After watching the Jets/Bengals game tape…which was just as awful as you’d expect, I’ve now had the chance to see the first eight games both live and through Game Rewind. Here is one man’s observations and thoughts through the first half of the season.
1. It is far too early to make any bold proclamations about Geno Smith. He has shown an ability to make every throw and play needed for a successful NFL quarterback along with make every mistake a NFL quarterback could make. He has 4 wins and 4 game winning drives under his belt but unfortunately 13 interceptions and a handful of ugly fumbles. The Jets are 4-4 with a bottom 5 WR/TE group, an average group of running backs and an average offensive line and people want to permanently write Smith off? What? Nobody is saying he’s earned a 10 year extension to be the franchise quarterback but barring a brutal meltdown over the next 8 games, he will be the guy on opening day in 2014.
Smith’s physical tools are off the charts. He can make every throw in the playbook and has an ability to create plays with his feet. His demeanor has remain even-keeled and we haven’t seen his confidence be shaken yet. By all accounts, he has been extremely coachable, a hard-worker and good leader on offense. He was a 2nd round pick for a reason and is having the growing pains that should be expected. There would be nothing dumber than bailing on Smith after 8 games and handing the reigns to any other quarterback in this organization. Smith should and will (barring injury) start all 16 games and then be evaluated from there. At the current pace, he will be the Jets starter in 2014.
2. I frequently hear complaints that I get on Stephen Hill too much. However, the numbers and the tape don’t lie. 23 catches on 46 targets for 340 yards and 1 touchdown through 8 games. If you take away the Justin Rogers factor, he has 20 catches for 232 yards and 0 touchdowns, which averages out to an ugly 11.6 yards per catch. David Nelson (15 receptions on 22 targets and taking Hill’s reps already) looks sharper and more comfortable in this offense and he was signed in week 5. Hill catches the football with his body, not his hands and refuses to attack the ball at his highest point. He also remains exceptionally average after the catch, meaning he never breaks tackles or makes anybody miss in the open field.
I understand he was a raw product coming out of college and I understand Geno Smith missed him down the field on a deep post against Pittsburgh. However, let’s be realistic, Hill isn’t completely revamping how he plays the game. He doesn’t have a natural ability to catch the football or make plays in the open field. You can’t learn that stuff in the off-season, either you have it (Demaryius Thomas has it) or you don’t. Watch somebody like Thomas catch the football and run in the open field compared to Hill and the difference is night and day.
Jeremy Kerley remains the team’s most consistent and best overall receiver. When Santonio Holmes is out there, he is the best but he is pacing to playing about half a season. Kerley leads the Jets in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns and has been a monster on third downs, while hauling in 27 of the 41 passes thrown his way overall. His route running has only gotten better since last season and he has very strong hands in the slot while working the middle of the field.
3. Muhammad WIlkerson is legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and will be the first Jets player to crack double digit sacks since John Abraham in 2005. Wilkerson already has 7 sacks and creates disruptive plays every single week. He is unblockable in one on one situations and can battle through double teams as well as anybody not named JJ Watt.
Damon Harrison has been a clear cut Pro-Bowler to this point as well. He is the primary reason the Jets have been so good against the run. Sheldon Richardson doesn’t have gaudy numbers (37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFLs, 1 FF) but should be in any discussion for Defensive Player of the Year. Watching Wilkerson, Richardson, and Harrison grow together in the coming years will be exciting.
4. Whether he is unhealthy or not properly motivated, Quinton Coples looks like a poor man’s Calvin Pace right now. He is sluggish off the edge and isn’t mixing up his pass rush moves at all. It has been a disappointing regression after an encouraging rookie season. Let’s hope he comes back with more juice after the bye week. Speaking of Pace, with 25 tackles, 4 sacks and 3 passes defensed…he has been pretty good on a minimum contract.
5. Call it what is – Antonio Cromartie has been brutal this season. He hasn’t taken a step back from last year, he has fell off a cliff. Whatever the reason is, right now he is a huge liability out there. Dee Milliner has been just as bad as you think he’s been. He looks clueless and extremely tentative out there.
6. The Jets running backs have been a disappointment. Chris Ivory runs hard but isn’t showing good vision. He has been close to popping a few long runs but he simply hasn’t gotten it done yet. Right now his longest run on the season is only 19 yards…that is some Shonn Greene type production. Bilal Powell was very good the first four games but has slowed down. If you take away the Buffalo game, which is a huge outlier, Powell only has 236 yards on 73 carries with a 3.2 YPC. The run blocking hasn’t been great but the running backs aren’t making enough people miss and simply have lacked the explosiveness to create big plays.
7. On the offensive line, it has been a rough season for D’Brickashaw Ferguson who is clearly no longer a top tier player at his position. It will be interesting to see how the Jets proceed with him this off-season considering his contract. Austin Howard has been very good and the Jets will likely be looking to extend him this off-season. Nick Mangold has been good, not great and struggled last week with a rib injury. Brian Winters is having rookie growing pains and Willie Colon has proved to be a strong off-season signing by John Idzik.
8. It has been a strong sophomore season for Demario Davis and Antonio Allen. Davis is a leader on the defense and has been properly utilizing his unique athleticism and speed. Allen has been regularly overcoming his perceived shortcomings in pass coverage and could be a keeper long term as a starter.
9. Golf clap for Nick Folk who has been an All-Pro at 19 for 19 with 3 game winning kicks. Also on specials, a golf clap for Ellis Lankster who has been tenacious on the coverage units.