Sometimes, we stare at a mirror and inspect the person looking back at us. That person may look tired and depressed, slumped over with shoulders falling to the ground and eyelids drooping down their faces.
That isn’t necessarily the face everyone else sees, though. Our minds can play tricks on us, and we don’t always perceive ourselves the way the rest of the world does. The same principle can apply to how you judge others – you might hold yourself to a very different standard than you’d apply to someone else.
The point I’m making isn’t about how you identify yourself, but rather how you self-identify is completely different than how you identify others. Some people constantly find flaws and imperfections in themselves – that’s just part of human nature. So, what does this have to do with the New York Jets?
Well, I’ve been on a mission to figure out who the Jets are this season. Part of me wants to understand why I dig into their flaws so much – is it because I see them like I see myself?
I expect only the best out of the Jets, and I think any of their weak links should be removed for something that will make them better. I want them to strive for something great, and I research, read, and watch in order to closely monitor their progression. I feel like the success or failure of the team reflects on me personally, and I always hope they won’t disappoint.
I could be totally wrong, though. Maybe my feelings about the Jets aren’t any kind of self-identification. They may just be a manifestation of perceptions.
Let’s take another angle: in sports, it isn’t uncommon for a Bears fan to have a slightly different opinion about the Green Bay Packers than an Oakland Raiders fan would. That makes sense – divisional rivalries incite different emotions among fans because divisional opponents have a massive impact on whether their team makes the playoffs.
So, who are the Jets? Anytime you tune into Sunday NFL Countdown you’re bound to hear Tom Jackson blabber on about a team’s identity and the importance of having something to rely on during crunch time in a big game. Even though I don’t think this is the proper methodology a football team should be built on, he does have a point. It’s nice to be great at everything, but having something you can “hang your hat on” gives a team something they can rely on when nothing else is working.
Obviously, the strength of the Jets is their defense, more specifically the front seven. They’ve limited C.J. Spiller, Stevan Ridley, Doug Martin, and Chris Johnson to a combined 125 yards rushing, which averages out to 1.9 yards per carry. All of those running backs ran for over 1,200 yards last season, and averaged over 4.4 yards per carry.
Stopping the run has been the Jets’ strong suit during the past few seasons, but they’re doing it this season without the likes of Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito. They’ve become even more dominant with the strong play of Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and Muhammad Wilkerson. They all got after the supremely cautious E.J. Manuel in week three to the tune of eight sacks, and they have been wreaking havoc early on this season.
Although you’d never know it from watching ESPN, there are more good things about this team than just the defensive line. Quinton Coples’ return from injury beefs up the outside linebacker position, and limits the snaps Garrett McIntyre plays. The combination of Antawan Barnes, Calvin Pace, and Coples rushing from the outside gives the defensive line a better chance of getting to the quarterback.
The pressure is fantastic, but one of the major positives has been the ability of the defensive linemen to create pockets for the inside linebackers to blow up runs. David Harris has been the main beneficiary so far, grabbing six stops and a sack in Sunday’s contest versus the Bills.
Those numbers took a turn for the worse in their game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Titans were able to score 38 points on the day and did so with their starting quarterback in the locker room for nearly half of the game. The Jets defense didn’t play as well as they did against Buffalo, mainly because they couldn’t generate consistent pressure, but it was mostly due to the ineptness of the Jets’ offense.
Geno Smith was at the root of the problem. The rookie quarterback had four turnovers on the game, bringing his grand total to 10 on the season. The frequency of those turnovers is not sustainable for any team, especially when the defense has had trouble mustering any turnovers themselves. Because of those turnovers and the Jets inability to sustain any long drives, the Titans average starting field position was at their own 36.5 yard line while the Jets were forced to start from 18.6 yard line. That nearly 20-yard difference was a key reason the Jets found themselves in an early hole and is why they’ll have to take extra care of the ball for the remainder of the season.
The offense is where the true weirdness of the team’s potential comes into play. Most fans claim that their ability to win games early on this season has been due to the quality of the opponents, but the Bills, Patriots, Titans, and Buccaneers all have defenses ranked in the top 15 in the NFL.
That’s led to some struggles by the offense, mostly because of turnovers. The Jets are -10 in turnover differential early on this season. That number places them 31st in the NFL, and that has to change if this team wants to win games. The pressure the turnovers put on the defense is extraordinary, and will tire them out over the course of the season, which was on display Sunday against the Titans.
The turnovers are the only thing limiting this team at the moment. They showed how they could extend the field in week three, as Geno Smith completed five out of seven passes aimed over 20 yards downfield, leading to 229 yards worth of deep passes. That kind of production will allow the run game to flourish, with defenses nervous about stacking the box because of concerns about the deep ball.
As a result, the Jets now have a top-12 offense in terms of yards per game, eclipsing both the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The constant with the Jets offense has been the vast improvement of their offensive line. They struggled slightly during the first week, allowing Smith to get sacked five times, and they weren’t able to open any rushing lanes. The inability to open up rushing lanes was partly due to the Bucs’ strong front seven, but Smith’s propensity to hold on to the ball too long didn’t help.
Things weren’t much better in week two as Smith got sacked four times, but the running backs ran for over 120 yards. That progression improved dramatically against a decimated Bills defense, as the line allowed zero sacks and paved the way for Bilal Powell to rush for 149 yards.
As promising as things looked in week three, things looked equally as bad on Sunday. The offensive line had communication problems and seemed to whiff on a number of occasions on late blitzes. Smith made his life a lot worse by holding on to the ball far too long, which has been one of his biggest faults in the early part of his rookie season.
Two other considerable factors that have to be taken into account are the special teams and the penalties. The Jets are dealing with the penalties in a militaristic manner, but the special teams continue to be a serious issue. Other than Nick Folk’s pristine field goal percentage not many other special teamers are positively contributing to the team. The return game has been negligible and it has forced the Jets into considering bringing in special team’s extraordinaire, Josh Cribbs.
So who are the Jets? The hogs! The 2013 Jets are a team defined by the hogs, the guys in the trenches who work and grind and get after it, play after play.
That doesn’t answer my question, though. I identified who the Jets are, but what does that mean? Does it mean the Jets can continue to play as they did against Buffalo? We don’t know that yet, but the Jets are doing something different than year’s prior. They aren’t standing up and screaming about playoff guarantees or Super Bowls or particular attributes they have that’ll win them a championship. They haven’t repeated the words “ground and pound” until you want to slam your head into the nearest wall. Finally, they’re delivering by exceeding preseason expectations.
This year’s Jets just so happen to be a mirror image of Rex Ryan - a coach who emphasizes a dominant defense that wins the battle of the trenches and time of possession each and every week. So, the mystery has been solved. You can sleep easy knowing who the Jets are, and I know I’ll sleep even better knowing that it isn’t me.
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