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Getting to Know the Enemy: Gang Green Nation Talks Sanchez' Struggles and Defending Hillis

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I was pleased to be joined by John Butchko from Gang Green Nation, our New York Jets affiliate, to preview Sunday's game. John talks about the low completion percentage of Mark Sanchez, how the Jets will try to stop Peyton Hillis, how the Jets' defense has handled being without Kris Jenkins, and more.

Chris: "Braylon Edwards has isn't too well-liked in Cleveland, as I'm sure you have heard. Are Jets fans at all irritated with Edwards' attitude or game-play?"

John: "I feel like Braylon in some ways was just a man ahead of his time in Cleveland. Had he fought LeBron James' friend just a year later, people might like him more.
Edwards hasn't given Jets fans any reason to complain about his play on the field. He's been fantastic this year. Even though the Jets can spread it to many weapons, he's on pace for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has an average of over 18 yards per reception. He always plays hard. He gives more effort as a run blocker than any Jets receiver I can remember since Keyshawn Johnson. He's also earned Mark Sanchez's trust. Sanchez often throws it up to him even when he's not opened because he trusts Braylon to make a play.
His attitude hasn't been a big issue for fans either. I know he was seeking a big contract when he was in Cleveland, but he signed a one year tender without a fuss and hasn't said a peep about demanding a long term deal from the Jets. He had a comment about the play calling after the AFC Championship Game and one about Sanchez last week that the press made a big deal about, but I thought they were overblown. The only time I've ever heard him really be negative is when he talks about the Browns.
The big issue was obviously the DUI the week of the big game against Miami. It  solidified my view that the Jets might want to think twice before giving him big bucks. I'm not sure my view is representative of the fan base. Most of the people on GGN didn't seem to care and said he deserved a second chance. I would argue he was already on his second chance and should have already been on his best behavior, but I seem to be alone in seeing that as a red flag.
Anectdotally some beat writers mentioned players in the locker room said they weren't surprised he would do something so selfish. They also say the team is unlikely to pay him once he hits free agency. Santonio Holmes is also a free agent after the year, and the team might have to choose one or the other. The beat guys say Holmes is the likely choice. Braylon's still popular among the fans."

Chris: "How has the Jets' defensive line been without Kris Jenkins?"

John: "The defensive line has been excellent. The Jets are fourth in the league against the run. Rex Ryan said before the start of the season that he felt like he had four starting caliber linemen for his 3-4 defense. Jenkins tore his ACL less than halfway through 2009. Sione Pouha played so well in his place that Pouha took the starting nose tackle job, and Jenkins was supposed to shift to end. Mike Devito was supposed to be the line's primary sub. When Jenkins went down, Devito became a starter and has consistently won his matchups."

Chris: "Mark Sanchez' completion percentage hasn't been very good this season, and he has seemed to struggle the past couple of weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson isn't getting many yards on the ground either. Are the offensive players just in a funk, or is their a playcalling issue?"

John: "There were warning signs with Sanchez even when he was playing well earlier in the year. His completion percentage was strikingly low, and even a lot of his completions were off target and forced his receivers to adjust. Accuracy has become a major issue, and it's the kind of thing hampering the passing game. Another thing is the play of his receivers. On a lot of the throws that have been on target, his receivers are dropping the ball or not making catches they could make. Believe it or not, Braylon Edwards is not the problem. He has caught just about everything that came his way. Normally sure handed Jerricho Cotchery and Santonio Holmes are dropping too many balls.
Tomlinson hasn't looked the same these past few weeks. Early in the year, he was consistently making guys miss in one on one situations to break huge runs. Since the Denver game, he has looked more like the guy who struggled so much in 2008 and 2009, just not as elusive. He did make some big plays on clutch drives against the Broncos and Lions, though.
I'm not sure it would be fair to say it is only the players, though. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is not doing a good job. He might have the most talented offense in football. Given the weapons he has, his team should have success even if the defense knows exactly what is coming. He doesn't work that way, though. He seems to think execution cannot take place without deception. We see triple tight end sets where he sets five guys out on a passing route. We see an unbalanced formation with extra linemen on the right and then an end around running left to unblocked linemen. We see guys shifting, and the quarterback calling so many audibles that the offense is more confused than the defense.
There also seems to be no rhyme or reason to his play calling. Normally a team goes into a pattern to set up a trick play. For example, a team might run it three times in a row to get the defense to sell out on the run. That would make a flea flicker successful. Schottenheimer just pulls trick plays out of his bag at random times. He scripts plays at the start of the game, which is supposed to provide a taste of everything to see how the defense reacts. He runs remarkably similar plays.
I think the recent struggles are a combination of all of the above."

Chris: "Peyton Hillis has garnered a lot of exposure after his big day against the Patriots, but this is something he has been doing all season. Do you expect the Jets to really load the box against Hillis and trust their corners one-on-one, despite the fact that the Jets' secondary hasn't been as good this year?"

John: "Yes, for a few reasons. First of all, the Jets man up against just about every opponent. Second of all, the biggest reason the secondary hasn't been as good as it was last year was that Darrelle Revis wasn't healthy. He missed a few games with a hamstring injury and then took a few weeks to get back to 100%. After holding Calvin Johnson to one catch last week, he's back in form. Antonio Cromartie's play has also been very good of late. The Jets feel like they can trust the pair to slow any receivers in the league down. I don't think Cleveland has a wide receiver that really strikes fear into the Jets. When another team has an elite receiver, Revis follows that guy around all game long. When the opponent doesn't, Revis moves around. I'd imagine he'll see some time against Benjamin Watson on passing downs if Watson splits wide.
Cleveland's most dangerous weapon is Hillis so I'd imagine the Jets will do whatever they can to take him away and force a rookie quarterback to beat them. Honestly, the thing that scares me most about Cleveland's passing game is the potential for big plays off screens to Hillis since New York loves to blitz."

Chris: "What is your evaluation of former Browns safety Brodney Pool after seeing him in action for half a season?"

John: "He made a pair of game saving plays on the Miami's final drive in Week 3, tackling Brandon Marshall in the open field and breaking up a fourth down pass. Aside from that, he's been pretty quiet. He got beaten a few times before halftime in Buffalo. He's also had a few penalties, but generally he's been consistent playing deep zone. Not much stands out spectacular or terrible."

Once again, I'd like to thank John for taking the time to answer these questions.