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Continuity with coordinators will provide Jets major boost: ‘So important’

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Year 2 has to be better than Year 1. 

Never mind the difficult schedule, particularly at the beginning of the season. The 2022 Jets must show progress in head coach Robert Saleh’s second season, and it’ll be a surprise if they don’t, considering the new pieces the team added in the offseason — particularly in what (on paper) looked like a highly productive draft. 

Outside of the key returning players, beginning with second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, performing better, their continuity in coordinators may be the team’s best pathway to more success than the four wins it produced last season. 

That continuity begins with Saleh and extends to his coordinators, Mike LaFleur on offense and Jeff Ulbrich on defense. 

The remaining players from the 2021 team should have a knowledge of the respective systems now and they should know what LaFleur and Ulbrich expect of them, understand the standard. 

This will be a linchpin to the Jets’ success this season. 

“Continuity is always so darn important,’’ Saleh said Monday after the team’s first training camp practice in full pads. “The longest-tenured staffs, usually the deeper you are in your tenure, the better you are as a football coach because you know all the snakes in the grass of what you are trying to coach. 

“Players are familiar with what you are trying to say, so the familiarity is so important because you can coach with so much more precision.’’ 

Robert Saleh
Robert Saleh knows how important “continuity” is between players and a coaching staff.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Saleh pointed to a play in Monday’s practice as a small example of how the coaching continuity has manifested itself in a tangible, positive way. 

“In that first competition period, Mike [LaFleur] being comfortable as a play caller, trying to get the offense going on third down, goes no huddle, and you saw the defense scrambling trying to get back,’’ Saleh said. “It’s really cool to see their personalities take shape on both sides and what they’re trying to get accomplished. Every day that they’re here they are only going to get better.’’ 

LaFleur and Ulbrich were hand-picked by Saleh. They both have a history with him. They’re both expected to be an extension of the head coach. 

Make no mistake: Both men, in NFL coordinator roles for the first time, went through their share of growing pains — just as their young players did — in 2021. 

While it, of course, wasn’t all his fault, Ulbrich’s head was spinning when his defense was allowing 54, 31, 45 and 45 points in four consecutive games early in the season. 

LaFleur surely wasn’t feeling his best when Wilson was throwing four INTs to the Patriots in Week 2 and following that with two more the next week in Denver and looking like he might never lead the offense to a touchdown. 

Mike LaFleur oversees drills at Jets training camp on Monday.
Mike LaFleur oversees drills at Jets training camp on Monday.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Those times, in theory, are behind both LaFleur and Ulbrich. At least for the most part. 

“Anytime you can get into a Year 2 — because nothing’s guaranteed in this league obviously — you have predominately a lot of the same guys,’’ LaFleur said. “You’re not teaching from ground zero. These guys came in OTA’s and had a good idea of what this offense was supposed to be about. I thought we had a great OTA’s, both in the classroom and on the field. And then when they came back, just how comfortable they are with this offense. We have a long way to go from an execution standpoint, but the knowledge of it is huge.’’ 

Ulbrich called having a second year with many of these players in the same system “huge.’’ 

“The more years, consecutive years, you can be in any system, defensively, guys stop thinking about alignment, guys stop thinking about technique,’’ Ulbrich said. “It becomes unconscious competence, and they just play fast. The more years that we can get in a system, the better.’’ 

Jeff Ulbrich
Jeff Ulbrich is confident in a better Year 2 in charge of the Jets defense.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

One of the returning players on the back end of Ulbrich’s defense is cornerback Michael Carter, who plays a lot as a nickelback. He talked Monday about being a year into Ulbrich’s system, “expectations are set, the standard is set, so it’s our job to uphold those standards.’’ 

“He can give us all the plays and all the talk in the meeting rooms, but when we go out on the field it’s just us, 11 of us out there, and we’ve got to be able uphold that. It’s a good feeling when you go out there and know that everybody’s on the same page.’’ 

The players on the Jets’ defense and offense have a much better chance of staying on the same page this season because of their familiarity with Ulbrich and LaFleur. 

Because continuity counts.

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Knicks vs. Bulls prediction: NBA picks, odds

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The NBA’s longest win streak is finally over after the Knicks suffered their first loss in nine games on Wednesday. Expect New York to start a new streak Friday against a team it dominated the last time they faced off.

The Knicks were playing like the best team in basketball during their lengthy win streak, posting the league’s best net rating (+17.3) with six double-digit victories in that eight-game run. That included a 23-point beat-down of the Bulls exactly a week ago, when New York drained 17 3s and saw three players score at least 22 points in an easy win.

Knicks vs. Bulls (7:30 p.m. Eastern) prediction: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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That game marked the worst offensive showing of the season for Chicago (91 points), which has struggled with chemistry and spacing issues all year long. The Bulls rank dead last in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and third-worst in offensive rebounding rate (23.6%), which leaves very few easy scoring chances for one of the NBA’s worst offenses.

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It’s the opposite story for the Knicks, who boast three legitimate shot-creators and also rank among the league leaders in points in the paint. Julius Randle (31 points) relentlessly attacked this Chicago defense in their first meeting before allowing RJ Barrett (27 points) to lead the way in the second affair — his fourth of five straight games with at least 22 points. 

I don’t see this Knicks attack slowing down against one of the league’s most inconsistent defenses. And until Zach LaVine returns to his All-Star form, I’m skeptical of the Bulls’ offense showing up on Friday, too.

Knicks vs. Bulls pick: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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Devils vs. Bruins prediction: Bet on New Jersey to end slide on NHL Friday

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After starting the season 21-4-1, it looked like the New Jersey Devils were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division as one of the very best teams in the NHL.

Not only were the Devils cruising, but their underlying metrics were elite. New Jersey was the best 5-on-5 team through the first quarter of the season.

Three weeks and one six-game losing streak later, and the Devils have fallen back to earth and are now two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Devils were able to get off the schneid with a win over Florida on Wednesday, but the task doesn’t get any easier with the league-leading Boston Bruins in town.

New Jersey is a slight +102 home underdog against Boston starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the NHL Network.  

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Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
NHLI via Getty Images

Bruins vs. Devils prediction

Even though the Devils have struggled to get results over their last 10 contests, their underlying numbers don’t suggest there’s all that much wrong with how they’re playing. New Jersey isn’t posting the pace-setting numbers it did through Thanksgiving, but it’s still skating to the fifth-best expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance rate in the league over its last 10 contests.  

Those numbers should help ease any sense of panic that New Jersey could continue to fall back further into the pack as we head toward the New Year. 

So if New Jersey is still tilting the ice in the right direction, what is the issue for the Devils? 

For one thing, the Devs are struggling to find the back of the net like they did when they were rolling. New Jersey has scored just nine goals in its last five games, and four of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. Over their last 10 games, the Devils rank 25th in the NHL with a 6.56% shooting percentage. 

Additionally, the Devils are not getting the goaltending needed to stabilize them. New Jersey’s netminders were always thought to be the team’s biggest weakness, and that has started to show lately as the Devils rank 23rd in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage over the last 10 games.

Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
NHLI via Getty Images

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The Bruins, meanwhile, continue to roll. Boston is 7-1-2 over its last 10 contests and ranks third in the league over that span in expected goals rate and fourth in high-danger chance percentage. The Bruins pace the NHL with a +54 goal differential, which is 25 goals better than the team in second (Toronto). 

But as impressive as Boston has been over its first 31 games of the season, the Bruins are playing on a back-to-back on Friday, while the Devils were off on Thursday night. 

The Bruins are the better team in a vacuum, but this is a good buy-low spot on the Devils, who are still playing solid hockey but are just not getting the results.

Devils vs. Bruins pick

New Jersey Devils +102 (FanDuel)

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At the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a Female Crew of Two

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Kathy Veel has come a long way since 1989, when she first sailed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female crew on the Belles Long Ranger.

“It started off with four of us women — we figured, let’s give it a shot,” said Veel, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Bullaburra, about 60 miles west of Sydney, Australia. “We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t have any money. It was a real start from scratch. No one took us seriously.”

Not anymore. Veel is now back for her third Sydney Hobart, which starts on Monday, this time also breaking ground. She will be part of the only all-female crew competing in the race’s two-handed division on the Currawong, at 30 feet long the second smallest boat in the fleet. She will be sailing with Bridget Canham, 62, of Sydney, a veteran of several Sydney Hobart races.

Veel said that in 1989, there were doubts the crew of women could handle the grueling conditions of the race.

“We were kind of a token gesture,” she said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were up to it. They would ask, what we were going to do when it’s blowing 30 knots and the boat is swamped? We’ll be doing pretty much what they’ll be doing — putting up sails and racing the boat.”

Their goal was to simply finish the race, which they did. “It opened the door for us,” Veel said.

“Women in sailing have come so far,” she said. “Most boats these days have got women on them. And that’s great.”

Canham, a retired nurse who volunteers as an emergency boat pilot, said sailing had indeed changed.

“Sailing is more of an integrated sport now,” she said. “Now, it’s just by coincidence that we are just two women on a boat. We’re just sailors. We don’t think of ourselves as anything different.”

The two-handed division, where a boat is raced by two sailors — as opposed to a large crew ranging from 6 to 25 — is now in its second year at the Sydney Hobart. For Veel and Canham, the draw of two-handed racing is access.

“Having a fully crewed racing yacht was way outside of my resources,” Veel said. “I’m retired. But now that they have the two-handed, we can do the race. It gives people the opportunity to sail in the race who aren’t on a fully crewed yacht.” Yearly maintenance on two-handed boats might be $10,000, while much larger yachts require millions of dollars to maintain.

Canham also said the sailors in the two-handed division were a tightknit group. “The two-handed community is just so supportive; it’s like we are all on the same team,” she said.

Veel and Canham generally split duties on the boat, taking turns on the sails and at the wheel, with Canham focusing on sails and Veel on navigation and race tactics.

“Bridget knows the wind and is good at getting the best out of the boat,” Veel said. “She’ll have every sail tweaked and tuned. She never takes her eye off the ball. She’s also extremely gutsy and strong-minded and determined.”

Veel and Canham have prepared for the event by sailing in four other races this year. Over that time, they realized the boat, a Currawong 30, built in 1974 with beaten 20-year-old sails, needed upgrades, but they’ve accepted its limits.

“We’ve been able to test out our boat in these previous races, but it really has felt that 90 percent of this race has been just getting to the start line,” Veel said. “We’ve just been focused on getting the boat ready. Now that we are there, and there are no more obstacles between us and the race, that’s when I’m starting to wonder what have I got myself into. Now it’s real.”

Canham heads into the race committed, but knows their limitations.

“No one is expecting us to do anything,” she said. “But I don’t think they realize just how determined we are.”

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