Back in January 2005, as the Steelers were preparing to face the Jets in the AFC Divisional game, I got an email from Brian Bassett, the guy behind TheJetsBlog.com (which is now part of the SNY network). He suggested we do a Q and A before and after the game and even though the Jets lost in heart-breaking fashion, he kept his word. (I’ll be honest, I would have not.) You can check out those posts here. (Ah, yes, the early days of blogging. It was a simpler time.)
I also talked to Brian prior to the Steelers getting Mangini’d during the 2007 season, expecting full well that Pittsburgh would throttle a punchless Jets team led by Kellen Clemens. Nope. Just the opposite, in fact (enjoy that game thread). So it was with some hesitation that I emailed Brian earlier this week to see if he’d talk Jets. He eagerly agreed. I’ve broken up our conversation into two posts. Part I is below, obviously, and I’ll run Part II Thursday.
Ryan: There’s a big game this week between the 9-4 Jets and the 10-3 Steelers, two teams that have had their struggles of late on offense and have mostly relied on their defenses, but seem to be going in different directions. After the last two weeks, what’s the feeling in Jets land?
Brian: Total and utter ruin. Disconsolation. This is the point and time, at least this year — it always comes at some point and time — where the phrase “Same old Jets” gets trotted out. And basically what that means is that they bring you in, get you excited, and as soon as you’re like, “Wow, this is a great team,” then they start trashing your heart. Basically making you feel bad for being a Jets fan.
At least for the fans, it’s really tough. Obviously, Rex Ryan and the team are putting on a good face about it, but, you know, I was confident in 2007 that the Steelers would win that game — and I know you were … and you should have been — but I’m going into this Sunday’s game, yeah, they won some games against the likes of the Lions and the Texans, and that’s all well and good. But, right, the Patriots were their first test coming out of the marshmallow schedule and now they get the Steelers who are a much more physical, tough team than even the Patriots.
Ryan: So much has happened in just the last eight or nine days for the Jets. It just seems like a complete 180 for that team. And I’ll be honest, you’re an extremely likable guy, you’ve done a fantastic job with TheJetsBlog.com, and we’ve always had good conversations going back to the 2004 season. That said, the Rex Ryan antics and the Mark Sanchez “He’s got poise!” media hype had me pulling for the Patriots two Monday nights ago. That’s how bad it had gotten for me.
Brian: Wow, wow. For a Steelers fan that’s something.
Ryan: Right, right. What were you thinking when Rex Ryan admitted after the Dolphins game that he thought about benching Sanchez? What does that say about their relationship, how far Sanchez has or hasn’t come, and what it means to you as someone who follows the Jets religiously?
Brian: Maybe thinking about it from Rex’s perspective, if he’s anything — and certainly, he’s blustery and that sort of thing — he’s a coach who speaks his mind, whereas other coaches might not be honest when asked that question — even if they had thought about it during the course of the game.
So he was honest, and sometimes he does that to his detriment. But I think had he pulled Sanchez from the Dolphins game or the Patriots game, it definitely wouldn’t have been a good sign. It’s not where we thought Mark Sanchez would or should be at this point where you’re getting yanked out of a game. This is the guy the team traded up in the draft for, started immediately, and so it is concerning.
Some of the questions that I had at the time that he was drafted was, yeah, he seems like a good kid, he’s saying all the right stuff, he does seem like he’s a leader, he’s kinda got that “it” factor … but what about his ability to throw a pass when he’s pressured up the middle, or what about his ability to throw a long ball in heavy winds or rainy conditions?
And that’s the kind of stuff you just have to start saying to yourself: is this guy legitimately going to be the answer for this team or not? I mean, I sure hope it is because there’s enough invested into it. And for me specifically, I guess when I hear Rex mention the benching, it doesn’t register as a “Well, that’s the end, we can see the divorce between coach and quarterback coming.” I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think Rex was just doing what he always does, which is be honest.
What I would say: one of the things Rex always, always does — and this was sort of a violation of that rule — was that he always defends his players, he always misdirects, he always takes the blame a lot of the time. So for him to say that … it was jarring. But maybe it was a thing where he realizes this guy needs a kick in the pants and saying it behind closed doors or whatever isn’t working. You know, if the carrot isn’t working then it’s time for the stick.
Ryan: To be fair, and Mike Mayock pointed this out on the NFL Network Tuesday, it’s not all on Sanchez. You have guys dropping passes — and as you pointed out on SNY.tv — Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said the way to get Sanchez off his game is to rush him up the middle, which is exactly what happened Sunday. So Jets right tackle Damien Woody is out against the Steelers. What are the issues with the offensive line, as well as the running game, which has hit a rough patch the past few weeks?
Brian: It’s interesting. I remember talking to Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz about offensive line and continuity and how important that is. And one of the things that he likes to preach is that you can replace one guy along the offensive line a year and that’s still okay, but anymore than that and you’re going to start getting into issues, as the Steelers know from experience.
But the Jets did replace Alan Faneca last offseason. He was really degrading as a pass protector. He came on in the playoffs, but during the end of last year he was really bad. And then there was guard Matt Slauson, who was a late-round pick two years ago. And now Damien Woody, who has been a journeyman and played pretty much every position on the line. He was good at right tackle but the one real weakness for him was speed rushers. A guy like Cameron Wake is a perfect example.
Woody will be replaced by Wayne Hunter and while he’s a competent backup, if he’s playing at all, he should be playing an interior line position. Hunter’s fast and strong and big, but I don’t know if it’s footwork or whatever specifically, he’s just not good at taking on an edge rusher. He just can’t do it. So when Woody went down against the Dolphins and Wayne came in, both Cameron Wake and Kendall Langford got to Sanchez more times than necessary.
So that’s a big thing. And I know the Steelers are great at bringing pressure up front, obviously. I know they lost Aaron Smith earlier this season, but they have clearly proven that while he’s a big part of that defense — and no disrespect to him at all — they’re still getting pressure.
So I see this as a mismatch going into this game and unless the Jets really do scheme around that — specifically Wayne Hunter at right tackle — it could be a problem. The Jets should have been doing it to this point, but they just haven’t shown me they can protect on that side.
Ryan: That sorta segues into this. I know this is a point of contention with just about every Jets fan: offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Are there any positives to what Brian Schottenheimer has brought to the Jets offense?
Brian: Yes, I would say certainly there are. I think his offense brings an interesting level of complexity to the game. I’m not saying it’s more complex than anyone else’s, just that it’s a layered offense. If someone was to ask how you would describe it, I would say, think Air Coryell 3.0, sort of the continuation of the Norv Turner and Cam Cameron offense in the modern NFL. So there are elements of the spread and there are elements of the motion offense that gets guys in favorable matchups.
So Schottenheimer’s definitely done some good things, and I think bringing in a player like Dustin Keller — who has gone cold the last month or so — is a player he championed for a lot. Keller’s been a great player for the Jets. I think Santonio Holmes — speaking of Steelers and Jets — I think his arrival after his suspension has really quieted what we’ve seen from Dustin Keller. Dustin Keller has just disappeared since Holmes has been reinserted into the lineup.
So Schottenheimer does some things well, but he also studied under Steve Spurrier and if you know anything about Steve Spurrier you know that he loves to throw the ball. And that has definitely become a major element of this offense, unfortunately to its detriment. When Mark Sanchez is throwing the ball and completing just 38 percent of them, you just can’t keep throwing the ball no matter how much you like to throw it. You have to run it, even if you’re getting 2.8 yards against the Dolphins.
It was just so brutal to watch and they had to do something different (than keep throwing the ball). And for whatever reason, Schottenheimer just refuses to. So that’s the issue with me. Sometimes he outthinks himself. If it’s 3rd and 2 and the other team is expecting him to run the ball, he’ll throw a 15-yard out pattern. And you’re like, come on — just gut up and get in there and get those two yards rather than taking a low-percentage pass. I don’t understand that … but that’s what he does…
Part II of the Q & A will go up Thursday