The Final 8 Games: Preview

Eight games down, eight to go. As Bill Parcells once said around here, you are what your record says you are.

The up-and-down Jets' 4-4 record includes a couple exhilarating wins and some very painful losses. That's not bad considering QB Mark Sanchez should be a senior in college and Rex Ryan is a rookie head coach.

Resist the temptation to play coulda-shoulda-woulda when reflecting on the first 8 games. Almost ever team in the league, with the exception of the very worst, can go back and find a few plays here and there that might have gone their way. Both Jets' losses to the Dolphins fall into that category. Should the Jets be 6-2? No. The good teams make those plays and win the games. The Jets are 4-4. Had the Titans' Ryan Mouton not botched two kicks, maybe the Jets would have lost to Tennessee. Should the Jets be 3-5? No. They are 4-4.

Let's look ahead at the final eight, starting with the Jaguars this Sunday. Of the Jets' final eight opponents, four have winning records (Pats, Colts, Falcons and Bengals), three have losing marks (Panthers, Bucs, and Bills) and the Jags are 4-4. Is 5-3 reachable? Would 9-7 get the Jets to the playoffs? Probably not. Ryan's team may have to go 6-2, but that may be asking a lot from a club that has yet to play consistently complete football.

1) Mark Sanchez. He heads the list not because the entire season rests upon him, but because he is the quarterback, the $50 million rookie quarterback whom the Jets said could lead them to the playoffs despite his inexperience.

First on the list is ball security. Sanchez has fumbled too often. He's been okay in the interception department, barring the miserable performance against the Bills. The fumbles are a source of concern. Sanchez seems to have a good feel for the rush, but he holds the ball too low in the pocket.

Secondly, he needs to read the field better. Like many rookie quarterbacks, Sanchez locks on his primary receiver, failing to swivel his head. He must improve in this area or the Jets passing game will continue to be inconsistent.

All things considered, I gave Sanchez a passing grade for his up and down first half. But ball security and reading defenses are two key areas where he has to improve.

2) The running game. As I mentioned in last week's column, RB Thomas Jones and the offensive line are establishing an identity on offense that will provide a great foundation upon which to build. Despite their ranking, I'm not convinced the Jets are an elite rushing team yet. They are close. When their schedule toughens in December, when the winds are howling at Giants Stadium, they will be tested. Can they run when the opponent knows it's coming?

3) DE-FENSE! So far the Jets have a very good defense, giving up 9 touchdowns in 8 games, an excellent ratio. To become a menacing defense, the unit has to force more turnovers. Forced fumbles and interceptions are generated by pass rush.

Rex Ryan schemes his way to the quarterback. Can they keep getting pressure this way? We'll know in two weeks when they play a big rematch game in Foxboro. You can bet the Patriots' head coach has some adjustments ready after watching Tom Brady get chased all over the field in the Week 2 Jets' win.

4) Injuries. Over the course of a season, losing players like NT Kris Jenkins and RB Leon Washington takes it toll. The toll is hard to measure, because you can't take into account plays that aren't made. The sturdy WR Jerricho Cotchery is back—and that should help Mark Sanchez. We haven't seen yet what J-Co and WR Braylon Edwards are capable of doing together. CB Lito Sheppard? Can he stay healthy? The Jets defense has demonstrated it doesn't need him as badly as we once anticipated.

5) Overall, the Jets are about where they should be considering QB and coach are learning on the job. Sanchez has hit a few big bumps, and Ryan remains unproven as a game manager. His performances against the Dolphins were very questionable.

A 5-3 record in the second half should be attainable for the Jets. But it may not be good enough for the post-season. I will stick to my preseason prediction of 9-7. Even though the Jets are mostly a win now team, they have enough inexperience at key positions and injuries to key players to temper big expectations.


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