There was excessive lazy analysis by many NFL writers over the past month that characterized the New York Jets passing offense as a “wasteland” that lacked any talent. This went hand in hand with the analysis that ranked them as one of the worst teams in the league, which is a laughable assertion at this point. The Jets aren’t Jacksonville. The Jets aren’t Kansas City. The Jets aren’t Oakland. The worst teams in the league don’t beat the Colts by 30 points, don’t lose to the 6-1 Texans by 6 and don’t take the Patriots to overtime in their building.
But back to the Jets passing game. When all this criticism was being thrown around there was an ignorance of just how much Jeremy Kerley had been progressing. Kerley has pulled in 25 receptions on 40 targets so far this season, racking up 435 yards at an impressive 17.4 yards per catch. Over the last 3 weeks he is top ten in the NFL in both receiving yards and receptions. The much maligned by Mike Tannenbaum appears to have found a gem in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Kerley has underrated speed to go with his quickness in and out of breaks on his routes. For such a young receiver, the precision on those routes has been extremely impressive. He has also shown consistent hands and an ability to make tough catches in traffic. Kerley has looked the part of a very capable lead receiver the past few weeks.
The value of a healthy Dustin Keller was also glossed over by many. Keller showed in the running game against the Colts as a surprisingly solid blocker but really made noise this past week against New England with 7 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. With Kerley producing on the outside and in the slot, it frees up the middle of the field and creates favorable match-ups for Keller. Without an unnecessary amount of balls being funneled to Santonio Holmes, Keller should be able to consistently put up strong numbers.
Despite everybody being down on Stephen Hill because of a critical late game drop, he has flashed very good potential through 7 games. He is also now fully healthy. Hill has only logged four games this season that weren’t hampered by injury (he missed two and was clearly banged up against Miami), in those four games he has three touchdowns, 12 catches and 167 yards. Before dropping that pass, he had four tough catches in traffic and showed good body control and discipline on his routes. A rookie out of a triple-option offense is going to make mistakes but Hill is still going to make his share of big plays. Defenses must respect his speed and size, which will only further open things up for Kerley and Hill.
Outside of those three, you have two role players who at least have good speed and have made a few plays in Jason Hill and Clyde Gates. Hill drew a critical pass interference penalty against New England because he beat his man on a double move and caught a touchdown against Indianapolis. Gates had an impressive 27 yard catch against the Texans. Chaz Schilens is coming off a rough outing against New England but prior to that had been a productive possession receiver. It will be interesting to see if his role is reduced moving forward.
Obviously everything comes back to Mark Sanchez, who has quietly made strides over the past two weeks despite the usual round of criticism. Over the past two weeks here are his stats – 39/59 (66 completion percentage), 410 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception. Sanchez is going to make his share of mistakes just like the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks in this league but the Jets can’t by shy about letting him throw aggressively down the field when the match-ups dictate it. After a brutal start against the Dolphins, Sanchez carved them up the in fourth quarter and overtime, finishing with over 300 yards passing and leading the go ahead drive in the 4th quarter and game winning drive in overtime. Miami is strong in the front seven but questionable in the secondary. The Jets must attack down the field.
There are going to be match-ups the Jets need to be more careful about (see on the road in Seattle) but for the most part, they can’t be shy about utilizing Kerley, Keller and Hill who many teams will have a tough time matching up with. The Jets passing game, like their entire team is not the punchline it is generally portrayed to be and has the potential to keep them very relevant in the division and playoff race.