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Running The Gauntlet

The goal: survival.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Running the gauntlet was historically a military form of physical punishment where a captive was forced to run between two rows - a gauntlet - of soldiers who repeatedly strike him.  The condemned man was stripped to the waist and had to pass between a double row of assailants bearing cudgels or switches, who would take their swings at the man as he passed.

My friends, the Jets are about to run the gauntlet.  On one side, the seems-like-forever AFC East champion Patriots cudgeling the Jets with future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady and comrades.  On the other side, last year's scoring leader and Super Bowl runner up Denver Broncos battering the Jets with future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning and his seemingly endless supply of weapons.  Smash!  Matthew Stafford and the Lions.  Whack!  Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.  Bonk!  Jay Cutler and the Bears.  Crash!  Phillip Rivers and the Chargers.  This could get ugly.

The goal of the condemned in running the gauntlet was simply survival.  He knew he was at some point going to take a painful beating.  He knew it was going to hurt ... a lot.  He just wanted to get through it without being crippled or killed.   The Jets goal may be something similar.  This team will not get through this stretch without taking a few beatings.  The Jets will not sail through untouched and unbeaten.  What they need to accomplish is to somehow get through without having their playoff chances crippled or terminated.

If there was ever a time for Geno Smith to grow up fast and take a big leap forward, now would be a particularly opportune moment.   These opponents score, a lot.  There won't be many 13-10 games in this stretch.  In 2013 the next six opponents were ranked 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in total offense.  Only two of these teams, the Lions and the Packers, were held below 20 points more than 3 games all of last year, and the Packers were only held below 20 once in the 10 games Aaron Rodgers started.  The Broncos were never held below 24 points until the Super Bowl.

Bottom line:  at some point, no matter how well the Jets defense is playing, these teams are going to put up points.  It's likely that in at least four or five of these games the Jets will need a minimum of three touchdowns to have any chance of winning.  It's also likely that the Jets will on more than one occasion be staring at double digit deficits.  If things play out that way then, while the Jets will as always be going into these games with the intention of running, running and running some more, in multiple games that plan will have to be modified and Geno Smith will have to air it out more than the Jets are comfortable with.

Now the good news.  These teams, for all their offensive prowess, were not exactly defensive juggernauts against the pass in 2013.  They rated 29, 27, 24, 23, 18 and 15 in passing yards allowed in 2013.  Of course things change over the off season.  Guys come back from injuries, players are acquired through free agency and the draft.  In particular the Patriots went out and bought themselves a shiny new more than competent pair of CBs for the first time in a long time.  Nonetheless, it seems likely that most of these opponents will not exactly be presenting the Jets with impregnable air defenses.

This is where Geno Smith comes in.  He will be faced with having to match a succession of high scoring teams score for score.  Sure, at times the defense will succeed in severely limiting some of these opponents.  But it is pretty unlikely the defense will be able to shut them all down, one after another.  Geno will be facing substantial deficits, likely in multiple games.  The Jets will have no choice but to turn him loose and let it fly.  Fortunately the defenses he faces may be more than a little accommodating.

So Geno and the Jets will be running the gauntlet, but not without weapons of their own.  The Jets have an Ivory Dagger and a bolt of CJ Lightning to launch counterattacks on the run.   They hope these will be enough to ward off the blows being readied by their rather fearsome foes.  They also have some favorite Sons to help ward off damage along the way.  But if at times these are not enough, there may be another way.  Perhaps the best way to survive the gauntlet? Take to the air and soar over it, like a Jet.  Time to spread those wings Geno.  Time to soar.