By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Amazingly, we’re in just Week 3 of the NFL season and the Jets are already faced with a must-win situation.
That is not an exaggeration.
Generally, I don’t view myself as an alarmist, but there’s no sidestepping the fact that the Jets looked awful over the final three quarters in Pittsburgh last Sunday. Their demise was caused by a combination of things, most notably the defense’s struggles to do the basics and the offense’s failure to make adjustments — both in strategy and execution.
Now, the good news is the Dolphins, this week’s opponent, are not the Steelers, nor is the atmosphere inside Sun Life Stadium anything resembling Heinz Field. In fact, the Jets will probably see a lot of friendly faces when they get to South Beach, for the hometown team doesn’t really enjoy much of an advantage when its hated rivals come to town. Jets fans should be in abundance, with all the noise and hostility that usually accompanies them.
The Jets simply have to win this game, because if they don’t the reality of a 1-4 start could become a very real possibility. That’s because arguably two of the NFL’s best teams, San Francisco and Houston, will be coming to MetLife Stadium over the next two weeks, and neither will care that they will be on the road.
The schedule gets a bit more manageable after those games, but the Jets have to get there first. To be 4-1 seems farfetched. To be 3-2 is doable. To be 2-3 seems logical and still would leave the Jets with a fighting chance the rest of the way. But without a win in Miami, the fans would be demanding that an already reeling team that’s still trying to find itself on both sides of the football do that which it’s probably not capable of right now.
Another bit of good news is the fact that the Jets are actually technically in first place in the AFC East because, despite everyone being 1-1, Gang Green is the only team having played — and won — a divisional game. Add to that the apparent turmoil up in New England following the Patriots’ stunning home loss to Arizona and the injury suffered by key cog Aaron Hernandez last week and it’s possible the division could end up being more of a dogfight than we are used to seeing.
But again, the Jets can only really begin to think about all of that if they take care of business in Miami against a team, frankly, they should handle.
The Dolphins have but one true star to really worry about. His name is Reggie Bush, a running back who is just now in his seventh NFL season starting to come into his own and live up to the promise that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft by New Orleans back in 2006.
But the fact that Bush is the Dolphins’ meal ticket bodes well for the Jets because their strength is stopping the run. Bush will also be a safety valve for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but if the Jets operate as they are capable they should be able to minimize Bush’s impact.
Other than Bush, the Dolphins feature two legitimate pass-catching threats in receiver Brian Hartline and tight end Anthony Fasano. Hartline has quietly become Tannehill’s favorite target, hauling in 12 passes in the first two games. Fasano has just five catches over the same period, but has given the Jets problems in the past, recording 26 receptions, including four touchdowns, in eight career games.
Once again, the Jets could be faced with the reality of not having cornerback Darrelle Revis, who, if fully recovered from the world’s most talked about mild concussion, figures to match-up with Hartline or Davone Bess, a speedster who can cause some problems if you forget about him. And after the disaster that was Antonio Cromartie trying to guard Mike Wallace last week, the Jets really need their best player back.
But, all that said, I really don’t expect the Jets’ defense to struggle in this game, even if Revis doesn’t play. If the Jets can get to Tannehill, a question I pose every week regardless of the opponent, and with good reason considering their struggles in this department, they should be able to keep the damage to a minimum.
Now, the Jets’ offense is my real concern, and partly because the Dolphins are pretty good defensively.
Through two games the Dolphins have allowed a little more than 100 yards on the ground, and with Shonn Greene’s health in question due to a head shot against Pittsburgh and backup Bilal Powell not really showing all that much so far, there is reason for worry.
Expect the Jets to counter their apparent shortcomings in the backfield with more use of Tim Tebow and the “wildcat.” Tebow touched the ball just once against Pittsburgh, ripping off a 22-yard run in the third quarter, but was never heard from again. Rex Ryan made it clear in no uncertain terms during his Monday agita-ridden press conference that all the clamoring from fans and the media to see more of Tebow will do little to sway his team’s game plan, whatever that ends up being on a weekly basis.
But from where I’m standing the Jets have no choice but to use Tebow a lot — and not just when starting quarterback Mark Sanchez is struggling. The beauty of what Tebow brings is the unpredictability and just because Sanchez may be rolling along, as he was in the first quarter against Pittsburgh, doesn’t mean the Jets should stick with him exclusively, regardless if that’s what 50 percent of the fans want.
Think of it this way: the Jets went 90 yards on their first possession for a touchdown, shredding the Steelers’ vaunted defense. Conventional wisdom then suggested stick with the hot hand in Sanchez. But to keep opponents off balance, which must be the blueprint for this particular offense, the Jets have to insert Tebow regardless of how well Sanchez is playing, if only for a play or two, or else why is he here?
When defenses don’t know what’s coming the Jets will excel. I know I’ve already said this a million times, but, trust me, it’s the truth.
As for the traditional passing attack, Sanchez’s numbers against the Steelers suggested he regressed, but in truth he only made a couple of bad throws, most notably missing Santonio Holmes on a toss that would have put the Jets up at least seven points in the second quarter. That blemish aside, I think in this case you have to credit Pittsburgh for finally realizing it was Pittsburgh. If you want to blame someone, look no further than the Jets’ receivers, who, with the exception of Holmes, are extremely inexperienced and are still learning how to deal with press coverage, which the Steelers employ as well as any team in the NFL.
Rookie Stephen Hill didn’t make the most of his opportunities. Second-year wideout Jeremy Kerley disappeared after making a 45-yard grab early. And while some of the throws were poor, these receivers have to learn how to break free from tight coverage, find seams and, most importantly, hold on to the football. Even Holmes, for all of his prowess as a route runner and as a good hands man, has to cut down on the drops, regardless if he’s buried in the process.
Of course, all of that is easier said than done, but the Jets have a very small margin for error when they have the ball. Their skill position players need to mature and they must do so quickly. They have no choice in the matter. It might be a crappy deal, but it is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for them.
Perhaps the return of tight end Dustin Keller will alleviate the angst, but his status is still not known, and even if he does play it would be a serious reach to expect all that much from him. In the interim, the Jets have to make due with what they have, which if you really look at it should be enough in this offense to put more than enough points on the board, regardless of the opponent.
I’m not going to utter the ridiculous by saying this is a statement game for the Jets, because if they win it they were supposed to, but if they lose it they are going to be in a world of trouble.
Trust me, a world of trouble.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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