America's Team goes to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Before I go on, just take that in a minute. I have nothing cute or funny to say about that. It may be the perfect matchup for that day. It will be a potential distraction, I suppose, but I don't think that is a big concern. And if it is, well, it is. Some things are bigger than a game.
But there is a football game going on between the New York Jets and our Dallas Cowboys. In addition to the anniversary involved, there is the battle of wits that will take place between the Ryan brothers. There is the regular season debut of the Yuglies on the Cowboys offensive line. And the first real test of Rob Ryan's mad scientist defense. And of course, this is the beginning of what I call the Season of Hope. Time to find out how that works out.
The first game presents a bit of a challenge when you are trying to preview the opponent. The teams have changed since the end of the last season. When I was trying to figure out what I thought was going to happen with the Cowboys this season, I spent some time studying how they looked in their preseason games. So I decided it was logical to go and look at the Jets' preseason performances and see if I could glean anything from them.
My review consisted of just watching the first teams play, which is pretty much defined as how long Mark Sanchez was in the game. Once he was out, both the offense and defense pretty much went into talent evaluation mode, so that was the cutoff. I was trying to get a feel for how the first string was coming together and how they did against the teams they played. I was more interested in the overall performance of the team than in trying to break down positions. I also watched more closely in the final "dress rehearsal" than in the two earlier games.
The first game of the season was at the Houston Texans. On defense, they had good run defense on second and short, and then got a sack by linebacker Josh Mauga. The second defensive series was notable mostly in the Jets getting flagged twice, once to set the Texans up for a first down, and once on the punt after the Texans stall out.
Offensively, Mark Sanchez came out very hot. He starts with a short field, completes his first four passes, and is marching things nicely before J.J. Watt sacks him and forces a Nick Folk field goal. (I try to get over it, but I want to hit something every time I see a former Dallas kicker scoring points for another team.) On the second series, Sanchez continues his hot streak. He hits a receiver in the hands, but it is dropped, then he completes two more passes. One gets a first down, and Shonn Greene makes his first big play, getting 19 yds up the middle. The drive is stalled by a sack and a holding penalty.
That ends it. Sloppily played. Sanchez looks to have a rhythm, particularly to Santonio Holmes.
The second game has the Cincinnati Bengals coming into New York. The Bengals are going with a rookie QB, Andy Dalton out of TCU. And it shows. Cincy comes out and does nothing on their first drive besides get a penalty (plus one on the kick return). They punt and now there are two faces that missed the first game, Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson. The Jets have a short field again, and Burress immediately shows up, catching a bullet from Sanchez and getting forward for 20 yards the first time he touches the ball. The drive then stalls and Folk lifts my spirits by shanking one.
Dalton then has his next pass go off the receiver's hands and it is intercepted by safety Eric Smith, who laterals to Darrelle Revis. Ball on Cincinnati 16, one pass to Santonio Holmes, touchdown. After the Bengals can do nothing with the ball (it's raining and there is a fumble for big loss that kills the drive right away), the Jets get it back. They get a penalty and can't overcome it. 3 and out.
Unfortunately, Dalton is still a rookie. He throws a pass high and right to safety Jim Leonhard, who has a good return to the 10. The Jets are set up for another easy score.
Except it isn't so easy. Sanchez misses Plaxico, LT gets stuffed on a run, and then LT drops a pass. The Jets were bad in the red zone last year, and they still are, settling for three. The teams then swap 3 and outs.
Cincinnati finally finds something that works with a short pass to TE Bo Scaife (who would wind up on IR). They get their first first down of the game. Then a screen pass gets 33 yards. This sets them up in the RZ, and they capitalize for a touchdown.
Sanchez starts the next series with another 20 yd. completion to Plaxico. If he can zero in, Plaxico is a good target, and he looks dangerous. However, NY has to convert a 4th and 1 to keep the series alive, and then stalls.
On the next Bengals possession, the only thing I found of note is a penalty on Antonio Cromartie. I haven't been able to track much of him and Revis. I would say that Dalton is generally staying away from them. When he does complete, he is working screens and short passes.
The last drive of the night is by far the best for Sanchez and his offense. They start out pinned on the 1, then get a 43 yd completion to TE Dustin Keller. A couple of more passes gets them to the Cincy 26, and they get to a 3rd and 10 before Sanchez finds Burris, who really played this game smoking like a gun, for the TD. This was right at the end of the first half, and the last series for the starters.
It took the whole first half for the Jets offense to get clicking. They were not consistent before the last drive, although Plaxico looks to be the big shot for scoring. Defensively, the star corners did not really get challenged. They did seem a little vulnerable to screens and passes to the tight end, which I find interesting.
The dress rehearsal game sees the Giants and Jets in a hometown rumble. I am interested to see how an experienced and sometimes very good quarterback will do against them, not to mention what should be a better pass rush.
Eli Manning gets the ball first, and he starts out completing a 21 yd pass in front of Revis. He then adds a 14 yd pass in front of Cromartie. The G men are forced into 4th and 1, but get it. Then Eli gets pressured and throws what looks like a bad ball right to Leonhard. But no harm comes from this as the Jets go 3 and out.
Manning gets a nice 38 yard completion but then they stall out. Jets go 3 and out and punt.
D.J. Ware gets outside to the right for a first down. Then he catches a screen for 15. The running game doesn't do so well up the middle for a couple of plays and the Giants punt. The Jets would go 3 and out, but convert a fourth down. Then Sanchez gets flushed and they have to punt without a second first down on the series.
Giants now go 3 and out. Jets respond with 3 and out. Are you seeing a pattern?
The Giants get a first down on a short pass to the left. Then Eli throws another pick. This one looked like another bad throw to me. LB David Harris gets credit for the pick. The Jets are set up again with a short field at the Giants 44. A penalty on the G men helps the Jets get a first down. And then pressure gets to Sanchez and he fumbles.
Eli gets a screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw, and Bradshaw then starts finding some running room off the right tackle. Manning also completes a 16 yard throw to Mario Manningham, but the drive stalls and they settle for three.
Cromartie makes a brilliant run after bobbling the kickoff and gets the Jets to the Giants' 35. They get to 3rd and 1, and again fail to convert. They manage on 4th and 1, and finally Sanchez gets a 17 yd TD to Holmes.
At this point, I notice something. The Jets have had six 3rd downs. They have converted exactly zero. If not for an outstanding return by Cromartie, they would have ended the first half scoreless. And Eli is having some success on screens and passes out to the flat. On the ground, the Jets seem more vulnerable to the backs getting wide than they are up the gut. I don't see a lot of pressure on Eli, either.
Mannning gets some more short completions in the two minute drill, but the half ends on a sack as the Jets finally get to him.
On the first possession of the second half, Sanchez finally converts a third down. But the drive is shut down on an unnecessary roughness penalty. And then things just get chippy. As the starters get pulled on the next Giants possession, the Jets get a facemask called against them and then both teams get flagged for roughness in one of those pointless offsetting situations.
Summing it up, I am not that impressed by what I saw from the guys in green. Offensively, Sanchez was only in rhythm during the two drives he had in the first game. The rest of the time he just didn't look at all in synch with his receivers. The defense also did not look all that intimidating, with both the rookie Dalton and the veteran Manning finding ways to work short passes. In the "dress rehearsal", Eli looked much better except for the two errant throws. I thought all the interceptions were miscues by the offense instead of great plays by the secondary, but of course a turnover is a turnover, and they were the main reasons the Jets won those games.
The real thing that stood out for me was how much the Jets second and third games made me think of the Cowboys in the 2010 preseason. There was that same sense of a team that hadn't gotten its footing yet. And when the discipline broke down after halftime in the third game, I got a definite feeling that the players were feeling it, too.
I know they are still just preseason games. Maybe the Jets will get the switch thrown. Maybe Rex Ryan just was keeping everything totally hidden. But then, I have heard that before.
Come to think of it, Wade Phillips and Rex Ryan have the same basic shape.
What will work against the Jets defense? I would say screens, passes to the tight ends and running backs, and getting the runners to the corner. I think that plays right into the Cowboys' strengths. If the Yuglies can hold up, Dallas should be able to move well on the Jets. Tony has to continue protecting the ball and be smart with his throws. Not that doing differently is ever a good idea.
Defensively, if the Big Robowski can put pressure on Sanchez and not let the running backs get free, I think their offense can be checked.
I'm not necessarily the best film analyst. But I think I saw a team the Cowboys can beat.
Hope is still alive.