Commentary

Edwards questions Jets' play-calling

Struggling Gang Green offense hasn't scored a first-quarter TD in 13 straight games

Updated: January 16, 2011, 10:11 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The way Braylon Edwards sees it, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to change his approach if the New York Jets want to upset the New England Patriots.

The Jets have gone 13 consecutive games without a first-quarter touchdown by the offense -- almost unfathomable -- and Edwards believes it stems from a passive game plan.

"We take a conservative approach," the veteran wide receiver said. "We try to feel people out and see what defenses are doing as opposed to going at them."

Edwards called it "the Floyd Mayweather strategy -- play with guys for the first two or three rounds and destroy them for the rest." That doesn't sound like a bad thing, but Edwards warned, "If we do that this week, we'll be going home empty-handed."

His comments could be construed as mild criticism of the coaching staff, but he's right. Get off to a bad start against the Patriots, and you might not have a chance to make a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback, as the Jets have done five times this season.

The Patriots are like Usain Bolt off the starting blocks, having outscored opponents in the first quarter 103-39 during the regular season. The Jets have experienced the Brady blitz. In their infamous 45-3 loss in Week 13, the Jets trailed 17-0 after the first 15 minutes. "The perfect storm," quarterback Mark Sanchez called it.

That is the secret to the Patriots' success: Take an early lead and control the tempo of the game. That plays to their defense's strength; once they have a comfortable lead, they can sit back in a Cover-2 zone, waiting for their desperate opponents to make mistakes. Invariably, they do, evidenced by their 38 takeaways.

"When you get down like that, you start forcing balls over the middle, you start throwing interceptions and you just end up buried," said Sanchez, pretty much summarizing his three-interception nightmare in last month's meeting. "That's where their team kind of makes their hay. That's what they do. They capitalize on your mistakes."

[+] EnlargeBraylon Edwards
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireBraylon Edwards says Brian Schottenheimer needs to change his approach for Sunday's AFC divisional playoff.

The Jets can't fall into that trap again in Jets-Patriots III, Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game. If they could somehow emerge from the first quarter with -- dare we say it -- a lead, it would be a huge emotional boost.

And a resounding message to the Patriots.

"For them to have a chance, they have to dictate the terms, offensively," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said Thursday.

The offense hasn't produced a first-quarter touchdown since Oct. 3 in Buffalo. There was a touchdown last month in Pittsburgh, but it was Brad Smith's game-opening kickoff return. Field goals? Not many of them in the first quarter, either -- only four over the past 13 games.

That doesn't reflect well on Schottenheimer's preparation, although it seems like he does all the right things.

As part of his weekly routine, Schottenheimer scripts the first 10 or so plays, as many offensive coordinators do. He presents the script to the players, allowing them to give input. If there's discomfort with a particular play, Schottenheimer will throw it out. By Saturday night, the script is finalized.

But something's not working. Schottenheimer said the struggles are "absolutely frustrating." He doesn't think he's too conservative, although he acknowledged that he uses the first quarter to get players involved and show different formations to see how the defense will react.

"I think we're coming out of it," he said of the slump.

Statistically, the Jets are more conservative than usual in the opening quarter, evidenced by a breakdown of Sanchez's pass attempts by quarter, respectively -- 99, 141, 109 and 143. But in the wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts, Schottenheimer leaned slightly to the air, calling passes on eight of 14 plays in the first quarter.

Result: another zero.

That Sanchez is prone to shaky starts -- his first-quarter passer rating was 66.9 -- also is a factor. But it's not like everyone around him struggles. In fact, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 297 yards in the opening quarter, by far his best, but they still can't score.

Fortunately for the Jets, their defense has kept them in games, except for one -- the one they can avenge.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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