano, Jacksonville Jaguars, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, Roger Goodell
Posted in Randy Lange | 21 Comments »
For whatever reasons, ever since returning from their bye week, the Jets’ special teams haven’t been as sharp and efficient as usual.
Trouble began in Seattle on Nov. 11 when punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a second-quarter punt, which the Seahawks recovered and soon thereafter turned into seven points.
That was followed up at St. Louis the next week when one of Nick Folk’s field goals was blocked and a Tim Tebow fake-punt shovel pass to Lex Hilliard was stopped.
And most recently, against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, Joe McKnight fumbled a kickoff return, resulting in a TD for the opposition.
Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff didn’t have a clear explanation for the recent struggles.
“We do things in practice,” Westhoff said, “but there’s only so many things you can do. I mean, we can’t run a live kickoff coverage in practice this time of the year. We’ve already had a million. You have to be able to hang onto it. So those instances, even though they’re separate entities — very, very frustrating.”
Yet Westhoff was pleased with his kickoff covereage unit against the Pats.
“They couldn’t get to the 20,” Westhoff said. “They couldn’t have gotten to the 20 with an all-star team running that against what we were doing. We had it. I look at it technically. I know what I’m talking about. So we have them covered.”
Westhoff was shocked the McKnight miscue occurred, particularly because it looked like he had a chance to take the return all the way.
“Here I’m seeing this develop,” the ST coordinator said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got them. We’re going to hit this.’ All of a sudden it ends up becoming a gigantic play for them and they get the big Thanksgiving celebration and we get a weekend in Palookaville.”
Jets seventh-year safety Eric Smith said the mistakes and errors on special teams haven’t only been discouraging for Westhoff but for the entire unit.
“We’ve just given up a lot of plays that we don’t need to,” Smith said. “We’ve got them schemed up well, we’ve just got some guys out of position, missed some tackles or missed some blocks.”
The Arizona Cardinals, Sunday’s opponents, feature one of the NFL’s premier punt returners in Patrick Peterson. Last season as a rookie, Peterson tied the NFL single-season punt-return touchdown record, finishing with four, with all four of his scores at least 80-yard returns. Those impressive numbers certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by Westhoff.
“I’ll tell you what he’s incredible at aside from being a prolific punt returner,” Westhoff said. “He rushes field goals as good as maybe anybody I’ve ever seen. He can run under a chair. He explodes and he’s low. He’s strong. At 220 pounds, he runs through a lot of things aside from being so explosive. He’s a real factor.
“Sometimes his numbers maybe aren’t quite what he would want them to be. He takes chances. I mean, he ran a 99-yard punt return. That meant he fielded it on the 1. A lot of guys wouldn’t do that. He does that kind of stuff. So he’s very daring.”
When Peterson entered the NFL out of LSU in 2011, Westhoff listed him as his top draft prospect.
“He’s extremely, extremely talented,” Westhoff said. “I have tremendous respect for him.”
The unit is also hoping personal protector Tim Tebow will be ready to go after he didn’t see action in last week’s game due to his broken ribs.
“I think I know Tim Tebow pretty well,” Westhoff said. “The guy’s pretty tough. Anytime you have one of those things, there’s always a safety or precaution because you don’t know what it could become.”
If the Jets envision being successful Sunday, one area they should attempt to capitalize on McKnight’s specialty, kickoff returns. Arizona ranks 30th in the NFL in both their 27.9-yard average return allowed and opponents’ averaged 24.3-yard-line drive start. But as Westhoff cautioned, it all circles back to fundamentals.
“Every play is measured by the proper execution of that play,” he said. “Sometimes a really good punt return is a fair catch. That can be a heck of a play, things like that. Whatever the situation requires, I want to try to win at that situation. And I want everyone to win at it, every single guy. That’s my goal.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Eric Smith, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, New England Patriots, Nick Folk, Patrick Peterson
Posted in John Holt | 19 Comments »
Updated, 4:01 p.m. ET
Thanksgiving is a time for turkey, but Thursday night the Jets and Patriots could give each other indigestoin by grilling up several New York strips.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan had Rob Ninkovich on his mind, if not on his tongue, earlier this week in discussing one of the many challenges the Jets will face against the Pats.
“Number 50, Ninkovich, if that’s how you pronounce his name, he’s a good player. I know him by number,” Ryan said. “He’s forced, I think, five, six fumbles this year, so they do a great job of attacking the football. I think they lead the league in forced fumbles. It’s something they’ve always done a great job of, so we have to make sure we’re protecting the ball at all costs.”
Rex’s research was right on. The Patriots lead the NFL with an impressive plus-20 turnover margin. They’ve done it in large part by leading the league unofficially with 19 forces and officially with 14 fumble recoveries. Ninkovich is tied for third individually with five forces and tied for first with three recoveries.
And Ninkovich has been a Jet-killer the past two seasons. He had the two interceptions of Mark Sanchez last year on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, one returned for a TD, and his overtime strip sack of Sanchez provided the crushing coda to the Green & White’s 29-26 overtime loss at Gillette last month.
“Ninkovich is one of the best at it, it seems,” Sanchez said. “He’s really getting after the quarterback, he’s getting after the football, and that’s really their whole defense, that’s kind of their MO.”
He’s not alone. Two other linebackers, Brandon Spikes (4 FFs) and Jerod Mayo (3 FFs) are in the top 10, along with rookie DE Chandler Jones (3 FFs). That has the attention of Joe McKnight, who looked to be back at close to full speed from his ankle injury with several nice plays on kickoff returns and out of the backfield at St. Louis.
“From the mistakes I’ve made in the past,” he said with a small smile, “I just have to be more conscious of the ball. I’m always thinking about the ball before I even get the ball.”
He even shared his informal mental checklists with us. Before each kick return it’s something like:
1. Put my mouthpiece in.
2. High-and-tight the ball.
3. Two hands in traffic.
4. Make the kicker miss.
5. Score the touchdown.
Before he gets the ball from Sanchez on a run, he has a similar list:
1. Get the ball first.
2. Two hands in traffic.
3. Keep your feet when you run through the smoke.
4. Make the safeties miss.
5. Score the touchdown.
Needless to say, such emphasis for all the Jets’ skill players will be important tomorrow night. But they are not weaponless in this high-stakes game of strip poker, even if they were to lose a fumble. That’s because they’ve been stripping the ball away from QBs and RBs (and even kickoff returners, as New England’s Devin McCourty knows from five weeks ago) almost as well.
The Jets have 11 forced fumbles this season, tied for fourth in the NFL, and recovered 10, tied for third. And recently, they’ve been on even more of a roll. Their six FFs at Seattle and St. Louis are the most in the league the past two weeks and are the most in back-to-back games since they had seven forces on two occasions in the ’08 season.
The movers and shakers in this area have been DE Muhammad Wilkerson and S LaRon Landry. Wilkerson’s been involved in three separate fumble plays in those two games — two forces and the fumble-return TD vs. the Seahawks, and that’s the most in back-to-back games by a Jets player since Calvin Pace was involved in four fumble plays in consecutive games in ’08.
“I’ve been shouting it from the rooftops since Mo first got here,” NT Sione Po said of Wilkerson’s recent emergence. “His IQ level is more of like a six-, seven- or eight-year player in terms of what he’s playing at, his production and what he does to help this team as a whole. It’s just phenomenal. I’m glad I’m playing on the same side of the ball he is.”
Landry, who has three forced fumbles this year, with two coming against the Rams, declined to give his secrets, other than his patented crunching hits, one of which forced rookie RB Daryl Richardson to cough up the ball Sunday and set up the Jets’ final TD under the Edward Jones Dome. But he provided some general guidelines.
“You’ve got to have a knack for that, man,” he said. “It’s a knack and an attitude. It takes some practice. Part of it is the point of attack, and you’ve got to be aware of what kind of offender you’re going up against, tight end, receiver, running back. And you’ve got to finish. You’ve got to have a knack for it.”
These longtime rivals have shown they’ve got the knack this year. Who’s better at the strip Thursday night may have a lot to say about who comes away with the victory drumstick.
Final Injury Report
The Jets held a short, closed practice at the Atlantic Health Training Center this morning.
Just before 4 p.m., both teams released their final injury reports of the week. The Jets’ injury list seems manageable with seven designated “questionable” for the game: CB Aaron Berry, NT Kenrick Ellis, WR-PR Jeremy Kerley, RB-KR Joe McKnight, NT Sione Po‘uha, LB Bart Scott and QB Tim Tebow. Tebow practiced full today with his sore ribs while the other six were limited.
The 11 probables: TE Jeff Cumberland, DT Mike DeVito, WRs Clyde Gates and Stephen Hill, S LaRon Landry, C Nick Mangold, guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, LB Calvin Pace, RB Bilal Powell and QB Mark Sanchez.
The Patriots listed their three DNPs this week as out for the game: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip) as expected; DE Chandler Jones, tied for the team lead with six sacks; and G Logan Mankins.
Thirteen Pats are questionable: D-linemen Ron Brace and Trevor Scott, safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, O-linemen Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer and Nick McDonald, TE Aaron Hernandez, LBs Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Tracy White, and WRs Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. The three probables are WR Julian Edelman, DT Kyle Love and LB Jerod Mayo.
Happy Thanksgiving to all and one way or another we’ll all meet up at the game.
Tags: Calvin Pace, joe McKnight, LaRon Landry, Mark Sanchez, MetLife Stadium, Muhammad Wilkerson, New England Patriots, Rex Ryan, Rob Ninkovich, Sione Pouha, thanksgiving
Posted in Randy Lange | 15 Comments »
Here are today’s pregame tweets for Jets-Rams at the Edward Jones Dome, in case you missed them on Twitter. Follow Bob Wischusen, Eric Allen and me for our tweets during each Jets game on https://twitter.com/nyjets.
#RL It’s a crisp, sunny day in St. Louis, which of course won’t affect Jets-Rams inside the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff around 1:02 pm ET.
#RL Jets trail Rams in all-time series 9-3. Rams are 5-1 at home vs Jets, 2-0 in Jones Dome with 30-10 win in ’98, 32-29 OT win in ’04.
#RL NYJ inactives: QB Greg McElroy, DT Damon Harrison, G Caleb Schlauderaff, G Hayworth Hicks, TE Hayden Smith, LB Marcus Dowtin.
#RL Jets wearing white jerseys, white pants today. They’ve gone white-white 4 times this season (1-3), 27 times u/ Rex Ryan (15-12).
#RL Today’s ref is Jerome Boger. It’s his 11th Jets game as ref since ’06. Boger also officiated ’09 Jets-SD playoff game.
#RL RB-KR Joe McKnight (ankle) is active for Jets after missing SEA game. NT Kenrick Ellis (knee) is active after missing last 4 games.
#RL STL inactives: QB Austin Davis WR Steve Smith S Darian Stewart RB Terrance Ganaway FB Brit Miller OL Chris Williams DT Matt Conrath
#RL Jets D wants to maintain the pressure. First 5 games they registered a sack every 30.8 QB dropbacks. Last 4: sack every 12.8 dropbacks.
#RL Jets O wants to get off the schneid: Last 25 drives: 1 TD, 1 FG, 1 blocked FG, 14 punts (9 3-and-outs, 1 blocked punt), 5 turnovers.
#RL Jets’ gameday captains: LB Bart Scott, CB Antonio Cromartie, T Austin Howard, former Rams T Jason Smith, LS Tanner Purdum.
#RL Ex-Jets with Rams: starting C Rob Turner, TE Matt Mulligan, T Wayne Hunter, QB Kellen Clemens, RB Terrance Ganaway (inactive), OC Brian Schottenheimer
#RL New addition Kahlil Bell, former CHI back, also active and should make his Jets debut today. Wearing uniform #21.
Tags: Edward Jones Dome, joe McKnight, Kahlil Bell, Kenrick Ellis, Rex Ryan, St. Louis Rams
Posted in Randy Lange | 1 Comment »
Updated, Saturday, 12:10 p.m.
The Jets will be traveling to Seattle today without two contributors they thought might have been available for the Seahawks after an otherwise healing bye week. Head coach Rex Ryan announced at his news conference today that RB-KR Joe McKnight (ankle) and NT Kenrick Ellis (knee) will stay home.
“We’re going to keep them back here,” Ryan said before the team hops buses for Newark Liberty Airport and the six-hour flight to the Pacific Northwest this afternoon. “Kenrick was limited in practice. He’s just not quite ready to play. Hopefully next week he’ll be ready to go.”
Ellis hurt his knee in the Oct. 8 game against the Texans and hadn’t practiced at all until Thursday and today, when he was limited for the first time. But the nose tackle position will be manned as it was last week by Sione Po‘uha, who made his first start in four games and got in 21 plays against Miami after working through his own back injury, as well as rookie Damon “Snacks” Harrison.
McKnight, one of the NFL’s top kickoff returners for the second straight season, injured his ankle against Indianapolis on Oct. 14, played on the ankle at New England and vs. Miami, but aggravated the injury against the Dolphins.
“Joe is one of those type of deals where if he can get 25 percent better by not playing in a game, it’s probably time to do that,” Ryan said. “We’re going that route and hopefully we’ll be able to get him back so he can practice and play.”
The Jets have listed Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson as the backup kickoff returners to McKnight on their weekly game-notes package for reporters, but a new alternative roared into action when speedy second-year WR Clyde Gates ripped off a 47-yard return with the second-half kickoff vs. the ‘Fins and might have become the eighth different Jet to return a kickoff for a touchdown under special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, had he not run into rookie Demario Davis near midfield.
The rest of the Jets injury report was pretty much the same all week. Six players were limited at today’s practice at the Atlantic Health Training Center, but Ryan said, “I believe all of them will play” at Seattle. Those six: C Nick Mangold (ankle), G Brandon Moore (hip), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), LB Bart Scott (toe), S Eric Smith (knee) and Po‘uha. WR-PR Jeremy Kerley (heel) today became the 17th player listed on the injury report this week but practiced full and is probable for the Seahawks. Also, G Hayworth Hicks, signed this week from Indy’s practice squad, did not make the trip and has been ruled out for the game.
Update: Sorry, due to computer issues en route to Seattle, I couldn’t post the Seahawks’ injury report/game status. Here it is now:
Out — LB K.J. Wright (concussion), G James Carpenter (concussion).
Doubtful — DE Greg Scruggs (oblique).
Questionable — DT Clinton McDonald (groin).
Probable — WR Doug Baldwin (ankle), DE Red Bryant (foot), S Kam Chancellor (quad), WR Braylon Edwards (knee), DE Jason Jones (ankle), RB Marshawn Lynch (back/wrist), G John Moffitt (knee), CB Richard Sherman (illness).
Statement for the Region
Ryan wore a new baseball cap to today’s “Fast Friday” news conference. The logo on the front said it all: “NJ/NY STRONG.”
“I’m going to wear this hat at the game on behalf of our organization,” Ryan said. “Basically, it’s just to let people know, especially people in our region that were affected by Hurricane Sandy that our thoughts and prayers are with them. Hopefully they’ll see this hat on the sideline and they’ll understand that we’re with them and thinking about them, and also that we’re representing our region when we go up there and play this game.
“If they can get something encouraging out of our performance, that certainly motivates us and drives us as well.”
On Thursday owner Woody Johnson said the Jets are donating $500,000 to the relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which last week devastated the New Jersey/New York area, and are dedicating their Thanksgiving night game against New England at MetLife Stadium to helping and honoring all those affected by the storm.
Tags: Clyde Gates, Hurricane Sandy, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Kenrick Ellis, MetLife Stadium, Rex Ryan, Seattle Seahawks, Sione Pouha
Posted in Randy Lange | 16 Comments »
Florham Park, the home of the Jets’ Atlantic Health Training Center, was battered around a bit by last week’s superstorm, but the borough is now almost back to full power.
Rex Ryan posited today that his players in several ways are trying to do the same.
“We know we’re in a bottom-line business and that’s wins and losses. For football, that’s really all that matters,” the Jets head coach said at today’s welcome-back news conference. “Our focus is strictly on improving as a football team and getting ready to go compete and do what we can to win against Seattle.”
On special teams, the Jets have committed “things that we really don’t do.” His run defense, he said, “has been poor, but it’s getting better. The last 100 rushes, I think we’ve given up 3.1 a carry. We’re getting better but we’re still not where we want to be.”
Same thing in the running game: “Our last 100 carries we’re averaging 4.3 a carry, something like that. We’re getting better, not exactly where we want it to be but we’re making strides.”
Takeaways and giveaways have been spotty (minus-1 overall in TO margin, a costly minus-2 in the red zone). “These are things that we’ve challenged our team, to make us successful,” he said. “Those are the main areas we have to improve.”
His players mostly left the area last week in different directions from Sandy’s path across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Mike DeVito went northeast to his Maine home, LaRon Landry (Virginia) and Aaron Maybin (Maryland) went to the southwest. Others hung in the area.
But it seems all worked during their time away, as would be expected.
CB Antonio Cromartie watched two football games while he was away — Alabama-LSU and Seattle-Minnesota. A special focus of the Seahawks’ win over the Vikings was the play of rookie QB Russell Wilson, who threw three first-half touchdowns. S LaRon Landry religiously worked out every day and kept up the long-term rehab on his heel, neither unexpected. LB Aaron Maybin, another workout monster, kept up with Seattle and with the defense’s first-half video cut-ups on his iPad. The stories in all other corners of the locker room were the same.
And in the coaches’ offices as well.
“It’s almost like ‘Hey, everybody stay out of the building … except coaches, of course,” Ryan said. “A lot of coaches would take their work stations, their computers home with them. A lot of preparation was that way. You’re never too far away from your work, that’s for sure. And obviously, you want to make sure that they’re protecting their families and that they’re there with their families in these trying circumstances.”
Ryan was asked what the coaches came up with.
“We got a bunch of suggestions, so I hope they’re good,” he said with a laugh. “We’re certainly looking at them.” Any hints of radical new concepts, plays, personnel for the second half? “I don’t want to get into specific things,” he said, “but I guess we’ll see.”
Will any of it make a difference? Last week we broke out the performances of the NFL’s 3-5 teams since 2002, and the prognosis is not good, although by no means hopeless, and that’s how some of the Jets’ defenders see it.
“The months of November and December, that’s when most teams are made anyway,” Cro said. “I think the biggest thing for us is just to make sure we take care of the things we need to take care of one week at a time.”
“We definitely have the resources to get back into this thing,” said S Yeremiah Bell. “We have the players, we have the coaching staff and we have the want-to. The thing is going to be just us on Sundays, just going out there and executing.”
Ryan said the first thoughts and prayers last week and early this week are for all affected by the hurricane, and then the next thoughts are only for that next game on the schedule, not the scenarios for any playoff stretch run (even though the Jets weren’t hurt at all by Buffalo’s loss, which drops them into a third-place tie in the AFC East at 3-5, and Miami’s loss at Indy to go to 3-4).
But Rex also had an energy about him to get back to the grind and see what these Jets with their backs to the wall and their noses to the grindstone can do.
“I know we’re not where we want to be, we’re not even close. We’re not sniffing the playoffs, we’re not sniffing anything right now,” he said. “But I want to get there. I’m excited about the prospects in front of us.”
First things first: A great week of work is needed, then a win at formidable CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) Field, before anyone outside the Green & White base of operations will be jumping back on the bandwagon.
How Big a Homefield Advantage?
All Jets asked today vouched for the advantage the Seahawks enjoy in CenturyLink Field, previously known as Qwest Field, née Seahawks Stadium. It’s loud and proud and the 12th Man is ready to rock its ‘Hawks on to victory.
But how does the advantage stack up in the league? By home winning percentage alone, pretty good. Since ’03, one year after they moved into the place, when they went 8-0 at home, Seattle’s regular-season home percentage is .684 (52-24), tied for fifth in the NFL over that span.
But another way to measure HFA is how much better a team plays at home than on the road, as measured by winning percentage margin. In that same span, the Seahawks’ home percentage of .684 (52-24) compared to their road percentage of .351 (27-50) is plus-.333. That margin is second-best in the NFL over that span, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium (plus-.382).
The Health Picture
Ryan said LB Bart Scott (toe), NT Kenrick Ellis (knee) and RB-KR Joe McKnight (ankle) would sit out today’s practice but wasn’t ruling them out of practices the rest of this week. Additionally, some of the banged-up Jets such as NT Sione Po‘uha, S Eric Smith, TE Jeff Cumberland, C Nick Mangold, G Brandon Moore and RB Bilal Powell were limited but involved in today’s practice.
Rex: “I’m excited to get the team healthy and make this push the second half of the season.”
The Seahawks went into Sunday’s 30-20 win over Minnesota with an eight-player injury list and in the game starting OLB K.J. Wright reportedly suffered a concussion. The teams’ official injury reports won’t be filed until Wednesday afternoon.
Tags: Aaron Maybin, Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott, CenturyLink Field, joe McKnight, Kenrick Ellis, Rex Ryan, Seattle Seahawks, Yeremiah Bell
Posted in Randy Lange | 73 Comments »
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: Antonio Cromartie, David Harris, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Mark Sanchez, Midseason, Muhammad Wilkerson, Nick Folk, Rex Ryan, Seattle Seahawks, Shonn Greene, Tim Tebow
Posted in Randy Lange | 52 Comments »
Updated, 1:35 p.m. ET
The view is not sunny this morning, and I don’t just mean just from my North Jersey bunker as the wind whips the trees and the rain falls in rippling sheets.
The Jets are 3-5 at the 2012 halfway point, which also this year happens to be the break for their bye week. That record is significant for a few reasons.
It is good for sole possession of fourth and last place in the AFC East. Buffalo, on its bye, is a half-game ahead in third. Miami, which the Jets planned to send to 3-4, instead are 4-3 and a game and a half ahead in second. The Patriots are 5-3, two games ahead in the top spot.
Sole possession of last is not something the Jets have experienced much lately. Since ’09 under head coach Rex Ryan, they had never before been alone in the cellar. In fact, the last time was seven years ago, when they held fourth place in the division for the last 12 weeks of the 2005 season..
But the true significance of 3-5 is what it has done for their postseason plans. Three-and-five is not a good spot from which to launch a playoff assault.
Here are the facts:
■ Since 2002, when the current playoff format began, 59 NFL teams have begun 3-5.
■ Three of them, 5.1%, made the playoffs. The Jets were one of them, needing a 6-2 finish plus help to win the AFC East in ’02. San Diego in ’08 and Denver in ’11 both finished 8-8 and won the AFC West in those seasons.
■ Only five of those 59 started 3-5 and finished 6-2. No team finished 8-0 or 7-1.
■ The average record of all 59 of those teams: roughly 6-9-1.
■ How about teams that went 3-5 and got their bye in Week 9? Only seven got that scenario, and only the ’08 Chargers went from 3-5 to the playoffs. Average record for those seven is slightly better than 6-10.
Ryan knows the window is bad small. On his conference call with Jets reporters this morning, he was asked what he wants his players to do this bye week.
“First off, take care of yourself and your family and ride the hurricane thing out for a couple of days. Then get away from it,” he said. “I want them to get away and then come back, and we need to be all in. The only chance we have is if we’re 100 percent all in. We have no wiggle room. We have to start playing a ton better. Obviously our players know that.
“That’s the only thing we can hang our hat on. If we don’t play better, we can forget about anything.”
One more thing that will give these Jets the best chance they have in their final eight is to get a lot of their health back. Several players who have played important roles this year and in the past have been either out or hobbled or both for a while.
NT Sione Po‘uha agreed with that theory after returning to action vs. the Dolphins.
“Obviously, you would like to go into the bye week with a win, feeling positive about things,” Big Bo said. “But it’ll give me, I can only speak for myself, more time, almost like a long reset to evaluate and make new commitments and make new resolve for the upcoming second half of the season. I think this bye week will serve as a resolve/reset-type break for us before we come back and face Seattle and the remainder of the games.”
Eric Smith (knee), a stabilizing force in the secondary and a leader on special teams, has missed the last three games. Bilal Powell (shoulder), a key depth component at RB, has missed two games. Joe McKnight has been playing on a left ankle sprain for two weeks that he aggravated against Miami. LB Bart Scott’s battled turf toe for five weeks and finally ended his ironman streaks by sitting vs. the Dolphins. NT Kenrick Ellis (knee) has sat three games.
“These two weeks give us a chance to get healthy,” Ryan said. “I’m hoping they’ll all be available for Seattle. I’m not 100 percent sure, especially on Kenrick, but I feel great that Smith, Powell and Bart will be back. I think we’ll get the majority of our guys back healthy. I think that’s what this team needs.”
That and six victories could do wonders.
That Miami Mystique
The Jets outgained the Dolphins by 127 yards Sunday. A major component of that was Miami’s 20-0 halftime lead, of course, but the yardage inequality follows a trend.
The Jets’ plus-127 is tied for the 13th-largest yardage margin in a loss in franchise history. No. 2 on that list is the 30-25 home loss to the Dolphins in 2009, when they had a plus-274-yard margin. And tied for 10th is the 10-6 home loss in 2010, when the Jets were plus-149.
Tags: Bart Scott, Bilal Powell, Eric Smith, joe McKnight, Miami Dolphins, Rex Ryan, Sione Pouha
Posted in Randy Lange | 144 Comments »