The Jekyll-and-Hyde Jets

Another week, another Jets’ loss. Another first half full of progress and promise, and another second half in which the team looked like the absolute opposite of the first-half team: the defensive line fell apart, the offense couldn’t score.
At least the team was consistent in its running game, which was just awful throughout. The Jets brought Thomas Jones over from the Bears to join what was supposed to be a running powerhouse of a team, even though their front line features two second-year players and they’d let their most veteran lineman, Pete Kendall, leave just before the season in some botched Human Resources debacle. Unfortunately, every time Jones is handed the ball, the defensive line for the other team appears to have 11 or 12 guys on the ball. The only gains the offense has been able to make on running plays have been with pitch-outs or by running to the outside, and Jones isn’t that type of back: his game is power, and if the offensive line can’t carve out the semblance of a hole in the defensive front, he’s not going to make much headway. And even though Leon Washington does possess the kind of speed that can get him outside and break things open, his size limits the amount of damage he can take from the defensive middle and secondary before being stopped. These facts, coupled with poor line play, may explain why the Jets are averaging exactly three yards per rushing attempt, and why they’ve only got 385 rushing yards after five full games (an average of 77 yards per game).

That puts immense pressure on the passing game. Fortunately, they’ve got one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the history of the league in Chad Pennington. Unfortunately, the offensive line has played as poorly on the pass as on the run. And Pennington’s M.O. has been the short pass, which makes for great efficiency and can contribute to a long scoring drive, but it doesn’t bode well for late-game comebacks, which the Jets have had the misfortune of needing four out of five times so far this Fall.

It also doesn’t help when the Jets’ defensive secondary gets pushed around — literally — by an opposing wide receiver: the Giants’ Plaxico Burress should have been wrapped up for a tackle after a modest pass gain, but he was able to stiff-arm his way out of defender’s tackle and into the end zone for a 53-yard score.

Of course, the Jets don’t have a superstar, big-target receiver of the calibur of Burress, Randy Moss, or even anything close: Lavernanues Coles is their most dependable receiver, and he’s listed at a generous 5’11”. There no doubt that he’s a great receiver, but not a very big target for a quarterback, and not exactly the imposing physical threat on a defense that a big, quick receiver like Burress or Moss bring. That severely limits what a team can do down the field: there’s not much thought of throwing a bomb into double-coverage when your receiver has no chance of out-jumping his defenders.

Or, at least, there shouldn’t be much thought of it. But I got the feeling this weekend that the Jets’ coaching staff had grown tired of the criticism of a lack of big-gain passing. This was both encouraging and discouraging: it was nice to see Pennington throwing strong, accurate passes for long gains. But there were other plays on which it was obvious that the Jets were forcing the issue and trying to prove something, when the best option was a short pass.

There were bright spots: Pennington and the passing game looked almost flawless in the first half; the Jet’s first-half defense came up big more than once, including a strip and fumble recovery for a score by Kerry Rhodes; and Washington brought back a kick for an incredible 98-yard scoring return.

But until the Jets can somehow work the Hyde out of their system, I’m afraid Dr. Jekyll won’t be able to do enough in the first 30 minutes to win a 60-minute game.

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