FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have had great moments of teamwork.
Take, for instance, the recruitment of safety LaRon Landry. In March, as Landry was being courted by the Jets, New England Patriots and several other teams, Landry went to dinner at an upscale New Jersey steakhouse with Ryan and the coach's wife, Michelle.
Seated nearby were Tannenbaum and his family, including his two young children. As Ryan worked his gregarious charm, Tannenbaum's kids drew up signs that read, "Please come play with us" and eventually going over to the table for Landry to see. It was the perfect finishing touch to convince Landry that the Jets were the place for him.
Good stuff, which is not something you can really say about the uneasy state of the Jets today as they prepare to open the season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Just this week, owner Woody Johnson had to defend his team against accusations that it has created a circus atmosphere. Of course, this is the same Johnson who used to wear a propeller cap to NFL owner meetings.
For all that the Jets have accomplished since hiring Ryan, including back-to-back AFC championship game appearances in his first two seasons, this is still a team that is often defined by doing odd things to get attention. With that in mind, following an 8-8 2011 campaign in which they missed the playoffs, you have to wonder if the seemingly synergistic relationship between Ryan and Tannenbaum will continue if the Jets' offense becomes the running gag.
Somebody is going to have to take the blame if this act continues to be a tragic comedy.
Whether led by Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow at quarterback during training camp, the offense has been a mess. In fact, as Yahoo! Sports' Eric Adelson pointed out last month, the problems are so myriad that it's hard to determine if Sanchez or Tebow are really the issue. From right tackle to wide receiver, the Jets are in disarray.
Of course, that could all be some clever ruse designed to deke opponents. Teams don't generally show much in the exhibition season.
But if you talk to enough Jets players, the feeling of uneasiness about the offense is there. No, this is not just defensive players exhibiting their hubris by talking about how they dominated practice (although there is some of that).
It comes from the offensive players themselves.
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"I don't know what I really think because I'm not sure what we are," a Jets offensive player said this week. "We talk about the Wildcat with Tebow, we talk about throwing it around with [Sanchez], we talk about ground-and-pound. Like I said, what are we?"
That's a dangerous netherworld in today's NFL because this league, particularly in the regular season, is all about offense. Of the 24 division winners over the past three years, 18 of them were teams that led their division in scoring.
In other words, your offense better be effective.
The fact that the Jets are teetering on offense is a damning indictment of how this team has been built. For all the resources spent on Sanchez (first-round pick), tight end Dustin Keller (first), center Nick Mangold (first), left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson (first), wide receiver Stephen Hill (second), running back Shonn Greene (third) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (five-year, $50 million contract extension), this unit hardly scares anyone.
"You have to be careful with Holmes and you have to be aware of Keller, but that's about it," an NFC defensive coordinator who is familiar with the Jets said. "You don't have to do anything exotic, if that's what you're asking. The things you would draw up for them are just to confuse them a little, not because they're scary.
"And with [Jets offensive coordinator] Tony [Sparano] running the [offense], you know they're going to run it and be conservative at the critical moments."
Of course, all of that comes back to Ryan and Tannenbaum. In particular, Tannenbaum, who is in his 16th season with the team, was the guy behind the trade up for Sanchez, the contract for Holmes and the hiring of Sparano (through their mutual friendship with Bill Parcells). He was also there for the drafting of Keller, Ferguson and Mangold before Ryan got there.
That doesn't completely absolve Ryan. He's the guy who thought it was a good idea to make the mercurial Holmes a team captain last season. Holmes is many things, including very talented. But he is not a leader, particularly when things go wrong.
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Moreover, Ryan's "ground-and-pound" philosophy doesn't fit with the NFL of today. Sure, having a great defense is valuable, particularly in the playoffs. But the regression of the Jets offense last year can also be tied to the overarching beliefs of Ryan.
Thus, if this season unravels, Johnson is going to have to make some critical decisions. Does he keep Tannenbaum, the general manager who has acquired all of this mediocre talent? Does he keep Ryan, the braggart coach whose players love him but who doesn't quite see the big picture?
Or does Johnson jettison them both and start all over?
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