Aug 4, 2012; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) speaks with New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan during a scrimmage at SUNY Cortland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Can Rex Ryan keep the New York Jets from tearing themselves apart?
Rex Ryan looked like a man who wanted to be somewhere else as he labored through his comments to the media following the New York Jets' 26-3 flop against the New York Giants last Saturday. The boisterous braggadocio version of Ryan was nowhere to be seen, as even that version of the coach may have been squelched by the spectacle of what he saw on the field that night.
Seven sacks allowed, most of them coming via Wayne Hunter's open door policy on the right side, finally changed the narrative about the Jets. It was so bad that it even managed to shift the conversation away from Tim Tebow.
The offensive failings were one of the first comments in Ryan's post-game remarks.
Via SB Nation New York:
"We knew going into the game that this was one of the premiere defensive lines in all of football. If you don't stay ahead of the sticks, you're in trouble. I don't care who you are. That was the story of the day, seven sacks. They did a tremendous job. It's hard to find many positives."
Compare that to Ryan's comments about the offensive line's performance in the first week of the preseason as the Jets took the field on Saturday:
"I thought we played decent last week. Those sacks weren't really against the offensive line. It's going to be a good challenge, we've got to be physical with them. This usually is a physical game. We get play against each other once a year, so this is a little more than most preseason games."
Since that game, fans and the media have done everything but burn Wayne Hunter in effigy. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul gives even the best offensive tackles a headache, but Hunter barely slows him down on his way to sack Mark Sanchez in the first quarter of Saturday's game against the Giants.
Hunter's shortcomings as a pass blocker are nothing new. He gave up 11 sacks and 54 total pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus. They did try for a fix in dealing for Carolina Panthers tackle Jeff Otah, a first-round pick in 2008. He failed his physical and was once again the Panthers' problem. The Jets were stuck with a familiar problem of their own.
A leaky right side of their offensive line is one of several problems portending trouble for the Jets offense.
From Gang Green Nation, SB Nation's Jets blog:
However, the Jets' coaching staff and organization should also take some responsibility for the teams struggles. In a long offseason the organization failed to tune up an offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback a season ago and their failure to get Sanchez another dynamic weapon on offense should also be noted.
Jets fans were beside themselves when offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left town. He was tagged with the offensive shortcomings, despite the Jets scoring an average of 23.6 points per game in 2011 versus 22.9 the year before. Tony Sparano replaced Schottenheimer, giving Rex Ryan a coordinator better suited to his preference for running the ball.
As the bloggers at Gang Green Nation suggest, the Jets were mostly quiet adding offensive personnel with some playmaking ability. They did not replace LaDainian Tomlinson, whose decline last season contributed to the Jets' problems, which pushes Shonn Greene into a feature role. Greene has underwhelmed observers plodding through the preseason.
The Jets also let Plaxico Burress walk, losing the eight touchdowns he contributed last season as a red-zone target for Mark Sanchez. Second-round pick Stephen Hill, a raw player from Georgia Tech's option offense, was their answer to the call for help at wide receiver. Forever unhappy Santonio Holmes is out with a rib injury.
The Jets are still trotting out Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback, with all the expected results. The incumbent starter has yet to complete much more than check downs, averaging less than 5 yards per pass so far. Accuracy was an issue for Sanchez in the spring, and working under constant pressure from his right side will only make it worse.
All of the Jets' offseason moves since acquiring Tim Tebow point toward the media darling eventually replacing Sanchez. Drafting Hill gives them a receiver well-versed in the option section of the playbook and a downfield target for Tebow. Sparano knows those chapters of the playbook better than anyone in the league, and will also make the wildcat offense a regular feature.
Sparano's offense has yet to score a touchdown through two preseason games. The running game has done nothing to inspire confidence that it will be enough for the Jets to keep the Jets competitive along with their defense. Preseason or not, it points to bigger foundational problems.
There are problems on the defensive side of the ball as well. Between 2010 and 2011, the Jets' defense went from an average of 19 points per game allowed to 22.7 points per game. Part of last season's struggles had to do with the pass rush. Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum spent a first-round pick on Quinton Coples to address that. Nose tackle Sione Pouha, 33, is out for the preseason with a bad back. He has been a cornerstone player for the Jets defense.
The offense, the injuries and a poorly handled quarterback situation may not be the biggest problem facing the Jets this year.
The Jets' biggest problem, next to their on-field product, is their image, and they have nobody to blame but themselves. All you needed to know about the Tebow-Sanchez dynamic is that Tebow entered not only to cheers with 11:52 left in the third quarter, the public address voice announced his name with conviction ...
To be fair, we'll see what kind of weapon Tebow can become once the Wildcat is fully unleashed, but it's painfully obvious that Sanchez -- the Jets drafted him fifth overall in 2009 after trading up, and gave him a three-year extension off his worst professional season -- is being set up to fail.
Expectations are as high as they have been, with the anxiety turned up a notch in the wake of a disappointing season and a woefully mishandled quarterback situation. All signs point to a bumpy start. Four of their first five games are tough matchups against the Bills, Steelers and 49ers. It will require some finesse from the leadership to hold things together.
Rex Ryan was wise to drop the cocksure side of his public personality. Audiences delight in seeing the boastful fail. Ryan will likely face his toughest test yet trying to reign in a circus atmosphere that could throw things into total chaos at the first signs of struggle. If he fails at that task, the Jets will have to make wholesale changes in 2013.