The New York Jets are expected to be amongst the worst teams in the NFL this season by most of the fans, experts, critics, writers, analysts, and whoever else out there that follows football. Well they thought that before 2009 also, and I think this year’s team has a lot of similarities to that team. I’m here today to give you a different kind of top-5: The Top 5 reasons why the Jets are actually underrated.
1. Lethal Defense – It was clear to anybody who watched the Jets since Rex Ryan took over in 2009 that last year’s defense was not up to standard. Despite excellent individual seasons from players like Muhammad Wilkerson and Antonio Cromartie, the unit was by far the worst that the team has fielded in four years. The reason for that were simple: Darrelle Revis missed nearly the whole season with an injury; Players like Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Sione Pouha all lost more than a step on the field and were shells of their former selves; Less-than-stellar players like Garrett McIntyre and Ellis Lankster were forced into much bigger roles than they should have been in. It all added up to a sad Rex Ryan. But all that is going to change in 2013.
Rex and John Idzik saw the writing on the wall and made many changes this offseason to that side of the ball. The former coordinator, Mike Pettine, was let go, and Rex is going back to his roots taking on a much larger role in coaching his defense, which is a major positive. The declining players were all let go (other than Pace, who is back in a reduced role) and were replaced by younger, more athletic players. Quinton Coples is now in a starting, full-time role as is linebacker Demario Davis, which are both major improvements. Davis is a potential star, and Coples has the potential to be amongst the top pass rushers in the league. Number 13 overall pick Sheldon Richardson was added to the defensive line next to stud Mo Wilkerson to cause havoc up front. Antwan Barnes was added to bolster the pass rush from the edge and Dee Milliner was drafted number 9 to help replace the loss of Darrelle Revis. Those personnel changes combined with Rex Ryan taking over the unit are going to give the Jets a young, hungry, and dominant defense, which will keep the Jets in all of their games, and even win a few on their own.
2. Improved Run Game – I defended Shonn Greene more than just about anyone, but midway through last season it became painfully clear that he just wasn’t a quality starting running back in the NFL and that the Jets badly needed an improvement. Enter Chris Ivory. The former New Orleans Saint has been extremely impressive in limited action throughout his career, and now he gets a chance to show what he can do full-time behind a pretty darn good run blocking offensive line. Lots of Jets fans apparently never watched Ivory play the last few years and have downplayed his arrival, which is a mistake. The guy is a flat out BEAST and is basically everything we ever hoped Shonn Greene could become. Idzik identified big “chunk plays” as an area of need, and Ivory and Mike Goodson definitely address that.
Over the last three seasons, Ivory and Goodson combined have had 16 rushes of 20+ yards and 5 of 40+ yards despite just 394 combined carries. By comparison Greene has had 8 rushes over 20 yards and 0 over 40 in the same time frame despite having 714 carries. That’s what you call an improvement. Ivory and Goodson, with Bilal Powell in reserve, and Joe McKnight in a flex sort of role form a pretty well-rounded and productive backfield, and that will be key to the Jets success in 2013.
3. Better Coaching – I touched on Rex Ryan taking over the reigns on defense earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Rex Ryan taking over full control of his defense like he did in 2009 and 2010 is a major improvement. Rex is perhaps the best defensive coach in the entire NFL (just ask him!), and he’s going to bring this unit back towards the top of the rankings this year. The reason he’s allowed himself to put more focus into the defense is due to the hiring of new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Mornhinweg is a proven, successful NFL offensive coordinator and he is being given full control of the unit, which is a major, major, major, major, major step up from the past few seasons of Brian Schottenheimer and the disastrous Tony Sparano. Whether the Jets win or lose this year, we can at least rest easy knowing the offense will have an actual system in place with real game plans that they will attempt to execute as opposed to… whatever the hell that was last year. As a head coach, Rex deserves credit for recognizing his team is at it’s best with a solid offensive coach running that side of the ball while he handles the defense and oversees the whole team. The Jets will be much better off for it.
4. Not a Killer Schedule – Yes, there are some tough games on the schedule that the Jets are going to be major underdogs in, that is for sure. Going to Atlanta is a tough game for any team to win, as is in Baltimore, and of course in New England. But there is certainly reason to be optimistic elsewhere on the schedule. The Jets get to host the Steelers this year and don’t have to travel to Pittsburgh for a change, plus the Steelers are no longer the same force on the field that they were in years past. They also get to host the Saints, who are a far different team on the road on grass than they are in the friendly confines of their home dome. Traveling to Cincinnati is no picnic, but that’s certainly a winnable game as is the road game in Tennessee.
There are also of course two division games each against the Bills and Dolphins, and if the Jets are going to be playoff contenders, those are some games they would have to win. A sweep against Buffalo and their rookie QB and a split with Miami is certainly very possible. Week 1 against Tampa is extremely winnable as are late-season games against Oakland, Carolina, and Cleveland. If they can win the games they should win, pull off an upset or two, and hang strong for the weaker second half of the schedule, the Jets can definitely surpass expectations.
5. Better QB Play – I know it’s blasphemy to say anything remotely positive about Mark Sanchez these days, but I think most of us can agree on this point: It can’t get any worse than last year, right? With Mornhinweg here now installing his quarterback-friendly offense, with an improved run game that was mentioned above, and hopefully a season where all the wide receivers don’t get injured, Sanchez can’t possibly have a worse season in 2013. And if he does provide more of the same crap, then rookie 2nd round pick Geno Smith will be inserted as the starter to turn things around, which was something they didn’t have available last year. Clearly the Jets aren’t loaded with talent on offense, but there are some things for the QB to work with. Kerley is a reliable slot receiver, and the run game promises to be strong. If Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow stay healthy, and Stephen Hill manages to not drop a few passes here and there… well, don’t be surprised if the Jets surprise quite a few people this year.