Another week and another slow start for the Jets offense. First quarters have plagued the unit all season, scoring only two offensive touchdowns in the opening 15 minutes. Head coach Rex Ryan has looked everywhere for answers.
"I wish I knew," said Ryan. "We try everything, but it's hard to put your finger on. We're still searching, there's no question."
The Jets overcame the sluggish start on Monday night, moving the ball well for the last 2½ quarters and exiting with a 24-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
"If we start fast, great," said QB Mark Sanchez. "If not, we've got to finish strong."
That was the blueprint for the most recent victory, but relying on a strong finish is no way to go through a season. In a schedule of only 16 games, every quarter matters. Sanchez has an idea on how to fix the early-game issues.
"We've got to convert on some of those third downs early," he said. "We have to hit 40-plus percent on third down, and then you're right there at the top of the league. If we start out 3-for-3, fine. If not, we'd better hit the next couple."
Sanchez is right. NFL teams this season are converting third downs at a 38.8 percent clip. The Jets are at 34.6 percent. Sunday's opponent, the San Diego Chargers, have been successful an NFL-leading 56.5 percent of the time on third downs, helping lead them to a 4-1 record.
"When you don't hit a lot of third downs, you lose a lot of plays," said Sanchez. "You run 60 plays a game, as opposed to 85. If you're only getting 60 plays, you'd better bust some big runs or you're not going to hit your marks."
Again, Sanchez nailed it as the Jets are averaging 59.8 plays per game. All other teams are averaging 63.7 plays per contest. Although the two numbers are not starkly different, over six games the Jets have run almost 23 fewer plays than the average NFL club.
That's a lot of potential yards left on the field, but in spite of the below-average numbers, Sanchez is not worried.
"The one thing I've learned in these games, if you're just taking care of the ball, you can deal with a low third-down percentage," he said. "Look at the games we've played this year. We've been in every game except the Baltimore game because we didn't take care of the football there."
To date, the Jets have three more takeaways than giveaways, a stat that has helped them earn three wins and prevented any more losses. The positive turnover differential plus a better third-down performance should equal more victories, according to Mark's math.
"These are long games. My rookie year, I didn't understand that, and last year I started to get a grasp," he said. "If we take care of the ball, hit a few third downs, we will have a chance. Whether it's the last two minutes of the game, the third quarter or whenever, we've got to be in the game."
No problems with Plax
With only 14 catches this season, WR Plaxico Burress has many asking why he hasn't had more production. The 6'5", 232-pound receiver certainly provides a big target to throw to, but hasn't had many opportunities to make big plays.
"I'm not worried as far as me catching up to anybody," Burress said Wednesday. "I'm working hard at just getting better every day. I don't look at myself and say, 'I want to be where he is.' I know what I can do in this league. I've done it before. There's just some work ahead of me. I go in each week and as the weeks go further and further by, the more comfortable I get, the more comfortable with the offense, and the closer to where I need to be.
"When the season first started, during the games I was coming out of the huddle going the wrong way. Now I have those things settled and it's just as far as us executing the passing game."
"I think he's doing well," said Sanchez. "This kind of stuff doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen in the 40 reps we got in training camp, if that many. It takes hundreds and hundreds of reps to where you can almost throw his routes with your eyes closed."
Sanchez also provided an appropriate metaphor to further explain the quarterback-receiver relationship:
"It's like a different car. It's the same driver, just a different car. They have a different feel, they like certain tracks better, they handle a little differently. It's something we're still working towards."