Florham Park, N.J.– This week’s edition of the ‘Game Balls’ column will be a bit different than most. This week game balls go to every single Jet player that stepped on the field yesterday in Buffalo (except maybe Matt Mulligan), to give the Jets their third straight win and put them in a three-way tie for the division lead. Under Rex Ryan the Jets always seem to play better when their backs are against the wall and everyone has counted them out and that is exactly what they have done again with this three game winning streak on the back of their three game losing streak. Now many of the same people who were already shoveling dirt on the 2011 New York Jets are now saying the AFC East is there for the Jets to take. If you were one of the doom and gloomers who had the Jets season dead and buried, shame on you (you know the old saying “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”), but if you stuck by this team and had faith in them give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it.
Defensive Line: They were missing Mike DeVito and Kenrick Ellis, which might have lead some to think Fred Jackson would be even more likely to have a big day and kill the Jets, but those people would have been wrong. The Jets held Jackson to 82 yards rushing on 18 carries, but even that line is only inflated by garbage time stats, including a 23 yard run in the fourth quarter when the Jets were already leading 27-3.
The praise of the defensive line doesn’t stop at stopping Jackson either, all game long they kept Ryan Fitzpatrick under heavy pressure and never allowed the young quarterback to get comfortable. The Jets didn’t get any sacks yesterday, but the D-line applied enough pressure to force Fitzpatrick to throw it before he wanted to and helped hand Fitzpatrick his worse game of the season (15-31 191 yards one garbage time TD and two picks).
D-Line Standout: Sione Pouha (seven tackles and one forced fumble)
Linebackers: Pretty much everything I said about the defensive line also applies to the linebackers, stout in the running game and great job either applying pressure on Fitzpatrick or dropping back into coverage. The Jets picked Fitzpatrick off twice yesterday, but neither of them were from the secondary as David Harris and Calvin Pace both made timely interceptions.
Linebacker Standout: David Harris
Pace turned in yet another stellar performance and he is easily playing the best ball in his time as a Jet, Bart Scott also had a good day, but you can never go wrong with naming Harris as the standout (five tackles, two QB pressures, one pass deflected and one pick).
Secondary: Everything the Jets are able to do upfront defensively they are able to do because of the ability they have in the secondary, namely at corner. Everyone knows what Revis brings (though he did shockingly give up three receptions for 84 yards, including a 52 yard catch to Stevie Johnson, but he did manage to break up two passes) and how good Cromartie can be at times, but Kyle Wilson continues to step up and play at a very high level week in and week out. With these three top-notch corners it’s going to be awfully hard for teams to pass on the Jets regardless of how many passing yards they normally rack up.
The weakness of this secondary is the safeties, but they played exceptionally well yesterday and Brodney Pool got himself a lot of playing time in passing situations, which bodes well for this defense. When Ryan talked about the self-scouting they did during the bye week I wondered if that meant we would see more of Pool, especially in passing situations and that’s exactly what we saw.
Secondary Standout: Donald Strickland
It’s not that Strickland had the best game out of anyone in the Jets secondary, you could pick any member of the secondary for this award this week, but Strickland jumped out at me the most. There was a long stretch of plays where it seemed like Strickland was everywhere the ball was. With the other three corners playing at such a high level I felt it only right to point out Strickland upped his play significantly yesterday.
Offensive Line: Wayne Hunter struggled a bit early, but was able to rebound nicely and the Jets offensive line did their job protecting Sanchez and opening holes for the running backs. During the three game losing streak this unit was a mess, these past three game they have returned to their elite level of play and you can immediately see the difference in this team with a healthy Nick Mangold in a tangible stat, the win column.
O-Line Standout: Nick Mangold
A healthy Nick Mangold equals the best center in the league and it’s not even close.
Quarterback: Sanchez had himself a very efficient day yesterday (20-28 230 yards one TD and one pick and a QB rating of 92.9) and seemed to move the ball with ease up and down the field on the Bills. If not for his two turnovers in the first half the game would have been just about over by halftime, but that’s the frustrating thing about Sanchez. Still he did what he does best and came out and shook those turnovers off and found a way to lead the Jets to victory. Throughout his career Sanchez has struggled with consistency issues, but would also show flashes of potential greatness. He’s still a far way away from being a complete quarterback, but these past few weeks we’ve seen much more of the good Sanchez than the bad.
Running Backs: With the offensive line playing so well again, so has the running game, specifically Shonn Greene who rushed for 76 yards on 19 carries (4.0 yards per carry) before leaving the game with a head injury (he passed the concussion test yesterday and said he is fine). LT came through with some plays when needed and Joe McKnight earned himself nine carries for 27 yards to go along with his usual kickoff return yards, including a 59 yard return. All in all the running backs didn’t have that great of a day, but they were able to run successfully when they needed/wanted to and combine that with these past few weeks and it appears the running game is finding it’s way back on track which is great news for Jets fans and here’s one reason why, Sanchez was 11 for 12 yesterday on play-action passes. Proving that this Jets offense is at it’s best when everything works off of the run.
RB Standout: Shonn Greene
WR/TE: Very much like the running backs, not an overly impressive day statistically speaking, but extremely efficient and productive. Possibly the best news out of this group was that Sanchez was able to spread the ball around and get Burress, Holmes and Keller all some touches. Keller was targeted seven times for four catches and 76 yards, Holmes targeted six times for three catches for 29 yards and a touchdown and Burress caught all five of the balls throw his way for 79 yards.
Standout: Plaxico Burress
The biggest catch of the day goes to Holmes, but the fact that Burress and Sanchez connected on all five of the passes thrown his way shows you that these two have found a rhythm and when Sanchez is able to hit Burress regularly it will naturally open up the rest of the field and I expect to see ‘Tone Time’ become more of a regular occurrence in these next few weeks.
Coaches, Rex Ryan and Schottenheimer:
Ryan and his staff drew up the perfect game plan to stifle the Bills high powered offense and as long as Schottenheimer keeps calling games like he has the past few weeks I can safely say he will escape any criticism from me at least. A perfect blend of run and pass, play-action, bootleg rollouts, just an all around exceptionally well coached game, now they have to repeat this performance next week against Bill Belichick.
The New York Football Giants: And last but not least, how could we not give the Giants a game ball for going into Foxboro and knocking off the Patriots handing them their second straight loss and dropping them into a three way tie atop the division. With the Patriots coming to Met Life Stadium next Sunday night the Jets will look to make it three straight losses for the Pats and take sole possession of the division lead with seven games left.
What a difference four weeks can make huh?
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