Over the past few weeks, the New York Jets have seen their season come undone in front of their very eyes. The Jets have lost 4 out of their last 5 games, 2 of which came in blowout fashion in their home stadium. Many have attributed this to poor coaching. Analysts, fans, writers, and even casual football observers have suggested that perhaps Rex Ryan is not quite head coaching material yet, that maybe he is better served as a coordinator. The same groups of people have also suggested that the Jets need to go after a former head coach with championship pedigree, someone like Bill Cowher or John Gruden.
However, the issues with the New York Jets go far beyond the coaching staff. The front office of this franchise has put this team in hole that could likely set it up for another year of poor play and mediocrity. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and those who work within the department have maliciously restructured and back loaded a surplus of player contracts, guaranteeing the salaries for this season and beyond to guys who would have likely been released due to their dip in performance over the past two seasons. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and even David Harris have all played mediocre at their best this season, and absolutely horrible at their worst. Yet, Scott and Pace, who began to slide last year, had guaranteed salaries for 2012, so they were not expendable for the Jets. Remember when Tannenbaum supposedly gave Scott permission to seek a trade this past offseason? Other teams likely laughed at the notion. Who would be foolish enough to take on the guaranteed salary of a player past his prime, clearly on the downside of his career?
Fortunately for the Jets, Scott and Pace can be released next season without any serious financial repercussions. Harris, on the other hand, is guaranteed just over $9 million for 2013; so unless the Jets can do what the Yankees did to David Justice when they traded him to Oakland, don’t expect Harris to be playing elsewhere next season. The reason these guaranteed contracts are tied into the current state of affairs with the Jets is because they limit the money that can be spent elsewhere throughout the roster. This is why you are seeing this team, who was an AFC Championship contender just two seasons ago, fall so far from grace that they are the laughing stock of the league. So poorly General Manager Mike Tannenbaum has constructed this roster, that the Jets are stuck starting players who likely would not see the field, or possibly make the active roster, on some quality teams around the league.
The Jets have lost a total of 7 games so far this season. While people continue to point to the coaching as the primary reason for these losses, many are forgetting just how depleted and shallow this roster really is. Let’s take a look at how the Jets talent compares to the teams that they have lost to this season, starting with the offensive personnel.
The information in green in the above chart represents the Jets offensive season statistics up until this point in the year. Based on the team’s depth chart, players are inserted into their proper position (Sanchez at QB, Greene at RB1, Powell at RB2, and so on and so forth). The information on the right side of the chart (in white) represents the season average of all of the Jets opponents’ statistics at their respective positions. The idea here is to give a representation of how truly overmatched the Jets have been, in terms of talent, against the teams that they have lost to this season.
Let’s start by looking at the quarterback. Mark Sanchez is performing statistically below average, in comparison to his opponents that have defeated him, in every single category. His completion percentage is nearly a full 9 points lower than the average completion percentage of that group, while his turnover ratio is much higher, touchdowns are much lower, and QBR and passer rating aren’t even comparable.
Now, the obvious argument here is that he has faced Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who alter the average because of their inflated numbers. Well, that assertion is false. Also included in that group are two rookies in Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson, a quarterback in Alex Smith who has just been replaced in San Francisco, and Matt Schaub who is good, but is certainly not the next Joe Montana. This is an average based off of two great, one decent, and 3 below average quarterbacks. An argument could certainly be made if these numbers were somewhat close, but for the most part they aren’t even comparable. Sanchez’s QBR isn’t even half of the average of that of his opponents, and his passer rating is nearly a full 20 points lower, as well. The level that he has played at for Rex Ryan and the Jets this year, would surely render him a backup if placed on any of these teams, and possibly in a third string role in some cases (New England, San Francisco, Seattle, and perhaps even Miami). The NFL is a quarterback driven league, as everyone is well aware of, and when you’re quarterback is performing well below the average of his competition, it is a miracle that you are able to win any games, never mind four.
Onto the running back situation. It’s no surprise that Shonn Greene is below the average of opposing starting running backs. This is an assertion most people who have observed the Jets this season have come to terms with. Greene is not a feature NFL back. He would be most productive in a stable of effective backs, primarily as a downhill runner late in games, as he was in the early stages of his career.
Unfortunately, though, Greene clearly is not in a solid stable of backs with the roster currently in place in New York. Take Bilal Powell for example. Although Powell has gotten one carry less than the average of RB2 on the teams the Jets have fallen to this season, he is still well below in total rushing yards, and is averaging nearly a full yard less per carry. His 24.4 yards per game and 0 carries of 20 or more yards are just not the numbers of a solid number two back capable of spelling a solid lead runner. His 3 touchdowns are impressive by comparison, but remember two of those came by clever play calling by Tony Sparano in St. Louis. Powell can be better if given a bigger role, but he has not performed to the average of his counterparts thus far.
Joe McKnight is, not shockingly, the only back outplaying his roster spot in comparison to RB3 on teams New York has lost to. Turn On The Jets has been a McKnight advocate all season long. His 22 carries are almost 5 less than the average at his position, however he has attained over 25 more yards than the average third back has. His yardage per game is only slightly above average, but remember, as the weeks continue to pass without him getting carries, that number is out of his control. By comparison, this position is the only one on the Jets offensive depth chart that they hold an advantage to over their opponents – the third running back spot.
As far as the wide receivers on this team go, the numbers speak for themselves. First, note that Santonio Holmes, who has been inactive since week 4, is still second among this group of receivers in receiving yards, and third on the team, overall. Now, let’s break into the current depth on the active roster.
Jeremy Kerley has been solid for the Jets this year, as the only real viable option in the entire corps. Unfortunately, though, Kerley just simply isn’t a number one receiver, a role he has been forced to take on due to injury and (what do you know) a lack of depth. As the chart displays, Kerley would be a solid number 2 receiver by comparison to the average of those opponents. As a primary target, though, he is, like his teammates, well below average. With nearly ten fewer catches, over 67 fewer total receiving yards, and just about 10 fewer yards per game, Kerley is a number 2 option that has been forced into a number 1 option due to poor roster depth.
Now, observing the remaining three receiver spots, you will find that New York has three players that play to the level of the average third wide receiver on those opponents. Gates is slightly below that average, but slightly above the average of the fourth receiver, outside of yards per catch and yards per game. Schillens and Hill would both be decent third receivers at this point, which Schillens basically is, but neither are even close to being an average number 2. In other words, the Jets have one number 2 and three number 3’s or 4’s on their roster. Combine that with the QB play that is well below average by comparison, and again, it is a miracle that this team is able to accumulate any type of passing offense.
The Tight End numbers are a bit altered because of injury, with Keller missing reps and Cumberland having to fill the void of TE1, but what you’ll see is New York is, once again, far below average at the position. It his hard to judge whether or not Keller would be better, statistically, and Cumberland worse, if Keller never missed time due to injury, but the bottom line is, neither of these Tight Ends are playing up to par at their respective positions.
Offensively, this team’s lack of talent is a true display of how hard it has been for the Jets to scratch out four wins so far. You have below average starters at every position, many of whom aren’t even playing at the level of opposing backups. Look at the opponents on that list and go through their rosters position by position, comparing them to the players on the Jets. Many players on this roster would not make some of those teams – Clyde Gates (who actually didn’t make one of those teams), Cumberland, and perhaps even Dustin Keller (NE, SF). When observing this personnel and the level each player has performed at thus far, is it really surprising that the Jets have lost seven games, or is it shocking that they have won four?
Onto the defensive side of the ball – Below is a chart similar to that of the one that represents the Jets offensive personnel in comparison to the opponents that they have lost to, position by position. The numbers in the orange represent the average numbers of the top three players at each position on opponents the Jets have lost to, with the exception of defensive tackle, where the average has used the top two spots on the depth chart from each of those teams. In the green, each defensive player on the Jets is represented. The number of players used coincides with the number of players used to determine the average of the opponents, to give you an accurate representation of where each player stands.
First, let’s observe defensive end. It should come as a surprise to no one that Muhammad Wilkerson is playing far above the average of opposing defensive ends. Wilkerson is superior in every statistical category, with the exception of sacks. Coples is only slightly below in terms of tackles, but is well above in tackles for loss. Sack wise, unfortunately, is where he, like Wilkerson, is below average. DeVito, is well above the average number of tackles, but again, lacks in sacks and even tackles for loss.
At defensive tackle, Sione Pouha has performed slightly above average, despite missing time, while Kenrick Ellis has been hampered by injury, causing his numbers to be below average. Taking the two of them into account, the Jets have had fairly average to slightly below average play at the NT position this year, a position that is vital to a successful 3-4 defense.
Another vital position in this scheme is outside linebacker. Here, the play is below average in nearly every statistic, at every spot on the depth chart. As far as sacks go, it isn’t even close. The defensive line is hampered by the inability to rush the passer from the OLB position. Often times, as our film breakdowns have revealed, teams can easily block one of these player using only one lineman or back, resulting in a great amount of double teams to Wilkerson and Coples. In other words, the OLB’s inability to rush the passer is preventing the defensive line from rushing the passer. This is a vicious cycle in this scheme, but a true representation of why this team has struggled so mightily in the area.
To finish out the front seven, we move to inside linebacker. David Harris is well above average in his run support, but far behind against the pass (only 2 PD vs. the average of 4, and 0 INT vs. the average of 0.7). This should come as a surprise to no one, considering how Harris’s struggles in coverage have been noted throughout the season. Behind Harris is Bart Scott and rookie DeMario Davis. Scott is clearly a well below average LB at this point in his career, and is making a strong push for the “poor” category. Scott likely doesn’t make the active roster in San Francisco, New England, Miami, Seattle, or Pittsburgh. Davis is promising as a rookie, but clearly he hasn’t performed up to par as well. Basically, this team has four starting linebackers who would be backups at best if placed on one of these opposing teams.
In the secondary, Landry and Bell have played excellent in run support, as the numbers indicate. Landry has performed better than Bell in the coverage area, but is still slightly below average, which tells you what you need to know about Bell’s play in coverage thus far. Eric Smith has been in and out of the active lineup because of injury, but considering he is the third safety on the roster, he hasn’t played insanely bad.
As far as the corners go, the only player worthy of any type of recognition is Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has three more passes defended than the average opponent, and nearly 2 more interceptions. His touchdown separates him from a majority of the group as well. Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster have been decent in terms of tackling, both still below average, but not necessarily horrible. However, in terms of coverage, it is rather embarrassing. Wilson has defended less than half of the average number of passes than his opponents, and he is a starter. Lankster isn’t quite as bad, but remember he has a lot more passes thrown his way when in the game, so that number is likely inflated.
In Short, this defense is solid at about 3 positions – defensive end, strong safety, and cornerback. You have about three players on the entire unit that are playing above the average of those players on opponents that have beaten the Jets. Combining this lack of talent, with the clear lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, is a clear indication of how poorly this roster has been built.
Most people want to put the blame on Rex, and their motives are certainly justified. Rex is far from perfect as a head coach. His lack of holding players accountable, particularly Mark Sanchez, needs to be altered if he wishes to have any success as a head coach in this league. However, Tom Coughlin altered his coaching style from a pure disciplinarian, with little personal connection to his players, to more of an emotional coach, back in 2007. This slight tweak in his coaching philosophy has led to two Super Bowl wins. Now, no one here is comparing Ryan to Coughlin. Coughlin is surely the superior head coach, and will be for some time. The point is, coaches can adjust and achieve success. Rex is more than capable of this adjustment. The true question is whether or not he is willing to do it.
Aside from this flaw, Rex is the right man for this head coaching job, at least for the next year. Among the head coaches in Jets history, Ryan ranks second in winning percentage behind only Bill Parcells. Ryan also has the most playoff victories of any of these coaches. Is this more of a reflection of how poor the coaching has been in this franchise’s history? Perhaps, but the point is, when you get a guy who has shown that he can win games, you don’t kick him out the door at the first sign of struggle. All coaches struggle at some point; it is part of the business.
Now the next argument that is often made against Ryan is that he inherited a loaded roster in his first two years, which is the only reason for his early success. This is another assertion that is very narrow-minded. Remember, there were only 4 new starters from the 2008 roster during Rex’s first year. Brett Favre, who made the pro bowl in ’09, was replaced with a rookie from Southern California who had only one year of college starting experience under his belt. Braylon Edwards was brought in after the team had already won three games, and proved to be a useful weapon to the rookie Sanchez. Defensively, the only two additions that were made to the starting unit were two free agents in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, who happen to have been previously coached under Ryan in Baltimore. With these minor additions, Ryan propelled this defense from 16th to 1st in a year. Offensively, Ryan’s strong rushing philosophy kick started a run game that jumped from 9th in 2008 to 1st in 2009.
Most importantly, though, Ryan changed the culture of this franchise. For years, the Jets had accepted mediocrity, often hovering around .500, or sneaking into the playoffs and being bounced in the first or second round. No one in the league seriously feared the Jets, but when Ryan arrived he installed a bloodthirsty attitude throughout his team. Suddenly, the Jets went from the hunted to the hunters. In 2009 we saw a Jets team that displayed a higher sense of urgency and team bond than he had seen in years, for some of us, a lifetime.
Ryan came in and did what no other coach in the history of this franchise has been able to do – win 4 playoff games. Never mind the fact that he did this in his first two seasons; that number currently ranks first in playoff wins by a Jets head coach, as previously noted. Unfortunately for the Jets, after 2009, the personnel department slowly began to dismantle the roster, resulting in the current lack of talent and depth that we have gone over.
In 2010, the Jets drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round. Wilson has played at the level of about a 4th rounder for the majority of his career. Many people want to blame Rex for this pick, but remember this decision was made in anticipation of a Darrelle Revis holdout. The front office likely wanted to have insurance and leverage over the looming Revis extension. So while it is easy to think that Wilson was Rex’s choice, remember that Mike Tannenbaum likely wanted to cover his rear end in the event that he could not structure a new deal for Revis.
Since then, the front office has done its best to dismantle this team. They have let key pieces leave, while replacing them with far inferior players. Tannenbaum has given guaranteed contracts to players in the tale end of their careers, who haven’t lived up to their ends of the bargain. Blame Ryan all you want, but don’t forget that the General Manager has the final say in all personnel decisions. Is it a surprise that teams run by Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis have had so much trouble keeping a head coach and finding adequate talent? This isn’t to compare Tannenbaum to either of those two, but the point is that head coaches are there to coach the players given to them by their front office, and that is exactly what has happened with the Jets.
Rex Ryan, although flawed, is not at fault for the troubles of this season. He has been given a well below average roster, and has still mustered up 4 wins, while coming very close to beating two of his conference’s best teams. The 2009 and 2010 teams, although talented, did not really have any superior players, other than Darrelle Revis, and Ryan brought each of those teams within a play or two from the Super Bowl. Rex has what it takes to get this team its first championship in over 40 years, but based on the numbers and clear lack of talent, not even the best of coaches could get this team above .500.
The front office of this organization is to blame for the misfortune you have all witnessed, not the coach. Based on the information presented here, Ryan has exceeded the talent on this team, and at only four wins, that tells you all you need to know about the poor work done by the front office in recent years. The common desire is for New York to bring in a head coach with championship pedigree, like Gruden or Cowher, as mentioned above. But remember this very true statistic – no coach in the history of the NFL has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams.
Rex has the ability to lead this team to a championship, and most importantly he has the hunger to do so, as well. Give him average talent, not even great, and this team will be able to compete for a championship. As the roster stands now, the Jets are not only below the top performers at each position, but they are well below average. No coach is winning with what Rex has to work with. Changes need to be made, but Head Coach is the one spot that needs to remain intact for the Jets to get where they want to be in the quickest manner.