By Jeff Capellini
You want to talk about a trap game? Sunday is a trap game.
I didn’t view the Week 3 matchup with the Eagles as a red flag affair. Philadelphia is a pretty good football team and on that day was the better team. The Jets had injuries that stifled their offense, but there was no guarantee they would have put up the requisite points needed to win even if they had been 100 percent.
The Jets have not yet earned that type of benefit of the doubt.
The NFL season is a test of patience. I think the Eagles will eventually figure things out, if they haven’t already. They simply have too much talent to spend the entire season muddling around .500. This past Sunday’s destruction of the Saints might have been just the catalyst Chip Kelly’s team needs to make its move in the NFC.
Now, if the Jets lose to the Redskins this Sunday at MetLife Stadium, well, that would be brutal.
Washington (2-3) is currently tied with Dallas and Philadelphia, one game back of the Giants in the NFC East, and doesn’t strike me as a team that has enough on offense to counter what the Jets will bring on defense.
And as we’ve seen so far, the Jets’ defense sets tones.
Let’s be honest: do you really fear Kirk Cousins? Even if he gets DeSean Jackson back from the hamstring injury that has kept him out all season, as has been rumored? Admittedly, a receiving corps of Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed is pretty good, but if the ‘Skins can’t run the football — and they have been just slightly better than average in that department this season — it’s hard to fathom Cousins dropping back 40-50 times and surviving.
Running back Alfred Morris has had some very good seasons, but he’s one-dimensional, as is 1A Matt Jones. If the ‘Skins plan on moving the ball consistently on the Jets’ second-ranked defense they are going to have to be extremely balanced while keeping the Jets off balance.
That has not been an easy task for anyone so far. The Jets have allowed just 55 points in four games. And critics really can’t say, “well, who have they beaten?” because coming into the season many were in love with Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. The fact that things haven’t worked out all that well for either does not diminish what the Jets have accomplished to this point.
Cousins could easily end up swallowed whole by the Jets’ relentless pressure. And you better believe the Jets will be out for blood now that “newcomer” Sheldon Richardson has received the green light to re-join his buddies Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Damon Harrison along that ever-improving and downright scary defensive line.
Even if Cousins does occasionally get time to throw, the Jets have been excellent against the pass, allowing just a shade less than 186 yards per game, second in the NFL. Their blitz schemes and revamped secondary have been spot on in the early going.
As for the Jets’ offense, which has had its ups and downs, it’s becoming apparent that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will do his best work if running back Chris Ivory is consistently pinballing off defenders 10 yards down field. The one game where Ivory was too nicked up to play — the aforementioned Eagles game in Week 3 — Fitzpatrick gave fans a legitimate reason to call for Geno Smith’s return.
But when the Jets are beating up opponents at the point of attack and ripping off five or six yards a carry, as was the case back on Oct. 4 when Ivory ran for 166 yards in the 27-14 win over the Dolphins in London, Fitzpatrick becomes a different quarterback. If the ‘Skins and their sixth-ranked defense can’t control Ivory, I fully expect Fitzpatrick to remain highly in-tune with wide receivers Brandon Marshall (30 receptions, 400 yards and 3 TDs) and Eric Decker. That’s the type of balance that best illustrates what the Jets want to be under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
Of course, the Jets could use a contribution of any kind from their tight ends, and a better rapport between Fitzpatrick and rookie wideout Devin Smith, not to mention a bit more production from backup running backs Bilal Powell and Zac Stacy, but as long as they keep winning the concerns can take their time working themselves out.
On paper, the Jets are simply better than the Redskins, but head coach Todd Bowles still has to prove he can rev his troops up after the bye, something his predecessor, Rex Ryan, struggled to do. Ryan’s teams went 1-5 in such games, often coming out flat and playing uninspired football.
Bowles has to make sure those days are over.
He also has to do everything in his power to drum into his players’ heads the fact that the showdown with the undefeated Patriots is next week, not this week. If the Jets somehow lose this Sunday, everyone and their mother will be screaming about the poor job the rookie head coach did preparing his team to play the game at hand.
Though the Jets’ results so far have been indicative of Bowles having his players ready every time they take the field, all it would take is one letdown — and losing to the Redskins would be a major one — to turn public opinion of this coaching staff in the other direction.
There’s nothing the Jets can do against the Redskins that will prepare them for the Patriots except win. They will need their confidence to be sky high heading into Foxboro against a team that has the look of a group capable of beating every team it plays by 30 points.
The Jets have no excuse to not be 4-1 heading into that game. They need to take care of business this week against an opponent that is beneath them. The old Jets often struggled mightily in these types of games, but this team really has no choice but to get the job done if it wants to be taken seriously. That kind of motivation can work wonders.
While it won’t be a referendum on his tenure win or lose, Bowles can further solidify himself in the eyes of Jets fans by having his team ready to go on Sunday.
Then we can let next week take care of itself.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet