We're only 25 percent of the way into the season, but for the New York Jets, the season may be closer to its end than its beginning.
Injuries to star cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, as well as the ineffective play of the offense and the inability of the defense to rush the passer or stop the run, have many fans already looking forward to the 2013 NFL Draft.
It's really too bad; the Jets are a much more fun team to watch when they are competitive. But alas, although injuries cast a shadow over the remaining 12 games, the season isn't over yet.
Let's take a look at where things stand after four weeks, and where it looks like they are headed.
The Jets oppose the viewpoint that they are a "circus", but they could sure use to pack themselves into a car. At this point, that may be the only way they move the ball down the field on offense.
They are one of the worst teams in the league in nearly every offensive category.
Much of the blame falls on Mark Sanchez, who has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the past three consecutive games. Not that I am a Sanchez apologist, but it might help if he was getting help from his running game or the offensive line.
There was a time when the Jets had the best offensive line in football. It’s no coincidence that it was that period where Sanchez looked like he just might have the ability to become a viable quarterback. Since then his decline into Tebow-marred misery has come in parallel with his offensive line’s nosedive in performance.
Nowhere was that better illustrated than the performance of Nick Mangold (-6.1) in this game. Once the league’s best center by a country mile, Mangold has lost his air of invincibility and was completely dominated by the 49ers’ front in this game. ...To be fair to Mangold he wasn’t alone, and the Jets as a unit blocked poorly, but he was the worst performer and the biggest fall from grace.
To be completely fair, we have seen what Sanchez is capable of when he has time in the pocket.
In fact, the protection he had against the Dolphins in the fourth quarter and overtime was a large contributing factor to his ability to lead the team to the win—even though he had struggled the entire day leading up to that point.
Sanchez can't take the full credit for those late-game heroics, and he can't take the full blame for the giant excrement they left on the middle of the field at MetLife Stadium against the 49ers.
Part of the blame falls on a running game that is near the bottom of the league in yards per rush attempt. That's not a new trend; the Jets finished the 2011 season with a paltry 3.8 yards per rush attempt, ranking 30th in the NFL.
Shonn Greene has been widely criticized for much of the offseason. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell pointed out that the Jets running back leaves a lot of yards on the field.
I think that he's a little bit of a one-speed runner, and I think that's caught up to him a little bit. I think that he's a strong kid. I think he can run downhill. I think he can move the pile because he's got natural strength. But I don't think there's much burst to him. I think he's pretty much of a one-speed runner. And I think those guys eventually struggle.
He can gain yards, there's no question. But I don't think he gives you much more than what's there. And I think it's tough for those kinds of backs to truly be foundation backs.
Yet, somehow, the Jets expected that to change without making any real changes to their backfield (unless you count Tim Tebow). Perhaps they expected better things from the offensive line. Perhaps they thought they would get the same Shonn Greene that leaped onto the NFL map with big performances down the stretch in 2009.
For a team that wanted to implement a ground-and-pound attack, a complete lack of depth at running back is unacceptable. As I've related many times, that responsibility falls on Mike Tannenbaum.
The same could be said at wide receiver, where the Jets are now left trying to find answers after injuries to Holmes and Stephen Hill have left the team strapped for pass-catching talent.
It's going to be difficult to get the ball moving without the top target in the passing game, without a breakout running back, with a gimpy tight end and a gimpy and unrefined rookie wide receiver.
No wonder Sanchez is struggling. It's hard to imagine any quarterback thriving in this situation.
Say what you will about the loss of Darrelle Revis and how that affects the Jets' defense, but even Joe Klecko himself wouldn't save the Jets from being the worst run defense in the league to this point.
They have given up the second-most yards, along with the third-highest per-carry average and the most rushing touchdowns of any team in the league.
How bad has it been? The Jets have allowed five or more rushing yards on 51 of the 107 total rush attempts against them (47.7 percent).
Friend and former college defensive end Chris Gross of TurnOnTheJets.com offers his insight on the struggles of the defense.
The Jets struggles against the run stem from a number of problems. Improper technique is a primary cause for the numerous missed tackles, a deadly flaw considering New York's lack of speed in the starting front seven. Sione Po'uha is struggling to handle double teams, making it that much easier for opposing offensive lineman to get to the second level and seal the linebackers, a catalyst for opening running lanes.
Pouha was paid an exorbitant amount of money to be the Jets nose tackle, even though he was little more than a role player last year, playing 59.7 percent of the defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
That number has dipped to 57.1 percent this year.
The Jets thought they could at least count on him to be a solid run-defending nose tackle; thus far, that's not the case.
Pouha got blown off the ball on this first-quarter running play from deep in San Francisco territory. There's nothing special about this run; the 49ers just out-muscled the Jets.
Even despite getting blown off the ball, Po'uha is fortunate to reach out and get a hold of the shoestrings of running back Frank Gore. The play still went for six yards.
Gross says the missed tackles were "due to poor technique (dropping the head, lunging) and taking bad pursuit angles (both Scott and Harris were caught out of position due to over running a play numerous times)."
Linebacker Bart Scott is far from the only offender, though. Rex Ryan initially said the Jets missed 17 tackles, and Pro Football Focus tallied them with 10. One of those were Scott and five were linebacker David Harris.
The Jets also had the option of moving on from Scott. The linebacker was exposed for a lack of speed in 2011, and had to come off the field in pass defense. The Jets brought in a player who was believed to be his replacement in linebacker Demario Davis. Thus far, he has played 16 snaps. He's not an ideal run-defending linebacker, but could it be much worse?
QB of the Future?
The cries for Tim Tebow haven't begun in East Rutherford just yet, but the wind certainly seems to be blowing the same direction it was around this time last year in Denver.
With more performances like the ones we've seen from Sanchez, those cries could be well on their way.
There's no point in going in-depth about this yet; we have only seen Tebow take 32 snaps in the first four games of the season. He has thrown one pass for nine yards, and rushed nine times for 38 yards.
In short, there's absolutely no reason to think that Tebow could step in and lead this offense to any greater level of success than they have experienced with Sanchez.
Of course, I'm sure writers in Denver were saying the same thing around this time last year. That being said, we're only four weeks into the season. The Jets entered the year with a plan, and to scrap the whole thing with the team sitting at .500 would be a knee-jerk reaction strong enough to kick a 50-yard field goal.
Yes, this is about looking ahead, but we must first look back. The Jets are currently .500, and atop their division; those are irrefutable facts. However, dating back to midseason last year, the Jets are just 5-7.
It wouldn't be farfetched to expect this team to go in the tank a little bit; they may very well have been a .500 team with Revis, but without him, the Jets are off that pace.
The truth is, the Jets lack playmakers on offense, and their defense isn't of the "elite" variety, which myself and others had dubbed them before the season.
The outlook is not bright for this Jets team, but anything is possible, and the greatest adversity will always reveal the true mental makeup of a team. It's safe to say that, with the odds stacked firmly against the Jets, they face their biggest challenge of the Rex Ryan era over the next 12 weeks.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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