New York Jets Progress Report: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 8?
The season is not over.
It may feel like it's over after a heart-breaking 29-26 overtime loss to the hated New England Patriots, but one thing that's being overlooked is that the New York Jets continue to compete to the final whistle.
With all the injuries and all the strife the Jets have been under this season, it would be easy for them to hang it up and call it a year, but with so much football left to play and with a legitimate shot at a playoff spot, the Jets' steel resolve is shining through, even with the team's third loss in four games.
Here's a progress report for the Jets through seven games.
As if the Jets' depth at running back weren't already being tested enough, they lost Shonn Greene to a head injury for a period of time during the game before the back returned in overtime.
Greene has come under heavy scrutiny this year and currently averages just 3.5 yards per carry. He was beginning to turn things around, though, with a solid performance against the Colts and a good start against New England.
The Jets may not be as effective at ground-and-pound football as they wanted to be, but the sheer volume of injuries at running back may leave the Jets without much other choice but to take off to the skies.
Mark Sanchez: Blame games have begun in New York, but no fingers should be pointed at Sanchez. With a completion percentage of 68.3 and a passer rating of 90.3, Sanchez delivered a performance well above what we've come to expect from No. 6.
He put together a masterful 92-yard drive in the final quarter, and were it not for a Stephen Hill drop and some incredibly conservative play-calling on the final drive before overtime, he may have completed a fourth-quarter comeback, which would mark his second comeback of the season.
Jeremy Kerley: When Santonio Holmes went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury, it was wondered who could provide a legitimate target for Sanchez in the passing game. Kerley is one of the names who has stepped forward most prominently, and he delivered a seven-catch, 120-yard performance against the Patriots, including five catches of 15 yards or more.
Since Holmes went down, Kerley has 15 receptions for 238 yards (15.87 YPC) in three games. Kerley has responded well not only to the challenge of being asked to step up in the absence of Holmes, but also to the comments by Rex Ryan that Kerley had a disappointing offseason. He is becoming an integral part of the offense week-in and week-out.
Also, here's an interesting tidbit from Chris Wesseling of RotoWorld.com:
Over the past 3 weeks, #Jets WR Jeremy Kerley is top-10 in receiving yards (238) and top-15 in targets (26) and receptions (15).— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) October 23, 2012
Demario Davis: The rookie linebacker saw his biggest workload of the season, playing 71 out of 80 defensive snaps against the Patriots. He only came off the field for 15 snaps, including special teams.
His skill set was perfect for the matchup against the Patriots tight ends as he dropped into coverage on over half of his snaps, and with the decreased role for linebacker Bart Scott (more on that later), it's fair to wonder whether Davis will become a bigger part of the Jets' defensive game plan going forward.
Tony Sparano: The offensive game plan on the whole was solid, with the Jets taking advantage of the Patriots weaknesses in the secondary to the tune of six pass plays of 20 or more yards, but the Jets went inexplicably soft in their play-calling on the final drive before overtime, running the ball twice before trying to throw the ball.
Rex Ryan gave his coaching staff a vote of confidence after the Jets game, saying he didn't think the Jets were playing scared, and surely you don't want to turn the ball over within field-goal range and a chance to take a lead with less than two minutes to go. The fact is, Sanchez had huge success throwing against the Patriots all day, and the ball was taken out of his hands in the key moment in the game.
Bart Scott: After starting the season as one of the primary inside linebackers, Scott saw a dramatic dip in playing time against the Patriots, lining up for just nine of 80 snaps. Perhaps it had to do with the game plan and matchups, with Demario Davis getting a much heavier workload than usual. Clearly, though, this is a trend that Scott would like to stop sooner than later.
Whose ever bright idea it was to have him and Calvin Pace cover Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski near the goal line should probably be second-guessed, but that touchdown pass solidified the notion that Scott remains a liability in coverage, even after working all offseason to get faster and improve his conditioning.
Stephen Hill: Four catches for 55 yards could have easily been five catches for 65 yards and perhaps even a touchdown were it not for the Jets' most costly mistake of the day—a key drop by Hill on third down that killed a drive.
Drops were considered a flaw of Hill's coming out of college and have been an issue for him all season; the rookie wideout now has four of them on the season. Those will have to go away, but especially in key moments, if the Jets are going to continue to look his way.
They had the AFC East in their reach. It was right there for the taking, and the Jets couldn't seal the deal.
With a chance to win late in two games, the Jets have failed to capitalize.
Now that the Jets have suffered their first blemish in the AFC East, they can't afford to lose against the Dolphins this week as the division will likely be close to the final week.
Without Greene, the Jets will probably be forced to take to the skies more than they might like. Sanchez stepped up this week when asked to carry a bigger load, but he only plays the Patriots once more, and has a slew of tough pass defenses ahead of him on the schedule.
Week after week, the Jets are scheduled to crash land and prove their detractors right. Yet almost every week, we find ourselves talking about how much heart and determination this team has shown.
Both the offense and defense are trending in the right direction, even if they only have one win to show for it in the past four games. Many (myself included) expected the defense to continue to get gashed in the running game and for the pass defense to give up big plays without Revis, but the Jets are giving up a lower rushing average than they were with Revis and are only allowing 0.9 extra yards per pass attempt.
If the defense continues to trend in this direction, the Jets could be there until the end, just like Bill Belichick said they would be after the game.
Stats to Build On
That's the Jets defensive passing YPA through seven games, which ranks ninth in the NFL.
The Jets have been classically stellar in this category, but without cornerback Darrelle Revis, it was expected that this number would increase substantially. That hasn't happened thus far, as the Jets were allowing 6.6 YPA and ranked 16th in the NFL through three games according to TeamRankings.com.
The play of Antonio Cromartie has had a huge hand in this, but the defense as a whole played very well against the Patriots and Tom Brady, holding the future Hall of Fame quarterback to just 6.2 YPA (his season average is 7.4 YPA).
That's Mark Sanchez's completion percentage over the past two games.
For four straight games, Sanchez completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Now, he is riding a two-game streak with over 60 percent completions.
Don't ignore that those two games came against the slap-happy pass defenses of the Colts and the Patriots, who give up completions at a clip of 62.8 and 65 percent respectively, but the recent performances have restored confidence that Mark Sanchez is not the problem for the Jets.
Stats to Improve On
That's the Jets' third-down conversion percentage allowed on defense according to TeamRankings.com, and is the third-worst mark in the NFL through seven weeks.
They allowed the Patriots to convert 52.94 percent of their third downs, one of the 10 worst averages in Week 7.
Allowing opponents to sustain drives, specifically opponents with high-powered offenses like the Patriots have, is a good way to make life difficult for the team as a whole. It ruins time of possession, leaves the defense tired and puts the offense in a position where it also has to execute a long drive down the field to give the defense a rest and also respond to the opposing offense.
The Patriots rushed for 131 yards on 31 carries (4.22 YPA) against the Jets, exposing the linebackers lack of speed on the outsides.
The Jets defense is improving, but it still must find a way to stop the run consistently and effectively if it wants to rejoin the ranks of the league's elite defenses.
This loss does not cripple the Jets' season, but it does put a dent in it. That's especially true now that the Jets look ahead to a schedule that features the Dolphins, Seahawks, Rams and another contest with the Patriots over the next four games.
They'll have to at least split those games if they want to keep their season alive.
Not many folks expected the Jets to be much better than a .500 team before the season, and the Jets are only one game behind .500 nearly halfway into the season. They may be 1-3 in their past four games, but the team is trending upward. If they can start turning those moral victories into real victories, they could get over that hump sooner than later.
Whether it results in a playoff berth remains to be seen, but in this mediocre conference and division, it's way too early to count them out for good.
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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