Post Game Thoughts: Jets 34 Bears 38
Well the Jets made their way into the playoffs so maybe they can get things sorted out by then.
If there was an injury to QB Mark Sanchez he certainly showed no signs of it this week. Sanchez did almost everything in his power to win the game for the Jets. He was incredibly accurate on the day and the Jets have stumbled into something with their new controlled offensive approach. The offense they have run the last two weeks has seen Sanchez far more decisive and getting rid of the ball faster which has helped many of those offseason accuracy issues. He played a relatively mistake free game until the final play when Chris Harris made a fantastic break on what may have been his only long attempt of the day and picked it off. Hopefully not too much is being made of that pass because when you put up 27 points on offense there is no reason to lose a football game. The offensive line was outstanding. You have to give RT Wayne Hunter so much credit for his play. The Bears were constantly switching their defensive end alignments to take advantage of Hunter and Hunter shut them all down, including star DE Julius Peppers. Really the only mishap of the day came on the first offensive play when LG Matt Slauson got run over and grabbed a hold, but Slauson settled down after that. He and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson both had a tremendous game, especially in the run blocking department. RB Shonn Greene had an excellent game and was looking more and more like the player who ended last season than the player who has played most of this season. RB LaDainian Tomlinson was nowhere near as effective as Greene on the day, but when the team needed LT he came up big. The Jets knew they had to slow the game down at the end of the 3rd quarter and Tomlinson was the main guy accounting for 29 yards on a 6 minute plus drive that settled the game down. The three main targets of WR Santonio Holmes, WR Braylon Edwards, and TE Dustin Keller all have good statistical games and Edwards is particularly thriving with the new looks. All three, though, will have plays they look back on with regret. Edwards was the least harmful. Edwards had a step on his coverage on a play where WR Brad Smith was going to take a deep pass chance. Edwards did not seem to decide which way to go as he started in and them kind of floated out which led to a pass that could not be caught. On a play with the option QB you have to find a route and stick with it. Smith is not skilled enough to instinctively follow what Edwards might have been trying to do on the route. Holmes had the biggest error of the three with a fumble early in the game that set the Bears up for a score. It's the second time this year he has fumbled and the Jets benched him for a series because of it. Holmes has to be more careful with the ball. Had he not fumbled it there is a chance the Jets win the game. Keller had his best game in two months with some big grabs as he led the team in receptions, but he also dropped a TD pass that there was no reason to drop. The Jets had to settle for a field goal and those 4 points left on the field were the margin of victory for the Bears.
A few weeks ago I said that maybe the Jets cant play in the cold, but maybe I should restate that to say the Jets defense can not play in the cold. It was an embarrassing performance by the team who got beat up early, was historically beaten in the third quarter, and then gave up a high run to RB Matt Forte on the final drive that essentially ended the game. To be up 21-10 and lose is a just the sign of a bad defense. The defense blew it time and time again. They gave up the 21-10 lead. The could not hold QB Jay Cutler down at 24-24 or 31-31. It was a disgrace. Cutler was in the zone at one point in the game and there is little you can do when that happens, but the Jets did not even look to be trying. Maybe the Jets took too much joy in the league changing the rushing stats from last week so they could start beating their chests about never allowing a 100 yard rusher, but Forte left no doubt this week. Forte ran wild on the Jets and averaged nearly 6 yards a carry. The tackling was awful. Everyone played so stiff and it was like the cold weather had them playing upright and just trying to arm tackle. Forte would just bounce off the Jets and again the lack of speed on the outside was taken advantage of. The usually steady ILB duo of David Harris and Bart Scott were basically MIA especially Scott. The pass coverage against Forte was awful on the day, a normal strength for the team. The problem here was the Jets inexplicably were putting LB Jason Taylor in coverage against Forte and he has no hope of keeping up with him. Once again teams are showing why throwing big money at a CB is a big mistake. CB Darrelle Revis was hardly thrown on, and I believe only allowed 1 reception when he slipped on an early play. Instead they targeted the other players every time they had a mismatch. S Dwight Lowery showed the positives he can bring to the game with his interception, but the reason he is not a good corner in the league is because he does not have the speed to cover. Somehow the Jets allowed him to have single coverage on Johnny Knox and he ran right by him and was unable to locate the ball on a big score that was the momentum changer for the game. That was followed up by a similar disaster with CB Drew Coleman being put on Devin Hester on the next series and then Cutler threw a picture perfect throw to Knox against CB Antonio Cromartie. The pass defense continues to give up these big plays and it's a killer. The pass rush was horrible. The Bears have the worst offensive line in the NFL and the Jets got no penetration. The weaknesses are so glaring. The team just does not have the athletes most other teams have. All the OLB's need to be replaced. If the Jets could dump LB Calvin Pace with no cap consequences they should do it. Whatever his issue is he can not get the job done. LB Bryan Thomas is nothing more than a rotational player and Taylor has nothing left in the tank. The blitz packages are all useless with this level of play and the only thing working for the Jets are the single DB blitz that seems to catch teams off guard. At this stage of the game there is no fixing the defense and if the run defense continues to erode it will be a quick exit from the playoffs if the Jets open in Kansas City.
Special teams was another culprit on the day. The coverage teams were awful. They were in a position where when they kicked off they had to kick short to keep the ball out of the return guys who they could not handle. The Bears were prepared for it as the up guys were all getting 10-15 yards per return so the Jets were sunk with the Bears seemingly beginning every drive at mid field. P Steve Weatherford, who had a very good day including two crucial late game punts that gave the Jets the best chance to win, had one big mishap where he kicked a short line drive type kick to KR Devin Hester that he returned for 40 yards that set up the winning score. The return game did nothing, a surprise considering the Bears troubles on special teams. K Nick Folk made all his field goals.
People are going to focus on the decision to try a fake punt on 4th and 3 from the teams own 40 that fooled nobody. Was it the right time for such a call? Its probably debatable. Chicago had not turned the game into a track meet yet, but at the same time the Jets defense had also not totally fallen apart. Had the Jets converted it probably would have broken the back of the Bears and you cant fault going for a win on the road. As it turned out it changed the outcome in the other direction. The other question was whether the play call was smart? Having Sanchez in there fooled nobody. The Bears saw it early, including their return man, and were prepared. Its probably a play that works better with Smith in position to take the snap. Still the play should have worked except Smith dropped a pass right in his hands.
Rex Ryan was thoroughly out coached by offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Martz caught the defense constantly in pass defense when he decided to run. He caught every mismatch on the field. He picked up every blitz with the play calls. When Ryan went to a slow paced offense at the end of the third quarter it was basically a raising of the white flag that he had to rethink everything he was doing on defense, which was a smart move on his part.
Of course there is plenty to give the coaching staff credit for. The offense was certainly well prepared and ready for the game. Just like how Ryan's defense was out coached, Brian Schottenheimer out coached the Bears defense. The Jets made a wise decision to bench Holmes off his fumble, basically sending the message to the team that no one player, regardless of talent level, is above punishment for brain dead play on the field. Ryan also took a game that the Jets were trailing 10-0 in and calmed everyone down to make it a competitive game. With a game in hand and a number of scenarios to make the playoffs regardless, it would be very easy for the Jets players to have packed it in after the sluggish start and decided to prepare for the Bills.
Unless things change in the playoffs this has to be considered a very disappointing season for the Jets. Despite all the bluster from the coach about how great the team was and all the high priced additions and natural expected progression of a young QB this Jets team is worse than the one that took the field last season. Overall the offense is not much better than last year and the defense is significantly worse. History showed us that the defense would be worse, but we all hoped for the best and it has not been the best. The Jets finished 2009 at 9-7 with a number of ridiculous last second heartbreaker losses. In a normal year where those things balance out the Jets would have easily been an 11 win team. This year they are 10-5 with a number or ridiculous last second wins. Many people would argue the Jets could be 8-7 right now and they would be right.
From this point forward Ryan has to treat his defense the way he treats his kicker with the thought of hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Against the Bears he expected the best as evidenced by the position to give up field position on kicks and the 4th down play call and again they could not answer the bell. The league has gone to school on the Jets defense and have completely blown up the scheme and taken advantage of the age and lack of athleticism on the defense. You can not make excuses for this group anymore and they have made the Jets lose their identity they thought they had early in the season. The defense has basically blown games against Miami, Minnesota, Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, and now Chicago. They almost blew it against Pittsburgh. They have needed the offense to bail them out in every one of those games and luckily for the defense they did it in just about every game. To rely on “his defense” to win in the playoffs will be a sign of stubbornness that will see a 1st round exit.
On the other side of the ball things are starting to come together. The most important thing offensively is that the line is finally showing that sign of dominance that they showed at the end of last season. If the Jets line can dominate the way they have these last few weeks there is no reason why they can not have a great blend of passing and running that controls the clock and puts points on the board. Sanchez is playing terrific football and with this style of offense there should be little fear of him just throwing the game away. The key with him is to not make him fall into such a hole that he begins pressing and making mistakes like in the Patriots game. Its his biggest weakness. When he is decisive with the ball he is great. When he dances around, is unsure of what to do, and feels the pressure of the situation is when he looks poor.
The question is how should the Jets treat next weeks game? There is an outside chance at the 5 seed if they win, but that really makes no difference. The bigger issues are if they want to keep the offense in sync and rest what looks like a very tired defense. The Jets players do not play well off long breaks, but that may be more of a preparation issue and with the questions surrounding the seedings they probably can not start to get ahead of themselves the way they do during normal long breaks. Probably the wise thing to do is to play the offense as if it was the third preseason game where you get the starters a few quarters of work to keep them going and prepared for the playoffs. Tomlinson is the one guy that should be rested. Defensively it is a different story. Shaun Ellis, Taylor, Pace, Pouha, and DeVito all look like they can use a rest. With the exception of Taylor you have to remember that these players all went deep in the playoffs last season and did not have the same rest normal players get. Ellis' age, Pace's injuries, and Pouha and DeVito's prior backup roles make those extra games a real killer on the body. These things add up and a week would do them all well.
In closing this is definitely now how the team expected to get into the playoffs, but now they can focus on the playoffs and put the disappointing close to the regular season behind them. If they can turn things around for the next few weeks nobody will remember these terrible December games or a generally disappointing season. Everyone has a chance once the playoffs begin and the Jets are as talented a group as almost anyone in there. They just need to find a way to get all phases going at the same time to have a big run.