There may only be one game left in what is a lost season for the New York Jets, but that does not mean that this final game is meaningless. What transpires on Sunday could impact the future of their head coach, Rex Ryan.
Ryan has made quite a case for himself to stay on as coach after an emphatic win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 16. Getting his team to play one of its best games of the season in a contest that had no impact on playoff seeding speaks volumes about Ryan's influence over his team in any circumstance.
It is no secret that Ryan's players love him, as they have come out repeatedly in his defense to keep him on for next season.
The question is, do owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik feel the same way?
After three straight non-winning seasons, there is some justification to firing Ryan, but the embattled head coach will make it awfully difficult for them to do so if he is able to finish out the season with two straight wins to get the Jets to 8-8—surpassing just about every expectation they had prior to the season.
As impressive as they looked in their win over the Browns, beating the Miami Dolphins (who smashed them at MetLife Stadium not long ago), will be an even more difficult task, especially considering how the Phins are still vying for a playoff spot.
|AFC East Standings|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points For||Points Against|
|New England Patriots||11||4||410||318|
|New York Jets||7||8||270||380|
The Jets have been eliminated from the playoffs for over a week now, but they can still make an impact on the seeding if they are able to knock off the Dolphins this week. As expected, the New England Patriots locked up the division last week after they blew out the Baltimore Ravens and the Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills.
The Jets, however, are just one loss and a Bills win away from winding up in last place in the division, which will certainly not look good on Rex Ryan's resume. Beating a division rival on the road, however, will give Ryan so much momentum going into the offseason that it may be virtually impossible to fire him.
The Patriots may have dominated this division in historic fashion over the last decade (this is Tom Brady's 11th division title as the starting quarterback), but there is as much parity as there has been in recent years.
The Patriots may have won it this year, but it looks like their stranglehold on the division may not be so certain in the near future with the Jets and Bills appearing to turn the corner soon.
|Player||Type of Injury||Status|
|Sheldon Richardson||Knee||Finished game|
|Willie Colon||Unspecified||Finished game|
The Jets had a few scares in their win in terms of injuries to key players. Sheldon Richardson went down with what looked like a painful knee injury, but he managed to return to the game. Having their best rookie go down with some type of ACL tear would have been devastating.
Willie Colon also went down with an injury in the game, but he too was able to return after just a few plays.
Entering the final week of the season, the Jets have been rather fortunate in the injury department, all things considered. They did lose a lot of players at the receiver position that hurt them in the third quarter of the season, but all of their stars and young rookies were able to stay relatively healthy all season long, which is key for a rebuilding team like the Jets.
What Must Improve: Pass Rush
The Jets have been able to lean on their defensive line all season, but the wear of being on the field for so long is starting to take its toll on their big men up front, especially when it comes to rushing the passer.
Pass-rushing is the single most tiring aspect of football, and it is no surprise that the sting of the Jets defensive line has faded over the past month or so.
The Jets may have recorded three sacks against the Browns, but at least two of those were a result of quality coverage. Unlike just about every other game this season, the Jets were finally able to cover well on the back end—but their lack of a pass rush allowed Jason Campbell to make a few big plays down the field.
On this long completion to Josh Gordon, look at the space he has to survey the field and step into this throw. This screencap was taken several seconds after the ball was snapped—an eternity in pro football:
If the Jets are going to shut down the Dolphins next week, they need to feast on a poor Dolphins offensive line and not allow Ryan Tannehill to get comfortable in the pocket.
What Must Improve: Run Defense
The Jets run defense has been one of the league's best in 2013, ranking at the top until it was replaced by the Carolina Panthers' in the final quarter of the season.
However, just like their once-vaunted pass rush, the Jets' stonewall run defense has gotten softer and softer as the Jets' front limps toward the finish line after being on the field for so long.
A week after the Jets defense allowed 131 yards on the ground against the Panthers, the Browns were able to rip off 115 yards. These are not terrible numbers, but the Jets have grown accustomed to utterly dominating teams in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball.
One of the biggest reasons why the Jets have not been as stingy against the run is the slight decline of nose tackle Damon Harrison. For the vast majority of the season, the former undrafted rookie has surpassed all expectations, emerging as one of the best run defenders in the game in just his second season.
However, he had one of his worst games of the season as a run defender this past week, recording just two tackles and zero "stops," according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 0.2 grade against the run was his second-worst grade of the season.
Harrison is probably just worn out from the grind of his first full season as a starter, but the Jets need him to be as good as ever next week adjacent Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, who is one of the best in the league at his position.
What Must Improve: Consistency
The Jets were finally able to put together a complete game with at least a solid performance from both sides of the ball.
Now, the challenge is for the Jets to put on a showing like this more than once a month.
Rex Ryan is only guaranteed to be the coach of the Jets for one more game, and he must make it count. Ryan has done a fine job with a limited amount of talent at his disposal, but perhaps the biggest knock on his performance this season has been his inability to get his team to play well in consecutive weeks. After all, the Jets have yet to string together two wins in a row this season.
The key for the Jets to play consistently well comes down to the play of their offensive line. When the line plays as well as it did against the Browns, the Jets are able to sustain drives and keep their young quarterback comfortable, making smart decisions.
When the Jets are able to do this, they are not nearly as reliant on big plays to come from players who are no capable of making them.
Beating a desperate Dolphins team on the road will be quite the challenge for Rex Ryan's young team, but doing so will give him a ton of momentum as the Jets brass makes its decision on its head coach's future over the next few weeks.
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