By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Please note: this is the best I can do on a disclaimer. All characters appearing in this work are currently fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Let me know if they show up for real any time soon.
There were probably several days back during the lockout when the entire New York Jets brain trust sat in what was likely a fast-food wrapper decorated back room at the team’s headquarters in Florham Park and discussed something that they knew was risky and cutting edge. They knew the fan base wouldn’t take too kindly to it and were well aware of the fact that if it didn’t work there would be hell to pay in the media.
The powers that be debated amongst themselves changing the Jets’ philosophy on offense. Despite having the league’s most feared ground assault since the last time the former Soviet Union decided to play school yard bully, the hierarchy likely came to the conclusion that now was the time to take the training wheels off of quarterback Mark Sanchez and arm him with the types of weapons that, in their opinion, would be a solid upgrade over the receiving corps that had been unspectacular yet effective over the previous two seasons.
The Jets decided a more vertical passing attack should be installed and that a more balanced offensive approach should be the immediate, short-term and long-term goal.
Again, it was a very daring proposition. But the belief among the front office was the Jets didn’t trade up to No. 5 in the draft three years ago just to see what it perceived to be incredible talent just dink and dunk and 6-yard out his way down the field. See, the Jets to a man believe in Sanchez, even if 90 percent of the rest of the football world does not. Do they have a choice? No. But it’s not like the Jets traded up for Rick Mirer or Ryan Leaf now is it?
So the Jets went out and recruited highly respected help, bringing in former Indianapolis offensive guru Tom Moore to help coordinator Brian Schottenheimer introduce a more pass-happy offense. Tannenbaum and Ryan put the full-court press on receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. The front office toyed with the idea of two-tight end sets and even decided to shift LaDainian Tomlinson to third-down back, presumably to make use of his still stellar hands and better-than-average speed, a position he’s much more suited for at age 33.
So the pieces were in place to make the transition. While the fan base was going crazy with anticipation of a more explosive offense, yet one that still stuck to its roots and beat the hell out of everyone with the ground game, the Jets came out firing, or attempting to fire, from the opening whistle of the opening game.
Fear and loathing of this new approach would be tempered by wins. At least that was the thought. The Jets started out 2-0, rolling up impressive offensive numbers. But hidden in the background was an undeniable truth.
The Jets never seemed to take into account the fact that injuries and inconsistency can derail any plan, big or small.
That concludes what I believe to be a somewhat fictitious summarization of what the thought process might have been before training camp even started. What’s to follow is a dose of reality:
The Jets are now 2-2, coming off a brutally offensive showing on Sunday night in Baltimore. Everything that could have gone wrong with this new approach on offense did. The free fall started in the second half in Oakland in Week 3 and continued unabated the second the Jets got the ball for the first time in Week 4. On Sunday night it was as if the Jets’ offensive players were beaten mentally before they came out of the locker room. It’s like they knew what was to come.
There are now plenty of red faces in the front office and scowls in the locker room. Now while it’s true that being .500 through the season’s first four games is not the end of the world, the fact that the Jets are in such disarray on offense is very disconcerting to every last supporter of this franchise.
Now I’m not into excuse-making, but here’s the bottom line when it comes to the Jets offense: the offensive line stinks right now. It’s without question the only reason why the Jets are having trouble running the football and giving Sanchez time to unleash the air arsenal. I’m not exactly breaking news here. You know it as well as I do.
But yet people still seem to need to blame Schottenheimer and Sanchez. If nothing else, they are just easy targets, guys who have a history of bugging you, but at the same time were never given a clean slate heading into a new season.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of how conservative Schottenheimer and mistake-prone Sanchez have been in the past, if the offensive line cannot open holes or pass protect for more than two seconds, there’s not an offensive coordinator or quarterback alive that can make this offense go.
It’s that simple.
The Jets were not counting on All-Pro center Nick Mangold and versatile lineman Robbie Turner getting hurt. They also had no idea right guard Brandon Moore would look this bad following offseason surgery and that right tackle Wayne Hunter would regress following what was largely a stellar second half of last season.
If anything, Tannenbaum has to take a hit because he drafted Valdimir Ducasse two years ago and the kid is just not close to ready for every down duty, presumably to step in for ineffective Hunter. Center Colin Baxter was picked up off the scrap heap and really hasn’t been horrible over the last two games, but is no replacement for Mangold and looks like he can’t play any other position. After those two, where’s the depth anywhere on the line? Caleb Schlauderaff? Who’s that?
So until the Jets either get healthy or sign or trade for reinforcements and bring said mercenaries up to speed, you are going to see nights like Sunday night. Sanchez got literally destroyed throughout the 34-17 shellacking. He was on his back all game, including getting blind-sided twice, resulting in fumbles that were taken to the house.
Yet despite an offense that couldn’t get a first down, let alone into the end zone, the Jets were in the game in the third quarter and had all the momentum after Aaron Maybin’s strip sack of Joe Flacco gave the Jets the ball in Ravens territory down just 10.
Sanchez’s next throw, though, changed everything. His quick out intended for Santonio Holmes was picked off and returned 73 yards by Lardarius Webb and the game was basically over. But even on that play, as bad as the decision was by Sanchez to throw the ball, he was still hammered in less than three seconds by a Ravens lineman. Even on a two-step drop quick toss he got abused.
What does that tell you? How is he going to throw the ball down field if he doesn’t even have the time to throw a slant? How is he going to spread the ball around down field when Shonn Greene cannot get a single hole to run through. It’s absurd to blame Sanchez, as it is right now, based on the circumstances, to blame Schottenheimer.
The good news is Mangold will almost certainly be back for next weekend’s key divisional tussle with New England up in Foxboro, but even his return is not going to fix the right side of the line. Sometime soon Moore and Hunter will need an intervention of some kind. Call it soul searching if you want, but they better do it or eventually Tannenbaum will pay them a visit and likely introduce them to some kind of replacement. God only knows who that will be, but it will almost certainly happen.
Following the loss in Baltimore, Mason flipped his lid a little and I really couldn’t blame him. He spoke of how the Jets “have cracks” that need to be fixed. He could very well have been referring to Schottenheimer’s play calls, though I’d like to believe he was really telling Tannenbaum and Ryan to do a lot more than put a Band-Aid on a severed limb.
Because that’s what the Jets’ offensive line is right now, a punchless fist missing a pinky, ring finger and middle finger.
If they don’t do something surgical to their line soon, they’ll be setting up triage for their quarterback and what’s left of this season and their reputation.
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