Friday, January 14, 2005

Even More on the Jets & Steelers

Here's part two of my Q&A with Brian Bassett of NY Jets Blog (his answers to my questions are in blue). And if you missed it -- or are too lazy to scroll down the page, part one is here:


Good stuff. I mentioned this earlier in the week on my site, but I like the Jets -- as much as that's possible for a Steelers fan going into a playoff game. To be more specific, unlike AFC North rivals Cleveland and Baltimore -- where it's almost impossible not to hate all the trash-talking that goes on before the game, the Jets are different in that they (at least from what I've seen of them) have players who are more interested in taking care of the on-field stuff and leaving all the pregame blathering to guys like Ray Lewis and Gerard Warren (and as Michael Wilbon would say, "and others of their ilk").

Anyway, here are a couple of thoughts I have about the Jets going into Saturday's game.

1) First, I'd be really interested to hear what New York fans think of Pennington reading the media the riot act a few weeks ago. In a town like Pittsburgh you can get away with that because it's a really small market and fans are more than willing to give players the benefit of the doubt -- numerous times (see Kordell Stewart). More specifically, how do people feel about Pennington as the Jets QB of the future? Up until this season, there would always be a few sportswriters and a contingent of disgruntled fans who would lament "what could've been" if the Steelers had taken Pennington with the 8th pick instead of wasting in on Plaxico Burress. I've always been a big Burress supporter and this season he's shown exactly how valuable he is to this offense.

In short, most fans were on Pennington's side. Anyone who follows the team, knows his dedication, passion and drive. Although the soundbites might have seemed odd, what they never showed was the 15 minutes he spent with the press after he told them about their privilege. Most New Yorkers realize that the reporters are like sharks... they smell blood and they are all over their prey.

From talking to other fans, the biggest bone of contention for fans with the whole thing was that reading the papers everyday that week, it was apparent that some reporters had an axe to grind. One of the worst papers and writers is Rich Cimini, who submitted this piece (see the middle section) the day after the tirade. I do understand that it is tongue and cheek, but most fans would KILL for his job, and he just writes headlines to grab attention and further alienate him from the team. One of his articles this week was titled "Bonehead Barton... " I mean, everyone knows it, but do you have to just antagonize people?

As far as Pennington and his future, I think this is the first year that people are starting to see that it is obviously hard for Chad to stay healthy, and as much as we love and appreciate his toughness, fans are starting to wonder. The biggest problem is the contract that he was signed to. Whatever we think about him, the truth is that we are going to have him around for a while. Jets fans realize that this is not a premier team, but that they are headed in the right direction. I think there will be patience with Pennington if he can stay healthy and play well when he does. With Donnie Henderson and the new look defense, no one is asking him to throw for 4000 yards, but he needs to manage the game as efficiently as he can.

2) As long as I'm on the Jets Love Train, let me ask you about Herm Edwards. (Apparently back in the day, he and Cowher played together in Philly -- well, to hear Cowher tell it, Edwards played and he was on the team). He seems like a solid guy, but do you think he's a good coach? I wrote the other day that his inability to manage the game clock makes Cowher's clock management skills seem almost Belichickian. As I watched the Ravens-Jets game in horror (remember, anytime the Ravens can lose, I'm all for it), I thought Edwards beared all the responsibility for the loss -- the halfback INT going into the half was bad, but if the last :50 seconds of that game was managed properly, New York would've probably won.

There are things about Edwards that are so endearing and so worthy of respect, and then there was the end of the Ravens game. That was the moment where I realized the Jets were going to be lucky to make it into the playoffs. Clock management is not one of his strong suits, but I do think that he and the staff learned some valuable lessons from the game and how to do it better.

But to answer your question, aside from his chronometrical challenges, yes I do think that Herm is a good coach, and I will give you one example of why. To do that, you can watch this clip (Windows Media, Real Player). To explain, Herman leads from the top down and treats his players with respect and expects them to perform and to be of good character. So when Chad was asked about Eric Barton's play last week, he knew what he said could make a profound impact on how this was spun in the news, and HE PRAISED BARTON for his heart and for playing hard every play. When I saw the press conference, you could almost cut the media's disappointment with a knife, and thus there was no story about this. For all Edwards quirks and crazy soundbites, he is the only guy right now who can handle the Jets, the fans, the media and management. In four years he has gone to the playoffs three times, no one else has done that for the Jets. Can he win the big one? That remains to be seen, but most fans are willing to wait and see.

3) Last week everyone got to see Edwards losing it on running backs coach Bishop Harris. I read that Edwards described Jordan as a game-breaker, but is anyone else (in the organization or fans) high on this guy? Also, does either running back ever voice concern about playing time or is it similar to the relationship that Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis have?

The LaMont Jordan saga has had more bad twists and turns than Ocean's 12 (it's the new piece of crap). Not sure what you mean about the Staley / Bettis thing, but if you mean grooming a replacement, it is uncertain. Next year, Jordan is going to be a free agent, and there is speculation that he, not John Abraham might get the franchise tag to hold onto him for 2006 to become the starter. LaMont Jordan is an immensely talented player who routinely makes plays (screens or wheel outs for the pass, and sweeps and off tackles for runs) of 15+ yards. At this point, Martin is great for getting 4 or 5 yards, but I think that the longest play of the year has been for only 25 yards. LaMont hasn't gotten that many huge plays, but his time has been limited.

Back to what I had said above about character, last year Jordan had a chip on his shoulder for not getting more time than goal line and replacement work, and made a point about it. Herm was not too excited about this and there was some tension with Jordan, even into the first few games of the season. On pure speculation, I think that LaMont has come to terms with his role but feels that he could start elsewhere. As I had mentioned in my email to you, Herm wants to see both in the game at the same time, but Paul Hackett has been averse to double RB sets. Most fans want to see Jordan more, but I think that management has been hesitant to play him more due to Martin's role... maybe the Jets are where the Steelers were with Bettis a few years back, not wanting to force him out, but seeing cliff looming ahead of them.

4) I'm a big Jonathan Vilma guy -- especially after reading a great story on him in last week's Washington Post. In today's Pittsburgh papers, the Steelers offensive line admitted that it took the better part of three quarters to figure out what the Jets' defense was doing (apparently they were in a lot of 3-5-3 sets). Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how well the Jets linebackers perform against the run because I don't think we'll see as much help from the safeties with Burress playing this week. What's also intriguing is that Vilma is giving 20-30lbs. to Jerome Bettis and and 10-15lbs to fullback Dan Kreider; so how he handles shedding blocks should have big impact in determining how well the Steelers can run the ball.

There are so many good things to say about Vilma. Most notably, if you haven't seen him in an interview, he is extremely well spoken. He has had a great year and made an impact from when he first stepped in for Sam Cowart. For a rookie to come in and call the signals has been great. It certainly isn't the same thing as a rookie QB, but for the defense, it is a pretty big thing. In their last meeting against the Steelers, I think he did a fair job. If they play a similar three man front with Abraham out, watch the nose tacke and see how he fares at corralling the run. Is he forcing the back into help, or just getting stood up by the Steelers line?

5) Speaking of the Jets defense, how do fans feel about the fact that Abraham has missed the last six games and doesn't look like he'll be suiting up for this game either. I heard John Madden comment that this is one of the things that stinks about free agency -- players are sometimes forced to be more concerned about their future, at the expense of their current team.

Also, in their first meeting, I was really impressed with what the Jets were able to do defensively. Donnie Henderson seems like a maniac, but one that has a method to his madness. Do you think he's as big a reason as any for the Jets success this season, or is that overstating it a bit?

Jets fans are pretty upset with Abraham, and have no idea who to believe at this point, so are just taking it out on Abraham. When a guy like Abraham states that he wants to protect his next contract, it doesn't go over well with fans when they are actually (it doesn't happen that much) in the playoffs. There have been speculations that the doctor just passed him through to play, and that he is really and truly hurt and just misspoke. It will be interesting to see how the off season goes, and like I had stated, it was pretty much a certainty he was going to be franchised, but now no one can be sure what they will do.

As far as Henderson, he has been great. I think Henderson is about half the change, and the other half is the fact that there were (I think) more than 20 players swapped in the defense. To be sure, he took the personnel and made them play his way, and it has been effective. For a while Henderson sat in the booth, but he felt he could better motivate (read: kick them in the butt) if he was on the field. In the Niners game, he came down and reamed them out, which led to the defense stopping the loss of blood, and the Jets won the game. The Jets players really seem to respond to him, and he has done a great job of getting them to play aggressively. The fear is that Henderson won't be around for a while, Herm has always encouraged his coaches to go get better jobs, and he was already mentioned for collegiate coaching positions like Syracuse this year.

Bassett, this was fun and I'm definitely looking forward to 4:30pm Saturday. Maybe we can have a recap sometime after the game too.

Thanks very much! If I am not jumping off a high bridge, I will be happy to oblige!