The New York Jets have put together a surprisingly productive nine games on offense this season. No, the statistical numbers aren’t impressive (11th in rushing yards, 26th in passing yards, 21st in total offense and 27th in points per game) but remember what their personnel is. This a team with a rookie second round quarterback, an extremely beat up and thin group of tight ends and receivers, a running back group that is just now rounding into shape and a slightly above average at best offensive line. When they’ve been bad, they’ve been really bad which has hurt their statistics but they answered the bell for 30 points in upset wins over Atlanta and New England, along with 27 points in last week’s upset over New Orleans. What have we seen so far and what can we expect over their final seven game playoff push?
After the New Orleans game, many people are rushing to the conclusion that the Jets are ready to embrace their 2009 formula. The Jets are going to turn Geno Smith into game manager rookie Mark Sanchez, have him throw less than 20 passes per game and hand the football off like crazy. I wouldn’t bet on that. Unlike previous seasons, the Jets are game plan specific and have an offensive coordinator who has an idea of how to utilize his shifting personnel on a weekly basis. By halftime against the Saints, the Jets were without their top two tight ends (Winslow, Cumberland) and top two wide receivers (Holmes and Kerley), while relying on a group of pass catchers who had all recently signed.
Yes, it is encouraging to see Chris Ivory get rolling the past few weeks. If he can stay healthy (a major if), he can be a legitimate lead back and handle 20+ carries per week. Bilal Powell is a more than competent backup who can chip in 8-12 touches per week. A strong running game is a young quarterback’s best friend but I don’t expect Marty Mornhinweg to simply dial up 35-45 handoffs each week regardless of the opponent or situation. I would look for a big final seven games from Ivory in the lead back role but there is still going to weeks where he isn’t the focal point of the Jets offensive attack.
As for Powell, the Jets need to get their screen game going again and he can be a big part of that. He also can help keep Ivory healthy by continuing to be productive with his touches. There is no reason to give Ivory 30 carries in a game unless he is really rolling, Powell can adequately replace him for a few series each half. The Jets need both backs healthy and fresh down the stretch run.
In the passing game, the return of Santonio Holmes from a hamstring injury and Kellen Winslow Jr from his ALLERGY suspension boosts the talent and depth of Geno Smith’s receiving options. We are anticipating bad news about Jeremy Kerley which is a major blow, particularly on third downs but this team has done a nice job with the “next man up” this season.
Due to his continued struggles and the emergence of David Nelson, I would not be surprised to see Stephen Hill’s role continued to be minimized with the return of Holmes. Look for Nelson to still substantial time at the “X” spot (split end) in the Jets offense, working as the team’s primary possession receiver. Holmes can bump back into his traditional “Z” role (flanker), where the team’s top playmaker generally spends most of their time. On third downs, the Jets can put Greg Salas in the slot with Holmes and Nelson on the outside, or bump Holmes or Nelson into slot, where both have been productive before and put Stephen Hill on the outside. Hill may actually play better with a more limited role as he still has unique speed and size. Josh Cribbs should stay in his current role as a gadget/Wildcat player, who sees occasional work for wide receiver screens.
Salas will be a particularly intriguing player to watch going forward, especially with an expected absence of Kerley. We know Morhinweg liked his skill set in Philadelphia and he didn’t hesitate to throw him right into the action last week.
At tight end, Zach Sudfeld played well against the Saints and has a good skill set to be a productive receiving tight end. Mornhinweg has plenty of options here as both Winslow Jr and Jeff Cumberland are expected back in week 11 and the Jets still have Konrad Reuland on the roster (do not be surprised if he is cut shortly). Winslow Jr and Sudfeld can present match-up problems for defenses in a two tight end set, while Cumberland is going to have to battle back for a more prominent role. After his big showing against Atlanta, he has struggled to consistently catch the football and get open. He could very well end up just being a situational/role player down the stretch. Cumberland is a former college wide receiver who still has good size and speed, so Mornhinweg could split him out in certain formations instead of having him be an in-line tight end.
It will be good for Smith to have veterans like Winslow and Holmes to work with during this playoff push. He got reps with them all summer and will likely lean on them in critical situations going forward. Smith also appears to have already built a high comfort level with Nelson, who is a savvy veteran that has a knack for making plays.
On the offensive line, the Jets have got a strong season from Austin Howard who is developing into a consistently solid right tackle. Nick Mangold has been good but is no longer an elite player at his position. Willie Colon has proven to be a smart free agent signing, despite his struggles with penalties, he has brought an attitude to the unit and been a quality starter. Brian Winters is going to keep having ups and downs as a rookie starter but seems to have enough talent to be a viable option to start opening day in 2014. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is having a disappointing season, which is surprising considering his strong 2012. Hopefully, he will improve these final seven games. On the whole, the Jets have a slightly above average offensive line right now.
As always, the overall success of this offense the rest of the season will be most dependent on the quarterback. Geno Smith is going to continue to have ups and downs. The key is that when he has an off week that he still manages to avoid turnovers, similar to the New Orleans game. Smith struggled all afternoon but had no fumbles and no interceptions, the Jets can weather a bad passing performance but they can’t weather multiple turnover games. Again, I wouldn’t bet on the Jets completely relegating Smith to the game manager role. There are still going to be weeks when Mornhinweg dials up an aggressive, pass heavy game plan. Smith is talented enough to handle that type of attack, he just needs to be smart with the football.
The Jets need to keep utilizing Smith’s mobility as well, particularly in the red-zone. He has three rushing touchdowns through nine games and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him finish with six to eight this year.
With the return of Holmes and Winslow, and the mid-season additions of Salas, Sudfeld and Nelson getting more comfortable with the offense in each passing week, the needle is pointing up for the Jets offense. They are going to be challenged the final seven weeks, as they face an elite Carolina defense on the road, an always feisty Ravens defense on the road and host a very good Browns defense. There is also two games left against the Miami Dolphins Three Rings Circus, who have a talented defense despite the Big Top Tent in their locker room.
Keep in mind at this time last year, we had Tony Sparano calling plays for Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Mardy Gilyard…progress.