Jets living large on the edge

Posted Oct. 25, 2010 @ 5:14 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

In the NFL, the standard practice has always been to make sure you can walk the walk before attempting to talk the talk.

But in the New York Jets' world, with ringmaster Rex Ryan pulling the strings and calling most of the shots in what often seems like a circus atmosphere, a no-holds-barred approach is standard operating procedure more often than not.

Beginning with their appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" show this summer, the Jets offered unprecedented sizzle, with Ryan, their brash head coach, steaming up TV screens from coast to coast with a steady stream of four-letter words that would have made Tony Soprano blush.

With Ryan continuing to embrace a tell-it-like-it-is approach with the media — a dramatic departure from the typically innocuous "Coachspeak" delivered by most of his head-coaching counterparts — his troops have likewise thrived on marching to a different drummer.

From star CB Darrelle Revis' well-documented contract concerns, to WR Santonio Holmes four-game suspension to start the season, to the allegedly demeaning behavior directed toward TV Azteca female reporter Ines Sainz in the team's locker room, the Jets have certainly led the league in terms of being in the limelight.

That they also are widely considered the league's best team seven weeks into the 2010 season — with its only loss being by one point to the Ravens in Week One — makes them that much more worthy of special attention.

The Jets have definitely walked the walk in their first six games, overcoming one of the league's more challenging early schedules with victories over each of their rivals in the tough AFC East.

Their offense has been solid, fortified by the resurgence of RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been running like a spring colt in the Big Apple.

Their defense has been pesky and opportunistic, leading the league with a plus-10 turnover differential.

And their head coach has probably moved to the head of the class for 2010 Coach of the Year honors, based on conversations we had with numerous people around the league during the Jets' bye week.

"Rex Ryan is great for the Jets," one veteran scout told PFW. "He is a players' coach. He is goofy and silly and does dumb things just like players do, and they feed off his goofiness and his energy. Success brings the ability to be more outlandish."

And less worried about any negative reaction there might be to his against-the-grain antics.

"He's not a mean guy. I don't really sense any animosity towards him," said one daily team observer. "There was a lot of heat on him for the boasting in training camp, but that kind of cooled down when people saw how hard the team plays."

Ryan's proficiency as a defensive coach, which is something he inherited from his equally brash father, Buddy Ryan, stands out as a big reason for the team's early-season success.

"Ryan's creativity overloading gaps and pressuring quarterbacks is what makes that defense," said one NFL talent evaluator. "He understands how to attack offenses and is one of the best in the game. He's in the same sentence with (Steelers defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau and (Patriots head coach Bill) Belichick. As outspoken as he is, he does not get enough credit for his football acumen.

"They are making their one-year statement right now. They have a young quarterback (Mark Sanchez) who has talent, and they have put a lot of talented players around him who are playing well or overplaying, if you will. They had to revamp the whole receiving corps. They revamped their running backs. Shonn Greene was there, and they did not trust him, so they brought in LaDainian. He could be a one-year guy."

It's worth noting, though, that the Jets' impressive 5-1 record has hardly been a walk in the park.

In their most recent victory, against Denver, a pass-interference call on Broncos S Renaldo Hill on an incomplete fourth-down pass from Sanchez to Holmes kept alive the drive, leading to Tomlinson's game-winning two-yard TD run with 1:13 remaining.

Six days earlier against the Vikings, the deal wasn't sealed until CB Dwight Lowery intercepted a late Brett Favre pass and returned it 26 yards for a clinching touchdown.

"Their games have been fairly close for as talented as we think they are — they are still battling to pull games out, which is surprising," the scout said. "They are 5-1, but I'm not sure they had one blowout. Maybe one (their 38-14 rout of Buffalo in Week Four)."

A key moving forward will be the play of Sanchez, who has been extremely efficient (only two interceptions, both in the last game) but has completed only 55.4 percent of his passes.

"As long as they keep the QB healthy, they have a great chance," the scout told PFW. "The key is keeping him mistake-free, because as soon as he is under pressure, he cracks. When he is mistake free, they win close games like Minnesota. (If) they can hand off 45-of-70 times and throw 25 times, and 20 of them could be 10-and-under safe routes, they are in good shape. They need to go downfield just enough to keep the defense honest.

"The more Sanchez completes and has success with his passes, the more pressure it takes off the running game. If he throws a couple picks and gets behind and has to bring the team back, that is when he will struggle."

The key for Sanchez, according to many observers, is not to overload his plate.

"(Offensive coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer's greatest responsibility is making sure he does not give Sanchez too much and allows him to build confidence and play mistake-free football," the talent evaluator said. "The Jets have built the team in the mold of the Ravens that were able to win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. That's all Sanchez has to be. He has (Joe) Namath-like charisma and is perfect for the New York media market. He worked hard in the offseason to develop a rapport with his receivers.

"It could take a little extra time to get on the same page with Santonio Holmes after he sat out, but as long as Schottenheimer can feature a steady diet of short throws to (TE) Dustin Keller, L.T. and (WR Jerricho) Cotchery and let Sanchez get in a rhythm, they have shown they could win with their strong running game. Santonio and Braylon (Edwards) are both big targets with wide catching radiuses that helps downfield. The key is keeping the game simple and letting the defense win games."

The Jets have not been without their flaws.

"The pass rush isn't great when they don't blitz, and the nickel situation is shaky," said one team insider. "Drew Coleman was subbed in for Kyle Wilson as the No. 3 corner, and Coleman is a good tackler, but his coverage skills are no better than Wilson's. If Revis can't get back (from the strained left hamstring that forced him to miss two games), to 100 percent, they could be in trouble."

Another troubling possibility is that Ryan's m.o., which has no doubt worked quite well up to now, will eventually begin to wear thin.

"Will (Ryan's approach) be good in the long run? No — I think he will eventually lose the team," the scout said. "Players will start acting up. It will be more of an issue down the road. It gets to be a little too much — he can lose the team if they start losing. If they have problems and Sanchez screws up and Braylon screws up and they are bitching because they all want more money ...

"It's sort of like Minnesota — they signed Brett (Favre) to big money, but they have their whole D-line with contracts up and have to figure out what the hell they are going to do. They are going to be under the gun in terms of what they want to accomplish. Randy Moss is going to want a long-term, big contract. If they don't offer him one, he becomes a free agent — so it means they would have traded a third-rounder for a guy who plays 13 games for you — and 20 million (dollars) for a QB who brought more distractions than success. But they are trying to buy a Super Bowl because the window is so small.

"The Jets are that way. The interesting part is how they set the cap next year. The players want a different number to make the cap as big as they can get it.

"Maybe they won't be in as big a trouble if the cap comes in much higher next year."

In the meantime, the Jets are walking — and talking — like a team with as good a chance as any to win this year's Super Bowl.