By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Miami Heat just proved you can win an NBA title with three All Stars and a bunch of guys who were passed over by the rest of the League. With their Big Three on the floor, the Heat’s other two players were free to hang out in the corners, asked only on occasion to hit a wide-open shot or grab a loose ball. Miami was pretty much able to hide weaker players on the court and win games.
If only that worked on an NFL offensive line.
It’s no secret that the New York Jets offense lacked consistency last year and it has carried over into the first two games of this preseason, most recently in last night’s grotesque 26-3 loss to the New York Giants. What is shocking to most Jet fans is that management did absolutely nothing in the offseason to fix the most offensive problem—the gaping holes on the line.
The Jets can boast all they want about how three linemen earned Pro Bowl berths. Unfortunately, the line consists of two other members and they can’t hide. On the contrary, they seem to have a spotlight on them at big points of every game.
With only token competition from stiff Vlad Ducasse, Matt Slauson kept his job at left guard by taking a pay cut and working hard to rehabilitate a torn shoulder. To be fair, Slauson improved his pass-protecting stats somewhat in 2011 for former o-line coach Bill Callahan, who recruited Slauson out of high school when he coached Nebraska and obviously lobbied the Jets to draft him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft.
But Callahan is gone and Slauson, never the devastating run blocker you would think the Jets would covet to implement a ground-and-pound strategy, has been less reliable in all phases. Needing a mere yard after finally entering Giant territory in the second quarter last night, the middle of the Jets line was stuffed on third and fourth down. The Jets squandered another rare scoring opportunity on the next drive. A Mark Sanchez completion should have had the Jets set up for a first down on the Giants 13-yard line, but a holding penalty on Slauson knocked the Jets back to the 30. Two plays later, on third-and-ten, Sanchez threw his patented pick-six to Jayron Halsey and the rout was on. This may be only preseason, but a few more games like this and the only guard work Slauson will be able to get will be for Brinks.
Slauson’s play is inconsistent, which is not a word I would use to describe right tackle Wayne Hunter. He is consistently awful. I didn’t think it would have been possible for Hunter to regress from his dreadful 2011 campaign. I was wrong.
Not since Winston Justice escorted Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora into the body of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb six times in a 2007 game have I seen worse play from a tackle. This time, the Giant beneficiary was Jason Pierre-Paul, who outran and bulldozed his way around and through Hunter to Sanchez for two sacks. Justin Tuck then took a turn at abusing Hunter, with one sack negated by Umenyiora’s offsides penalty on the opposite end and then with a pressure that forced Sanchez to step up in the pocket to allow Umenyiora to claw back for another sack.
Thank heavens it was the preseason with the starters playing only two quarters—with the Jets behind and forced to throw, Sanchez might have ended up buried in the ground next to Jimmy Hoffa.
If those behind Hunter and Slauson on the depth chart are worse, then the chart needs to be whacked as well. Ducasse is definitely worse, but he was drafted in the second round in 2010, with guaranteed money until 2013, so it is unlikely that GM Mike Tannenbaum will declare “Bust” this season.
Tannenbaum, who rewarded Hunter with an astonishing 4-year, $14 million contract in 2011 ($2.45 million guaranteed in 2012) at least did attempt to acquire a right tackle immediately before training camp. Except that his target, former Carolina first-rounder Jeff Otah, did not have functioning knees. I just can’t believe there aren’t better players working construction right now, if not on the Jets’ second or third units.
I don’t care how fabulous the troika of tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, center Nick Mangold and guard Brandon Moore can be. How will the Jets be able to sustain drives when it counts when there is a high risk that one or both of the other two will bust a play that sets the team back negative yards? It’s not like the Giants threw exotic blitz packages at them last night. The Jets’ five simply could not block the Giants’ four.
And to those who want the Jets to revert to their more conservative game plans? Every team in the NFL will be lining up extra defenders in the box to ground the Jets’ pound. This is not 1970′s Oklahoma with cupcakes on the schedule. Linebackers here have the quickness to shoot gaps to penetrate into the backfield and the speed to chase down ballcarriers on the sideline. Only rotten teams are unable to stop the run when they know it’s coming.
That’s why, in today’s game, the running game is useful to supplement an offense, not dominate it. The New England Patriots, who seemingly played with a lead all season, finished 2011 ranked 20th in the league in rushing yards while the Super Bowl champ Giants were dead last. And they both had highly-rated offensive lines.
The Jets, even with three Pro Bowlers, do not. With apologies to Meat Loaf, three out of five is bad.
What do you think of the Jets offensive line? Give us your thoughts below in the comment section.