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Lichtenstein: After Two Weeks, Fans Still Asking, ‘Who Are These Jets?’

(credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

(credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

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By Steve Lichtenstein
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The NFL is hell on OCD sufferers.

Where is the consistency?

Arizona travels across the country to face mighty New England and escapes with a win.  Washington takes its rookie quarterback into an angry dome in New Orleans in Week 1, wins that one, but then coughs up a lead last week at the more friendly confines in St. Louis.  Dallas plays a terrific game to spoil the Giants’ Super Bowl homecoming on opening day, teasing its legions of bandwagon fans across the country into thinking (Southern) America’s Team is back, only to stink up Seattle the following week.

And what to make of our New York Jets?  Their 1-1 record is not really unexpected, taking care of  overrated Buffalo at home and then falling in Pittsburgh last week.  Still, Sunday’s upcoming game in Miami has me tossing and turning at night.

Will we see the defense that turned over the Bills four times in the first two-and-a-half quarters, or the one that Ben Roethlisberger toyed with all last week?  You would think that the Dolphins, with rookies at the NFL’s two most important spots in coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, would be primed for a beating.  Jets coach Rex Ryan will surely cook up some new disguises this week, especially now that it looks like he will get back future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis from his concussion.

However, after taking a closer look at this matchup, I’m not so confident.

Ryan’s defense can be stout against the run, but they have had less success against speed backs.  You can argue that most of the damage caused by Bills running back C.J. Spiller in Week 1 came after the Jets stormed to an insurmountable lead, but I’m sure the Dolphins took some notes to figure out how they can isolate Reggie Bush on the Jets’ slow linebackers.

I’m afraid this game could be similar to the one in Oakland last year.  That supposedly invincible Jets defense was beaten by a team with an unaccomplished quarterback because they couldn’t stop Darren McFadden from racing for 171 yards and two scores.  Bush, second in the NFL in rushing yards after Spiller, had 71 yards on 10 carries in two-plus quarters in his only appearance versus the Jets last year before taking leave with an injury.

On the other hand, the Dolphins don’t scare anyone with their long-ball threats.  There’s no Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown here.  Tannehill’s longest completion so far has been a 34-yarder to Brian Hartline, known to be more of a possession receiver.  Revis or no Revis, they better be playing tight coverage on the Dolphin receivers and tight end Anthony Fasano.  And don’t forget about Bush coming out of the backfield.

That would mean it should take maybe 17-20 points to win this one.  Short fields from turnovers or special teams’ plays should help, though the Jets did squander two first-half picks in the debacle of a finale at Miami last year.

Which brings us to the biggest conundrum in New York outside of Wall Street–which Mark Sanchez will show up on Sunday?  The Buffalo game showed that he can be effective on any route when given good protection.  Then again, that’s what all NFL quarterbacks should be able to do.  The great ones have the vision and decision-making to make plays when they see pressure coming.

I’m not expecting Sanchez to be Roethlisberger, who sheds pass rushers like he’s playing with his pets, or be like Michael Vick, who can create havoc with the run/pass dual threat.  I would settle for a smidgeon of the qualities of his cross-town rival—Eli Manning.

Manning does not need to run much, he can be inaccurate and I’ve seen a fair number of hideous interceptions thrown through the years that would compare favorably with anything in the Sanchez file.  What Manning has learned how to do is to be more consistent in recognizing where the rush is coming from, who he should target, and how to deliver balls his receivers can catch.

Sanchez’ play has been frustrating–he can be hot and cold in the same game, let alone from week-to-week.  There are too many times where he either gets the ball out too quick, before the receiver is turned, or waits too long and takes an unnecessary sack.  He’s had a couple of years to develop timing with Santonio Holmes yet we still read about how “they’re not on the same page.”   How come Jets opponents never pay a price in coverage for blitzing?  Where are the back-shoulder throws that are the avant-garde in today’s game?

Unless Philbin is an idiot, I’m sure he’s watched plenty of Sanchez on film and will take his shots to get heat on him and force mistakes.  Right tackle Austin Howard may be an improvement over the departed turnstile Wayne Hunter, but the Steelers succeeded somewhat in targeting that area last week.  I’m hoping the Jets bring back the screen pass this week to counter Miami’s pressure.

I’m not hoping to see a lot of Tim Tebow.  Ryan has been taking shots for his playing-time decisions, but a lot of that is just from those in the media reaching for content.  Let’s be clear about what we’ve seen from Tebow the Jet:  There has been nothing unpredictable when he has played, unless you think guessing whether the option run will go left, right or up the middle gives NFL defenses migraines.  In Tebow’s one series in Pittsburgh, he ran and pitched for two first downs before the Steelers got fed up and blew up a third running play for a loss of six yards.  Now what can you do with Tebow?

Last season is over.  I’m convinced that the Tebow legend was fashioned by a perfect storm of weak and under-prepared opponents unwisely switching to conservative end-game defenses plus a sprinkle of luck.  Until Tebow proves he can throw out of the Wildcat, the Jets have little use for him outside a handful of snaps or as an emergency backup.

Of course, there those thinking offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will take the leash off Tebow and expand his playbook portion just to screw with his old employer.  I’m sorry, but if it’s true that he saved the good stuff for this week, he should be fired for not doing everything he could to help win in Pittsburgh when the score was manageable.

I keep reading how this one is “a must-win game” and I chuckle.   Yeah, divisional game and all.  But in my mind, and I’m betting that my fellow hard-core Jet fans agree, EVERY game is must-win.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in MetLife Stadium, having been ripped off by owner Woody Johnson, or avoiding your family at home.  You’re investing over three hours to watch these games.  I’m miserable after any loss.

That doesn’t mean I expect the Jets to win them all, certainly not with this crew.  For this week, I’m hoping to get a better idea of what kind of team the Jets will be.  But I guess if I’m looking for perfect order in this world, I should steer clear of this already messy 2012 NFL season.

Think Sanchez & Co. will squish the Fish? Be heard in the comments below…