In training camp, when the optimism flowed as freely as the Gatorade, the New York Jets talked about the tantalizing possibilities on offense. Listen closely and you can almost hear the echoes.
LaDainian Tomlinson: "I think we can be the top offense in the league, honestly."
Santonio Holmes: "It's going to be a long season for whatever defense has to play us."
Plaxico Burress: "I'm challenging our offense to score 28, 30 points a game. I believe it's something we can do. We definitely have all the weapons."
So how's it going? Well, let's see. Over the last two games, the offense has produced six touchdowns -- three for the Jets, three for the opposition.
Naturally, Brian Schottenheimer is taking most of the heat because he's the playcaller, but anybody who thinks he's the sole reason for the offensive funk is mistaken. Several factors have contributed to the slow start.
Let's start with the upheaval.
You can't change three-quarters of your receiving corps -- without the benefit of an offseason -- and expect to come out flying from Week 1. It doesn't work that way.
The Jets signed Burress on the eve of training camp, with Derrick Mason arriving a little later. Plus, both players missed time in camp because of injuries. Throw in a rookie, Jeremy Kerley, and you're talking about a lot of new gadgets for Mark Sanchez, who's had no stability at receiver in three years.
Instead of relying on the time-tested ground game to carry the offense until Sanchez & Co. developed some chemistry, the Jets miscalculated by putting the passing game on the front burner. That exacerbated the growing pains.
It was too much for Sanchez, largely because his security blanket -- the offensive line -- has struggled. Finally, after four games, Rex Ryan reverted to Ground & Pound, a tacit admission that he erred by abandoning the formula that worked so well in 2009 and 2010.
The front office was convinced it had upgraded the receiving corps, parting ways with Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith, but that's still up for debate. Burress and Mason no longer have the speed to beat man-to-man coverage on a consistent basis, according to an opposing scout, and Mason appears to be in danger of losing his job as the No. 3 receiver to Kerley.
An opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, assessed the Jets' offensive problems this way: "I don't think the line is as productive [as past years], and the ground game has stalled. With a quarterback that needs the play-action pass, you need the ground game. I don't think Plaxico and Mason were upgrades to Edwards and Cotchery, and they also don't have a perimeter threat in the running game."
Shonn Greene is a punishing north-south runner, making most of his yards between the tackles. That makes the Jets easier to defend, according to the scout, noting that linebackers can play "downhill" -- attack the line of scrimmage -- without having to worry about outside runs.
The Jets' biggest threats in the passing game are Holmes and Dustin Keller, but they struggle when Keller isn't a factor. Knowing Keller's importance to Sanchez, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick doubled the speedy tight end, sometimes jamming him at the line with a linebacker.
Result: One catch for 7 yards. The Jets didn't adjust well, as Sanchez was unable to get the ball to his perimeter players. Holmes and Burress had only three catches between them over the first three quarters.
Look, every team has flaws. The best teams camouflage their weaknesses and play to their strengths. The Patriots did that Sunday; the Jets started to do it, recognizing the need to become more balanced on offense. It wasn't good enough to win, but maybe it will get them pointed in the right direction.
This is going to take some patience. If the players buy into the new/old philosophy, and if Schottenheimer & Co. can create winning game plans, the Jets should be able to get back into the race. If not, all that happy talk from the summer will be nothing but hot air.