By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The AFC East is one weird division this season, but that doesn’t mean it won’t shake out precisely as it has countless times before.
The Jets, despite their many faults, can begin to change that popular sentiment this Sunday when they travel to Foxborough to take on the Patriots, a team that has been just as perplexing over the season’s first six weeks, albeit for totally different reasons.
While the Jets have shown over the last two weeks that they are beginning to understand the concept of team play, I’m still very skeptical about their chances against their longtime nemesis. I think the Jets are capable of getting above .500 at some point and perhaps making some kind of run at something, but that’s mostly due to the wild parity in the conference and league in general.
Everyone in the AFC East is currently 3-3 and overall only five other teams in the conference are .500 or better. Even the top two teams are showing signs of serious mortality. Baltimore (5-1) survived a wild affair with Dallas on Sunday, but lost linebacker Ray Lewis and corner Lardarius Webb to season-ending injuries, further taking a toll on a defense that was already getting very old very quickly. Houston (5-1) was undefeated before getting absolutely thrashed by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night, this coming off a lackluster showing against the Jets.
So, you can really throw out the records at this point because everything is very much up for grabs. I mean, the Jets, even with all their problems, are technically in first place in the East due to their 2-0 division mark. Don’t be surprised if some teams currently at the break-even mark or better are not even in the playoff conversation come mid-December.
Right now the Jets and their fans are feeling better about themselves, and they should, but only to a degree. While it’s true Rex Ryan’s bunch looked more like the 2009-10 versions of themselves during their 35-9 destruction of Indianapolis on Sunday, you really have to look at the main factor that played into the rout.
The Colts are not very good. Yeah, they beat the Packers, but that was more an emotionally charged performance considering their coach, Chuck Pagano, had just entered the hospital for cancer treatment. That type of stuff still has a place in the NFL, and likely always will.
But reality is, due to injuries, Indianapolis started a rookie running back, Vic Ballard, played without all-everything defensive kingpin Robert Mathis and trotted sack master Dwight Freeney out there on one leg on Sunday. Now, you can credit the Jets’ maligned offensive line for coming out with a plan and playing with the type of intensity and execution we had yet to see this season, but, again, who were they blocking?
Shonn Greene went off with a career-high 161 yards, and three touchdowns, clearly running with power and purpose. However, if fantasy football is your thing, what we saw Sunday was a perfect example of how you set yourself up to sell high, because, all the good vibrations aside, nothing is convincing me Greene will have anywhere near the same success against the Patriots, especially up there where the Jets more often than not have a very difficult time. The fans will say, well, what about the 2010 playoffs? My answer is these Jets are not those Jets, and anyone who tries to tell you differently needs the green-tinted visor surgically removed from his or her head.
A strong case can be made that the Patriots are also not the same team they were in 2010, but their offense can still put up points by the truckload and, unlike past years, is more balanced, attempting 243 passes and 217 runs. The Pats used to use the short passing game as their running game, but now they just hand the ball off to Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden (status questionable right now) and ex-Jet Danny Woodhead, and don’t have a moment’s hesitation in doing so. On top of that, they no longer run the ball out of necessity, or to give the illusion of balance. They do it for fun.
This is why I’m not doing backflips over the fact that the Jets allowed the Colts just 41 yards on the ground, to the likes of Ballard and Delone Carter. It was a start, nothing more. You want to show the skeptics the run defense is back? Hold the Pats in check.
The same can be said when the Jets have the ball. Is Greene now “back,” or did the Jets just have a very good day against a vastly inferior opponent? I ask because the Patriots gave up just 41 yards — on less than 3 per carry — to Marshawn Lynch during their 24-23 loss at Seattle on Sunday. Greene can be a good back in this league, but Lynch is better. Also, the Jets were just beginning to feel confident in a three-man running back rotation before Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight went down with injuries. Powell is definitely out for Sunday; McKnight remains to be seen. Either way, can we expect Greene to do it totally alone, provided Jonathan Grimes doesn’t come in and take the world by storm?
Again, against the Patriots that’s asking a lot.
Then there’s the passing game. Does anyone feel overwhelmingly confident that Mark Sanchez’s 11-for-18, 82-yard, 2-TD, no-pick performance against Indy was this watershed moment where things clicked into place, or was it Sanchez benefiting from his running game destroying a terrible defensive team, giving him the run of the place, while the Colts’ two best pass rushers were either hurt or out there in body only?
There’s no way to really know, but I’m in no way ready to say with confidence Sanchez turned a corner Sunday.
Then there’s Tom Brady, who, as you know, has had his fair share of banner days against the Jets over the years. Brady is completing nearly 66 percent of his passes, averaging 307.5 yards per game and has been intercepted just three times this season. So, is suddenly super human Antonio Cromartie going to cover Brandon Lloyd (banged up last week but probable), Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch (if he has anything left) and Julian Edelman (if he plays)? I didn’t think so.
While it’s certainly true Ryan has employed schemes in the past that have frustrated Brady, it’s all been predicated on the Jets’ having a pass rush, or at least something better and more consistent than what they currently have. Credit the Jets for getting to Andrew Luck four times on Sunday, nearly matching their season sack total coming in, but getting to Brady will be infinitely more difficult, as it always is, so it will be on Ryan to come up with some kind of scheme that can at least disrupt the aerial assault from time to time, keep it out of any kind of rhythm.
For my money, Cromartie, regardless of his past struggles against Welker in the slot, should be on him on Sunday. I understand the argument that short speedy receivers have given Cromartie trouble, but he is not the same player he was the last time these teams met, and that’s a good thing. Cromartie is right now the Jets’ best defensive player and they’d be ill advised to stick him on Lloyd when so much of what the Pats do flows through Welker.
Cromartie’s new-found technique, footwork and agility should be put on display against a guy who’s caught 48 passes this season, including 32 in the last three weeks. I’m telling you now, putting Kyle Wilson or Ellis Lankster on Welker is a disaster waiting to happen. And while Aaron Berry could be an upgrade over both, there’s no telling how much of this defense he actually knows.
Just roll the dice with Cro and hope he continues to be the guy who shut down both Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne over the last two games. To do otherwise, would be a mistake on Ryan’s part.
Some will point to Wayne finally having success Sunday when he went into the slot and Cromartie followed, but the truth is the Jets were up by such a comfortable margin all afternoon, they played off the Colts’ wideouts as the game progressed.
As I’ve stated numerous times, general manager Mike Tannenbaum did nothing in the offseason to upgrade this team short of at safety, and we’re going to find out Sunday if his investments in LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell were in fact really good ones. They were brought here specifically to add a hard-hitting element to the position, which they have, and also to cover big-time tight ends. As we know, the Patriots have two of them, and the Jets have no shot of winning this game if either goes off.
All that said, I just don’t think the Jets are ready yet to go into Foxborough and win. They might be ready to beat the Patriots when the teams meet at MetLife on Thanksgiving night, provided they deal with Miami at home, leave it all out on the field after the bye at Seattle and St. Louis and then catch the Pats on a short week.
In truth, the Jets may not be ready to beat a really good team for a while, but they are doing what good teams do in that they are beating teams they are supposed to beat. They are taking baby steps on both sides of the football, but to knock off the Patriots you’ll need to see more of a quantum leap.
Going forward they just have to continue to buy into this 53-man, all-hands-on-deck mentality and remember that Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes are not coming back any time soon. The depth chart shouldn’t matter. Anyone and everyone should be ready to go if called upon.
If the Jets do that they could be in contention for something in December, but that, too, will all depend on league-wide parity continuing as it has over the first six weeks.
Things are better than they were two weeks ago, but just how much better the Jets will be won’t be known for some time.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Do you think the Jets are beginning to turn a corner, or are they just delaying the inevitable? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …