We are a quarter of the way through the 2011 NFL season, and one of the league's popular postseason picks has come to a crossroads. The New York Jets, as they're wont to do since Rex Ryan has been in town, came into the season with lofty expectations. Two straight AFC Championship game appearances thanks to a great defense and the expected maturation quarterback Mark Sanchez led many to believe the Jets could make the next step. But after four weeks of largely uninspiring and at times downright bad football, questions remain for the 2011 Jets. Did we overrate them heading into the season? Are they simply in a rut? The answers to these questions and others will come as the season wears on, but how did we get here?
The Jets have opened up the season at 2-2, many thanks to the gift that keeps giving throughout the league, Tony Romo. In Week 1 against the Cowboys, Romo's two huge fourth quarter turnovers aided the Jets in a three point home win. The Jets' Week 2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars counts in the standings only, as the Jags looked like a college team with Luke McCown at quarterback. Weeks 3 and 4 saw the Jets' defense and offense take turns in being totally inept. The consecutive losses to the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens exposed the Jets as a flawed team seriously lacking depth in some spots.
There is no time to rest, no period for figuring things out for the Jets. This weekend they travel to Foxboro to take on their hated rivals the New England Patriots. It will be a monster of a test for the Jets' defense, as Tom Brady and the Pats boast the league's most explosive offense. The Patriots' defense has been very suspect, but the Jets' offense offers no guarantees. New York then faces the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers at home before heading into their bye week.
For a team with big expectations, there really isn't a lot the Jets can hang their hat on so far. Rookie defensive lineman Muahammad Wilkerson has been a bright spot, showing the run-stuffing abilities and athleticism the Jets saw when they made him their first round pick in April. Nick Folk - yes, this is where we have to reach - has had a solid season kicking field goals. He remains unable to find the end zone on kickoffs consistently, but already has a long game-winning field goal under his belt. Darrelle Revis is, well, Darrelle Revis. He's the best player in the green and white by far.
Where do we start? The offensive line has been the Jets' biggest disappointment. Center Nick Mangold went down in Week 2 against the Jaguars, and since then the line has been absolutely miserable. Rookie backup Colin Baxter, Mangold's replacement, has shown why he was an undrafted free agent, and quite frankly right tackle Wayne Hunter has put on as bad a four-week performance as you could imagine. He's simply not an NFL-level starting tackle. Mangold can't come back soon enough, but even with the big fella in Week 1 and the beginning of Week 2, the Jets struggled to run the ball and protect Mark Sanchez. That leads us to Shonn Greene.
Greene was anointed the feature running back, and has done absolutely nothing to prove that he should be. The offensive line has been bad, but Greene has possibly been worse. He has shown zero burst when hitting the hole. He has a thin 3.1 yards-per-carry, and has just 157 yards through four games.
Sanchez is on pace for a 4,000 yard season, but it's been a rough season for the third year quarterback. He has yet to find a consistent rapport with any of his wide receivers. Santonio Holmes has 13 catches for 164 yards a touchdown, probably what he should have every two games, not four. Burress has just 10 catches for 160 yards and two scores. The Jets' offense simply has not looked in sync all year, and a lot of that has to fall on the shoulders of the man under center. He's averaging two turnovers a game, which is simply too high for a third-year starter.
So far the 2011 New York Jets are an extreme disappointment. Did the Jets think they were better heading into the seaosn than they really are? The way they dealt with the offseason from a front office standpoint says so. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum did a lazy job of building the team. Without asking tough questions like - Is Wayne Hunter good enough? Is Eric Smith ready to be a full-time starter? Is Antonio Cromartie worth the money? - the Jets seemingly had an attitude of "everything will be fine". Did they put too much faith in Ryan and the coaching staff to coach up a group that, when you look at it, is a lot of also-rans? Look at the Jets' starters and ask yourself who is an elite-level player. I count two - Revis and Holmes - and perhaps another in linebacker David Harris. Outside of that, the Jets are resting their hopes on many of their players playing above their ceilings (Hunter, Smith, Greene, basically the whole defensive line) . That is a recipe for a rough season.
Things can change. A big win on Sunday makes everything seem back to normal. It would give the team its swagger back. But another loss puts the Jets in danger of letting the season get away from them.