Ask anyone who really understands football, and they will tell you the game is won and lost in the trenches. If you control the line of scrimmage, you always have a better than average chance of winning the game, no matter what else is going on or going wrong. This is true in PeeWee football all the way up to the pros. Just ask the New York Jets.
The Big Apple’s AFC franchise has turned in a terrible season, even in the relatively weak AFC East. Sure, that division has the Patriots, but the only other team within reach of the playoffs is the Dolphins. Meanwhile, the J-E-T-S are in the cellar, even in the American Football Conference’s middling division. They just can’t seem to keep it going, and one of the main reasons for that is right up front.
It’s not really the team’s fault or the coach’s fault. Only one of the five original starters is still well enough to suit up for the game. Both tackles, the center, and the right guard have all gone down with season-ending injuries. Just one such problem up front can damage a season, but four? Sure, most NFL teams keep several strong backup linemen, but they’re backups for a reason, and when you fill a line with four of them, your quality can’t help but decrease.
Worse, these players are not accustomed to playing with each other or with the first team. Timing is off, rhythm is bad, and offensive execution falters. Blocking breaks down, per run averages go down … and so do quarterbacks.
Ask the players and the starters will tell you they’re trying to make the best of it. The former backups will tell you they’re doing their best to make the most of their opportunity. But, in the NFL, opportunity can be a very unforgiving word. Especially in December and January, when teams are fighting for playoff spots and teams without a shot are standing in their way.
So, the Jets will finish the season with a patchwork line, probably starting rookie Brandon Shell at right tackle, rotating other backups at three of the four other positions. Most don’t expect them to finish very strong, and that won’t sit well with fans, injuries or no. They have high expectations. These guys are pros after all, and they have practiced at various positions since coming into the league.
Fans have a right to expect them to perform at a high level. Will it be enough to give fans something to look forward to next season? There may not be enough games left to find out.