By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Jets: The Gloom Lifts
After a particularly difficult start to the season, during which Coach Herman Edwards's charges failed to grasp basic lessons in tackling and throwing, the Jets have made significant improvement, recovering from a 1-4 start by going 4-1 since.
OFFENSE: B-. Scoring a total of only one touchdown in 12 straight quarters at one point, the unit has rebounded nicely and appears, finally, to be grasping the West Coast offense, punctuated by an ability to perform well late in games.
DEFENSE: C. Early discipline problems (i.e., not remaining in assigned routes of attack) led to an abysmal average of 420 yards allowed over the first five games. The Jets also suffered from acute run paranoia, and opposing running backs averaged 191 yards over the same period. But the unit's five most recent assignments have produced marked improvement, especially in overcoming runners, allowing only 78.6 yards per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Santana Moss, Chad Morton, and their playmates have been a joy to watch develop. The total of four touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns leads the NFL and leaves us grateful that Coach Mike Westhoff transferred from Miami. Despite a few problems with misdirecting field-goal attempts into the hands of opponents, the kicking performance has been better than average.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Chad Pennington. Although we have long considered Chad a future honors candidate, even we have been surprised at how well the young QB has absorbed the study material. His 99.8 passer rating tops the entire league. Chad has also displayed a unique ability to share, connecting with an average of seven different receivers in each game he has played.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER(S): Defensive line. The unit has taken a step backward from last year, which wasn't a good one to begin with. The players show an inability not only to sack (the line's total of 15 ranks 30th in the NFL) but also to even put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That's affected the rest of the defensive unit, whose backs aren't fast enough to cover receivers for extended periods of time. Paul Forrester
Giants: Still Learning
That Coach Jim Fassel went out of his way to commend QB Kerry Collins after the team's 19-17 win last Sunday against Washington is testament to Fassel's self-proclaimed position as teacher to this young and fragile team. Calling his players "students" may be a stretchespecially if you've been in the locker room. But, after failing their first few tests, Fassel's class has won three in a row to improve to 6-4.
OFFENSE: C. With eight interceptions in the first seven games, Collins brought down the curve. Now, with Fassel calling the plays, the unit seems to have better balance, with stars Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey seeing the ball more consistently in recent weeks.
DEFENSE: B-. As in minus run-stopper Keith Hamilton. Without the defensive endout for the year with a torn Achillesthe Giants have been susceptible to the run. But the relatively young unit has been gritty under the leadership of veterans Mike Barrow and Michael Strahan. Coordinator Johnnie Lynn's simplified scheme seems to have made it easier for the players to prepare from week to week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-. Fassel says this unit has improvedsome placekicking yips at Minnesota aside. The coverage teams have benefited from extra work with coach Bruce Read, special-teamers say, and return man Delvin Joyce has earned more than a passing grade.
STAR PUPILS: Will Peterson and Will Allen. That the young cornerbacks have kept poster boy Jason Sehorn on the bench this far into the season has surprised Sehorn. But they've been that good. And Sehorn, however begrudgingly, has found success as a nickel back. Brian P. Dunleavy