Step Right Up and Beat the Jets

After an offseason largely spent trash-talking and wise-cracking in the national media spotlight, the New York Jets finally had the opportunity to back up their Super Bowl talk this past Monday night. Unfortunately for New York, the outcome of the game was not the storybook ending envisioned on HBO’s Hard Knocks – at the end of the evening the scoreboard read: Ravens 10, Jets 9.

At first glance such a result may not seem to be too much cause for concern, as the Ravens are after all considered by many to be Super Bowl contenders and as Rex Ryan pointed out after the game, “we got beat by a point.” But it is not the mar-gin but rather the manner of defeat that is most troublesome for Jets fans. While the Jets highly-touted defense held up its end of the bargain against the most improved offense in the league, the New York offense was completely inept, mustering a paltry 176 yards of total offense.

The defense provided the start the team was looking for on their first snap of the season when Shaun Ellis clobbered Joe Flacco from the blindside, forcing a fumble that gave the offense the ball on the Ravens’ 11 yard line. In fact, this was the first of three times in the first half that the Jets’ D forced a Baltimore turnover that allowed the offense to start a drive in Ravens’ territory. But in what would become a recurring theme, the offense was unable to capitalize. On the ensuing possession Mark Sanchez & Co. gained six yards on three plays, and the Jets were forced to settle for a field goal; already the early dominance shown on defense was beginning to be overshadowed by the utter ineffectiveness of the offense. At the end of the day, the team looked sloppy, undisciplined, and ill-prepared in their debut at the New Meadowlands Stadium, committing 14 penalties for 125 yards.

But this does not even cover the whole story. In perhaps the most revealing offensive statistic of the night, it turns out that Mark Sanchez targeted his wide receivers with passes a grand total of three times throughout the course of the game. We all know Rex Ryan loves to preach a ground-and-pound philosophy, but how many teams can call themselves Super Bowl contenders with a straight face when they do not even try to try to hide the fact that they are terrified of allowing their quarterback to throw the ball downfield? Does Ryan really think the Jets can compete for a Super Bowl if he cannot even trust

his quarterback?

And I don’t want to hear anything about a potential “sophomore slump” for Mark Sanchez. A look back at Sanchez’s statistics from his rookie year reveals that he threw for 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. What kind of stats would he have to compile this year in order for his season to qualify as a “slump”? Eight

touchdowns and 25 interceptions?

Yet this is not to place all the blame for the Jets offensive woes on the shoulders of Mark Sanchez. His struggles are, after all, very typical of a young NFL quarterback, especially considering he played only one full season of college football. But such a disappointing start to the season has to make one question what Rex Ryan was thinking when he wrote “soon to be champs” next to his signature this summer. Did he realize his team lacked proven NFL starters at two of the most important positions in the game, quarterback and running back?

Moreover, the lack of execution and leadership displayed on offense is even more alarming considering the nature of the personnel moves the Jets made this offseason. Releasing, trading, or cutting proven leaders and popular locker room presences like Leon Washington, Thomas Jones, and Alan Faneca makes you wonder if the Jets were a bit shortsighted in their pursuit of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

As countless examples from the past have shown, it is possible to simply assemble a roster of big names and talented mercenaries while neglecting chemistry in the hopes of building an instant contender. And thanks to a scene from Hard Knocks in which Brian Schottenheimer bemoans the Jets’ lack of leadership on offense, all of America is now aware that behind the bluster and bravado, even the coaching staff has little confidence in their offense. And when this is the case, defenses will be sure to mimic the Ravens’ game plan and focus their energy on stopping the run and making the Jets prove that can be a multi-dimensional offense.

So, it is true that Rex Ryan’s swagger has paid its dividends: players love playing for him, the franchise is getting more attention than it ever has, and last season his team rode a wave of confidence all the way to the third AFC Championship Game in Jets history. But after all the hype the Jets embraced this summer, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the offense, especially at quarterback, one has to wonder: Has Rex Ryan bitten off more than he can chew?