The New York Jets are 5-4 heading into the Bye. Let that sink in.
The Jets were ranked 32/32 heading into Week One, lest we forget. Rex Ryan was a lame duck. NFL pundits lamented the exodus of Dustin Keller, Brandon Moore, LaRon Landry, Shonn Greene, Mike Devito, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace. How could rookie capologist John Idzik, he of little talent evaluating acumen, begin to fill the holes left by the departed? Definitely not by trading Darrelle Revis for a first, a third, and a magic bag of beans. The New York Jets could not possibly escape their fate as the laughing-stocks of the National Football League.
Well, eight weeks into the season, the Jets are the frontrunners of the race for the sixth seed in the crowded AFC. Ryan has coached players beyond their potential and a team beyond expectations. Landry has played three games. Greene has played two games. Moore, Pouha, and Scott are out of the league. Idzik has made a flurry of acquisitions in free agency and seen early returns from his first draft.
The Jets have soared beyond expectations, despite some obvious flaws. Considering this fact, both detractors and supporters of the team could use some mid-season perspective.
What Has Gone Right:
- 8 Pass TDs
- 13 INTs
- 1,882 Pass YDs
- 59.3 Comp %
- 3 Rush TDs
- 6 Fumbles
- 154 Rush YDs
- 5.1 YPC
- 4 Game Winning Drives
Before draft day, scouting reports on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith portrayed two different players. A confident, accurate, big armed, mobile QB that could make every throw. An unenthusiastic, inconsistent one that crumbled under pressure. The good reports suggest Smith could be the first overall selection. The bad reports were scathing. When the Jets selected Smith with the 39th overall pick, the pundits guffawed the Jets six quarterback mess (Smith, Sanchez, Tebow, McElroy, Garrard, and Simms).
Eventually the Jets narrowed the competition down to three. Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez (and Matt Simms) created a lot of headlines and intrigue before opening day. Mark Sanchez was seemingly on the outs but had a chance to flourish in a new system. Matt Simms was the home grown talent with the fans behind him. Geno Smith was the raw rookie who clearly needed a year to sit and grow.
Well, Sanchez went down with a labral tear and the Jets decision makers did not see Simms as the future (despite stellar play in the final preseason game). Enter Geno Smith. Smith came out swinging against the Buccaneers, engineered a game winning drive, and has not looked back
Yes, Smith has sixteen turnovers. He also has a eleven total touchdowns. Yes, Smith has a 59.3 completion percentage. He also has four game winning drives.
What Smith has shown in the first half of his rookie season is encouraging. Turnovers are a concern but confidence, unflappability, big arm, deep accuracy, and big plays are traits any Jets fan would sign up for going into 2013.
Clearly, everyone has an opinion on this topic.
The secondary has not looked the same without the best corner in the NFL (duh). Yet, there are some indisputable facts.
- The $96 million dollars that Tampa gave Revis would prevent the Jets from comfortably extending other key players (i.e. Wilkerson) and continuing to improve their roster.
- The Jets 13th overall selection of Sheldon Richardson is already paying dividends
- The Buccaneers are currently fighting for the title of worst in the NFL, all but guaranteeing the Jets a high pick in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft
Considering the position John Idzik was put in regarding Revis, the outcome has been positive. Revis was injured and looking for an unrealistic contract for a team going into a rebuild and filled with holes. Idzik needed to make his mark on the roster through the draft and wanted wiggle room for future free agent pursuit. The Jets got what they could at the time and have seen immediate dividends with their compensation.
A trio of Powell, Ivory, and Goodson did not inspire pre-season confidence in the casual fan. The fact that they were following a 7th round rookie lead blocker and running behind two new guards didn’t help. However, the Jets rushing attack has surprised.
Powell started off the season red hot and was tied for the AFC rushing leader at one point. Ivory dealt with lingering injuries but flashed in the Patriots game. Upon his return, Goodson showed an element explosiveness and elusiveness that the Jets offense was lacking.
Though Powell has slowed down and Goodson was lost for the year, the running game seems to be in good hands with Ivory. Underutilized and under appreciated in New Orleans, the Kraken (as he is endearingly called) has found a home in the Meadowlands. The close observation of his Saints career (like this film study from TOJ) shows an explosive game changer. Ivory solidified his role as the lead back with a dominating performance against his former team and looks to pick up steam heading into the winter months. Powell continues to provide a steady change of pace and a weapon in the passing game. Bohanon has shown versatility as a lead blocker and pass catcher. When Goodson returns in 2014 this backfield will become all the more dangerous.
Low Cost/High Reward Signings:
- Willie Colon: Brings an attitude that the Jets offensive line has lacked since the days of Alan Faneca. Creates running lanes and solidifies a guard spot that was a weak point heading into the season.
- Kellen Winslow: A late offseason addition who quickly became Geno Smith’s most reliable target and safety blanket. Brings a veteran presence to a young group of pass catchers.
- David Nelson: A midseason acquisition that has quickly paid off. He has already earned the trust of Geno Smith and surpassed the struggling Stephen Hill in line for catches. Has solid hands, runs crisp routes, and makes chain moving plays.
- Josh Cribbs: Another midseason acquisition that added a needed spark on both offense and special teams. Revived an anemic return game and added a valuable dimension to the offense that the Jets have missed without similar players; Brad Smith and Leon Washington.
- Leger Douzable: A rotational player that you don’t notice is a good thing. Douzable seamlessly spells Wilkerson, Richardson, and Harrison and even makes his fair share of plays in the opponents backfield.
David Harris Renaissance:
Harris became a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker early in his career. The 2011 and 2012 seasons saw a precipitous decline in his level of play. Many read the tea leaves and questioned his future in green and white. However, with a mobile Demario Davis next to him and an elite defensive line in front of him, Harris has had a career rebound. He has a team leading 58 total tackles and two sacks to his name. Harris has been making bone crushing hits all over the field and has sniffed out numerous screens and draw plays on the season. Welcome back ‘Hitman’.
- Demario Davis: Davis was drafted to replace Bart Scott. He did little in his rookie season and scared many with his lack of production. However, Davis has made a quick jump in his second season and not only raised his level of play but become a team leader. His speed and ability to sniff out and attack the ball carrier is a major upgrade at the middle linebacker position. Davis has also displayed the coverage ability that the Jets coveted coming out of Arkansas State. Davis looks to be a star in the making.
- Muhammad Wilkerson: Its hard to fathom it but Wilkerson has improved from his stellar sophomore season. Wilkerson already has eight sacks on the year and looks to break the double digit mark for the first time since John Abraham. Wilkerson has been unblock-able this season and has made plays on a regular basis. This man is by far the best player on the Jets and is in line for a big time extension.
- Jeremy Kerley: Kerley proved last year was no aberration and has shown a consistency that the rest of the Jets pass catchers have lacked. He continues to get open using crafty route running and an ability to find the soft spots in the opponents defense. He has a knack for the third down conversion and is invaluable to Geno Smith.
- Antonio Allen: A 7th round pick that played the enigmatic ‘Spur’ position at South Carolina. Known more for his in the box play, Allen has displayed the awareness and coverage ability to make him a viable candidate for a long term starting role.
- Damon Harrison: A former UDFA took advantage of the hole left by Pouha and an injured Kenrick Ellis and ran away with the starting nose tackle gig. Harrison has been a great surprise this season and become an elite run stuffer in the NFL. He regularly commands double teams and sheds them to make tackles for a loss. Another great development project from the minds of Rex Ryan and Karl Dunbar.
- Darrin Walls: Another UDFA has worked his way up the depth chart to see significant playing time in sub packages and in relief of the Jets struggling corner backs. Walls has exceptional awareness and regularly makes plays on the ball. A turnover is a matter of when, not if for this young man. Walls may even be the best performing corner on the roster this season and seems to warrant more playing time.
The Defensive Line:
The hype around this unit going into the season was palpable. Perhaps it was just Jets nation but expectations for the d-line were sky high. So far, they have not disappointed. The previously mentioned Wilkerson and Harrison have teamed up with the rookie phoneme Sheldon Richardson to produce an unprecedented unit. Along with Quinton Coples (who showed up against the Saints); relief efforts from Douzable and Kenrick Ellis; and early returns from Antwan Barnes; the Jets defensive line have been unstoppable all year. The Jets have been able to attack the line of scrimmage with five down linemen and effectively stop the run and rush the passer. The defensive coaches can flood the field with defensive backs because of the elite level of play from the men in the trenches. Keep truckin’ gentlemen.
Rex Ryan/Marty Mornhinweg/John Idzik Combo:
There is no way this trio could function right? Wrong.
The preseason doubters saw this mismatched crew as a disaster waiting to happen. Three men, from three very different backgrounds had no chance of working as a team.
Well, Ryan has coached up the Jets far beyond expectations and returned to his roots to create a dynamic and vicious defense. Mornhinweg was given full control of the offense and provided refreshing play calling and development for a team that has suffered through some poor offensive coaching in the recent past. Idzik has brought these two men together and consistently provided them with talent and replaced lost talent. Much of the success described above can be attributed to these three and their ability to adapt to an undesirable situation and flourish.
I would be remised to exclude the Jets MVP of the 2013 half season. Nick Folk is perfect on the season and has won his fair share of games. Jets Nation thanks you Mr. Folk for your consistency and unflappability.
What Has Gone Wrong:
This pre-season fear has come to fruition. Antonio Cromartie has looked like a shell of his 2012, Pro Bowl self. Dee Milliner has struggled adapting to the pro game. Kyle Wilson seems to have plateaued. Darrin Walls inexplicably rides the pine.
Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen have played adequately but cannot make up for the secondary deficiencies. If the front seven fails to get pressure, opposing quarterbacks have been carving these back end up.
The corner backs look to be trending in the right direction after a solid outing against New Orleans and heading into the Bye. Hopefully, Cromartie and Milliner find their footing and raise their game in the second half of the season.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s Step Back:
Ferguson was an elite left tackle for much of his career. However, for the past few years the perennial all prow has been trending downwards. He is undersized for the position and relatively weak but relied on his athleticism and football acumen to carry him. Ferguson looks like he has lost a step athletically and it has hurt him all season against outside rushers. He is no longer in the elite category and is still losing ground. The difficulty in finding talent at the left tackle position and his team leadership may ensure he sticks around, but Ferguson needs to find a new way to adapt or Geno Smith will continue to see frequent blind side pressure.
- Stephen Hill: Hill had a ton of momentum going into the season. Word out of camp was that the second year pro had made major progress in his route running and catching ability. Practice reports told of acrobatic catches and chemistry between him and his rookie quarterback. A trio of Holmes, Hill, and Kerley started to sound more encouraging than it had. However, Hill has struggled to haul in passes. He has caught only 50% of passes thrown his way (23/46). Though he demands coverage and blocks well in the run game, the team needed Hill to be a game breaker and a passing threat. He has not developed into either.
- Quinton Coples: Coples had a blazing end of the 2012 season and racked in a total of five sacks. His preseason looked equally stellar and he appeared to be unblockable. However, a broken ankle delayed this progress and he lost the first four games of the season. Coples has yet to regain his pre-injury form and has been a major disappointment. If he can replicate his 2012 and preseason form, he could take the Jets already dominant defense to the next level. Still, Coples showed up against the Saints and looks to heal up during the Bye. If he can carry this momentum into the week ten showdown against Buffalo, the sky is the limit for Q.
- Kenrick Ellis: A physical specimen slowed by injuries and off the field issues, Ellis had a clean slate going into 2013. Most expected him to fill the nose tackle spot and dominate with superior strength and athletic ability for a man his size. However, a lower back injury sent him to the trainers table which allowed for Damon Harrison to break out and never look back. Ellis has been a good rotational player but his role on the team has slowed his development to a halt.
- Vlad Ducasse: Ducasse was an easily labeled bust going into the offseason. However, improved play from the fourth year player and a lack of talent at guard pushed him to a starting role. Improved play and promising reports out of camp gave some the hope that the switch had finally flipped on for Ducasse. However, aside from the New England outlier, Ducasse has been exactly who we thought he was.
Wide Receiver Let Down:
As previously mentioned hope abound for the Jets receiving corps going into the season. Holmes was on the mend and Hill, Gates, and Spadola were preseason all stars. However, Holmes was quickly re-injured and Hill, Gates, and Spadola’s preseason success did not translate to the regular season. Gates was sent to IR and Spadola was cut. With Hill and Kerley leading the Jets receiving corps it looked like a repeat of the 2012 Receiver-pocolypse. Luckily, Cribbs and Nelson were brought in and stabilized the struggling group.
Despite the reinforcements, the Jets pass catchers still do not strike fear into opponents in the way many hoped they would. This position group looks to have a major overhaul in the offseason and will probably look something like: Free Agent Receiver – Highly Drafted Receiver – Kerley – Nelson – Hill. This is clearly a position of need in 2014.
There have been ups and downs for the 2013 Jets, as evidenced by their back and forth, win-loss trend. Geno Smith has had ups and downs. The coaching has seen ups and downs. However, a 5-4 record heading into the bye, a potential franchise quarterback, and a stifling defense would have sounded like a pipe-dream to anyone projecting the 2013 Jets. They have already exceeded many expectations despite obvious areas of weakness. The Jets a flawed team. The Jets are a resilient team. The Jets are better team than expected. Most importantly however, the Jets are a team trending in the right direction.