Nobody had high expectations for the New York Jets offense heading into the 2013 season, nor should they have. They had question marks at nearly every position, including most prominently at quarterback where rookie Geno Smith was coming off a porous pre-season. However, they were passably average during the first nine games of the season. However, over the last three weeks they have been the league’s worst offense by any meaningful statistic and from a simple eye test. What happened and are there any solutions for the final four games?
The Offensive Line: Brian Winters struggled in his first few starts from weeks 5-9, however his play has truly fell off a cliff in recent weeks. He has surpassed normal rookie struggles to simply routinely getting beat and appearing to have his confidence strongly shaken. He is the weakest link on a very average offensive line and team’s have not been shy about exploiting him. Yet, Winters isn’t the only one failing to meet expectations.
The days of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson being elite players at their position are long gone. Ferguson in particular is having a difficult season and when the Jets play a physical defensive front, teams are beating up on the left side of the Jets line, not just Winters but also Ferguson. Mangold remains a good player but is no longer the top tier anchor he was from 2008-2010. Willie Colon has been a solid starter and generally met expectations this season, while Austin Howard is quietly putting together a very strong season and is likely to receive a new contract from the Jets this off-season.
The Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: You could only get by with smoke and mirrors for so long. The bottom line is the Jets have one of the league’s worst group of receivers and tight ends. When you factor in Jeremy Kerley not playing the past three games and Santonio Holmes playing at what looks to be about 70%, the picture gets that much uglier. David Nelson and Greg Salas were street free agents for a reason. They can be rotational players or #3 and #4 receivers, not playing major reps on a week to week basis. Stephen Hill has done a complete disappearing act the past six games, registering a pathetic 6 receptions on 16 targets for 42 yards. In that same time frame, Kerley racked up 12 receptions on 16 targets for 125 yards, despite missing 3 and 1/2 games! Nelson has managed 17 receptions on 33 targets for 228 yards and Salas has 7 receptions on 12 targets for 147 yards. People will complain about Geno not targeting Hill enough but perhaps if he didn’t go up for the ball like this, he’d be targeted more:
At tight end, it remains perplexing that Jeff Cumberland is getting the bulk of the playing time, considering he is a receiving tight end who can’t catch. Kellen Winslow has at least shown signs of life when out there and Zach Sudfeld appeared to show some promise in the Bengals and Saints game. Cumberalnd is not a starting NFL tight and never has been.
The Running Backs: It is hard to complain too much here comparatively. Chris Ivory has played very well the past month, easily surpassing Bilal Powell as the team’s most effective back. However, Tommy Bohanon has went from a below average rookie fullback early in the season, to being so bad that he is basically unplayable. The Jets screen game has basically died but that is more on the coaching and Geno Smith than the running backs.
The Coaching: Whether it is due to influence from Rex Ryan or not, Marty Mornhinweg has become much more conservative and has struggled to mask the Jets shortcomings the way he had earlier in the season. There seems to be a general lack of creativity and some head scratching personnel usage, like giving Powell goal-line and short yardage handoffs over Ivory and continuing to play Cumberland so much.
The Quarterback: Duh. Geno Smith has regressed substantially over the past five games. As a project rookie quarterback coming out of a spread college offense, he was never equipped to carry a mediocre offensive line and bottom three wide receiver/tight end group to offensive success this season. He received more help early in the season from his personnel and coaches but the wheels have fell of as the unit as struggled around him.
Let’s not absolve him of blame however. He has exhibited poor decision making, a lack of feel in the pocket and no is longer playing with the same confidence he did earlier in the season. Smith is turning the ball over at unacceptable rate and simply isn’t making enough plays, regardless of who is lined up around him.
So, now what?
Considering the playoffs are a pipe dream at this point, Smith and Winters are going to keep playing to get further evaluative tape on them. With Smith, there is no point in trotting him out there to run a recreation football offense. The Jets should still be an offense than leans more on the running game than the passing game but they need to let Geno attack down the field, regardless of the result. Go back and use some concepts he used at West Virginia and see if you can build his confidence back up and hopefully get him into some type rhythm. This may sound insane, but why not try a series or two of no huddle each half, just to change the tempo and have Geno make some quick throws? How much worse can this offense really get?
They should force feed the ball to Stephen Hill a little bit and see if can make any of plays. It does sound like both Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes will be on the field this week, which will limit his opportunities but considering Holmes won’t be back next year, they are better off trying to get something going with Hill. At tight end, let Sudfeld and Winslow play the majority of the reps. Enough, Jeff Cumberland.
Carolina, Cleveland and Miami all have very good defenses. Hopefully, the Jets can find something this week against the less formidable Raiders, so they will have some type of momentum heading into those last three games or things will stay very, very ugly.