Monday, January 17, 2005

THE JET'S GET THEIR WINGS CLIPPED!

Having had every opportunity to win Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and having executed nearly flawless football in 2 of the game’s 3 phases, the Jets are left only to empty their lockers and go home, having lost a game Pittsburgh practically handed them. I could break this game down to a virtual play by play analysis, but the fact of the matter is that the shortcomings that cost the Jets Saturday’s playoff game are the same shortcomings that have shadowed this team for several seasons now. Let’s look at the game in a broader sense, and throw some light upon the ongoing issues that contributed to this weekend’s inexusable loss.

The keys to the Jets potential winning game plan game were simple in theory and twofold; have the run defense prevent Steeler RBs Jerome “The Bus” Bettis and Duce Staley from imposing their will upon NY and dictating the game’s tempo, and executing smart Special Teams play. Towards those ends the Jets had mixed results. The defense, particularly 2nd year DL’man Dewayne Robertson, CB David Barrett, and rookie LB Jonathan Vilma, played exceptional football. But the Bus put it in gear and roared through the Jet defensive front, rolling up over 100 yards on the ground and notching a TD. Likewise, Staley gave the Jets a different look when he entered the game. With quick, mincing steps, the former Eagle back was able to cut his runs back against the flow of the young Jet D, and he too had a productive day rushing the ball.

Nevertheless, the Jets made some key plays and put themselves in position to win the game. They forced Bettis to cough the ball up on the Steeler’s side of the field towards the end of the 4th quarter with the game knotted at 15; Bus’ first fumble in 350+ carries. The Jets also came up with 2 potentially game changing INTs as Pitt’ QB Ben Roethlisberger looked much more like the rookie signal caller he is as opposed to the second coming of Johnny Unitas he appeared to be for much of the season. In addition, Santana Moss returned a punt for a TD and gave the Jets good field position on several of his returns. But alas, there’s the flip-side of the special teams coin. Journeyman Kicker Doug Brien is a journeyman for a reason and missed a pair of potential game winning field goal attempts. It’s probably safe to assume that Brien’ll be booting for yet another team next season.

But the real issue for the Jets, aside from a season’s worth of questionable coaching decisions by head coach Herm Edwards and besieged offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, is the team’s lack of offensive playmakers. The Jets MIGHT have a game breaker in their big, physical RB Lamont Jordan, who also has excellent wiggle for such a big man. But as soon as Jordan began to make his on-field presence felt Hackett pulled him from the field and re-inserted RB Curtis Martin, following a mystifying pattern the coordinator adhered to all season. It was almost as if Hackett didn’t want to offend Martin, the senior player, by leaving the younger runner in for too long. This strategy, if it can be called such, is assuredly short-sighted. Certainly over the course of Martin’s Hall of Fame caliber career he’s proven himself to be a versatile, complete RB. In fact, this year at age 31, Martin won the AFC’s rushing title with over 1,300 rushing yards. But Lamont Jordan is a bigger, more physical running back and has proven himself to be a more explosive playmaker than Martin. Jordan is also eligible to file for free agency, something he has sworn to do as he feels capable of being some team’s feature back. And then there’s WR Santana Moss. Moss can be very elusive, possessing the ability to stop and change direction on a dime. But Moss is also a small receiver, has trouble freeing himself from physical CBs who jam him at the line of scrimmage, and can’t do it all by himself. The Jets brought WR Justin McCareins over from Tennessee in the off-season to be a red-zone weapon and vertical threat opposite Moss, and drafted WR Jerricho Crotchery for added pass catching depth. Yet McCareins has proven to be a mild disappointment and seems to be more of a possession type of receiver, while Crotchery hasn’t produced enough to be able to determine just what he adds. Lastly, the Jets need to add a pass catching TE. While Anthony Becht was drafted in ‘01 to serve in that capacity, stone Garden Gnomes have softer hands than the hulking, slow Becht.

The Jets will be forced to address several key issues during the upcoming off-season. Look for the team to draft both a true, vertical threat at wideout and a pass catching TE. The team also might seek to bolster the secondary via the draft or free agency. Lastly, Hackett’s head will roll, more than likely by this week’s end (1/25). Once Hackett is gone however, Herm will be out of fall guys. If the Jets indeed come up short again next season... and they assuredly will if Pennington continues his erratic play, Herm Edwards will be the next to go. Stay tuned sport’s fans. This promises to be an exciting, and busy, off-season for the New York Jets.

And this season? Well, playoffs or not, it can only be considered a disappointment.

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