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By David J. Cohen
The Jets are soaring after their first two games. Head Coach Rex Ryan has instilled a “take no prisoners” mentality that has turned the Jets defense into a roving mass of destruction.
The Jets defense shut down the Texans and the Patriots in back to back weeks without allowing a touchdown. They made Tom Brady looked scared in the pocket for the first time since he established himself among the NFL’s elite. If there’s tape of Brady abandoning the pocket and running for his life in a game more often, I’d like to see it.
The pressure defense has revitalized FS Kerry Rhodes as he becomes the Ed Reed in Ryan’s scheme. The linebackers are running rampant. CB Darrelle Revis continues to prove he’s the best corner in the league outside of Nnamdi Asomugha.
The offense has done just enough so far to get the job done. The Jets ran effectively against Houston and found enough big plays in the passing game against the Patriots in the second half to stay on flight.
The big story going into the season was how well rookie QB Mark Sanchez would handle the spotlight of NY. He’s handled it with ease thus far.
He’s not blowing anyone away but is making the right reads and progressions a majority of the time. He is well ahead of Lions QB Matt Stafford in his development and has proved his worth over QB Kellen Clemens.
One play stands out in particular. Last week on third and long with 2:35 to go, Sanchez drops back rolls to his right, gets out of a sack, works back towards the pocket and finds a target, realizes he’s about to get nailed and fumble the ball, and alertly goes down and takes the sack instead of fumbling the ball away. It was not a play shown all over ESPN and the like, but there are very few players in the league right now who would’ve done what Sanchez did in that situation (See Jake Delhomme).
Everything is clicking right now but every year there are teams who jump out to 2-0 starts who are never threats to do anything.
The Bills started 4-0 last year and vanished from playoff consideration. The Denver Broncos|Broncos were 3-0 last year before falling to 8-8. Now they’re 2-0 this year and will soon realize their mediocrity.
It’s clear the Jets are better now then they were a year ago. Whether they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders this year should come to light in the next two weeks.
This Sunday the Titans come into the Meadowlands. They are defending the run just fine so far this year and should be able to slow down the Jets rushing attack. The secondary is a different story.
Without Albert Haynesworth and Antwan Odom, the Titans are generating very little pressure on opposing QBs. Since the second half of last year the Titans have started to decline in coverage, particularly CB Cortland Finnegan. The Texans exploited them last week as Andre Johnson went for 149 yards and two scores.
The Jets are trying to use the run to establish easy throwing targets for Sanchez to ease him into the offense. This must start to change this week when RB Thomas Jones and RB Leon Washington are hovering around three yards a carry.
Sanchez is going to have to win this game for the Jets. If he can put up around 250 yards and take care of the football at this early stage of his development, the Jets will be true playoff contenders. So far this year, the evidence says he can get the job done.
On third down this season, Sanchez is 17-23 for 228 yards and a score. That’s an outstanding indicator of good play calling and better execution. It shows Sanchez is focused in critical situations to keep drives alive. That helps the offense and keeps the defense fresh so they can stay aggressive.
In week four, the Jets are in a major litmus test situation when they travel to New Orleans. This time the defense is on trial.
The Saints and their Madden 10 offense are positioning themselves to put up the greatest offensive stats of any passing attack in NFL history. Brees might break 50 TD passes after just missing Dan Marino’s passing yards record last season. He might shatter that record this year just for good measure.
The Saints have a wide array of receiving threats, with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush, and Robert Meachem. All of these guys can separate and make big plays in the open field.
As good as their offense has been through two games, they should be even stronger when the Jets come to visit. WR Lance Moore and RB Pierre Thomas should both be at full strength, adding even more firepower and dimension to the Saints artillery.
The Jets defense has looked outstanding so far, but they haven’t seen a team with so many skilled players to deal with in coverage. Its obvious Revis can go one-on-one with anyone in the league and hold his own after shutting down Andre Johnson and Randy Moss. The question is the rest of the secondary, especially the other corners.
For the Jets to maintain their aggressiveness against a team like the Saints, Coach Ryan has to be confident enough in his entire secondary to call the blitzing attack he employed against the Patriots.
If the Jets go to New Orleans at 3-0 and hold the Saints under 21 points, it means the secondary is good enough in coverage to get the Jets to Miami at the end of the season. Sanchez will once again have to make plays for the Jets to pull out the win, but the Jets should have either Chansi Stuckey or Dustin Keller open on most plays once the run is established.
So far the optimism with the Jets is as high as it was after the Jets beat the Titans last year to jump to 8-3. This year it might be warranted.
In two weeks, we’ll know for sure.