Let's be honest: Even the most optimistic fan would have had a difficult time envisioning the New York Jets sitting with a winning record heading into their bye week.
While consistency has hardly been their calling card—the team has yet to win (or lose) two consecutive games this season—the Jets have already given themselves a season that they could be proud of, barring a complete collapse in the latter half of the season.
The fact that the Jets have managed to win five of nine games is impressive given their young roster, but the most impressive aspect of their wins is the caliber of opponent they have been able to beat, especially in recent weeks. With their past two wins coming over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots (who now have two losses apiece), the Jets have proven that if they play disciplined football, they are capable of beating anyone in the league.
Still, as content as they are to head into their bye coming off a massive win, complacency is the enemy. The schedule does ease up, but the Jets are far from a finished project and will need to continue to improve if they want to make an unlikely playoff run.
Despite the Jets' big upset over the Saints, everything maintained status quo in the AFC East, with every team but Buffalo coming away with a win.
|AFC East Standings|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points For||Points Against|
|New England Patriots||7||2||234||175|
|New York Jets||5||4||169||231|
The Patriots were able to take care of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their most impressive offensive game of the season, while the Miami Dolphins escaped with a stunning overtime win on a walk-off safety over the Cincinnati Bengals.
There is certainly a lot of drama unfolding in Miami this week, but it is still a talented team that is capable of getting on a winning streak at any time. After all, the Dolphins were able to beat the team that mopped the floor with the Jets by a 40-point margin.
While the Buffalo Bills may not be a threat to win the division this year, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com reports that EJ Manuel has been cleared to return, and it looks like he will at least be ready for when the Jets play the Bills in just under two weeks.
There is both good and bad news for the Jets on the injury front. The good news is, the upcoming bye week bodes well for the return of Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Jeff Cumberland (concussion), who were both desperately missed in last week's game.
Tight end Kellen Winslow will also make his return to the lineup following a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The bad news is that the Jets have suffered yet another blow to their already-depleted receiving corps, as Jeremy Kerley left the game with an elbow injury and did not return. The initial diagnosis is not catastrophic, but it does appear as if the Jets will be without Kerley for at least a few weeks, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reports:
While nothing has been confirmed, the Jets have to be worried about the status of outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre, who suffered a knee injury in the game. The Jets have already lost Antwan Barnes at the position, leaving them very thin in terms of depth.
Still, barring some unforeseen setbacks, the Jets wind up getting a net gain in the health department following the bye week.
What Must Improve: Blitz Recognition
The Jets managed to outscore the Saints, but their win was hardly accompanied with a lot of style points. The running game carried a stagnant passing attack that was hampered by the lack of a receiving threat and some suspect pass protection, especially when it came to picking up blitzes.
It is easy to blame the offensive line for Geno Smith not getting adequate time in the pocket to beat an aggressive, blitz-happy Saints defense. However, when a defense sends more players to blitz than the offense has available to block, the onus is on the wide receivers to make sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage to give their quarterback an immediate target.
On this play, the Saints are going to send two defensive backs to blitz in addition to their front four to rush the passer. The Jets have six men in to protect—their five offensive linemen and Chris Ivory.
Ivory is able to pick up his blitzer, but there are issues with the other blitzing cornerback, as there is no running back to that side to block him. The Jets are not prepared for the blitz (which falls on the quarterback's shoulders), as D'Brickashaw Ferguson blocks the defensive end rather than the blitzing cornerback.
Still, the receiver against whom the cornerback was lined up, Greg Salas, should have recognized this blitz and made a sight adjustment to alter his route. The route in red is what he ran; the route in yellow is a shorter route he could have run to help his quarterback get rid of the ball.
Instead, the blitzer is able to get right to Smith, who takes a sack.
It is unfair to get on Salas too much for not adjusting his route, as he had been on the team for barely over a week prior to this game. He does not know all of the protections and sight adjustments as well as other Jets offensive players.
Still, this is a minor adjustment Jets receivers must be able to make to take advantage of a blitzing defense.
What Must Improve: Cornerback Play
While Dee Milliner certainly looked to be much improved after Week 8's debacle in Cincinnati, there is still plenty of room for improvement on his part.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Milliner at least had an average day, allowing five completions on eight targets for 48 yards.
What the stats don't show, however, is a dropped pass by Nick Toon, who beat Milliner's coverage, that would have set the Saints up for a key score.
Milliner did show more confidence, as he made a nice pass breakup and was much more decisive in his tackling. However, he looked vulnerable when he tried to make up ground that allowed receivers to get behind him.
While Milliner has time to get better as a young rookie, the play of Antonio Cromartie is a much more troubling trend for the Jets, at least in the short term.
Despite grabbing an interception on a tipped pass, Cromartie this season has looked like a shadow of his 2012 self. Against the Saints, he allowed 70 yards and a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, and Brees had a quarterback rating of 95.8 when throwing to receivers covered by Cromartie.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cromartie is the 106th-best cornerback in the league. Out of 107.
Earlier in the season, was plausible to pin Cromartie's struggles on a hip injury. But now that he is no longer on the injury report, the steady decline in his play is starting to look like a permanent trend rather than a mere aberration.
For some unknown reason, Cromartie has been getting away from the physical, hands-on style that brought him so much success last year. He is reverting to the more passive coverage that got him shipped out of San Diego nearly four years ago.
If Cromartie is going to get back to his Pro Bowl form anytime soon, he needs to start using his length and size at the line of scrimmage to challenge opposing receivers.
Outside of fixing up these two areas, the Jets are poised to get on an even more significant run in the latter half of the season. They should be getting several key offensive players back following their bye week, and their schedule gets considerably easier.
Right now, complacency is the Jets' biggest enemy as they search for their first winning streak of their already-successful season.