Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday Morning Quarterback

Yesterday, the Jets lost 23-20 to the St. Louis Rams in the first preseason game of the Rex Ryan era. Ryan was not happy after the game, sending an early message to the team that losing is not acceptable. He might have to get used to it a little bit more, considering the difficult schedule
and relative lack of talent offensively.

But despite the loss, there were plenty of good things that came out of Friday's game, as well, as some bad and one ugly thing.

The good

The Quarterbacks - Kellen Clemens started the game, fumbling the first time he got hit by a defender. Still, he ended up 4-4 for 24 yards, modest yardage numbers, but effective accuracy on short passes.

However, it was the rookie Mark Sanchez who stole the show. On his four passes, he completed three for 88 yards. On his very first play, he hit David Clowney down the right sideline for 48 yards on a perfectly thrown deep ball. He then led the offense down for an 8 play, 93 yard drive, culminating in a Thomas Jones 1-yard touchdown.

That performance almost assures that Sanchez will start next Monday against Baltimore on Monday Night (preseason) Football. Clemens played well in what seemed like more of a conservative playbook, but he didn't make any big plays, and given how Sanchez performed, it doesn't look as good in comparison.

Of course, it was only eight passes. Both quarterbacks will play more next game, assuming the offensive line has more than two starters playing. Sanchez only had one possession as Ryan took him out on perhaps the highest note possible. Hell, sitting in the crowd, I thought of leaving after the first quarter (after the Clowney pass), figuring Sanchez's career and the Jets' season could only go downhill from there.

Needless to say I stayed (as one of the few who stayed the whole game, I was able to get myself on TV at the two minute warning). And staying the whole game meant I got to see two and a half quarters of Erik Ainge. While I've been hard on Ainge in the past, including during my live tweeting last night, his numbers ended up looking very good. His throws can be ugly at times, but 10-17 for 148 yards and a touchdown is solid nonetheless.

The Receivers - Mr. August David Clowney came up with 3 grabs for 102 yards and a touchdown, flashing his impressive speed on two deep balls, one by Sanchez and one by Ainge. The likely starters, Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey, didn't get much action, but if Clowney can play like he has in the last two preseasons during the regular season, the Jets might have bigger weapons than previously thought.

Cotchery may not be a #1 receiver, but he's a tough player with very good hands. Stuckey is quick and sure hands. He's also now two years clear of the broken foot that destroyed his rookie year. But if Clowney can be a deep threat, that's a very intriguing trio with players with three separate skill-sets.

Not to mention, the #1 weapon might actually be someone else. Dustin Keller came up with 3 receptions for 52 yards, showing his impressive YAC abilities. Entering his second season, Keller is poised for a breakout year. It's clear he's going to get the ball a lot, and after drafting him in the first round last year as a receiving tight end, they better throw to him. He has a ton of talent and should catch at least 60-70 balls this season.

The first-team defense - The first team defense did exactly what it needed to do out there, even without its two best players. The first two Rams possessions featured 9 plays for just 24 yards. They allowed a field goal on the first drive, but that was only because a Clemens fumble gave the Rams great field position.

Unfortunately, the flashiest player on the defense is missing the first four games of the season. Calvin Pace was in on four tackles and had a sack on Marc Bulger. David Harris was also strong from the middle linebacking position.

Other noteworthy players
Kenwyn Cummings - Showed good motor, five tackles and a sack
Donald Strickland - Three tackles and a sack on a corner blitz
Reggie Hodges - 2 punts for a 49 yard average, including one inside the 20

The bad

Third-team defense - Rex Ryan said that the third-team defense made embarrassing mistakes out there, as the defense had trouble stopping the run, especially during Samkon Gado's (remember him, fantasy football fans?) 77 yard touchdown scamper. Most of the guys won't be on the team come week one. We all saw why.

Run-blocking - Maybe this is a harsh criticism, considering the way all three quarterbacks had time to throw, but none of the runningbacks really ever had running lanes. Shonn Greene found one and busted it open for a 34 yard run down the left sideline, but that was about it. Three starters were missing, so it's hard to get too on the unit's case, but you would like to see some more push at the line of scrimmage against a bad defense like St. Louis.

Vernon Gholston - Again, this may be a little harsh singling Gholston out as not having a good game, but when you're the 6th pick in the draft and your rookie season is a complete wash-out, you need to start showing something. Once again, he looked tentative like the same lost rookie we barely saw last year. I'm not even asking for much, Vernon, how about just making contact with the quarterback? I don't even care if it's late, I just want to know you can do it!

The ugly

Punt/Kick Returns
- Jay Feely tweeted about a week ago that the Jets would have the best special teams in the NFL. Judging by one preseason game, the unit might be the worst, but it certainly isn't the best. The Jets muffed three punts and one kick. Dwight Lowery and Paul Raymond won't be returning punts this year, so the Jets don't have to worry about them, even if it's still embarrassing. Leon Washington also dropped the opening kickoff of the season. Dropping kicks was the en vogue thing against St. Louis, and it needs to (and should) stop. You bet Mike Westhoff is raising hell in practice.


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