Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jets fishing for a playoff spot

The New York Jets need a holiday miracle to make the playoffs this season, one that requires a win in sunny Miami but also hopelessly counts on losses by other teams. One of those teams is the Tennessee Titans, quite possibly the only club more unpredictable than R-E-X-'S New York.

Jets coach Rex Ryan is the master grandstander who promotes his team better than he manages it. As such the Jets who regularly follow the Patriots in the standings and struggle to overcome rivals like the Dolphins seem a great deal more intimidating than they actually are.

That’s always been the point of the Ryan-led Jets though hasn’t it? To be scarier than the Big Blue, the Big Tuna, Big Ben or any other NFL bully. But when push comes to shove Gang Green is largely uninspiring on offense. That’s never a good sign when thwarting high-scoring division foes is imperative to your survival.

For what it's worth, the team's rushers are capable of storming the trenches and can help the Jets eat up the clock. Against the Giants, for instance, the Jets squeezed the ball for 36 minutes. The problem is that it's less productive time than it should be: in the first half the so-called home team couldn't muster a single play of more than 20 yards. You can't even win a daiquiri-infused game of touch at Secretary Cleary's house with that output.

Sure, quarterback Mark Sanchez completes a few brisk passes here and there. Sometimes he even extends the play and zings it near the first down marker. But of course those sequences too are trivial if they don’t prolong the drive. Still, Sanchez throws these balls soundly, as he should. It's mostly when he flings down field that his lack of accuracy really hamstrings the Jets attack. When they needed pivotal deep yardage against the G-Men, for example, the offense continually floundered - converting just 4 of 21 on third down. And yet Coach Rex Ryan kept dialing up the pass as if Broadway Joe was commanding his huddle. Off-Broadway Sanchez threw an unconscionable 59 times.

The Jets QB is a confounding talent really: tough, nimble, exuberant and industrious, but short on patience and vision. He’s restless in the pocket. His feet shuffle and his throws leave the hand like he's tossing softballs into an apple basket - with anxious focus. Then conversely he’ll pop the secondary with a couple of carefree darts. Who knows which carnival game he might favor on any given play.

It's hard to see the Jets overcoming a stout Dolphins defense this final week. It certainly won't happen if Sanchez does more passing than handing off: he just doesn't have the repertoire to counter the likes of Vontae Davis, Yeremiah Bell or Karlos Dansby. No, Sanchez is at his best when dropping it short on acute routes of around eight or nine yards. Those angles are easy, quick to locate, and the ball hits its target before defenders can manoeuvre inside.

But as reassuring as this brand of football is for the Jets, it’s a low-octane, scaled-back approach that has hampered their postseason chances. Quick jabs might wear down Kansas City but won’t knock the Dolphins’ knees.

If only Rex could devise a strategy as boisterous as the one he brings to the podium.

Article first published as Jets Fishing for a Playoff Spot on Technorati.

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