Jets still digging for indentity

It started weeks ago once their playoff chances vanished in a long string of dull defeats.

Sportswriters and fans began to look to next season. This season was over already. A crucial off-season, the moribund losing streak made abundantly clear, awaited the Jets. Now that off-season is only a few weeks away and all the talk is about the many holes which need filling on a roster replete with so-so talent.

The Jets may not be able to meet every need. That's a tall order for one off-season. The Jets should and must fill some of the holes.

Eric Mangini's squad doesn't have to be good at everything; it does have to get good at something. Every team in the league has at least minor weaknesses, except New England. Some of them, like the Browns who will invade the Meadowlands Dec. 9, have strengths that compensate.

Cleveland has the lowest ranked defense in the NFL, but its high-powered passing attack has somewhat made up for it. The Browns and their NFL-worst ranked ‘D' are 7-5 and in playoff contention.

What do the Jets do well? What strengths do they bring to the table each Sunday to impose on opponents? Answer: none. (You are not allowed to bring up the Miami game; beating the 0-12 Dolphins doesn't count!) The Jets are good at returning kick-offs.

Arguably the Jets biggest problem this season has been their lack of an obvious strength on offense and defense. They do some things okay and stink at others (see: run defense). The Jets need to figure out who they are or, more precisely, what kind of team they want to be and forge an identity.

Some are calling for the Jets to acquire a game-breaking wide receiver. They certainly could use one. The offense rarely scores quickly. You've seen it with your own eyes. Whether it's been Pennington or Clemens under center, the offense nibbles at the field, usually needing 12 or 13 plays to cover 70 or 80 yards.

The Jets don't need a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens to win, though. My favorite example of a team that won without dynamic outside threats is the 1990 New York Giants. Bill Parcells won his second Super Bowl title with RB Dave Meggett as his leading receiver with 39 catches. Thirty-nine catches! TE Mark Bavaro hauled in 33 balls. WRs Stephen Baker and Mark Ingram, not to be confused with Jerry Rice and John Taylor, each had 26 catches.

The '90 Giants won 13 regular season games on their way to beating Rice's and Taylor's 49ers in the NFC championship game and then Andre Reed's and James Lofton's Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. How did they do that?

What the Giants lacked in game-breaking pass catching talent they made up for in a smash-mouth running game, great defense and special teams. In other words, they were good, really good, at certain things.

The point is whatever course "Tangini" decide to take this off-season they'd better get it right, whether it's bolstering the passing attack around young Kellen Clemens (if he's the starter) or beefing up their Front Seven.

In the NFL today, a team can contend even though it may lack in some areas as long as it's strong in others. No team can consistently win by being consistently mediocre everywhere.

As you watch the Jets play out the string these next four weeks, the conversation inevitably turning to where they need to improve, remember they probably won't be able to do it all. They should, however, be able to bring in enough players to get you excited.

The Jets as currently constituted are, in a word, boring.

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