By Steve Lichtenstein
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Parity in the NFL is an abstract state. The rules are rigged so that the weaker teams can upgrade their talent through player allocation mechanisms such as the entry draft and free agency with hard salary caps.
In reality–which can’t get much harsher than for those of us who root for the New York Jets–there is quite a bit of a gap between the talent pool in say, San Diego, versus that of Gang Green.
As bad as it was to watch the Chargers’ 31-0 rout (which would have been 56-0 if Bill Belichick was coaching on the opposing sideline instead of the more sportsmanlike Mike McCoy) on Sunday, I found it more infuriating to hear things like the following on the radio afterward:
“(The Jets) are better than this.”—Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons.
“We have enough talent here.”—Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
No people, they are not—and they do not.
Going into the season, we all knew that this was a team with holes all over the field. And nothing has happened in the first five games to alter that supposition.
The Jets are still way short on playmakers in every phase. Their receivers rarely get any separation on their routes and their secondary—which finally recorded their first interception of the year on Sunday—has been getting picked to pieces every week.
General manager John Idzik sold us all a bill of goods, all the while leaving about $21 million of salary cap room on the table that could have been used, for instance, to sign a cornerback with a better pedigree than Dmitri Patterson. Of Idzik’s main summer splashes, only wide receiver Eric Decker has made any sort of impact—that is, when he’s been healthy.
When it was announced that Decker was a no-go on Sunday with a hamstring injury, the Jets did not exactly have a next-man-up mentality.
On the contrary, the Jets used it as an excuse to turn in one of the most putrid offensive performances in their inglorious history. They generated 63 yards through three quarters and didn’t cross the midfield stripe until a defensive pass interference penalty placed the ball on the Chargers’ 30-yard line with just under eight minutes to go in the game.
The defense—Ryan’s pride and joy—surrendered two 90-plus yard drives and failed to get off the field on nine of 10 third downs in the first half, when the Chargers built a 21-0 lead.
By that point, the only mystery remaining was whether quarterback Geno Smith’s 4-for-12 27-yard effort was sufficiently abhorrent for Ryan to yank him in favor of Michael Vick.
With the Jets’ line caving in under the relentless Chargers pass rush and no one open downfield, they would have needed an elite QB just to pick up a few first downs.
Still, it’s obvious that Idzik has whiffed on his first attempt at securing a franchise signal-caller. In an era that gives the quarterback every advantage, Smith looks like he’s playing 11-on-13. I get that Smith is only 21 games into his career, but, unfortunately, teams can’t afford to be so patient in this century.
Quarterbacks are expected to be pro-ready when they leave college. You either have it, or you spend your career constantly looking for new opportunities. Idzik used a second-round pick to grab Smith in the 2013 draft, and it’s clear why so many people called it a reach.
Now Idzik will have to try it again in 2015. He wants us to trust him on draft day but his first two go-rounds haven’t inspired much confidence.
Defensive end Sheldon Richardson gets Idzik a higher grade and there’s hope for players such as cornerback Dee Milliner, safety Calvin Pryor and tight end Jace Amaro, but there hasn’t exactly been a huge influx of quality young players added to this roster in the last two years.
And for that you can add Ryan to the Jets fans’ Most Wanted list. Ryan may be the guy you want to design a defense, but his player development record is not so gaudy, with the limited exception of the defensive line.
Ryan is responsible for his staff, and they have let him and the organization down.
Especially on offense, where Ryan has acknowledged his lack of expertise. That is why he has outsourced the program to his coordinators during his tenure in New York.
Marty Mornhinweg is Ryan’s third such coordinator in six seasons, and the Jets offense still can’t get out of its own way. How many of these young offensive players—those drafted within the last four years—would start for a quality NFL team?
Well, Jeremy Kerley is a nice player, but he’d be a third-down slot guy instead of anyone’s No. 2 wideout. Amaro may one day get there but I doubt Smith ever will. Guard Brian Winters? He makes me yearn for Vlad Ducasse.
In Ryan’s reign, the Jets have morphed into the next generation Oakland Raiders, a team that is so undisciplined that the refs get back spasms from constantly having to pick up yellow flags. The players can’t stay in their stances until the ball is snapped and then they feel the need to prove their toughness by swinging at opponents after the whistle—all with little consequence.
A perfect example of this came late in the third quarter, when the Jets were hit with two 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalties in a three-play span. Winters and special-teamer Saalim Hakim were the guilty parties. Ryan could have used those fouls as teachable moments for a pair of young players in a game that was otherwise out of hand. He could have said, “That behavior is unacceptable, so go grab some bench for a while.”
Nope. Salim was back on the field when San Diego punted the ball back to New York and Winters resumed his role of human turnstile.
There are some who claim it would be unfair for Idzik to jettison Ryan after dealing him such a lousy hand. But that in of itself doesn’t absolve Ryan of all culpability in this scenario. He has a responsibility to get more out of his players.
Otherwise count on more blowouts, especially this Sunday when Denver comes to MetLife Stadium. Right now that game looks like a mismatch for the ages–parity be damned.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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