The Jets are divorced from reality

Following the Jets loss to the Bengals, we saw a different Eric Mangini, at least publicly. He fumed. He put his entire team on notice that the bench awaits underachievers.

We also witnessed something else new. The coach was repeatedly challenged by Jets beat reporters on several issues, most notably a report that Chad Pennington was told prior to the game he'd be on a "short leash." More importantly, Jets Confidential's Dan Leberfeld queried Mangini about the pathetic performance by the run defense. Mangini's response was the last piece of evidence I needed to conclude the Jets' management and, to a lesser extent, players entered this season divorced from reality.

The head coach's explanation for the Bengals rushing dominance was astonishing: the Jets entered the game with the plan to stop the Bengals passing attack. That was the game plan (Carson Palmer threw for an efficient 226 yards). Huh?

This leaves three possible scenarios. 1) The Jets were hell-bent on stopping Chad Johnson (3 catches, 102 yards) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (4-43, 1TD), and thus made no changes to their defensive approach as the Bengals pounded them for 177 yards of 41 carries! 2) Mangini and Sutton did not recognize what the Bengals' were doing. From my seat, it was clear Cincinnati decided it would run until the Jets could stop it. 3) The Jets did adjust but still couldn't stop career back-up Kenny Watson from gashing them one hand off after another.

In any case, Mangini's explanation isn't good enough. If he still thinks the Jets run defense is a victim of poor technique, poorly executed schemes, or an ill-timed game plan, he is divorced from reality. The reason the Jets continue to be run all over is they don't have the talent to play the 3-4 defense! It's not working, Coach! Your team is 1-6!!

The Jets offense has also fallen into the divide between fantasy and reality. Picture this. It's halfway through the 1st quarter and the Jets are in the shotgun for the 4th straight play. But that's not Orlando Pace anchoring the left side of the offensive line as five receivers go into the pattern. And that's not Marshall Faulk in the backfield. And those receivers can't stretch the field like Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce once did, to say nothing of the other outside weapons the '99 Rams used to terrorize defenses. And, yes, Chad Pennington can't sling the ball around like Kurt Warner once did.

Yet, the 2007 Jets run so many plays out of the shotgun in three- or four-wide receiver sets you'd think they were the '99 Rams. However, the Jets dink and dunk all game long behind inconsistent pass protection. They abandon the run in close games in favor of more short outs and fades. The reason is simple opposing cornerbacks are jumping the overused short routes. Defensive coordinators spend all week analyzing game film to pick up tendencies. Until the Jets offense attacks the deep middle of the field, there is no reason for opposing defenses to defend it.

Memo to the Jets: get back together with reality!

Onto Chad Pennington. It was wrong to keep him in the starting line-up if you believe at 1-6 the Jets season is over and management should get a nine-game look at Kellen Clemens.

It was the right thing to do if you believe promoting Clemens this early in the season could backfire. What if he flops for two or three weeks? Those last six games could be really ugly.

Moreover, starting Chad is the right thing to do if you believe it would be wrong to punish him when the entire team is struggling. Chad's up-and-down play is not the biggest reason the Jets are losing, or the second biggest reason. Pennington's problems are a product of the lack of support he's getting from the running game and Brian Schottenheimer's predictable game plans.

Pennington is underappreciated. His critics offer him no slack. There are a few starting QBs struggling in the NFL today, leading offenses which have scored even fewer points than the Jets, but those signal callers aren't placed under the same pass-by-pass scrutiny which dogs Chad. He is the only Jets starting quarterback to lead the team to the playoffs in three seasons. He's thrown more career TDs than INTs and has a career winning record. He's not great, but you can do a lot worse.

The impact of Jonathan Vilma's knee injury will reveal how he's become a non-factor on defense. In 2004, when he was a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine in the 4-3, his absence would have caused fans to groan. Now, you may hardly even notice. And it's primarily not his fault. He's a misfit in the 3-4 and his nose tackle doesn't keep guards off him, preventing Vilma, a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, from running to the ball carrier.

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