- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The franchise quarterback was in danger of being benched, the offensive line allowed six sacks Sunday, the underperforming three starting wideouts and tight end are the best combination of weapons the New York Jets have had in at least a decade, and the running back combination of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene should be good enough to get things done, if used as a tag team.
All of which makes you wonder if Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't working to keep his job these last three weeks of the regular season if the team's offense doesn't turn around soon.
The Jets' two-game losing streak -- a 45-3 meltdown against New England, and now the slapstick offense they ran in the rain during their 10-6 loss to division-rival Miami on Sunday -- isn't the only reason that Schottenheimer should be on notice with the Jets staring at a season-closing stretch of games that takes them to Pittsburgh and Chicago the next two weeks to play two of the best, most physically punishing defenses in the league.
What's been more disturbing is the way the overall season has taken shape.
When Rex Ryan ticked off all that's wrong with the Jets' offense right now, he mentioned quarterback Mark Sanchez, the offensive line, the wideouts, the running game and the overall execution of plays.
"Other than that, we're fine," Ryan said. And for once, he wasn't joking.
The mood at the Jets' complex was funereal on Monday. Not defiant, not indomitable.
"I think we're confident, but you know, we're not blind either," Ryan said. "We see the tape, and we can't beat a good football team if we play like that. The defense had a terrific game [Sunday], but offensively, you're not going to beat anybody if you make the kind of mistakes we made.
"I look at it and, I mean, we have the talent to play better. I know we do. We have the talent on our coaching staff to get this thing taught better."
Ryan eventually said Schottenheimer "does a heckuva job" when asked directly about his offensive coordinator's job performance. But it felt like lip service.
Ryan was concerned enough about the offense to sit down Monday and look at tape of the running game. He had to see for himself why Miami's tacklers were "running free" to tackle the Jets' running backs, who averaged only 2.8 yards a try. For weeks now, he's held Friday meetings with Sanchez and Schottenheimer, chiming in on what he sees.
The hard truth lately isn't pretty. The Jets haven't scored a touchdown in any of their four losses this year. Even in some of the games they've won, they haven't moved the ball well. Turnovers have been a problem. They haven't had a touchdown drive in the opening quarter for nine straight games, and they've often relied on last-minute offensive miracles to escape. Still, their pat answer -- even Monday -- is it's all fixable.
A fix any time now would be good.
It's impossible to contend anymore that the New England loss didn't shake this Jets team to its core. They had a chance to make a statement against Miami on Sunday. Instead, Ryan admittedly thought of benching Sanchez during his scatter-shot 17-for-44 performance. And when the Jets' offensive players dragged themselves into the locker room, it was disturbing to hear the words they chose to describe what had happened:
"A huge shock," said veteran guard Brandon Moore.
"Confusing," said Dustin Keller.
"Horrible," said center Nick Mangold.
Sanchez felt things were dire enough to address the offense as a whole Monday, and urge everyone to "lean on each other."
Even 13 games into this season, it's still hard to say what the Jets' offense is -- beyond simply talented. They say they want to be an all-weather, ground-and-pound team. But they're not. On Sunday, they ran a doomed Wildcat option play instead on fourth-and-2 and threw the ball nearly 50 times in a rain-slicked game in which they needed only a touchdown to tie or win right down to their last play. They say they have weapons at every skill position, but they haven't been able to integrate or exploit them all in any consistently effective way.
A lot of that has to fall on Schottenheimer, not just his second-year quarterback.
Ryan would never admit Schottenheimer -- a holdover from the Eric Mangini regime, remember -- is in jeopardy. Not with so much left to play for this season. But the cries that Schottenheimer's play-calling is too predictable won't go away when the Jets go out and run the ball on 19 of their 26 first-down plays Sunday. And Ryan admitted Monday that telling Sanchez to spike the ball and waste a down with more than a minute still left against Miami was bad time management.
Schottenheimer's close relationship with Sanchez will certainly help him in any eventual deliberations about whether he stays or goes.
But this is the hard truth too: The Jets' franchise has hitched itself to Sanchez. This team goes as Sanchez goes. His development is the most important on-field issue the team has.
If Sanchez keeps regressing like he has the past few weeks -- earning what Ryan called "a blunt force trauma" evaluation from him Monday -- even the perception that Sanchez's development has stalled could get Schottenheimer fired.
"Could get fired" hasn't turned to "should get fired." Yet.
But it's fair to start wondering.
The Steelers aren't the sort of team you expect any offense to get fat and happy against. Especially in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' blitzes are relentless. Their defenders hit like they want to see opponents' molars skittering across the turf.
Considering the Dolphins left town with three or four players openly mocking the Jets' toughness -- "We're not going to call them front-runners," Miami wideout Brandon Marshall said, "but we noticed that when you get out and score fast, hit them in the mouth fast, they tend to be the ones getting off the ground second" -- how might the Steelers try to beat up the Jets? And then the Bears in Chicago after that?
It could get ugly for Sanchez and the Jets' offense before it gets better.
Schottenheimer better hope not.
For his own sake.
5hEric D. Williams