The way the Seahawks have been portrayed this week, by head coach Rex Ryan, his players, reporters and fans, it would be no surprise if the Jets' Eastern Standard Time approach falls apart and they went sleepless in Seattle on Saturday night before today's game.
Marshawn Lynch is a great running back. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has the poise and skills of a veteran. Their secondary is huge. Their team is invincible at home.
The Jets have been very mindful of the challenge ahead in only their eighth trip all-time to the upper left-hand corner of the country to play the 'Hawks. However, a competing theme was sounded by Ryan and his staff this week for the Jets to contemplate their own navels as well. The inward thrust was captured in similar-sounding phrases all week long — being "assignment-conscious," avoiding "self-inflicted wounds," heeding the mantra "Know Your Job ... Do Your Job."
"That's kind of been the tale of our season," said TE Konrad Reuland. "We'd just been kind of focusing on the big things, and now we're getting back to alignment-assignment-communication-technique, all that kind of stuff. We're focused on the other team, but at the same time we're coming together, focusing more on what we're doing and not as much on what the other team is doing."
"That's pretty much what it is," said LB Bryan Thomas. "You've got to eliminate what's inside first. That's what the bye week and the extra day Monday were for, attacking that. It allowed us to eliminate what's inside."
That meditative message in its various forms seemed to spread around to every position group a few days after the Jets coaches spent the bye doing all the things that developed that message: self-scouting, kicking around suggestions from every coach's office, reviewing video from Game 1 — the very encouraging home-opening rout of Buffalo — through Game 8 — the very discouraging home loss to Miami.
What Bye Weeks Are For
"I think it's just small things," TE Dustin Keller said. "Things you know but you forgot about, small details. It's on us to figure out what our weaknesses are and improve on them. I know I'm trying to fix those things in my game."
This led DT Mike DeVito and others to note that the Jets came back to work with a great mindset and had "great practices this week."
Many fans no doubt will say this sounds like new-age jive talk. Didn't Ryan and his staff have a mini-back-to-fundamentals movement in the long week between the San Francisco wipeout and the Houston Monday night near-miss? Haven't the Jets had great practice weeks and lost on Sunday? Didn't Rex already say we would see the Jets bust out against the Dolphins, only to instead get a first half filled with special-teams errors — "Mike's never had a game like that in his life," Rex said of ST coordinator Mike Westhoff — in the 30-9 loss that dropped the Jets to 3-5?
True, and yet ...
For one thing, this is what bye weeks are for, to go back to basics, to appeal to the right stuff inside, and every Jet questioned about it said they still have that right stuff and that it's ready to come out. And since 2002 NFL teams coming off their byes have posted a .560 winning percentage, enough, in theory, to negate some of an opponent's homefield advantage.
So Westhoff, who is prepared to get Eric Smith (knee) back at full-speed to steady up the special units, hammered into his group the error, for example, of one kick-cover man jumping his lane, hoping to make a play and instead enabling the Patriots' Devin McCourty to take his kickoff return to the Gillette house.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine grinds away at his front seven for the urgent need for all his players to "know their jobs, do their jobs" to prevent Lynch from finding gaps, shedding arm tackles, and getting up a head of steam to set up Wilson's downfield passes.
Greaseboards and Brooms
Then on offense, Tony Sparano is implementing Ryan's suggestions, such as the two offensive plays the head coach contributed. He even drew them up on the offensive meeting room's greaseboard "upside-down" (defense, not offense, diagrammed on the bottom).
And Rex continued his "Bristle Friday" post-practice drills where four pass rushers come at Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy with brooms, yes, brooms, held high so as to get the QBs and receivers hooking up on checkdowns, tank routes and the like and cut down on the recent number of passes rejected behind the line of scrimmage.
"Basically it's just a drill to find throwing angles, especially on the underneath routes," McElroy said. "It exaggerates some of the defensive linemen's wingspans and it helps Mark to move in the pocket, see the guys underneath, and adjust his arm accordingly. It's helped a lot."
Again, we need to see the fruits of all this labor — nine Sanchez passes have been batted down behind the line in the last five games. And to see it executed under the oppressive conditions of the deafening CenturyLink Field "12th Man" laboratory. The Jets didn't handle their only other visit to the city stadium well in '08, that 13-3 Game 15 loss which ended in a hail of snowballs from the Seahawks' rowdier fans, giddy from the rare storm that visited their city that weekend.
No snow is forecast this time, just rain and temps in the 40s for the outdoor stadium that sounds like a dome. But the Jets did their due diligence in this regard as well, cranking up the music and simulated crowd noise for two practices in their fieldhouse and Friday's workout on the outside turf field.
And perhaps Tebow — who may or may not have a larger role in the offense today ("You ask the same question every week," Sparano said with a laugh. "I knew that was coming") — just might have helped out the Jets inner game with his observations about the places he's played in over the years, in college at Florida and with the Broncos the previous two seasons.
"Maybe That's What We Need"
"I honestly don't think it's going to be too big of a deal. I think you just have to learn how to manage it," Tebow said. "Me personally, I love it. I always love playing at home, but playing on the road, especially in awesome, exciting stadiums like that, it kind of gets you fired up. It's kind of that backs-against-the-wall mentality. I've always loved it."
Ryan appreciates that point of view. He has stressed this week for the Jets to embrace their adversity and thrive on it. He's been the Zen master this week in trying to get his players to examine their inner games. He's been the motivational speaker trying to will the Jets to prevail not just in Seattle but in the second half.
"My confidence will never waver, ever," the coach said. "I know we can do it. I know we can get it fixed. I have the coaching staff with me, I have the players, I have that kind of group of men. That's what I'm so encouraged about and that's why I'm so excited about this.
"I mean, this is about as tough a thing that we're facing, right in front of us. Well, here we go. It's a crazy thing, but the fact that it's there, the situation can't get much tougher than it is. Maybe that's what we need. Maybe that will pull this group together. and I don't think we need that, we're there anyway, but here we come."
It's great to have a coach who believes in his team, come hell or high water. It's great to have players sure in their introspective approach to success. But the facts are these: Since 2002, by one measure, the Seahawks have the second-best homefield advantage in the NFL. Also since '02, only three NFL teams that started 3-5 have made the playoffs. And no team started 3-6 and reached the postseason.
If the Jets have a great game, a great November and December inside them, they need to show it this afternoon.