Merry Christmas… But a not-so-happy New Year

by Eric Mollo
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Ed Yourdon - http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/3890063186/

New York pride is nice, but neither team deserves a postseason bid this January

As a forward to this article, I would like to apologize for all its pessimism. I’m usually an optimistic fan. I don’t mean to sound so negative, but after 16 weeks of New York football, it’s time to sound off.

It doesn’t matter whose stadium it is, who owns New York’s fan base, or frankly, who won Saturday’s game. One thing I took from the 1 o’clock showdown and this entire 2011 season is that neither the Jets nor Giants deserves a playoff spot in January. Yes, the Giants are playing for the division Sunday. And yes, we have seen the Jets back in to the postseason more times than Kim Kardashian has backed out of a relationship. But on Saturday, New York’s rivals demonstrated that they’re not ready to take on the NFL’s elite. Both teams had more than enough opportunities to shut their opponent down. Hit them right in the jugular, giving them no daylight to sneak back into the contest. It looked like two teams that did not want to win the game. With performances marred by turnovers, questionable decision-making, and an overall lack of execution, neither team belongs in the postseason, no matter who owns the Big Apple New York.

Let’ start with Gang Green. Jet fans will offer three reasons for this weekend’s loss and a season detracted by underachievement: Mark Sanchez, Mark Sanchez, and… Mark Sanchez. It has been a struggle for the third year quarterback this season. His yards per attempt are brutal, and the youngster holds one of the league’s lowest completion percentages at a meager 56.2 percent; that’s below quarterbacks Colt McCoy, Kevin Kolb, and even Rex Grossman (ouch). Every person watching this past weekend’s New York battle knew the Jets’ leader seemed lost and unsure of himself. But even with Saturday’s laughable performance, I don’t put all the blame on ‘the Sanchise.’

Before you smash your computer screen, hear me out Jet fans. I know the supposed franchise QB at times makes worse mistakes than a rookie would. However, it hasn’t been a total disaster for the USC alum. Sanchez does have 24 touchdowns to 15 interceptions on the year. Eli Manning has 26 and 16 respectably, and he’s a candidate for player of the year honors. He’s also on pace to set a career high in passing yards. I have other issues with the offense. There are a host of other problems that have contributed to Sanchez’s struggles and put the Jets in the must-win situation they face heading into New Year’s Day.

Exhibit A: offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Schotty has already suffered through his fair share of criticism, but he deserves more. He has earned at least a portion of the blame for his regressing quarterback, and that may be generous. His play-calling is more than suspect; just take a look at Saturday. Sanchez threw a whopping 59 times against a Giants’ secondary which was surprisingly defending the pass. This is in contrast to their 25 rushing attempts against a below average run defense that surrendered 5 yards per carry before Schotty got trigger happy with Sanchez.

It’s a recurring theme for the coordinator who sometimes looks as if he’s drawing plays out of a hat. Running a pass first offense on a team that prides themselves with a ‘ground and pound’ run game, the Jets’ o-coordinator is just as erratic as their 3rd year QB and has limited a potentially dynamic offense.

This point leads into exhibit B, another reason for Sanchez’s and the Jet’s 2011 offensive inconsistencies: poor wide receiver play. I want to credit the Giants defense for sticking to their assignments and playing tight coverage on Gang Green’s receivers this weekend. However, it is fair to wonder how much the G-Men actually did. We are talking about one of football’s poorest secondaries, and this is why I turn my attention to Sanchez’s supporting cast.

I know Santonio is a reliable target and playmaker, but he is susceptible to dropping passes. Plaxico Burress, while he produces in the red zone, is an aging 34-year-old receiver who struggles to create separation. Then there is Sanchez’s third receiver, or lack thereof. The receiver who is supposed to be his security blanket, his go-to-guy when no one is open downfield, is nowhere to be found on the Jets’ roster. Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller are capable of serving these rolls, but Kerley is an inconsistent route runner and Keller dropped 3 passes this weekend, a recurring theme for the underutilized and sometimes disappointing tight end considering his talent.

My point is, everyone will say Sanchez is the reason the Jets are in a must-win position heading into Week 17, in need of losses by Cincinnati, Tennessee, and either Oakland or Denver. We know it starts and ends with the quarterback. I get it. And Jet fans can point the finger any way they want, but there’s a lot more blame to go around for the team’s struggling offense and inconsistent play than their lackluster QB. Needless to say, I don’t see them making it to the postseason, and with these offensive problems and overall inconsistent play, it’s hard for me to say they deserve it.

That was a lot. Let’s take a deep breath and dive into more pessimism as I offer my two cents on New York’s ‘better’ football team. The Giants may came out of Saturday’s matchup victorious, but don’t be fooled by the result. This New York football team doesn’t belong in the postseason either. I realize they control their destiny and are playing for an NFC East title tomorrow. I know Eli Manning has led 6, yes 6 game-winning drives this season. An astronomical number for one season, and it could have been 7 if Victor Cruz did not trip and fall off his route against Seattle. Despite Eli Manning’s All-Pro season, the superstar emergences of Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul, and an exhilarating fourth quarter comebacks, the Giants should be sitting on their couches as well.

There are a few reasons for my despondency, and they focus on both sides of the ball. The offense has produced this season, holding the 8th ranked unit in all of football. They’ve bailed out the defense more times than I can count on my fingers, as I mentioned, leading numerous fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives this season alone. That has the making of a playoff, franchise, and elite quarterback. It also shows that this team is resilient and with fight until the clock strikes 0:00. So why are they not a playoff team?

Eli’s blockers and receivers sporadically botch simple plays at the most inopportune times; their lack of execution is glaring. Despite numerous opportunities to end Saturday’s matchup early in the 2nd half, the Giants kept the Jets in the game, waiting until late in the 4th to finally pull away. The Jets had more than enough opportunities to win the game, but they gift-wrapped and personally handed the game to Big Blue. This has happened throughout 2011 and their missed opportunities have cost them games against Seattle and Washington, games they could have put away early on. The G-Men lack fiery nature of a legitimate contender, the instinct to finish off an opponent when they have their backs against the wall.

Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, while both ranking in the top ten in receiving yards, also hold the dubious honor of being tied for fifth in the NFC with 5 drops. Nicks’ drop on Saturday is a microcosm of the Giants’ lack of offensive execution. Inside their own thirty, Nicks let a ball deflect off his chest into the arms of David Harris for a backbreaking pick. If Nicks catches that ball, the Giants drive continues and they potentially end the game right there. But like the Redskins game a week earlier and throughout their devastating four-game losing streak, the Giants could not execute even the most basic offensive plays.

The defense has been no help either, producing an underperforming secondaries and a run defense that ranks 22nd league-wide. Communication in the secondary has been an issue since ’09. Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins, their ’07 run stuffing defensive tackles, are long gone. Fans want to credit the defense for Saturday’s win, but I have to disagree. I saw Jet mishaps and poor decision-making that led to turnovers for the Giants. The Giants didn’t force Mark Sanchez to fumble at the goal line, nor did their defensive front cause Sanchez to airmail two balls over the middle of the field for easy INT’s. Frankly, it didn’t even look nice. The performance was sloppy in my opinion and I’m not going to pat the defense on the back for the Jets’ lack of execution (there’s a reason why the game took three and a half hours).

The offense, mainly Eli, has had to bail out a pass defense that can’t stop anyone, but most Giants fans, including myself, could have predicted that in September. After being decimated by injuries, secondary struggles were likely. But one of the key reasons why the Giants don’t deserve a post season bid is their overrated defensive line. Yes, the highly touted unit that has been the ‘anchor’ of this team in recent years does not perform to the level of a playoff team, regardless of having the 5th most sacks in the NFL.

Please, read on before you slam your fists harder than you did when I acquitted Sanchez of his charges. Jason Pierre-Paul is not included in this conversation, as he has been an absolute gem and All-Pro caliber stud throughout 2011. Without his 15.5 sacks, the Giants would have 26.5, which would rank 28th in the NFL. The rest of the line has been no more than average. Justin Tuck, who has battled injuries all year, has slowed down noticeably, notching just 4 sacks. The two other linemen earning more than 3 million each this season, Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty, inconsistently get to the passer. Sacks are a nice stat, but the quarterback has to get hit and the pocket needs to collapse. This does not happen as often as it should with their high profile front 4.

While the secondary often lets receivers roam free, it is not all their fault. The Giants allow the quarterback to sit comfortably in the pocket for too long. Forget how Rodgers and Brees burned them. Give any QB time, and they will tear apart even the best secondaries.

On top of this, their defensive ends (again, not Jason Pierre-Paul) do not complete their most important task: containing the tailback. They allow running backs to roam free through their thinning line, and they lack interior pressure when the QB drops back.

A team that lacks consistency and struggles to execute like the Giants can sneak into the playoffs thanks to their star QB and will to fight, but it doesn’t mean they deserve it. Do I think the Giants can beat Dallas this week? I absolutely do. As far as talent goes, they can pretty much compete with anyone. They certainly have some superstars on both sides of the ball. They proved that against Green Bay, football’s best, earlier this month. But I don’t see this team pulling out that magic again, especially with the performance they put on this past Saturday. Eli can only do so much. The same goes for the losers of Saturday’s matchup. The Jets have proved throughout the season they are a team of missed opportunities. They’ll need a lot of help, but it’ll be a battle in itself just to beat a scrappy Miami squad.

When I think of poor coaching decisions, lacking execution, and overall inconsistent play, I don’t think playoff football. It’s what I’ve seen all year from New York’s two teams and it was epitomized on Saturday. They played for city pride. Although one team was victorious, MetLife stadium is home to two teams that don’t deserve a playoff spot and don’t necessarily own the Big Apple. I think Justin Tuck had it right all along anyways: the Yankees run New York.

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