After winning his second-straight overtime road game, Jets coach Rex Ryan said that all good teams are the luckiest, and he is so right. The Jets are not just lucky, though. They are also well prepared and coached in critical situations. In the past two weeks, the Jets have won because they backed their opponent into a corner, and neither team could come out fighting.
This was accomplished with the "backed-up" game situation -- when an offense has the ball near its own end zone -- and a stop here is one of the best ways a defense can help its offense score. Yet, it is the one that doesn't get much attention. I asked a prominent defensive coach if they practiced this situation each week and he replied simply, "No." But the well-coached and detailed-oriented staffs make sure this gets close attention. The Jets proved it can win games.
No matter how big an offensive coordinator's call sheet might appear, his calls for being inside of his own 5-yard line are few and far between. In fact, everyone in the stands knows the calls. A quick run inside, a pass to the fullback in the flat (a staple) or a deep 9 route. Not much more happens down there. So when teams play the Jets, they are afraid to make a critical mistake, which scales back an already scaled back group of plays.
Against the Browns, as overtime was coming to an end, the Browns intercepted Mark Sanchez at their own 3-yard line with 1:35 to go. The Jets had one of their two overtime timeouts left, which meant they would probably not get the ball back if the Browns used the clock wisely.
Browns coach Eric Mangini, who is doing a much better job just coaching the team this year instead of trying to control every meaningless detail, was faced with the unique dilemma of trying to win or just accepting the tie. We all know you play to win the game -- thanks Herm Edwards for reminding us -- but in that situation could the Browns really win? They needed at least sixty yards to attempt a field goal, but more than the yards, they would need one first down. This is a tough spot for any team against the Jets.
First, Mangini had to prioritize the situation. Top priority, ensure he did not lose the game, thus trying to take the last timeout from the Jets was critical. Then, after getting the Jets to take the timeout, get a first down without stopping the clock. Hard challenge, especially with a rookie quarterback and missing the only big-play receiver, Josh Cribbs, due to injury.
Mangini was also armed with the knowledge gained from watching the Jets the week before when the Lions had the lead trying to run out the clock. Detroit came out in a run formation and gave the ball to Jahvid Best twice, the first carry lost 2 yards and the second gained 6 before the two-minute warning. The Lions then tried a run-pass option that quarterback Drew Stanton failed to execute, which stopped the clock and allowed the Jets the time to kick the tying field goal.
With that background, Mangini wanted to avoid the same fate as the Lions. He opted for an aggressive approach, trying to throw on first down, a huge mistake. I love the aggressive nature, but he did not have his priorities in order. Quarterback Colt McCoy threw incomplete on first down, which alerted the Jets that second down would be ALL run. Had a run been the first-down call, then second down would put the Jets in a guessing game and allow the Browns to be aggressive. Mangini had to think he could not be completely aggressive until he got the first down.
The Browns ran on second down, and then called a timeout with 41 seconds left after letting the play clock run down. The Jets chose to save their last timeout, which was extremely smart. It put the Browns in a spot where they had to run the ball, or at least call a controlled pass on third down. At this point, the Jets knew a stop meant they would get the ball back where just one or two plays could provide enough yards to try a field goal. The Browns chose to stay aggressive, a risky move, and attempted a pass that resulted in a 1-yard sack. The Jets called their second and final timeout with 35 seconds left. For the series, the Browns lost a yard and only used a minute of clock.
Bad backed-up offense, bad punt coverage and really bad tackling on the Santonio Holmes catch and run for a touchdown all resulted in a loss. I'm sure, following the game, Mangini wished he had the chance to do it all over again. He played to win, but he needed to play to win and make sure he did not lose.
NFL's Bonnie and Clyde
I recently read a book about Bonnie and Clyde, the legendary bank robbers from the 1930's. Bonnie and Clyde were tough for the police to apprehend, in part, because they had a more powerful arsenal (Clyde Barrow used a Browning semi-automatic rifle) and drove an eight-cylinder car, which allowed them to outrun the law. This combination gave them a slight advantage and made them a dangerous team.
With Michael Vick's arm and DeSean Jackson's rare second-gear speed, the Eagles' offense is uniquely dangerous. Vick's range and power with his arm combined with Jackson's ability to go and get the ball like a great center fielder allow the Eagles to do things few teams can even attempt. It is not that the Eagles throw the deep ball -- as all teams can throw it deep -- it is more that the defense cannot cover that far down the field and Vick can throw Jackson open. It is these two players' special skills that make Philly dangerous, and like Bonnie and Clyde, hard for defenses to capture.
Vick with Jackson makes the Eagles a legitimate Super Bowl team.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.