By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
The Jets are by no means a great football team. But they have all the makings of being one some day because they are physical and impose their will in the places that matter most.
They are building something that can withstand teams with better quarterbacks than they have. They are taking an old school approach to rebuilding and have needed all of three games to prove the formula still works as well as it ever has.
The team that controls the line of scrimmage, preferably on both sides of the ball, is the team that no one wants to play. That’s also the team that is very difficult to game plan against and the one that can hide its deficiencies because no matter how bad things appear it is seemingly in every game.
The Jets, at least through three weeks, have shown a penchant for hanging around. And we all know what happens when a supposedly inferior team is allowed to hang around long enough.
Rex Ryan’s bunch is simply buying time for its offensive skill positions to catch up with its road graders and earth movers. On the other side of the ball the Jets can afford to live with a rookie like Dee Milliner at corner, second-year safety Antonio Allen learning the ropes and former defensive end Quinton Coples switching to outside linebacker because, unlike in previous years, opposing quarterbacks are not getting additional valuable seconds to survey the field and find the mismatches.
The Jets are the team that has shut down Doug Martin, forced Tom Brady to complete less than 50 percent of his passes and rendered the one-two punch of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson all but invisible. It’s the team that is currently third overall in total defense, has allowed a league low 13 first downs per game and is second in third-down conversion percentage against.
The Jets are also the team that has given rookie quarterback Geno Smith time enough to make big plays, as evidenced by four 40-plus-yard completions last week alone. The last time a Jets QB did that, one has to go all the way back to Joe Namath.
They turned Bilal Powell, a running back who really doesn’t have starter ability, as defined by the stars that rule the backfields on NFL Sundays, into a player who rushed for 149 yards last week against Buffalo and one who combined for 100 the week before against New England.
All of this has been perpetrated by an offensive line and defensive front four, respectively, that are utterly dominating every team they face.
During the offseason the worry was the Jets would struggle running the football because they didn’t have the premier back. Rarely was it mentioned that even an average back can find success behind a very good line, which is precisely what the Jets have. Center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson are showing why they are All-Pros. Right tackle Austin Howard is seemingly getting better with each passing week. The signing of right guard Willie Colon is proving to be a stroke of genius by general manager John Idzik, and Internet whipping boy Valdimir Ducasse is proving he indeed has the type of promise that everyone but former GM Mike Tannenbaum thought wasn’t possible.
The defensive line, though extremely young, is living up to the hype rarely bestowed these days upon any aspect of New York’s other team, the group of misfits that was declared anything but legit by all people supposedly in the know. The Jets are massive and highly athletic up front, averaging 311 pounds. They already have 12 sacks, including three by end Muhammad Wilkerson, a force that is fast becoming the Jets’ most popular and most effective player.
Then there is behemoth nose tackle Damon Harrison, who is disrupting everything he sees, and tackle Sheldon Richardson, the guy many shook their heads at when he was selected with the Jets’ second first-round pick in this year’s draft. They are quickly turning into demons against the run and equally annoying assets in passing situations.
So the core for sustained success is there. To me it seems like it’s just a matter of health. If the Jets can keep their key offensive and defensive line players on the field they will continue to be handful to deal with each weekend.
The Jets will see a team built a lot like they are Sunday when they travel to Tennessee. The Titans like to play the physical game up front and have a home run back in Chris Johnson who may not be the same player that rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, but is still among the most explosive players at his position in the entire league.
At quarterback, Jake Locker isn’t going to remind anyone of Brady any time soon, but he’s slowly coming into his own as both a passer and scrambler. The former first-round pick out of Washington threw for 299 yards and a TD, completed 62 percent of his passes and added another 68 yards and a score on five carries in last week’s last-second 20-17 win over San Diego.
So even though the Titans don’t appear to be loaded per se, they certainly have ability. If the Jets start reading their press clippings they could easily come home 2-2 instead of a relatively unimaginable 3-1.
I have no idea if the Jets will continue to surprise opponents, but I do know they are striving to get to a place where they won’t have to. They long to be taken seriously. They may say they really don’t care about all the talk and the preseason’s negative press, but at the end of the day a little bit of the us-against-the-world mentality exists in every team.
The desire to prove something to the detractors is an underlying reason why players strap on the equipment every weekend. And while the Jets likely will not end up being world beaters this season, they are quietly — insane concept, I know — going about their business in a very professional manner. They are showing all the naysayers, the people who use the Jets as the noun in the joke, that if you sleep on them they are more than capable of feeding you your lunch.
Their play in the trenches has shown a character not usually reserved for a team that most everyone figured was going to be derailed by characters, distracted by a supposed buffoon of a head coach, deemed more significant than it actually is by an owner with his head in the clouds and ultimately buried by a rookie quarterback who was given too many unfair advantages in a “rigged” competition back in training camp.
The Jets are turning into a team, one you better not take lightly. They may not beat you like you stole something or even make the playoffs, but they are more than equipped to give any and all opponents several moments of pause.
That’s not half bad considering they were doomed to failure before a single meaningful play was snapped.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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