Deep Dive: The New York Jets 1-5 Mess

Joe Caporoso takes a deep dive into the 1-5 New York Jets, looking at the GM, Head Coach, media, quarterback and fans…

1-5 football teams have many scapegoats. 1-5 football teams in New York are going to create a media firestorm. 1-5 football teams who most projected to be around .500 are going to create a weekly firestorm of assigning blame to those scapegoats. In the second week of October, the New York Jets have entered a toxic stage of their season, where it feels like a day cannot pass without a headline being created or an argument taking place over who gets blame for what.

Jets GM John Idzik will continue to be target number one for most people who follow the team. This is logical. He is the new guy in town and provides less media access, flashy moves and flashy quotes than previous GM Mike Tannenbaum. Many are demanding he steps out in front of the media immediately for a public judging but why should he do that?. Did Jerry Reese go out in front of the media when the Giants were 0-6 last year or did he wait until the bye week and stick to standard front office procedure? He stuck to the procedure. GMs are not meant to be the public face of an organization. They should be off the radar and away from the media, especially during the season.

As for his personnel decisions, he is open to plenty of criticism. The stance of people who regularly defend the GM (this site included) is not that Idzik is a great or even good GM, it is that he needs more than 22 games to develop his roster. This team wasn’t going to be fully reconstructed into a sustainable contender in one or even two offseasons. People hate to hear the word “patience” but cutting bait on a new GM after 1.25 or even two seasons is ludicrous. Mike Tannenbaum went 4-12 in his second season and lasted five more years here. The second year of the current Seattle regime was a 7-9 in year two, after going 7-9 in year one. Those examples aren’t proof that Idzik is guaranteed to build a contender but he deserves a reasonable chance at it.

We have all heard the same 21 million under the cap complaints, Mike Goodson and Dimitri Patterson jokes and early write offs of the 2013 and 2014 draft class. These stories generally paint one half of the picture and ignore the rest because it doesn’t neatly fit into the onslaught of criticism. The Patterson and Goodson signings were complete whiffs. They were also low cost, low risk contracts that had no notable negative impact on the team’s salary cap or long term future. To a further extent, some have tried to rip him for what amounts to training camp tryout contracts for players like David Garrard and Ben Obomanu. You are reaching or have no understanding of a NFL roster if you are wasting time criticizing him for that.

Idzik will ultimately sink or swim based on his drafts, most notably his early round picks along with his big free agent signings. Any full on evaluation of a draft class after 6 games or even one season and six games is short sighted and incomplete. The Jets used 20 picks to obtain 20 players through two years, 15 of which are still within the organization. They also added two other 2014 draft picks off waivers this season (Walt Powell and Wesley Johnson) and a UDFA in 2013 (Dalton Freeman), giving them 18 players from the two drafts.

Early returns would suggest Sheldon Richardson, Chris Ivory (obtained for a 4th round pick) and Jace Amaro look like potential long term plus starters in the NFL. The jury remains out on most of the other 15, even if you want to write off Geno Smith, Brian Winters, Tommy Bohanon and think Dee Milliner’s career is over after his latest injury. Nobody from the 2014 class can be anywhere near written off yet. Maybe they all bust. Or maybe at some point in 2015 or 2016: Oday Aboushi and Dalton Freeman are competent starters, Dozier Dozier is the top lineman off the bench, Dexter McDougle is flashing at corner, Shaq Evans is a capable second string receiver and IK Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly are producing as rotational players in the Jets front seven, Calvin Pryor has settled into being a good starting safety and Milliner is back healthy and playing like the Defensive Rookie of the Month from last December.

Is that all going to happen? Probably not. But are all the players locked into being unproductive busts? Absolutely not. The Jets have increased their chances of finding productive players by bringing in 18 over the course of two years, which is better than bringing in 7 over two years like Mike Tannenbaum did in 2009 and 2010 (only one of which is currently still with the team).

You can’t say the GM hasn’t added any weapons without ignoring Eric Decker, Chris Ivory and Jace Amaro who look like they will be the top three skill position players on the roster for the rest of 2014. It matters more if the team hits on Amaro in the 2nd round than if they miss on Quincy Enunwa in the 6th round. It matters more if Decker is producing on his big (but fair) contract than if Ben Obomanu got cut last season. It matters more if Chris Ivory is a quality starting running back had for a 4th round pick in 2013, than if the Jets missed on one of their three fourth round picks in 2014…because it isn’t easy to find starter level production in the 4th round.

Idzik also walked into the unique/odd situation of being required to stay with the current head coach and being tasked with trading the team’s best player (due to the relationship between the player’s management and team ownership being destroyed). He flipped that player into the Defensive Rookie of the Year and the team’s starting running back, to a team who kept the player he traded for one season.

Yes, the Jets went into this season too thin at cornerback, offensive guard and wide receiver. They put far too many eggs in Dee Milliner’s basket at corner and counted on more production from Jeff Cumberland and Chris Jonson to limit the need at receiver and they aren’t getting it. They are also primed to bring back key pieces over the next two years and attack a much better wide receiver market next offseason, along with having the flexibility to rebuild their offensive line and linebackers. Is the answer to spend all the money you have, just to spend it? Or wait to make multiple big moves when you feel you have gotten close enough for those moves to put you over the top?

The Jets are 1-5 with losses to teams with a combined record of 20-9. They have been in every single game except for one. They have done this, despite sustaining injuries to arguably their two most critical or x-factor players coming into the season (Dee Milliner and Eric Decker). Did the Jets really get ran off the field against Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit or Denver like a team with “zero talent” should?

The Jets GM has had an uneven (at best) performance but he merits the rest of this season and another offseason to complete this roster renovation. Don’t say he can’t find a big name free agent because he did with Eric Decker. Don’t say he can’t win a trade because he did with both Darrelle Revis (Jets got the better of that deal than Tampa) and Chris Ivory. Don’t say he can’t find early round talent because he drafted the DROY in 2013 and just had his rookie second round tight end catch 10 passes in his sixth career game. Don’t say he can’t find production for cheap because he did in 2013 with Willie Colon and David Nelson. There have been misses and there have been hits…but ultimately the jury is still out.

15-27 is Rex Ryan’s record as the New York Jets head coach in his past 42 games. In that stretch, the Jets have lost 10 of those 27 games by 20 points or more. Jets fans and most of the media will always lean towards siding with Rex because of his personality and the success of the team in 2009/2010. Rex is an easy person to root for. It isn’t popular to assign blame to him around this fanbase or market. Rex is also a good coach, which don’t grow on trees. He is also an inconsistent coach with many flaws, who is generally trending downward since he put together one of the best gameplans in recent memory to upset the New England Patriots back in 2010.

In retrospect, doesn’t that two week stretch in the 2010 playoffs encapsulate Rex Ryan’s tenure as the Jets Head Coach? He cooks up a gem against the Patriots as an heavy underdog and then doesn’t have his team prepared to play in the AFC Championship Game. They fall behind 24-0 and ultimately lose. There is no consistency or ability to handle success. It is part of the reason the Jets record in their past 14 games after a win is 2-12.

In 2011, Rex had a team good enough to make the playoffs and they fell apart on and off the field, culminating with a three game losing streak and an on field fight involving his hand chosen team captain. If you don’t think Rex is culpable for many of the problems of that season, please go read Collision Low Crossers. As a matter of fact, it isn’t worth discussing Rex as a head coach if you haven’t taken the time to read that book, which is curiously overlooked way too frequently when discussing him.

In 2012, Rex got 6 wins out of a 4 win roster thanks to a 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals 4th string quarterback and a squeaker over a dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars team. The Jets probably should have started fresh with a new HC to match their new GM after that season but rolled with Rex again in 2013, who was the same inconsistent HC we’ve grown to see. The team went 8-8 but was 1-7 after a win, had the worst point differential in NFL history for a team .500 or better, lost seven games by 10 points or more (including five of them to non-playoff teams). At the same time, he had masterful gameplans against New England twice, in an upset over the heavily favored New Orleans Saints and knocked Miami out of the playoffs in week 17.

The team rallied around him after they fell out of playoff contention but again, it probably would have been for the better to let him go. Was too much stock put into late season wins over two of the worst teams in the NFL?

Now, this is where it is fair to complain about the quarterbacks and offenses Rex has been saddled with. These are fair and valid complaints. Rex has consistently had poor quarterback play and below average offenses. Unfortunately, Rex is the head coach which means he is responsible for the entire team and coaching staff, including the quarterback and offense. Let’s not write revisionist history and act like Rex wasn’t on board with the Mark Sanchez pick or that he didn’t decide his offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches. If you can’t develop a quarterback yourself or don’t foster an environment that is conducive to offensive football, you better nail it with your quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators.

Rex as the victim is a tired and inaccurate storyline. He has been given six defensive first round picks since coming here and the team has slowly slid down the defensive rankings every season. Rex was involved in the draft process with Tannenbaum and he is with Idzik, so yes he gets his share of credit for Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. He also gets his share of blame for Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples and Dee Milliner so far not playing to expectations. He also publicly had his hands all over the decision to draft John Connor, Scotty McKnight and Tahj Boyd. Even in free agency decisions, Rex has been regularly involved. He pushed the team to sign Derrick Mason before 2011 because he was “his guy” and he could control him in the locker room. We know how that worked out. This has been a collaborative process since Rex has been here and that is also on GM or the owner for allowing his continued heavy personnel input.

We already know that basically zero offensive players have developed here since 2009 but how many defensive players brought in post-Ryan have developed…especially when you take away defensive linemen? Demario Davis has flashed but still remains a league average starter. Antonio Allen has flashed but was jerked around last year thanks to Ed Reed being signed (think Rex had say in that?) and then inexplicably being given starting reps. He has now been reduced to playing less than 20 snaps per game, despite being moved back to safety.

It is misguided to think a coach who is 15-29 in his last 44 games across multiple GMs, OCs, DCs, and QBs is without a heavy chunk of the blame or that he is irreplaceable. Realistically, Rex probably ranks somewhere in the 12-17 range for NFL head coaches but could be less preferred to guys like Bruce Arians and Marc Trestman because of their offensive background and higher likelihood to develop a quarterback friendly environment.

So far, this hasn’t been a good year for Rex. He scripted up a strong game plan against the Broncos and is likely to do the same against the Patriots. However, he was at his stubborn worst against the Packers, Bears, Lions and Chargers…coaching held the Jets back in their three NFC North losses, all of which were very winnable games. His young and old leaders have called out the team’s preparation, and the Jets remain a generally undisciplined team with inconsistent game management.

The real question with Rex is that if he can only manage one side of the football, how good of a coach is he? If he could only succeed with a veteran team, how good of a coach is he? If his defensive system can only work with All-World corners, how good of a coach is he?

Yet, even as somebody who is more critical of Rex than most. I wouldn’t write him off yet. I don’t see this team quitting on him and being an inconsistent coach means mixing in good weeks with bad weeks. Rex is going to have more good weeks this season and deal with much, much worse quarterbacks than Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. The Jets have had a way of battling back to respectability under ugly circumstances in the past five years and even if the Jets start 1-6 with another loss on Thursday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish 5-4 or 6-3. Rex may not be as dead as many assume and could very well be on the sideline in 2015 with a roster that will be further propped up by another draft and free agent period. Remember, the Jets have more than enough space to bring back Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Jeremy Kerley and then will have plenty of spending to do to at least hit the league minimum.

Past the GM and Head Coach, the Jets never ending search for a quarterback has continued to hold them back. Geno Smith was a second round pick and always a multi-year project. He improved the final month of the season in 2013, which is what you want to see from any young player and played a strong first six quarters of this season but has been a skittish mess since then. Regardless of what many say, Smith has a credible top three receiving options in Eric Decker, Jace Amaro and Jeremy Kerley. There are plenty of quarterbacks and offenses doing more with less. The offensive line and Mary Mornhinweg haven’t helped, along with Smith’s perplexing new aversion to running the football. Ultimately, Smith will probably get better as the season goes on, if Decker stays healthy and Amaro keeps developing. The competition will soften up and hopefully some of his confidence will be restored.

The early returns suggest that Smith is not the guy to quarterback this team in 2015 but if he isn’t, then who will? If you are going to spend another high pick on a quarterback, do you really want to keep Rex Ryan? Do you sign a veteran…but what veteran? It is too early to figure out, Smith should play every snap the rest of the season so a clearer picture of him comes into focus and we see if he can turn around an ugly few weeks on and off the field. Smith’s ceiling is probably an Andy Dalton type level starter but with more mobility, as of today it is hard to see him reaching that ceiling but perception can change with a few good games.

Finally, let’s conclude with the media and this team in general. This site was launched awhile back with a heavy focus on being critical of the local media. We have moved away from that to a large extent, shifting focus to breaking down film and discussing what occurs on the field. Currently, I don’t think the local media is all that bad and has been slightly improving. They have very different jobs, audiences and objectives than a site like this. There is still some garbage out there but that is common in every market across the country. The bottom of barrel trolling and vendetta pieces are so poorly written and transparent now, that it doesn’t really need to be pointed out. People are smart enough to see it for what it is, so why harp on a few Skip Bayless wannabees and give them the press they crave?

If you want standard AP style coverage, it is out there and good. If you want a quality beat, follow NJ.com. There is a reason their last two Jets writers now work for MMQB and ATL.

As for the SAME OLD JETS. 2014 struggles don’t have anything to do with things that happened decades ago. It isn’t a logical prism to analyze this year’s problems through. if you are truly that dissatisfied and miserable being a fan of the team…don’t pay money for tickets or merchandise. Over the past 17 years, the team has been in the top half of the NFL in wins, playoff appearances and playoff wins. It rings hollow when you are 1-5 but it is true. Wallowing in self pity over a difficult history is an unproductive waste of time. A NFL team should never be run to appeal to the whims of a Mike Francesa caller or somebody like Mike Greenberg. Make your plan, give it a reasonable time frame, if it doesn’t work, reset and go back to work.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports