A New York Jets Exam Part 1

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Get comfortable in your seat, print out a copy and take it on the train, or get ready for an extended lunch break. Jeff Capellini from CBS New York, TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, along with myself have taken the time to answer 20 crucial about the New York Jets on their bye week. Enjoy, disagree, argue…let’s get after it –

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY

1. What does THIS Jets team have (or not have) that will allow it to move beyond the AFC Championship game.

JEFF: Personnel-wise, the Jets have enough to get to the Super Bowl. They also have the great intangible called belief. What they don’t have yet is a cohesiveness. And when you get to conference title games you have to be a united front on the field and in the locker room to beat the upper echelon teams, especially in their buildings. If the Jets make the playoffs, they are not going to zip through, only to face a wild card team that went on a miraculous run, in the championship game. It just doesn’t work that way. Odds are, they could go to New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, you name it. They have to learn how to take that last step and it’s not something you can teach. It’s a matter of experience, execution and coaching. It’s that simple. You’d think if they are truly back and get this thing revved up they’ll be one of the most difficult outs in the entire postseason. But, again, simply making it yet again is not enough. There are no gimmes in the playoffs. Sooner or later they have to truly come together, and I mean for more than 30 minutes at a clip.

JOE: I don’t think talent is an issue here and the experience is clearly in place for the Jets to make a Super Bowl run. The difference is going to be how stingy will the defense be in January and if Mark Sanchez can put together a few big time performances at the right time. It is very likely the Jets could end up in the wild-card again, which means road victories over some combination of New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh need to occur for the Jets to finally make it to that elusive Super Bowl.

TJ: For many on this Jets team, there is the collective experience of having battled on the road through two straight AFC playoff runs now. That’s alot of adversity to fight through together. As for new pieces, Plaxico Burress could be a difference maker in the red zone as he was last week. The Jets were red zone failures over the past two seasons. What they also may have added, should they choose to use it, is more speed on offense thanks to Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley. On the defensive side, if Aaron Maybin continues to settle in, others like Calvin Pace may benefit. In that scenario you could argue that by December the Jets will have the pass rush that was not at their disposal either during the ’09 and ’10 seasons.

2. Looking back, are there any August roster changes you’d like to have back? Or attacked differently?

JEFF: I might not have let Shaun Ellis walk, but he got a king’s ransom from the Patriots, one that the Jets would have been laughed at for matching or exceeding. However, they are still, reportedly, well below the cap and the defensive line, while improving at a snail’s pace weekly, is still not a strength. I kind of think having Ellis around would have been a good thing for the Kenrick Ellises and Muhammad Wilkersons of the world. Plus, who knows? Maybe Shaun could’ve still made some impact plays at opportune moments. The bottom line is, his return would not have HURT the Jets.

JOE: Plaxico’s recent three touchdown game and the emergence of Jeremy Kerley has calmed me down about Braylon Edawrds and Jerricho Cotchery walking. I do think the Jets are moving around the receivers surrounding Mark Sanchez too much but hopefully he can continue to adjust. Obviously, it would have been nice to see Mike Tannenbaum add a veteran lineman when Robert Turner suffered his pre-season injury.

TJ: We are still uncomfortable with the notion that if Mark Sanchez has ANY sort of issues that could sideline him during a game or even for a week or two, that Mark Brunell, with all due respect to an outstanding 19 year NFL career, is next in line. We would have liked to see a better option handled over in the Summer even though the Jets would tell you that 7th rounder Greg McElroy was on pace to landing a backup role. We wanted a Sage Rosenfels type. An 8-10 year vet who could sling it if needed.

The chase for Nnamdi Asomugha was extensive and may have cost the Jets Brad Smith but the biggest move we’d take back is cutting Aaron Maybin in the first place. Could Maybin have made a difference out in Oakland, where the early season avalanche began? We’ll never know.

3. Whats the biggest fear or danger zone for this team, player or unit, as we enter the second half?

JEFF: If the Jets’ defense continues to be what it was in the second half of the Chargers game, I’m not worried at all. However, even if it is that unit, it’s still not a shutdown unit. The Jets will still allow the occasional running back to have the big game. Tight ends and second and third receivers will still post gaudy numbers. We’ve all heard of “bend-but-don’t-break” defenses. I think that’s what the Jets are, but on a more accelerated level. They are somewhere between bend but don’t break and shutdown. The hope is they will continue to make strides toward the latter, especially over the next two weeks.

JOE: The fear is the defense allowing teams to run the football on them. There is no Ground and Pound, if you allow another running back to rack up 150 yards. It is messes with the approach of the entire team and forces the offense to play too aggressively.

TJ: The biggest fear we have is cohesiveness on the field. The Jets are, barring a major change, seeing the extent of what Mark Sanchez can give the team consistently. That is leadership, hot streaks, and the ability to come from behind. If the Jets run game keeps growing, and the defense begins to cement while adding players like Maybin into the equation, then the load  that Sanchez wlll be asked to carry can remain reasonable. If parts break down too often though, the team will have to ride the arm, and decision making of Sanchez. Two traits that are best served when keeping his stranglehold on games within reason.

4. After the spreading the ball around and featuring big pieces like Burress, Greene and Keller last Sunday, is it safe to say that Schotty and the offense have a solid handle on their approach now?

JEFF: I’m confident this offensive line is very close to being what it was last season. I think it has gotten over its adjustment period, which was caused mostly by injuries and these new and somewhat absurd CBA rules on padded practices. Shonn Greene IS a No. 1 running back. He moves the sticks. Mark Sanchez is a better quarterback than he was last season. Plaxico Burress is still a premier red zone target. The Jets just have to do a better job of complimenting Greene with LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield and as a receiver, must not forget about Dustin Keller, which they have been prone to do, and must get the ball in Santonio Holmes’ hands. He cannot be catching 2-3 balls a game. He’s their quickest way to the red zone. Brian Schotteheimer must find new and inventive ways to get the ball in No. 10′s hands. He changes games.

JOE: I don’t think it is safe to say that after one game but they are definitely moving in the right direction. Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller should be the top targets in the passing game, with Burress being the primary threat in the red-zone. Kerley is a third down weapon. The running game should feature Shonn Greene getting around 20 carries each week, while LaDainian Tomlinson chips in 7-10 touches as a runner and receiver. Joe McKnight needs a few packages where he can catch and run the ball in space and will gradually become more involved as the season goes on.

TJ: They better. If last week was a fluke rather than the template moving forward, then the Jets will be spotty on offense in the second half and be forced to win games solely through the work of the special teams and the defense. A strategy that has a limit to it’s effectiveness without a killer pass rusher. Last Sunday, the Jets got everyone involved which kept everyone mentally in the game. This stretched the field enough to create room for Shonn Greene to run. The only way that the Jets offense can be counted on to uphold their 24.6 points per game average is to keep doing more of the same.

5. What can we expect of Wilkerson and Ellis? How high is the ceiling of Aaron Maybin as a pass rusher this year and beyond?

JEFF: I think 3-4 years from now the Jets will have serious pieces with Kenrick and Muhammad, but for now you just have to hope they continue to show the flashes they’ve shown and live with the disappearing acts. Jets are a scheme-based defense anyway, and they generate their pressure off the blitz. Maybin has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s nowhere near a polished player. He gets to the QB for sure, but he’s mostly a straight-line or speed rusher. The guy needs to learn some moves because sooner or later wise tackles will just push him outside rather than engage him at the point of attack.

JOE: Wilkerson and Ellis look like they can be building blocks on the defensive line for years to come. In Rex’s system they won’t be flashy players but will be key components in stopping the run and pushing the pocket. Aaron Maybin really only has a couple of things going for him, his speed and motor. However, in Rex’s system he may have found a perfect home. I do believe he can be a double digit sack this year and beyond.

TJ: Wilkerson and Ellis will have their moments. The best case scenario has them making impacts in a few games, or on a few game changing plays. Their time as terrorizing beasts upfront is off in the not so distant future. Maybin’s time may be now. Maybin is fast, his pursuit can wreak havoc when plays are extended. All three have a bright future at this point, but Maybin can be a difference maker for this team. He may HAVE TO continue his pass rushing growth if the Jets hope to reach Indy.

6. If the “bad” Cromartie rears his head too often, are you comfortable throwing Kyle Wilson at the corner yet?

JEFF: I think anyone waiting for Kyle to become a shutdown corner at this level may be waiting a while. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a responsible and useful part of this defense. He’s improved over last season. His reads have been much better, but for the time being I think you just have to live with Antonio being Antonio because he has more upside as a “big play player” than Wilson has. And on a defense that features just one true star, the Jets need all the big- and game-changing plays they can get. Take the good with the bad with Cro and keep Kyle zoned rather than out wide, where there is less margin for error.

JOE: You know what you are getting with Antonio Cromartie, which is inconsistency. I don’t think the quick hook is the right answer as the Jets need his size and speed on the outside. Beyond that, Kyle Wilson is starting to thrive in the nickel role which is a crucial one in the Jets defense. I wouldn’t mess with that anytime soon.

TJ: No. However, we are a heck of alot more comfortable with him now that he is playing the ball and his head is turned around, than we would have been had he been forced into a starting corner role last season. Wilson’s growth in roles  such as a nickel cover guy, a blitzing weapon, and a spy, along with Maybin’s blindside speed, give the Jets added elements to last year’s defense. The second year CB’s confidence is certainly growing. That bodes well should he be forced to spell Cromartie or provide health insurance for EITHER cornerback position. As scary as that is to say, considering what a thought like that means.

7. Will Joe McKnight’s role increase?

JEFF: It almost has to, but it’s hard to say it will because even Tomlinson disappears for long stretches of games. And that’s not because LaDainian is no longer a viable talent. Schottenheimer has yet to find a balance with his RB personnel.  We know Greene should be a 20-plus carry back. We know Tomlinson should be a 5-7-carry back and more of a pass-catching threat. Where does that leave McKnight, a guy with tons of talent and more maturity? It’s hard to say. If in the average game the Jets runs 60-65 plays from scrimmage and want a 50-50 run pass balance, you are looking at 30-33 touches for RBs. Well, if Greene is getting 20-25 and Tomlinson 5-7, that’s 25-32 right there. I think McKnight could be the true change-of-pace back the Jets need, while Tomlinson at this point should be in sets where he’s split out wide or used as the primary back, but only inside the opponent’s 5-yard line.

JOE: I do think it will, but the Jets still need to figure out exactly where to fit him in this year. In the long term, he is a perfect change of pace back for Shonn Greene. For this year, with LaDainian Tomlinson still in the mix it remains hard to get him many touches. Yet, the Jets must get him going in the screen game and use his receiving skills by splitting him out.

TJ: We hope so. Making McKnight a player who is part of 5-7 plays, even as a play action decoy, gives the Jets the threat of big play speed that they haven’t had under Ryan since Leon Washington was around. Speed kills. McKnight has already proven that this year on special teams. It’s not easy to find guys who cause oppoments comcern simply by lining up. Number 25 would have to be treated by defense with respect should he be sent out into the flat for a pitch outside or for a fake that could allow Sanchez to roll out in the other direction with less defenders on his heels.

8. Assess the safeties so far. Some argue that it’s time we see more of the athletic Brodney Pool.

JEFF: It probably is time to see more of Pool. He’s sound in most aspects. But, truth be told, Eric Smith, Pool and Jim Leonhard are undersized and do not cover very well. I think finding a do-it-all safety is one of the hardest things an NFL front office has to deal with on a yearly basis. Ronnie Lott doesn’t grow on trees. So, unless the Jets go out and get lucky on the open market, I think you have to rotate Pool and Smith and play off their strengths depending on the situation. I’d trust Pool more on the opposing side of the 50 due to his speed, but I’d be fine with Smith when the field gets shorter.

JOE: On paper that does make sense, but Pool hasn’t been very good when on the field this year. The Jets will have a patch-work situation at that position for the rest of the year. A playmaking safety isn’t easy to find but the Jets need to try, especially in the early rounds of next year’s draft.

TJ: Why is there so much “miscommunication” going on back there as I believe Leonhard claimed there was last week when rookie LB Josh Mauga was frantically running for his life to cover Antonio Gates in the end zone. Plays like that are happening too often and they shouldn’t, given the experience that Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith have during their time in New York together.

Covering tight ends has been a nightmare again for the Jets who may want to leave that up to corner guys like Wilson, and Donald Strickland instead of Smith. Does Brodney Pool get what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan want? If so, get him in on more plays. He hits hard. so even if he’s late to the ball, someone is gonna get dialed up, perhaps leading to some turnovers.

9. Are the Patriots better than the Jets? If so, in what ways and how much better?

JEFF: At the end of the day I see this matchup as a wash. It all depends on when on the calendar they meet. Earlier in the season is better for the Patriots because the Jets’ D is so complex it takes quite a while for the players to get comfortable in their roles. Later in the season is better from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, the Jets should always be able to move the ball and put up points on the New England defense because it’s simply not that good. The Pats have more “stars” on offense; the Jets are much more sound defensively. I just think the Pats know how to put teams away, while the Jets, due in part to their offensive philosophy, always seem to find themselves still being forced to move the ball on offense in the fourth quarter instead of just letting the defense preserve victories. It’s not by design and that’s the main reason the Jets hover around 9-11 wins instead of 12-13 and securing home playoff games.

JOE: On a week to week basis, yes they are a better football team. They are more consistent and have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history under center with a ridiculous collection of weapons. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean the Jets aren’t more than capable of beating them in a few weeks and again in the playoffs if it comes to that. A few weeks ago, the Jets played far from their best game and hung right with New England. They have confidence against them, which goes a long way.

TJ: The Patriots of week 6 were better than the Jets. We’re not so sure if they will be by week 9. This Jets team has the roadmap to success now, thanks to a second half against the Chargers that helped highlight key blueprints. They have found their identity of spreading the ball around and stretching the field in order to open up the run game. This while locking down the corners, covering tight ends with nickel guys, and putting some heat on the pocket with Maybin and Calvin Pace. McKnight and rookie Jeremy Kerley provide the field positon in the return game. There is still room to grow for the Jets so the jury is stlll out. Falling behind by two games by failing to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this current group earlier, makes it tougher to win the division though. Obviously.

10. How can the Jets compensate for their shortcomings on defense, particularly at safety and outside linebacker?

JEFF: By getting to the quarterback. I can’t state it any clearer.

JOE: Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine. They have the ability to coach around those shortcomings, which existed last year but still didn’t prevent the Jets from beating Indianapolis or New England on the road.

TJ: By working Brodney Pool into the safety rotation for more athleticism and aggressive hitting. By rushing guys like Wilson on passing downs and again, asking Pool and the safeties to play the outside run a bit more. This would leave Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis on their own more often so Cro would HAVE TO think less and react more on his island. We all know that Revis can handle any coverage assignment by himself.

CHECK BACK FOR PART TWO ON SUNDAY