By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: December 14th, 2008
JETS OVERVIEW (2008 RANKINGS)
The Jets are 8-5 and tied for the division lead with the Pats and Dolphins, but their fans are still finding cause for concern ... and perhaps with good reason. The team that went out to Tennessee and ruined the Titans’ undefeated season has dropped both games since then, including a discouraging loss in San Francisco last weekend.
OFFENSE (#14 total yardage, #9 rushing, #15 passing, #5 scoring):
While most of the publicity – both good and bad – has centered on the future first-ballot Hall of Famer now playing quarterback for the Jets, the team’s true MVP is quietly putting together the best season of his career. Running behind three-time Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson and a revamped offensive line, Thomas Jones leads the AFC in rushing with 1,144 yards on 243 carries, good for a 4.7-yard average. The former Cardinals’ first-round pick has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last seven games, and his 14 touchdowns (12 rushing) tie him for the franchise records in both categories.
Jones shares the backfield with Leon Washington, a dangerous runner and receiver who merely leads the league in combined yardage. Not all of that mileage is from kick or punt returns, either; Washington has scored on runs of 61 and 60 yards this season, giving him two of the top five longest touchdown runs in franchise history.
Although he still has his moments, adding three more pick-sixes to his NFL-record interception total, Brett Favre is doing a decent job of playing under control this season. In 13 games, he’s completed 288 of 421 passes (a career-best 68.4 percent) for 2,845 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Jerricho Cotchery (59 catches 702 yards, 4 TDs) and Laveranues Coles (56-620, 6 TDs) are still his primary targets, but rookie tight end Dustin Keller (42-474, 3 TDs), the first-round pick from Iowa, shows signs of becoming an impact player at the position. Brad Smith is sitting out this game with a concussion, so blazing-fast wideout David Clowney may see his first action of the season.
DEFENSE (#18 total yardage, #4 rushing, #31 passing, #19 scoring):
Could Kris Jenkins be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Tackles don’t normally accumulate the eye-popping stats that skew most of those awards toward pass-rushers, but the former Panther has been a disruptive force. He abused the interior of the Bills’ line in the first meeting, finishing the game with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback pressures – including the play that led to Abram Elam’s interception for a touchdown – in a performance good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors. Shaun Ellis has benefited from the added attention being paid to Jenkins, notching a team-high eight sacks and 12 pressures from his spot at left end.
Inside linebacker David Harris is back in the lineup after missing several games, including the one in Orchard Park, with a groin injury.
The pass defense has gotten measurably worse since the Jets’ trip to Orchard Park, leading the team to bring cornerback Ty Law out of semi-retirement. Law, now in his 14th year in the league, has started the last three games opposite Darrelle Revis. Safety Abram Elam started the first Bills game because Eric Smith was sidelined with a concussion; it doesn’t look like Smith will reclaim the job any time soon.
Jay Feely was signed after Mike Nugent suffered a thigh injury in the season opener. Nugent is healthy now, but may not play another game for the Jets, as Feely has made his last 11 field goals.
Free agent Reggie Hodges took over the punting duties after the Jets released Ben Graham, but there hasn’t been much of a change. The coverage teams are very good, though, allowing a 21.2-yard average on kickoff returns and fewer than eight yards per punt.
Leon Washington remains one of the most dangerous return men in the league, ranking sixth with a 27.5-yard average on kickoff returns – including a 92-yard touchdown return against the Patriots – and eighth (10.7) on punt returns. The Jets’ average drive start after kickoffs is just past their 30-yard line, good for second in the league.
Six weeks ago, the Bills were still leading the division, and firmly in control of their own destiny. How did we end up here? There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it looks like Ralph Wilson might be gearing up for yet another offseason housecleaning. Meanwhile, the fans who sold out the entire home schedule have been rewarded by a 12th consecutive season without a home playoff game.
The Dolphins and Patriots both face below-average opponents this week, so the Jets probably need a win to hold onto a share of first place in the division. The Bills have won their last two road games in the series, but nothing in the way they’ve played lately leads me to believe they’ll make it three in a row.