The Good and the Bad from Sunday Night's Thriller
The perfect ending to a perfect Sunday.
Nothing is more American than NFL football.
Unfortunately for America's team, they suffered a heart-breaking defeat.
The Jets refused to surrender and their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, demonstrated a resilience that mirrored the spirit of the entire team.
Last night's game was what football is all about.
When the offense has an off game or makes a mistake, the defense bails them out. When the defense doesn't play up to their standards, the offense does the same.
The best teams are those who can win games in a number of different ways.
That being said, there was a lot to be taken from the game, take a look at the best and the worst from Sunday night.
The Good: Sanchez Thrived Under the Jets New Offensive Identity
Yes, Sanchez made a few of his typical mistakes during last night's game.
His interception to Sean Lee was nearly devastating and later on he fumbled because he held on to the ball for too long.
The difference between the Mark Sanchez of 2011 compared to last year is that he was given even more responsibility within the offense in last night's game. Thus, he had more opportunities to make amends for some of his errors.
Sunday night's game was the first time that Sanchez looked like the undisputed leader of the Jets offensive attack since his arrival in New York. He had an improved command of the offense, that's impressive considering his success so far in his career.
Sanchez threw for over 300 yards, something he only did twice all of last season.
He may be erratic at times, but Sanchez is constantly evolving and it's time the offense was designed to maximize his offensive lethality instead of being structured to prevent him from turning the ball over.
Sanchez deserves to be trusted with the offense.
Another good sign was that he was extending plays by scrambling and taking more chances downfield. Ben Roethlisberger's third down conversion in the 2010 AFC championship game is an example of how valuable a quarterback with that kind of "escapeability" can be.
Like it or not, the Jets are going to win and lose games in 2011 on the arm of Mark Sanchez.
That being said, the offensive strategy could still use some fine tuning.
A little more balance between the run and the pass is necessary, but it's time to take the proverbial muzzle off of Sanchez and allow him to define his own career.
The Bad: Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith Showed Their Vulnerability in Pass Coverage
On paper, Eric Smith had a pretty damn good night.
Seven tackles, and a sack.
Both he and Jim Leonhard contributed immensely towards stopping the run game, however, the fact that both of the Jets starting safeties have such similar play styles and, subsequently, similar weaknesses is an area of concern.
Jason Witten is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, but he illuminated Smith's and Leonhard's inability to play man coverage.
New York's style of defense calls for the safeties to be around the line of scrimmage and involved in rushing the passer. That means when one or both safeties do end up in coverage, odds are they are going to be on an island because of how much pressure the Jets bring on a consistent basis.
The Jets corners looked solid on the outside, but if opposing teams are able to run free over the middle with tight ends and slot receivers it's going to open things up all over the field.
The value of players like Smith and Leonhard to the Jets defense is immeasurable, but they need a player who can compliment their skills. A safety who is better in coverage than he is in the running game, someone who can make plays on the ball in the air against bigger receivers.
The Good: Linebacker Play
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The Jets linebackers stepped up and carried the load as a unit in Sunday night's comeback victory.
Bart Scott led the team with eight tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss.
David Harris was right alongside with seven tackles of his own, including some in pivotal moments.
Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas combined for six tackles, a sack, and two more tackles for loss.
The Jets linebackers set the tone for the entire defense and held Felix Jones to 44 yards on 17 carries, a dismal 2.6 yards per carry.
The Cowboys didn't have a run of over eight yards, implying that running backs never even made it past the Jets linebackers.
If New York can force teams to abandon the running game it will allow them to generate even more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Cowboys did have some success against the Jets through the air, but there aren't many receiving corps as talented as Dallas in the NFL.
The Jets linebackers are even more essential than most because of how their defensive line is designed. There isn't one player on the line who is a dynamic pass rusher, instead they're built to stop the run. For this reason, the Jets linebackers have an even greater responsibility to make plays all over the field. They need to generate a pass rush, make plays in coverage and stop the run.
Bart Scott and David Harris are the backbone of the Jets defense. Revis may be the best player on the defensive side of the ball, but Harris and Scott orchestrate the Jets defensive emotions.
The Bad: Wayne Hunter
DeMarcus Ware straight up abused Wayne Hunter.
You know the move when your older brother sticks his hand on your forehead and you're left helpless to flail your arms at him.?
Well, that was the equivalent of what Ware did to Hunter on Sunday night.
Ware embarrassed the entire Jets offensive line, for that matter.
Still, the disparity between Hunter and the top tier pass rushers in the league was made painfully clear by Ware.
Sanchez will get bashed for his mistakes and he deserves some of the blame.
If it wasn't for Sanchez's ability to make plays outside the pocket though, the Jets would have been in serious trouble.
The Cowboys sacked Sanchez four times and hit him six times.
The most troubling aspect may have been that Dallas's defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, was able to generate pressure without blitzing all the time.
Left guard is definitely another position of concern going forward, but Hunter looks to be a weakness for the duration of the season.
Only time will tell if he is able to develop into a more reliable player at right tackle.
The Good: The Veterans Stepped Up
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To put it lightly, the Jets receiving corps had their fair share of critiques going into the season.
Plaxico Burress, in particular.
Sunday night, Plaxico and the rest of the gang proved they still had fight left in those old bones.
Burress had four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown, averaging 18 yards a catch.
Burress showed a little rust not coming back to the ball on a few plays, but clearly demonstrated he has a lot left to give.
Derrick Mason even contributed with three catches and 19 yards after missing most of the pre-season.
Santonio Holmes made six big catches for 70 yards, including a 28 yard snag. He looked a little frustrated at times, but as the season goes on, Sanchez should be able to find him more and more. He's ready to make a big impact in 2011.
LaDainian Tomlinson caught six balls for 73 yards, none bigger than his third down conversion late in the game. He also had five carries for 16 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball Darrelle Revis, Bart Scott, and David Harris accounted for 21 tackles, a sack, an interception, and two tackles for loss.
The Jets are going to look to rely on the passing game more often in 2011 and their aging receiving corps will have to prove the doubters wrong.
The vets on the team are going to have to play an enormous role for gang green to reach the Super Bowl that has eluded them over the last few years.