Hackett in firing line if Jets flop
Jets Insider


If Paul Hackett (l.) can't get offense in gear for Herman Edwards, Jets fans may get their wish and be rid of embattled coordinator.

When the Jets' season is over, whether it ends Sunday in St. Louis or somewhere in the playoffs, Herman Edwards will sit down with the brain trust and tackle the one big question that should (and will) occupy their thoughts from January to July:
What can we do to close the gap with the Patriots?

Answer: Improve the offense. Duh.

Their solution: If they don't make the playoffs, hard to fathom for a team that started 5-0, Edwards almost certainly will ask Paul Hackett to hand over his playbook. If the Jets qualify, then lay an egg in the first round, it could be the same outcome.

Put your ear to the walls at Weeb Ewbank Hall, and you can hear the rumblings. The embattled offensive coordinator is starting to look like the fall guy - if, indeed, they need a fall guy. Publicly, Edwards has remained supportive of Hackett, but the Jets' coach is troubled by the lack of point production.

Asked Monday if there's a common denominator in their five losses, Edwards listed their point totals in those games: 7, 17, 17, 6 and 7. He rattled them off as if they're ingrained in his brain. They are. "Obviously, we didn't light up the scoreboard against those teams," said Edwards, who almost fired Hackett a year ago.

Those teams - the Patriots (twice), Ravens, Bills and Steelers - happen to be ranked among the top seven in scoring defense, so it's not like the Jets are failing against a bunch of 98-pound weaklings.

So how do they fix it? Because nine of the starters are locked into long-term, big-money contracts, the Jets won't have much flexibility in terms of improving personnel. If anything, the talent level could slip, with RT Kareem McKenzie and backup RB LaMont Jordan headed toward free agency. So the question becomes, if you can't change the players, how do you get better? Usually, the team changes the coach.

A year ago, Edwards got rid of players and coaches on defense, hiring Donnie Henderson to rebuild the unit. How did it work out? Like they say in the beer commercial, "Brilliant!" Henderson's success, no doubt, will factor into Edwards' decision on Hackett.

Hackett is signed through 2005, meaning his contract will have to be addressed in the offseason. No one wants a lame-duck coordinator. So it will be re-up or cut bait. You could make a decent case in support of Hackett. He has gone the last seven games with Quincy Carter and a banged-up Chad Pennington at quarterback. He doesn't have a threat at tight end. As for those conservative game plans, which seem to emerge every time they play a formidable opponent, there's little doubt that Hackett gets his marching orders from Edwards.

On the flip side, the Jets poured a lot of money into the offense and they believe they should be getting more bang for the buck, especially with a 1,544-yard rusher in Curtis Martin.

Some players feel that way, too, but they're averaging only 20.3 points per game, 18th in the league. From 2001 to 2003, they ranked 17th, 17th and 23rd. A lot of mediocrity.

Bottom line: If the Jets fall short of the postseason for the second straight year, Edwards will be under pressure to make it in 2005. It's a self-preservation business, and he will make the tough decisions. Ask Ted Cottrell.

No Abraham in St. Louis

John Abraham is in one of the most difficult situations an athlete can face: he is hurt and his team needs him, but he also has to look out for No. 1.

The Jets' sack leader (9.5), who has missed three games with a strained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, is on the threshold of a monster pay day. As a free agent-to-be, he will command at least $15 million in guaranteed money on his next contract. But if Abraham returns too soon, and wrecks his knee, he will do serious damage to his value. Tough spot, huh? He probably has a bunch of people whispering opinions into his ear.

The Jets don't expect Abraham to play Sunday, yet it was interesting that Herman Edwards opened the door slightly Monday by saying Abraham is "probably questionable . . . We'll know more later in the week." Sunday is out of the question, according to Abraham.

Called on carpet

The Jets will be talking up the Rams this week, calling them a great offensive team, especially on their fast track at home. That's a myth.

Truth is, the Rams' offense, once known as the "Greatest Show on Turf," is pedestrian in the dome. In seven home games, the Rams have averaged only 22 points, compiling a 5-2 mark.

That said, they still will pose a challenge for the Jets, whose secondary could get exposed without a decent pass rush. It should be a fascinating chess match between Henderson and Rams coach Mike (Mad) Martz. ... If the Jets beat the Rams to secure the No.5 seed, they will travel to San Diego for the wild-card game. Word has it that game would be next Saturday.

The clipboard

Hot Seat: Herman Edwards. He can be the first Jets coach with three playoff appearances. Or the first to blow it after starting 5-0.

Xs and Os: Hey, look, a positive Chad Pennington stat: He's 2-0 in domes, with 7 TDs and 1 INT.

Whispers: The Jets seemed like such a playoff lock that, only a week ago, some players were talking about collecting their playoff bonus.

Originally published on December 29, 2004