Jets can turn season around if they make seven fixes

Mark Sanchez looks back to the bench for

Mark Sanchez looks back to the bench for a call in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins. (Oct. 28, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

The Jets get their day of rest Sunday, and not a moment too soon. At 3-5 and teetering on the brink, they've had plenty of time to digest the myriad shortfalls of the first half of their season. The problems are many, the solutions few, the outlook dimmed by failed expectations.

But as they resume play next week in Seattle, the Jets at least can look with some hope at what lies ahead.

After all, they face only one team -- the Patriots -- that reached the playoffs last year. And New England is the only one of their remaining opponents that currently has a winning record. So two games out of the divisional lead with eight games to play is not so bad.

At least on paper.

If things don't turn around on game day, though, the Jets are doomed for a second straight year of no playoffs and more questions about the future direction of a franchise that had looked so promising in the first two years of the Rex Ryan era.

Can they turn things around? Of course they can; we've seen plenty of examples of teams that struggle in the first half and then rally in the second. But that turnaround doesn't happen with the Jets unless they successfully address their issues.

Here's what has to happen:

Mark Sanchez has to show marked improvement. As most Jets fans will say after reading that sentence . . . duh.

Sanchez clearly is the most important part of the equation here, and he needs to elevate his play in a meaningful way. The question is: Will he?

Ryan is sticking by Sanchez despite increasingly frequent calls for Tim Tebow to replace him, but the numbers remain decidedly mediocre for the Jets' fourth-year quarterback. He's completing only 52.9 percent of his passes -- a dreadfully low number in a league in which passing has never been easier -- and he's on pace to throw for 3,472 yards, exactly two yards fewer than last year's total.

Sanchez is finding the end zone far less often than 2011, too. He has only 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions; last year, he had 26 TD passes and 18 interceptions.

Sanchez has been without his top receiver, Santonio Holmes, and that's a big loss, but he nevertheless has to elevate his play to make those around him better.

Offensive line play has to get better. Sanchez takes the most criticism when things go wrong, but his offensive line isn't helping. The pass protection has gotten progressively worse, from an exceptional performance in the regular-season opener against the Bills, when Sanchez had his only sack-free game of the season, to the four-sack games in each of his last two. He has been sacked 15 times in his last five games. Not coincidentally, the Jets are 1-4 in those games.

Ground & pound, anyone? Ryan said the team would return to its roots as a run-first offense that sets up the play-action pass for Sanchez. Hasn't happened. The Jets are averaging only 109.8 rushing yards per game, right smack in the middle of the NFL at 16th. Shonn Greene has shown flashes but just isn't the reliable between-the-tackles runner the Jets keep saying he is. Bilal Powell also has shown a burst when healthy. Same with Joe McKnight. Unfortunately for the Jets, both have been ailing in recent weeks, Powell with a shoulder problem and McKnight with a bad ankle.

But don't blame only the running backs. The blocking has been substandard, too, and the line bears plenty of responsibility for the tepid numbers.

Use Tim Tebow more. The Jets are paying Tebow more than $2.5 million in salary and bonus money this year, but he has been little more than a high-priced decoy. The sum total of his production: two completions for 32 yards and 23 rushes for 78 yards. Please. Use him more. In the run game. In the Wildcat. With all the time and money invested in the guy, put the ball in his hands and let him do what he does best: make plays.

Where's the pass rush? Getting to the quarterback continues to be a major problem. The Jets are averaging only 11/2 sacks per game, fewer than all but one team that has played eight games. No one has more than two sacks, and Aaron Maybin, who showed promise last year with six sacks, has none.

There has been only one sack by the secondary, a hugely disappointing stat for Ryan, who loves to blitz his defensive backs. There is no legitimate threat in the pass rush here, and we doubt any will emerge in the second half of the season.

Third-down conversion rate is a major issue. The Jets have allowed opposing teams to convert 50 of 111 third-down attempts, the third worst in the NFL. Only the Bills and Titans are less effective in this critical area. You want to be a good defense, you stop teams on third downs.

Ryan keeps saying his defense will get better, but the numbers don't reflect it. Maybe the decreased quality of competition in the second half of the season will produce an improvement in this area. Or maybe not.

Can't stop the run. This might be the most disturbing number of all for the Jets' underperforming defense: They're allowing an average of 141.4 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL. The Jets allowed only 90.9 rushing yards in 2010, their best year on defense in the Ryan era. But teams now run at will against the Jets, a flaw that simply can't continue if there is to be a turnaround.

And say what you will about the quality of the Jets' opponents in the second half; many of them have capable running backs, including Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks, Chris Johnson of the Titans and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jags.

Yes, there's still time. Eight games in the NFL can be an eternity. But unless the Jets become a better football team on both sides of the ball, their struggles of the first half will continue in the second.

Barring an unexpected turnaround, looks like more doom and gloom ahead.

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