Smitty gets the start

With the Jets coming off their third straight loss, news of change has come from Florham Park, N.J. Earlier in the week, Rex Ryan announced that he would be taking a larger role in the Jets offense by increasing his participation in offensive meetings and on the practice field. Now, it appears he's going to send a message to his defense as well.

Early Wednesday morning, Jay Glazer, the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com, reported on Twitter that Jets safety Kerry Rhodes would be benched against the Carolina Panthers this weekend and replaced by Eric Smith.

Many fans have been critical of Rhodes' lack of aggressiveness and play-making this season. Through 10 games, Rhodes' stats are all zeros except for 54 tackles (48 solo/6 assisted). After his spotty performance against the Patriots last week it is not too surprising that Ryan would make this move. Throughout the game Rhodes showed hesitation, dipping his shoulder, for instance, instead of full out tackling Wes Welker in the second quarter. Rhodes seemed to show up just a few seconds late on every play, let Laurence Maroney run all over him and his lack of big plays the previous weeks may have finally showed Ryan that a change needed to be made.  We don't know for sure if this is the reason, but we'll hopefully know soon enough.

Not to worry though for Rhodes' replacement this week is Eric Smith, an exciting player out of Michigan State. Drafted in 2006, Smith has played a big role on special teams over the past four seasons. Last season, Smith was best known for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin, a devastating blow that left Larry Fitzgerald's sidekick sidelined for several weeks with multiple injuries, and cost Smith $5,000.

This spring at OTAs and mini camp, Smith caught Ryan's eye. After playing traditional safety under Eric Mangini, Smith was asked to take the role of a hybrid safety/linebacker, seeing much more movement around the field. After a disappointing performance to start mini camp and feeling he had lost his position to newly acquired Jim Leonhard, Smith came to the second mini camp ready to impress.

In the spirit of Channing Crowder, if the Jets were the OTA Super Bowl winners, then Smith was the MVP.  In three days Smith had five interceptions, leaving Ryan stating "Ed Reed ... that's what that reminds me of." Linebacker Bart Scott, whose locker is next to Smith's,  helped him with the new defense and noted Smith's performance, saying "He's making big plays. When you make big plays like that Rex will find a spot for you on the football field. It's testament to him, his work ethic and his play making ability."

This season, Smith earned the game ball in Week 3 against the Titans after recording his fourth career interception, six solo tackles and two passes defended. While playing primarily on special teams, he's recorded 30 tackles and one interception and blocked a punt against the Pats that turned into the Jets' first return TD of the season. For the most part, his statistics are not staggering by any stretch but he has one more pick than Rhodes and No. 25 has started at safety each and every week.

While I still believe that Rhodes is a talented player, I'm looking forward to seeing Smith back on the field with the defense this week. He is one player that gives his full effort on the field. His style of play gives you the feeling he's a "Rex Ryan kinda guy." He's shown some nice one-on-one pass rushing skills, is aggressive and makes plays. I think we could expect to see him up his game this weekend because no guy likes to see their name go down on the depth chart.

It's obvious that motivation and believing in your players' talent alone does not guarantee that they will motivate themselves. Ryan knows what his players are capable of and has given this defense every opportunity to showcase its talent. If this "benching" is truly due to lack of performance, we can only hope that it will be enough to wake up Rhodes and have him realize that no one gets to the Pro Bowl by sitting on the bench, even if you have 193,919 Twitter followers.


Growing Pains

Last week’s loss to the Jaguars hurt.  All week I was consumed with thoughts of disappointment in the Jets organization. Watching this team lose five of six left me with not only nothing to say, but also nothing to hope for.

As the week went on,  I began to forgive and forget.  I tried my hardest to find it in me to stay positive and tackle the Patrriots game with 100 percent of me supporting my team. While I knew that a win over the “vengeful” Patriots would be difficult, my real hope was that the Jets would play to their capabilities and showcase the talent that I know they have.

Well, the much-anticipated game has come and gone. An agonizing four hours have passed, and the Jets are now 4-6 and the notion of a playoff spot a fleeting memory. Disappointment is dead and gone, replaced by anger. After surviving many Jets losses through the years, I know how to take a loss.  I can accept losses when the Jets lose to a team that is more talented.  I can also accept losses that purely don’t make sense and just “happen," but what I refuse to take lightly is when the Jets lose a game purely because of poor coaching, poor preparation and self-inflicted mistakes, like they did Sunday in the 31-14 defeat.

It was inexplicably awful.

Yes, the Patriots that showed up Sunday were a very different team than the team the Jets faced in Week 2. Regardless, the Jets have the talent and skill to hang with them, or to at least avoid embarrassment. CBS analyst Jim Nantz was being kind at the end of the game when he stated “sometimes you’re just not better than the team you are playing against."

I simply do not agree.

Even the worst teams in the league will beat you when your quarterback has as many interceptions as completions in the first half, and finishes a game with five turnovers. Mark Sanchez has now tossed 16 picks, second most in the league.

As a rookie quarterback these mistakes are expected, and as fans we’re supposed to be tolerant. The rookie excuse works only for so long. At some point all the mistakes need to disappear and the learning curve has to shrink. To see the same mistakes week after week is not fair to the fans, not fair to the rest of the team and most importantly not fair to Sanchez.

With only 26 games -- counting college -- under his belt, how can we expect him to know what needs to be done in order to improve and progress? Every aspect of the Jets has had its ups and downs in this season, but you have to admit the team would be in the neighborhood of 7-3 if this rookie had played better. It’s the responsibility of the offensive coordinator to help his young QB develop.

Brian Schottenheimer has engineered basically a non-productive offense this season. He has shown that regardless of the talent level of his receiving corps and offensive line, he is incapable of calling the type of plays that, when executed properly, can turn into points. I’ve referred to Schottenheimer's play-calling numerous times as erratic and nonsensical. Forget the monotony of his neverending “run-run-pass” calls, his play-calling is nothing else but predictable.

Schottenheimer's occasional attempts at being “cute” always seem to be at critical points in a game. The last thing I want to see on 3rd and 2 is a wildcat formation with Brad Smith taking the snap. Why give a fullback the ball in short yardage when that fullback hasn't touched the ball much in the game or is not agile enough to find a hole, to insure that the team gets that needed first down? It's as if the cocky Schotty takes over, like he's suddenly smarter than everyone else. The results don't justify the mindset. Where's the creativity? Why have Sanchez throw another pass just because he completed one on the previous play? The Jets are a run-oriented team, but why be so predictable when calling running plays?

Schottenheimer has shown he's incapable of helping a rookie QB thrive. His playbook is making this offense somewhat one-dimensional, and does not play to the strength of Sanchez. Anyone who looks at the history of the quarterbacks who have played under Schottenheimer will see that they have all been much more successful once they have left the organization. If that doesn't raise an eyebrow then I'm not sure what will.

There are many other areas on this team that need to be addressed,  Schottenheimer is only a piece of the problem at this time.   Defense has its own issues...but I'll leave that one for another post.

One main goal for the rest of this season should be to help develop Mark Sanchez, overcome these rookie mistakes and give him a chance for success next season.  My hope is that the organization realizes this and supports him with the proper personnel needed before we find ourselves in the same predictament in 2010.


Acceptance is the hardest part...

In a blink of an eye the season is now half over. But it feels like just yesterday that the Meadowlands was roaring, the ground shaking as the Jets pulled off a win over hated rival New England. Gang Green fans were so happy then.

But my how things have changed.

After three straight wins, the Jets have dropped four of their last five and the mood has definitely gone from optimism to that familiar notion of dread and despair. It’s like a relationship gone bad: you look back at the good times and say “remember when we 
were happy?”

The past few weeks have been a brutal assault on the senses. I’ve gone through a plethora of emotions and have exhausted myself due to a constant struggle within.

Is this team going to make me sick in the final analysis or will I be pleasantly surprised? That, as usual with the Jets, is the million dollar question.

After the loss to Buffalo – one of the worst defeats in recent Jets history -- I fought to remain optimistic. I knew things were bad but still managed to find some solace. In my opinion, the win in Oakland was really a tease. I knew that to keep my sanity in the face of reality I had to look at the 38-0 victory as nothing more than the Jets beating up a franchise in more disarray than my favorite franchise. It was a game that reminded me what winning felt like, but also was a bit of a ruse. It gave us hope, but we all know that “hope” in Jets circles is often another way of saying false hope.

Then there was the much-ballyhooed rematch with the Dolphins last Sunday. All I wanted was for the positive momentum to continue, to taste sweet revenge against a team we should have spanked the first time around and prove to everyone that the Jets were not the same old hapless team we’ve seen far too many times to remember over the last few decades.

Well, as the Rolling Stones say, you can’t always get what you want. I stood there during the final drive of the game with my fingers and toes crossed, praying as hard as I could that I wouldn’t leave that stadium disappointed for the umpteenth time. My favorite player had just caught a ridiculous pass on fourth down to keep the drive alive and part of me thought a win might actually be in the cards.

But before I knew it I was standing there frozen staring at the empty end zone. Reality slowly crept in. Once again the Jets had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

I couldn’t help myself. The meltdown ensued.

I’m glad the bye week is this week because I desperately needed a little break from the Jets. Entering this week all I could do was come up with countless reasons (a.k.a excuses) to convince myself that the Jets should in no way be in this predicament, sitting at .500 when they should be at worst 6-2. I literally have played every scenario out in my head and have found a way to find blame for every aspect of their play of late that has led to or directly caused a defeat.

I went from blaming Rex for going for the 2-point conversion in the third quarter of the loss to Miami, to finding fault in the fact that Carroll, Cole and Murrell weren’t on the field during Ginn’s ridiculous kickoff returns. I even, if only for a second, blamed the Jets front office for trading away special teams ace Jason Trusnik. Call it heat-of-the-moment reasoning. It took me a second to realize, of course, that I want Braylon Edwards on this team. Trusnik is just one guy. What happened to the other 10 clowns who couldn’t make a simple tackle?

I lost sleep as I analyzed the loss in my head and tried to make sense of Schottenheimer’s irrational play calling. If only we had run on that play and passed on the other one; If only Sanchez had gotten rid of the ball quicker; If only Jay had made that field goal.

Finally I came to the realization that I’m sick of it – all of it.  I’m tired of making excuses for losses that are just plain inexcusable. There is no way to truly pinpoint why this season has gone south following such a start of promise. I wish there was an obvious reason for the team’s current slide, but you can’t fix something that’s not broken. The Jets should be better. They have stars all over the field. They have a coach that should be getting results.

Forget about the players needing the bye week to get their minds right and recover from various nicks and bruises. I’m the one who needs this week to get my head right.  I guarantee you that the majority of the players aren’t beating themselves up trying to find the answer to what has gone wrong, so why should I?

Call me defeatist if you want, but I look at it more as being a realist.

The light has finally gone off after years of going through thick and thin with the Jets. There are no explanations, no easy answers. Wins and losses come in bunches and are often illogical. Statistics do not apply to this team. While nothing has changed with regards to my support and devotion to this team, the days of trying to make sense of things are over. I’ll let the little angel and devil on my shoulders duke it out on Sundays and decide whether optimism or pessimism wins. I’ll take each win and loss for what it is and always remind myself that there must be some master plan from up above for the Jets, some predetermined destiny that we just don’t know about yet.

I’ll keep the hope that someday – and who knows how far away that day is -- it will all make perfect sense.

So I’m going to enjoy what’s left of this bye week, as should all of you. Look on the bright side. The Jets can’t lose this week.

No matter how you spend the next few days, remember this: You have to savor the time off because next Sunday will be here before you know it.  

The art of sarcasm - by Bart Scott

Ask any of my friends or family members to describe me and one thing you’ll hear across the board is that I’m quite sarcastic and known to be quite passive-aggressive at times.  This may help explain why I find Bart Scott’s personality so damn infectious. Sunday night after the Jets loss to Miami I sat in awe in front of my TV when I heard his comments during the post game press conference:

"They’re a great team," Scott said. "They’ll probably contend for the Super Bowl.  They have a hellacious offense, great running backs, great quarterback, great tight ends. They're stacked across the board. I’m serious. They are great. “  
"Like I said, they have a great team. They have a tremendous offense and they showed it today. They are Super Bowl contenders and they will probably take it all the way."

I couldn’t help but laugh and totally agree with Bart after hearing those comments.  Not one ounce of me saw it as a stab at the Dolphins but more stating his obvious disappointment with his own team.

The fact is every player on the Jets defense should be angry and upset more than anyone about that loss.  Three weeks ago on Monday Night Football, the Jets defense let the team down.  They let the Dolphins run all over them, and take away the high status that this new defense had gained during the first three games of the season.   Despite the offense being inconsistent that night,  the game would have been won had the defense played with half the intensity they showed in the weeks before.   

Last Sunday,  the defense wanted nothing more than to come out and prove themselves.  You know that Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine didn’t rest until they found a solution to stopping the infamous Wildcat.   And what happened…..they did it.  The defense did EXACTLY what they were supposed to do.  They came out and completely stopped the Dolphins offense.   They worked hard all four quarters to rectify what they had done three weeks ago.  They learned from their mistakes and did what no other team has figured out how to do yet this season. 

Despite their great performance,  the Jets lost.  It’s one of those losses that statistically just does not make sense.  The offense was non-existent in the first half, with conservative play calling by Schotty to blame.   Special teams let Tedd Ginn run right through them for 2 TD’s and in the end the Jets managed to lose a game that was theirs to win.

Every news clip and replay of that game should have centered around the Jets defense and how they were successful at stopping the Wildcat cold.  Sports reporters should be praising the Jets D this week, but that’s not the case.  Instead the only thing talked about is Ginn Jr and his record breaking returns.  People criticize the Jets for talking too much,  yet the only players talking are from the defense and they backed their words up!  I’m all for not throwing your teammates under the bus after a loss,  but you tell me how anyone on this defense could walk away without being angry?

Bart Scott and Darrelle Revis have every right to feel let down and to display some sarcasm, some passive aggressiveness towards their team and opponent.   They showed up and did their job on Sunday.   There’s nothing more that they could have done that would have won this game.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to stay tight lipped after a game like that one.  Leave it to Bart to find a creative way to get his true feelings across;  he couldn’t have gotten his point across any clearer.

Stop your whining Dolphin fans,   not every word spoken by Jets players is about you and your team.