By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — There is no team in football more exciting to watch right now than the Jets.
There’s also no team out there living more on borrowed time.
There’s no question the Jets are intriguing every weekend. Their cardiac kids persona has captivated the tri-state area and has forced the naysayers and haters around the country to resort to childish “you got lucky” declarations as their only reasoning why New York’s other team, the one with barely any history of pulling off the improbable, is tied for the best record in the NFL.
Even the great Bob Costas grouped in Sunday’s heart-stopping 30-27 win over Houston with earlier games that featured the Jets capitalizing late on their opponents’ bad decisions and even worse execution. During halftime of the Sunday night game Costas spoke of how the Jets have been somewhat lucky of late.
Costas seems to think you go 72 yards in 48 seconds with no timeouts due to some freak occurrence. C’mon Bob.
I could take you through the Jets’ last four wins and explain in detail, using flow charts and even pie graphs, why this team has made its own breaks of late, but there is a more serious issue that needs to be discussed, one that is the real reason why the Jets have been put in these precarious situations only to have the now-unbelievable Mark Sanchez and absurdly talented Santonio Holmes bail them out time and again.
Simply put, this defense has not lived up to the hype. It has yet to really prove it is as good as last season, and that’s with, in many cases, better personnel in key positions.
And anyone who honestly believes the Jets can continue to win games in seemingly miraculous fashion going forward is really clueless as to how the NFL actually unfolds on any given weekend. Eventually it will reset itself — and if you play defense the way the Jets have of late you don’t want to be there when it does.
The schedule gets brutal in spots for the Jets the rest of the way. They have only three days to prepare for the Bengals, who may be falling apart all over the place but still have a very good quarterback in Carson Palmer and two Hall of Fame wide receivers in Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco.
After that we all know what’s coming — road matchups with three teams that right now own at least a share of first place in their respective divisions. And if you think the mighty Patriots, Steelers and Bears will fall victim to the same insanity the downtrodden Lions, Browns and Texans displayed you are kidding yourselves. The one thing you know for certain is the Jets like playing on the road much more than they do at home as their 5-0 record away from East Rutherford, N.J., appears to suggest.
All that aside, given what we’ve been told, the Jets’ defense has been rather embarrassing over the last month. It has repeatedly tried to give games away in the fourth quarter. It has forced Sanchez into ridiculous situations that should not have been necessary in the first place. I mean how many times can you ask this second-year quarterback to rip victory from the jaws of defeat? What he’s done of late has been nothing short of legendary.
But asking him to continue to win games exclusively absolutely cannot continue. The law of averages in the Lantern bible clearly states that Sanchez will eventually come up short, maybe through no fault of his own. And when it does happen, all things in any one game considered, nobody can say he needs to be fixed. Not anymore.
But this defense is another story entirely.
The Jets’ problems all stem from one undeniable fact: No matter how much they blitz or how hard they try to disguise their blitz they are simply not getting anywhere near enough pressure on the quarterback. This indisputable truth has made the secondary look worse than it really is. If you give NFL quarterbacks all day to pass, even the middle to bottom of the class will find a way to spot open men.
Calvin Pace, Jason Taylor and Shaun Ellis have been non-factors on the Jets’ defensive line in passing situations. Linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris have been pulling double duty, trying to apply pressure of their own while other times attempting to cover people. The Jets, for whatever reason, simply cannot cover tight ends and often lose track of third receivers. I mean Joel Dreessen? Nate Burleson? Are you serious?
For the most part the Jets’ corners have done a fine job in single coverage against the big guys, but the machine has broken down when the opposing quarterback has had a week to survey the field, wave to the fans and check out the cheerleaders. Houston’s Matt Schaub was sacked just once Sunday, giving the Jets just 21 in 10 games. Considering how many guys they bring on any one play that’s far too few sacks for a defense that’s supposedly “vaunted.”
This unit has given up fourth-quarter touchdowns in four of its last five games, capped by an unbelievable meltdown against the Texans that, if not for Sanchez’s sheer brilliance, could have resulted in arguably one of the worst losses in the history of a franchise that has had more than its fair share of mind-boggling defeats.
The Jets grabbed a 23-7 lead nine seconds into the fourth. A Rex Ryan defense is supposed to preserve that type of lead with its eyes closed 100 out of 100 times. Yet, the Jets somehow managed to allow 20 points over the next 14 minutes. Schaub was surgical and Arian Foster found holes that didn’t exist during the previous three quarters. Sure, Sanchez saved the day and the Jets did win, but after you get over the euphoria of how this quarterback pulled off the unbelievable you have to seriously question exactly what the heck is going on in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s mind.
To make matters worse, Ryan keeps apologizing for how the Jets are winning. He talks in postgame press conferences of how the Jets’ record is this and that and “we’ll take it.” Hey Rex, how about fixing this defense once and for all so you don’t have to dance around questions why it’s not what you have said it would be?
The Jets have allowed at least 20 points in six of their 10 games. And though they are still somehow seventh overall in yards allowed per game and fifth against the run, they are a rather pedestrian 16th against the pass, almost entirely because they can’t get to the quarterback. Couple that fact in with the “ground and pound” running game that so many figured would be the staple of this offense having all but disappeared and it’s been left up to Sanchez to save this team from falling into the second tier in the AFC. The Jets are a very unorthodox 8-2 considering their blueprint.
And while your record is supposed to say what you are, the truth is you would be crazy to say you know without question what this team is.
I don’t think the Jets know. They certainly don’t think they are a team that should live and die by the Sanchez sword. Yet that’s exactly what they are asking their golden-armed quarterback to do.
And it must stop, like yesterday. Or else the Jets will get their comeuppance, and probably at the worst possible time.
By then it might be too late to make the road to Dallas go through the swamps of Jersey.