Difficult as it may have been for fans of Gang Green to watch, the New York Jets got most of what they needed during Sunday’s 30-10 loss to Oakland. And not just game experience in the playoffs; players such as Kevin Mawae and Curtis Martin have plenty of that. It was the young core of the team that needed to learn how to play under pressure.
No one took more notes than studious young quarterback Chad Pennington, who recovered from a slow start to dominate the second quarter, only to have his teeth handed to him in a horrific second half. Not only did the Raider secondary tightly cover the Jet receivers, but the rest of Oakland’s defense physically beat up Pennington, sacking him four times and forcing him into a 7-of-26 second-half performance. A finesse passer, Pennington hurried his throws, overthrowing several targets or leading them directly into the open pads of Oakland’s hard-hitting defensive backs. Sunday’s four-sack beat-down will not be the norm, but then, Pennington had been leading a charmed life, suffering a sack only once every 18 passing attempts. The West Coast offense requires precision, but the NFL requires the perseverance to gut out ugly wins when a defense is wreaking havoc with your receivers’ routes. Keep studying, Chad.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets’ top officials need to stop the tinkering of the past two years. In each of coach Herman Edwards’s two seasons, the Jet defense has been slow to adapt to the head coach’s Cover-2 base defense. Largely unfamiliar with the scheme’s emphasis on patrolling zones into which fellow defenders funnel ball-carriers, many of the Jets’ holdovers from the Bill Parcells regime, and even the new defenders signed by GM Terry Bradway, played more on a natural instinct to attack the ball carrier. Oakland receiver Jerry Porter illustrated this disconnect between scheme and execution in hauling down a 50-yard strike from Rich Gannon while running through an open seam in Gang Green’s coverage to set up the Raiders’ second touchdown of the second half.
It was a breakdown Jet fans had not seen since the early stages of the season, when a confused, porous defense combined with an ineffective Vinny Testaverde to put the club in a 2-5 hole. The previous year, a similarly confused defense contributed to a 1-2 start. In both seasons, however, the defense eventually clicked. Consequently, the Jets limited opponents to fewer than 16 points a game over this season’s last 11 regular-season games. While more speed in any secondary would be welcome, the Jets may finally realize that the kind of personnel upheaval of the past two years—six new defensive starters were added in the most recent off-season—could result in yet another slow start.
It would help if Edwards kept his staff intact, particularly if he’s able to hang on to offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who’s a perfect fit with Pennington, and special-teams guru Mike Westhoff, whose intricate blocking schemes led to some explosive kick returns. As much credit as Edwards received for using his calm demeanor in helping his team cope with a terrible start, the NFL’s a team game when it comes to a coaching staff.
But he may be unable to avoid upheaval among his aides, especially with a Parcells back in the coaching market.