It's going to take a lot of work if the New York Jets want to turn around their season.
What was once an unblemished divisional record of 2-0 has now fallen to 2-2 in the span of two weeks with losses to the Patriots and Dolphins, both of whom have separated themselves from what was once considered an even race.
At 3-5, anything short of excellence in the final eight games will spell the end of the season, and with a plenty soft schedule still ahead, excellence is attainable. But the Jets need to get out of their own way first.
Here's a State of the Union address for the team at the midway point, looking back on the season that's been and the season that lies ahead.
Quinton Coples: Over the past four games, Coples leads the entire Jets defense with two sacks and two QB hits according to ProFootballFocus.com. His five hurries rank second behind Aaron Maybin's seven.
Although it took him a little bit to get started, he has shown the upside that made him a first-round pick in April's draft. His long arms and diverse set of pass-rush moves have shown on film in the past four games.
Demario Davis: It was a low-key start to the season for the third-round linebacker out of Arkansas State, but Davis has seen a heavy dose of action in the past three games, with a total of 163 snaps out of a possible 214 (76.17 percent) according to ProFootballFocus.com.
His speed has shown up on the field, and he has shown solid awareness in staying off blocks, especially in the past two weeks during which time the linebacker has been credited with 11 total tackles, the second-most on the team in the past two games.
Jeremy Kerley: Through eight games, Jeremy Kerley has already surpassed the totals he put up in the entire 2011 season. His 30 receptions and 478 yards both lead the team, and he has a pair of touchdown catches to go with it. Kerley has been one of the most dependable receivers on the roster, dropping just two passes and catching 63.8 percent of the balls thrown in his direction.
Ideally, Kerley may be a No. 2 or 3 receiver in the Jets offense, but for now, he is taking on the load as the team's top target. That's admirable for a second-year player who, according to Rex Ryan, had a bad offseason.
David Harris: For years, Harris has been the best thing going for the Jets at linebacker. This year, he's arguably the worst. His eight missed tackles are the eighth-most among inside linebackers—either 3-4 or 4-3—according to ProFootballFocus.com, where he is also the lowest-graded player on the Jets roster.
Stephen Hill: Since a five-catch, two-touchdown breakout performance against the Buffalo Bills, Stephen Hill has almost flatlined. He had three catches and a touchdown against the Colts, but has dropped a pass in each of the past two games, including a would-be first down reception that would have kept the Jets moving for a potential touchdown against the Patriots.
His physical capabilities have been on display this season almost every time he catches the ball, but he needs to learn the fundamentals, including catching the football, before he becomes a consistent and reliable target in the NFL.
Shonn Greene: The ground-and-pound offense is just about out the door, and it's thanks in part to Shonn Greene's paltry 3.7 yards per carry. The fourth-year back is on pace for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, but has had just one performance of note this season, and earned 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the Colts.
Greene came under a lot of criticism as a "one-speed runner", and thus far this season, that one speed has been "slow."
Highlight of the Quarter:
Lowlight of the Quarter:
Blocked punt vs. the San Francisco 49ers, where only one 49ers defender was sent on a rush.
Mark Sanchez is Wildly Inconsistent, and That's Not (Entirely) His Fault
Thus far this season, we've seen the good, the bad and the ugly from Mark Sanchez.
In that sense, it's been a microcosm of his career. Here's a chart of his career game-by-game by passer rating.
Comparatively, here's a chart of his 2012 season by passer rating thus far.
And just in the past four games alone, we've seen both good and bad Sanchez.
Good performances against the Colts and Patriots were sandwiched in between stinkers against the Texans and Dolphins. Distribute blame for those performances however you want, and don't forget that the Texans and Dolphins are among the league's best pass defenses this year.
The fact is, this offense likely won't be much better than what we've seen this season so far.
The Jets know what they have in Sanchez, and they've known for years. They have a quarterback who needs to be surrounded by solid skill position talent. The pickings are slim in New York, and Sanchez's performances are indicative of the lack of talent around him as well as his own shortcomings at quarterback.
We have seen signs of life from the offense, but they have been so few and far between that it's impossible to expect consistency going forward. That being said, their remaining opponents are far from the league's elite on defense, and that might spell an opportunity for the Jets to find some rhythm.
Rollercoaster Defensive Performances
The Jets are 1-4 in their past five games, so any amount of improvement would rightfully go unnoticed, but their improvement has only been in fits and spurts. To expect that improvement to continue on a consistent basis would be making blind assumptions.
When we last left the Jets in the Week 5 State of the Union, they had just gotten thrashed for 8.6 yards per carry in the first half against the Texans, but they gave up 40 yards on 16 carries (2.5 YPA) in the second half, and since then have given up just 269 yards on 81 carries (3.32 YPA) against the Colts, Patriots and Dolphins.
Let's take a look at the Jets defensive passer rating by opponent over the course of the season.
Their pass defense held steady against the Texans and Colts, but gave up highly efficient performances against Tom Brady and Matt Moore.
The Jets have shown signs of life on defense, but they aren't being very consistent about it. There's a lot of pressure on them to be great because of the state of the offense, with the Jets ranking 29 in the league in total punts. If their defense can't be great, or if the offense can't find its rhythm, it could be a long year for Gang Green.
Three Steps to Second Half Success
1. Find the Running Game: Mark Sanchez is limited as a quarterback. He is at his best when the running game behind him is effective. The Jets have been ravaged by injuries at running back this season, but with two weeks to get Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell back to full health, the Jets might be able to rejuvenate their running game.
That also depends on the offensive line's ability to rediscover the form that helped them lead the league in rushing in 2009 and rank near the top in 2010. Center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are the only linemen worth mentioning who are playing at the top of their game for the Jets.
2. Take Advantage of a Soft Schedule: Of the eight games left on the schedule, only one comes against a team with a winning record (at home against the New England Patriots). Other than that, the Jets get teams at or below .500: Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills.
At this point, they have no choice but to take advantage of the very generous schedule ahead of them. They can't afford to lose more than two games out of the remaining eight if they want to play game in January.
3. Get Healthy/Fix Special Teams Woes: This may be a “no-duh” tip to success, but it goes well beyond simply getting the best players on the field on offense and defense. The Jets sheer volume of injuries has spilled over to their typically stellar special teams unit, which in the past five weeks:
- has had two punts blocked, one returned for a touchdown;
- has had a kickoff returned for a touchdown;
- has had a field goal blocked; and
- has had an onside kick recovered against them.
It may look like it's over at 3-5, and unless the Jets start playing better and more consistently than they have in the past four weeks, it will be over sooner than later.
But right now, it's not.
As mentioned above, the Jets have a soft schedule ahead of them, and the fact that they dominated the Colts and nearly beat the Patriots and the Texans gives them hope for the rest of the season.
But at some point soon, the Jets must turn those moral victories into actual victories, or else their playoff dreams could turn into a nightmare just as they did in 2011.
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.