The New York Jets are a few weeks out from kicking off their 2013 training camp. At this point of the summer, there are a handful of narratives floating around about this year’s team. There are general expectations for what type of offense and defense they will have and expectation levels in place. Let’s examine these narratives and the validity of them
The Defense Is The Savior
An optimistic approach to the Jets 2013 season is based around the assumption they will field a quality, competitive defense. This is a fair line of thinking considering the past four years under Rex Ryan. The Jets have been a top ten unit, statistically, every year since he has taken over. Yet, there has been a steady decline every season from #1 in total defense in 2009, to #3 in total defense in 2010, to #5 in total defense in 2011 and finally to #8 in total defense last season.
There is reason to believe the decline won’t continue. Taking into consideration that Darrelle Revis only played 1 full game in 2012. the corner position was boosted by the addition of Dee Milliner and a year of seasoning for Aaron Berry and Darrin Walls. The linebackers will be younger but faster. Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas may have been savvy veterans who knew where they needed be but the problem was they consistently got there late and then missed the tackle. The level of 2012 production from those two players will be replaceable by Demario Davis and Antwan Barnes, with Barnes in particular providing more juice off the edge. The defensive line would miss 2009-2011 Sione Pouha but certainly won’t miss 2012 Sione Pouha, who was injured and easily pushed all over the field. Mike DeVito was a solid run stuffer but is entirely replaceable. The growth of Quinton Coples and to a lesser extent Kenrick Ellis and Damon Harrison along with the addition of more pass rush orientated Antonio Garay and explosive rookie Sheldon Richardson will give the team an improved defensive line rotation.
While an overall downgrade is fair to anticipate at safety with the trio of Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Josh Bush replacing LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, the decline shouldn’t be dramatic enough to dim optimism on the Jets defense. Landry and Bell were strong in run support but consistent liabilities in pass coverage. The Jets have fielded very good to borderline great defenses with safety combinations of Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool…they can survive Bush and Allen’s growing pains.
It is reasonable to expect another top ten defense from Rex Ryan’s unit, along with a likely increase in sacks and big plays generated from an improved pass rush. However, there could be more breakdowns due to the youth in certain areas that leads to more big plays allowed. Overall, the Jets will have a good enough defense to stay competitive in most weeks
Ground and Pound
The second part of successful Rex Ryan New York Jets teams has been a power running game to support a strong defense. More than in 2012, the pieces are in place for this occur. The Jets have substantially improved their talent level at running back by adding Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Tommy Bohanon (don’t sleep on the value of less John Conner or Lex Hilliard). On the offensive line, Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore were replaced by Willie Colon, rookie Brian Winters and journeyman veteran Stephen Peterman. From a talent level, Colon will be an upgrade, particularly in the running game. Winters has the skill set to seize the other starting role and while he will struggle at times like any rookie, the overall level of Guard play isn’t going to fall off the cliff. Right tackle Austin Howard should also continue to make strides.
The lack of a true blocking tight end was a concern in 2012 and remains unaddressed. Yet, the overall make-up of the running back and offensive line group should allow the team to have a strong running game to compliment their defense. Health is a major concern here because if Ivory, Goodson and Colon can’t stay on the field, the offense is going to sputter in a big way…
Pass Game Problems
People aren’t exaggerating when they criticize the horrific current make-up of the team’s passing game. Simply put, you have a big fat question mark at quarterback coupled with no depth and limited talented at both wide receiver and tight end. Not good. Recent evidence suggests that Mark Sanchez is one of the 5-6 worst starting quarterbacks in football. Maybe that changes in a new system but it is foolhardy to anticipate that as a likely occurrence. Geno Smith has promise but was a second round pick for a reason. If he does play, he is going to make mistakes and have his own set of limitations.
At wide receiver, Santonio Holmes can’t run yet and training camp is less than 3 weeks away. Stephen Hill is still banged up and hasn’t shown he is ready to start yet. The continually underrated Jeremy Kerley is the only proven pass catcher as of right now, which is a serious issue. There is some potential promise in undrafted free agents like Zach Rogers and Ryan Spadola but how many expectations can you really bank on them or veterans like Clyde Gates or Ben Obomanu?
Tight end is currently comprised of a situational backup masking as starter in Jeff Cumberland and the hope that Kellen Winslow Jr can throw it back a few years and give the team 80-85% of the player he used to be. Konrad Reuland is a depth player who is an okay blocker. Hayden Smith and the undrafted free agents on the roster still haven’t proved anything. The amount of “ifs” and “maybes” with the Jets passing game is startling. Hopefully, some of these problems are masked by a robust use of the running backs in the passing game but it is entirely fair to claim the Jets potentially have the worst passing offense in football as of today.
Oh That Schedule
There is some chatter about the Jets having a difficult schedule, which will impede their chances of hovering around .500. It is always risky to assume how difficult any game will be in an upcoming season because all it takes is one injury to completely change the complexion of a team. However, if you break down the Jets schedule into fourths, you are looking at the following
1st Quarter – Very Manageable - Tampa Bay at home. In New England on a short week for Thursday Night Football. Hosting Buffalo and then traveling to Tennessee. You have three non-playoff teams from 2012. Tampa has high expectations this year and will be a nice early gauge for the Jets. New England is New England. The Jets will likely be 10-14 point underdogs. Buffalo and Tennessee are comparable teams to the Jets and the type of games they MUST win if they want to be relevant into December this season.
2nd Quarter – Rough - At Atlanta on Monday night. Home for Pittsburgh and New England and then traveling to Cincinnati. The Jets will be clear underdogs in all of these games. This is where things could go a bit off the rails if the Jets don’t get off to a reasonable start in their first 4.
3rd Quarter – Slowly Getting “Easier” - Home for New Orleans. At Buffalo. At Baltimore. Home for Miami. Three non-playoff teams from 2012 and the champs. The Saints are always tough but it is nice to get them away from their dome….same with getting Miami at home in December.
4th Quarter – Rex’s Final Run? - The Jets close home vs. Oakland, at Carolina, home vs Cleveland and at Miami. Four non 2012 playoff teams and four “winnable” games where the team could get hot and save Rex Ryan’s job if they are struggling before this point.
The schedule has rough patches but it isn’t the murderer’s row some make it out to be…particularly in the second half.
Rex’s Job Security and The Quarterback Debate
This will be the question hanging over the entire season. Lose back to back games…is Rex getting fired this week? Win back to back games…is Rex getting an extension this week? It is nearly impossible to say what it will take for Rex to keep his job. We just don’t know what John Idzik really thinks of him or strongly Woody Johnson feels about keeping him around. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the Jets slightly overachieving the exceedingly low expectations for them in 2013 and Rex keeping his job. However, they are a few bad breaks away from having a historically bad offense and if that occurs, who knows how bad things could get?
As for the quarterback debate…it will rage most heavily this summer. If Geno Smith wins the job, you have to figure the Jets will ride him out even through the inevitable rough patches. What would be the point of turning back to Sanchez in say week 7 if you were 2-5 or something along those lines? If Mark Sanchez wins the job, the clock will loudly be ticking to turn to Smith and let him play out the season. It might only take one or two ugly 2012-esque Sanchez performances to receive the permanent hook.