2006-11-24 / Sports

Jets Need Playoff Answers Down The Stretch

By Elio Velez

Chciago Bears RB Thomas Jones (20) scampers past the diving Jets DT Dewayne Robertston. Photo by Paul Leone. Chciago Bears RB Thomas Jones (20) scampers past the diving Jets DT Dewayne Robertston. Photo by Paul Leone. Not many critics expected the Jets to be very competitive this season. Head coach Eric Mangini, the man the players nicknamed "The Penguin", has led a rag tag squad to playoff contending status. Expectations were that the Jets would go through growing pains before contending for a playoff spot next year. The bar has been raised by their fans even as the Jets lost to the Bears 10-0 last weekend.

But can the Jets, who at 5-5, and play against the next six opponents who each have a less than .500 record, actually make the playoffs? Well for that to occur, a few problems must be fixed and most can be found on the offense.

They blew a lot of golden opportunities to take a win against the Bears last week. QB Chand Pennington threw two interceptions, which was potential scoring drives that must be dashed. There is no doubt that Pennington is one of the contenders for the Most Improved Player of The Year. His stellar play in victories this season has lifted the offense.

A huge difference is found when he doesn't perform, and two interceptions at key junctures in the ballgame were crucial in their loss. For the Jets to win or at least have a fighting chance, it's important that Pennington must be effective and he knows that.

"I think the good thing is it's (the offense) not anything we can't fix, and that's the positive. It's just working through this system and getting back the rhythm and feel we had earlier in the season, getting that chemistry back," Pennington said.

Eric Mangini as he deals with three healthy runningbacks and only one ball to go around. RB Cedric Houston returned to the lineup against the Bears and rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries. He played well in returning from knee injury which knocked him out for five straight games. RB Leon Washington has rushed for 100 yards in two games this season but was ineffective on the ground against Chicago with 22 yards on 13 carries.

So where does that leave Kevan Barlow? Once getting the bulk of the carries after his arrival from San Francisco via trade, he might become the odd man out as Barlow only gained 4 yards on two carries.

Is Barlow worried that he might not see much time off the bench much and will he become the second RB- Derrick Blaylock was the first- to be in street clothes as an inactive player? He has not complained about his lack of touches but it's a situation worth watching in the next few weeks.

The run defense though needs to be strengthened down the stretch as Bears RB Thomas Jones ran for 121 yards and chewed up time of possession. The defensive pass rush has been poor with Kerry Rhodes, a possible allpro second year player, leading the team in sacks with four at safety. Shaun Ellis and Dewayne Robertson, with only three and two sacks respectively, have been missing and their pass rushing skills will be needed.

Kimo Van Oelhoffen, the free agent signing has been a bust with only one sack and losing playing time to Bryan Thomas. The home game against Houston at 1 p.m. this Sunday will start a trend of underachieving teams in Green Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Miami and Oakland Raiders at home on December 31. That New Year's Day Eve game might decide their fate.

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