Scouting the AFC East: Miami Dolphins

First a few updates:

1. There has been a good amount of talk about kicker Jay Feely’s recent comments on Sean Hannity’s show, where he expressed a lack of confidence in President Obama and said he “scares him.” Honestly, the guy is entitled to his opinion, even though I and many people disagree with the things he said. I write about sports here, so the only coverage Jay Feely will get is if he makes or misses field goals.

2. I can’t get enough of those Most Valuable Puppet Commercials with LeBron and Kobe, they just released like 4 new ones…hysterical.

3. Eric Allen wrote an interesting article on www.newyorkjets.com about Chansi Stuckey spending his free time working out with former NFL receiver Terrence Mathis. Stuckey is looking like the starter opposite Jerricho Cotchery as of right now, hopefully he can pick up a thing or two from Mathis who was a successful receiver in Atlanta, not as much with the Jets.

Scouting the AFC East: Miami Dolphins

Along with the positional analysis articles, I am going to take a look at each of the AFC East teams in the next week and how the Jets stack up against them, ending today with the Miami Dolphins

2008 Record: 11-5

2008 vs. Jets: The Jets and Dolphins split their games last year, with each team winning on the road. In week 1, the Jets won in Miami 20-14 thanks to two touchdown passes from Brett Favre, including a miracle pass on a fourth down to Chansi Stuckey. In that game, Jerricho Cotchery also caught a 56 yard touchdown and Thomas Jones pounded the Dolphins defense for 101 yards on 22 carries, with a touchdown himself. Chad Pennington threw for 251 yards in his Miami opener but was picked off by Darrelle Revis to end the game. Revis completely shut down Ted Ginn Jr. in week one, holding him to 2 receptions for 17 yards. Bryan Thomas had 2 sacks in week one (yes, that Bryan Thomas). In week 17, the Dolphins won in the Meadowlands to clinch the AFC East (owch, it still hurts). Favre killed the Jets with 3 INT’s. Leon Washington played well with 10 carries for 60 yards and a TD. Chansi Stuckey had a nice game also with 4 catches for 50 yards. Pennington threw for 200 yards and 2 TDs and Ted Ginn Jr burned the Jets for a 44 yard gain and 27 yard touchdown.

2009 Additions: They added Gibril Wilson at safety and signed corner Eric Green to boost their secondary. Also, they signed center Jake Grove and guard Joe Berger for their offensive line. Miami also brought twinkle toes aka Jason Taylor (see TOJ Hall of Shame) back, who will hopefully be more focused on Neutrogena commercials instead of sacking Mark Sanchez. Their first round pick was corner Vontae Davis. In the second round they picked quarterback/receiver Pat White, who should fit nicely into the Wildcat. They also drafted Mark Sanchez’s favorite target last year, wide receiver Patrick Turner.

2009 Losses: They released the immortal John Beck and traded center Samson Satele to the Raiders. Safety Renaldo Hill and corner Andre Goodman also left via free agency to Denver.

Why the Jets Should Be Worried: Miami was the division champs last year and did beat the Jets in their own building. Their secondary should be improved with the additions of Wilson, Green, and Davis. On offense, they are returning all their skill position players for another year in the Wildcat and their draft picks White and Turner should make their offense harder to deal with. Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are going to be difficult to handle coming off the edges and Phillip Merling is a talented, young player on their defensive line. Tony Sparano is a good coach and Bill Parcells obviously knows what he is doing in the front office.

Why the Jets Can Handle Miami: Rex Ryan looked awfully good coaching defense against the Dolphins last year. Chad Pennington and the rest of the Dolphins offense were overwhelmed by Ryan’s scheme. Obviously the Ravens also had a ton of talent on defense, but so do the Jets this year. Their secondary still has question marks, despite their new additions. Their wide receivers aren’t very good, and they lack a number one. I love Chad Pennington (see TOJ Hall of Fame), but when is the last time he put two really good, healthy seasons together in back to back years? I can tell you the answer…it is never.

Prediction: The 2008 Dolphins reminded me of the 2006 New York Jets. They took advantage of an easy schedule, used a gimmicky offense led by Chad Pennington, and played solid defense to surprise everybody by making the playoffs. I think the 2009 Dolphins will be similar to the 2007 Jets to an extent. They won’t be 4-12, I know that but teams are going to catch on to the wildcat and will be all over that playoff tape on how to rattle Pennington and their schedule is much harder. They aren’t sneaking up anybody this year. I think they will be a 7-9 to 9-7 team. In terms of the Jets, I always expect a split but then I thought about it, before last year’s week 17 loss the Jets had beat Miami 5 times in a row and 8 of their last 9. I am calling for the Jets sweep this year.

2009 Games: Week 5 At Miami, 8:30 PM Kickoff (Monday Night Football aka Crowder vs Ryan Round 1), Week 8 at New York Jets, 1 PM Kickoff.

Where to Begin? Recapping an Active Week of Jets Football

I’m back from vacation and finally finished going through the massive amounts of Jets stories/happenings from the past eight days. I was able to follow what was going on in Vegas to an extent but I was beilacked out from any type of updates in Mexico. Fortunately, there was no shortage of information or sources to read through all day today about everything that has been going on in the world of the Jets, here’s my extended reaction and opinions in an attempt to catch up, followed with regular, daily updates for the rest of the year starting with coverage of practice tomorrow:

First a few vacation thoughts:

1. It was my first time in Vegas and it met and exceeded expectations. I was lucky enough to actually win some money, thanks in part to hitting on Leon Washington’s #29 on the roulette tab.

2. American Airlines? Can you give me something to eat? A five hour flight from Dallas (we had a stopover) to Jersey and nothing more than some ginger ale…give me a break. I almost stormed first class in search of a sandwich but figured the risk outweighed the reward.

3. Cabo is one hell of a place…really beautiful. Obviously, I will let you know if I get the swine flu but from my perspective there was absolutely no danger in traveling there.

Back to the trash-talking, swaggalicious Jets:

1. Who isn’t excited about AFC East football this year? There is no need to repeat all of the quotes that have been thrown around by Rex Ryan, Channing Chowder, Kerry Rhodes, Joey Porter…etc but the trash-talk is flowing in full force already in June. I think Ryan’s quote about “not kissing Bellicheck’s rings” is music to Jets fans/players ears. I also don’t think there is anything disrespectful about what Ryan said. You can’t be standing around in awe of New England’s past success and expect to beat them out in the AFC East. The Jets need to be aggressive and hit the Patriots in the mouth to show they aren’t going to back down from them. I don’t care about regular season records, neither of them made the playoffs last year and they split their regular season games, there is no reason the Jets shouldn’t expect to beat the Patriots at home in week 2 this year.

I think it is comedic how concerned the Dolphins are about what analysts are saying about their team in June. They should enjoy flying under the radar and let all the pressure be on the other AFC East teams and then worry about sneaking up on everybody again. What do they care if Vegas sports books are picking them to win 8 games this year? The whole Channing Crowder/Rex Ryan exchange is a little more light-hearted than people are making it out to be. Of course now that I said that, watch the two of them rumble at the 50 yard line before the Jets/Fins Monday Night game.

Crowder also came after Mark Sanchez and Kerry Rhodes. His comments on Sanchez basically claimed he was soft because of his photo spread and that Chad Pennington/Chad Henne were tougher because they wouldn’t do that stuff. All I know is that if Sanchez isn’t throwing 4 INT’s in a playoff game like Pennington or riding the bench like Henne, he can take all the pictures in GQ he wants. Obviously, he needs to produce this year to silent critics of his photo shoot and critics in general.

Crowder went below the belt by saying Rhodes should worry about his off the field problems. Rhodes isn’t a suspect in any criminal investigation and never called out Crowder by name. All Rhodes did was post on twitter his belief that the Jets would have the best defense in the league. I love the confidence of the group and the support he received from other players and Ryan who backed him up, but still you need to show it on the field first before saying you are the best overall in the league.

Regardless, how different is this team from Eric Mangini’s group of robots from last year? I love the new confidence/emotion/swagger but it remains to be seen if it will lead to an improvement from 2008. I would take a group of 11-5 robots over a 7-9 group of trash-talking, emotional players. As of right now though, I agree with Kris Jenkins…hiring Ryan was an even better decision than building their new state of the art facility.

2. Mark Sanchez signed his contract today, which is for 5 years and about 50 million dollars making him the highest paid player in Jets history…pressure, anyone? It is great that the Jets wrapped this up long before training camp, which will allow Sanchez the best possible opportunity to win the starting job and excel in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.

Turning the focus to on the field, Sanchez has been making steady progress and has flashed better than expected arm strength. The general consensus is that quarterback battle has been about even so far, with Kellen Clemens probably having a slight edge. However, you still have the feeling that inevitably Sanchez is going to keep improving and lock down the starting job by week one.

3. Leon Washington spoke to the media and made it clear that he wants a “fair market value” deal. He showed up for the last week of voluntary workouts as a goodwill gesture but no deal appears imminent. Can we please give this guy his money? He is too valuable to the Jets offense and special teams to be missing any parts of training camp. Thomas Jones still isn’t talking to the media and there are rumors circulating that the Jets may look to trade him this summer. I know they like Shonn Greene, but why trade away a pro-bowl running back when you are going to be starting an inexperienced quarterback? The Jets need to find some way to placate Jones for this season so Green has a year to learn behind him and carry a lighter workload. In 2010, I’d feel much better about Green/Washington backfield than I would in 2009.

4. Chansi Stuckey seems to be creating some space in the battle to start opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Stuckey is the most accomplished guy in the competition, runs fluid routes, and has great hands. He is probably better suited to be in the slot as a #3 guy but if he is the best guy, he deserves to start. Wallace Wright has been flashing a little bit on offense and did show some potential in 2007. Over at tight end, Dustin Keller has had a strong May/June and even drew a compliment from Bart Scott, who said he could be a top 5 receiving tight end in the league. Kareem Brown is also making strides in his transition from defensive end to tight end. Also, if you asked me if I would want Plaxico Burress for 12 games this year…the answer would definitely be yes.

5. On defense, Eric Smith pulled in 3 interceptions the other day and has played well in OTAs. He provides good depth behind Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard. Inside linebacker Jamaal Westerman continues to be a favorite of Ryan, who can’t stop raving about him. Ahmad Carroll has also continued his strong play at cornerback and could see some time on defense this year.

6. The Jets cut punter Eric Wilbur and re-signed Reggie Hodges…thrilling stuff in the punting battle. They also signed LB Craig Kobel and cut LB Nate Harris and DL Brian Schafering.

Tomorrow: Coverage of Thursday’s OTA and more reaction to AFC East trash talking.

Where Do the Jets Fit in the AFC East?

First a few updates:

1. The Gang Green (www.theganggreen.com) has a great feature that tracks all of the Jets who are on twitter. Apparently Mark Sanchez spent the weekend in Seaside Heights…? C’mon Mark, you are going to be a rich man, at least get over to Belmar or something. David Clowney, Chansi Stuckey, Jay Feely, and Dustin Keller all also have active accounts. Keller just got back from Vegas…good for him, I’ll be there next week.

2. Can somebody on Cleveland please help out LeBron James and hit an open jump shot?

3. According to Rich Cimini, Thomas Jones will be coming to OTAs on Wednesday without a new deal or any plans for a new deal. It should be interesting to see what he says to the media, since it appears the Jets may have won this stare down.

Where Do the Jets Fit in the AFC East?

The Jets have had one of the more active and better overall off-seasons in the NFL. Yet, where do they fit in the always highly competitive AFC East? Last year they finished in third place with a 9-7 record, behind the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. The Jets split with both of them last season and swept the Buffalo Bills. When most analysts look at the AFC East for this upcoming season, they rank the Jets as the third or fourth best team, meaning they will be extreme longshots at making the playoffs.

New England is receiving the most pre-season hype in NFL history for a team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous year. They have somehow become the consensus number one team in all April/May power rankings (which, fortunately are never right) and are filling up magazines with talk of breaking every offensive record in the book.

I may hate Bill Bellicheck and New England but I am not naive, they are going to be a good football team this year, like they are every year. However, there are too many questions about the Patriots that are being ignored to just assume they are going to be a 12-14 win team in 2009.

Tom Brady is coming off major  knee surgery. I know the guy is a first ballot hall-of-famer but it takes time to adjust coming back from his type of injury. How can you assume he is going to instantly be back to his 2007 form? New England still has Randy Moss and Wes Welker, probably the best starting duo of receivers in the game but have some questions behind them. I’m not sold on Joey Galloway who looked completely washed up last year and Greg Lewis who has been a 15-20 catch a season guy for the past three years. Their four wide doesn’t scare me like it used to, with Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney who excelled in the Pats system.

Laurence Maroney hasn’t  proven he can handle being a lead back yet and Fred Taylor certainly didn’t look like a #1 or #2 back last season. Their secondary is also very weak. Maybe I am nit-picking with them but I don’t see them cruising to a 13-3 season like every other NFL analyst in the world. I know Rex Ryan did a hell of a job against them in 2007, and I am hoping he can duplicate that effort twice this year.

The Buffalo Bills are receiving a ton of hype because of one player…T.O. Yes, they have a great group of receivers but what about the rest of the team? I’m not sold on Trent Edwards yet as a franchise quarterback, their defense has question marks, and Marshawn Lynch is already suspended for the first three games. Dick Jauron also can’t seem to get out of his own way as a head coach.

The 2008 Miami Dolphins were the 2006 New York Jets. Despite having an overall lack of talent, they used a creative offensive scheme led by an efficient Chad Pennington, an opportunistic defense, and a cupcake schedule to sneak into the playoffs. The 2009 Miami Dolphins are going to be the 2007 New York Jets, maybe not as bad as 4-12 but nowhere near as good as 11-5. Defenses are going to be all over Pennington and their pedestrian group of receivers, similar to the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. Their secondary also has a ton of question marks and can you really count on Ricky Williams for two good seasons in a row at this stage of his career?

It may just sound like I am bashing all of the Jets rivals, so let my clarify my feelings on the AFC East. New England is the best team as of right now. They have the best coach, the best quarterback, the most dangerous offense and an experienced, solid overall defense. However, they are a very beatable team that isn’t going to run away with this thing as a 13/14 win team. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins are all grouped together beneath New England. One of the those three will make a strong run at the division, while the other two will hover around .500. It really depends on who can win their division games. The Jets need to find a way to get 3 out of 4 from Miami/Buffalo and manage a split with New England to have a chance at both a division title and making the playoffs.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

First a few updates:

1. The TOJ Hall of Fame and TOJ Hall of Shame are now fully up and running. Take the time to check out the pages, which are linked across the top of the web-site.

2. For some reason, NFL Films is running a replay of the Jets/Bills regular season game in Buffalo from this past season. A few observations after re-watching the game today: Drew Coleman is awful, Kris Jenkins is unstoppable when he is at his best, Brian Schottenheimer is way too conservative, Calvin Pace doesn’t get enough for credit for how good he is, Jerricho Cotchery has great hands but has a tough time getting separation, Dustin Keller needs to increase his football IQ, and Thomas Jones is quicker than he gets credit for.

3. Pacman Jones to the Jets? I don’t buy this rumor for a second. The Jets have no need for him, as they have good depth at corner and obviously don’t need a guy like that in the locker room.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

The Jets were a 9 win team last season who just missed making the playoffs. After this off-season, I believe it is fair to expect them to be a 10+ win team and strongly contend not just for a playoff spot but also for a deep run into January. It may sound like a bold statement, but let me argue why that isn’t necessarily the case.

I look at their defense and see a unit that was very good last season. They have improved at inside linebacker by upgrading from Eric Barton to Bart Scott. Vernon Gholston has nowhere to go but up from last year, and if Rex Ryan can get anything out of him this year, the Jets will be upgraded at outside linebacker also. The Jets other returning outside linebackers, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are both former 4-3 defensive ends, which means they have strong pass rushing skills. Rex Ryan’s new defensive scheme is more conducive to their talents, than Eric Mangini’s defense which often asked them to drop into pass coverage. 

In the secondary, the Jets have upgraded at both cornerback and safety. Lito Sheppard is a better starter than Dwight Lowery, and Donald Strickland will provide a veteran nickel-back who will also push Lowery to become better. Basically, last year’s #2 corner (Lowery) is now bumped down to being their #4 corner. Abram Elam wasn’t an awful starter at safety last year but Jim Leonhard’s skill set is a better fit for the defense, and he provides better pass coverage skills along with a similar presence inside the box against the run. 

They are thinner on the defensive line this season. However, Kris Jenkins has recently went on record to say that Rex Ryan’s defense won’t be as physically demanding on his body. If Jenkins can remain fully healthy all season, the Jets will be getting a major improvement at defensive tackle over the last 5 games of the regular season compared to 2008. There is pressure on Marques Douglas and Mike DeVito to match Kenyon Coleman’s production on defense, although the only production he really had was against the run. He only managed 0.5 sacks last year, so it shouldn’t be hard for the two of them to match his pass rushing skills. 

On offense, the Jets improved their depth at running back and added another short yardage/goal-line threat by drafting Shonn Greene. They are returning their entire starting offensive line, and added more depth by drafting Matt Slauson in the 6th round. Their top two backups from last year (Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter) are also returning with more experience under their belt. At quarterback, Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens can’t play any worse than Brett Favre did in the last 5 games of the regular season last year. When the Jets were winning last season, Favre was managing the game in a similar way that the Jets quarterback will be asked to this year. Look at Favre’s numbers in the Jets key wins last year:

Week 1 vs Miami: 15/22, 194 yards, 2 TD’s.

Week 6 vs. Cincinnati: 25/33, 189 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

Week 8 vs. Kansas City: 28/40, 290 yards, 2 TD’s, 3 INT’s

Week 9 vs. Buffalo: 19/28, 201 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Week 10 vs. St. Louis: 14/19, 167 yards, 1 TD

Week 12 vs. Tennessee: 25/32, 224 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT

Week 15 vs. Buffalo: 17/30, 207 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

The point is outside of two Jets wins (Arizona and New England) Favre never really put up great numbers when the Jets won games. I think Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens can handle going 15/21 for 190 yards and that they are going to throw less interceptions. If whomever the Jets quarterback is next year can throw 12 INT’s instead of 22, it is going to make a big difference in a positive way for the team. 

The Jets are weaker at tight end and wide receiver than they were in 2008. They haven’t replaced Chris Baker (a strong blocker and 21 catches) or Laveranues Coles (70 catches, 850 yards, 7 TD’s). However, at tight end Dustin Keller should be improved in his second year and at wide receiver, a guy like David Clowney (pictured to the left) could turn into a big time playmaker now that he is being given an opportunity. Regardless, the Jets still need to add depth at both positions. 

 

The 2009 schedule isn’t a friendly one but it certainly is manageable. Outside of their division, 6 of their 10 games are against teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year. Within the division, New England is always tough, the Bills added TO but beyond that had a weak overall off-season and have major questions at the offensive line and running back. The Dolphins are going to struggle this year. They were the 2006 Jets last year, and are going to be the 2007 Jets this year. I love Chad Pennington but teams are going to be all over their gimmick based offense and their lack of talent on that side of the ball will hurt them this year. 

Right now I’d say the Jets are a 10 win team and if they add another tight end and receiver, they could be a 11-12 win team. Right out of the gate we will find out where they stand since in their first 6 games they play all three divisional opponents and 2 other quality teams (Tennessee and New Orleans).

Don't Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

First a few updates from the Jets Locker Room, which had media availability today:

1. Erik Ainge refused to give the reason why he has been absent from team activities the past few months. He stated the team doesn’t even know the specific reason, but they respected his personal privacy and need to handle the matter. Ainge will be battling UDFA Chris Pizzotti for the #3 spot this season, after originally being mentioned as a contender for the starting job before the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez.

2. When asked about the Jets move to acquire Sanchez, Jerricho Cotchery, Kerry Rhodes, and Darrelle Revis among others all sounded excited about his potential. They understand the implications about trading up to #5 to select somebody, so despite saying the politically correct thing about Kellen Clemens, seem to understand that Sanchez is going to be the guy this year. Rhodes had the funniest line of the day, when he mentioned that Sanchez would now have to battle him for “the best looking guy on the team.”

3. Sanchez has reached out to the wide receivers to set up times to work on throwing the football, which is a move that drew praise from a few veterans in the locker room. The guy has done everything you want a rookie to do so far. Obviously, he needs to produce on the field but still you can’t have any complaints about Sanchez yet.

4. Many Jets were asked about Brett Favre today, a few players anonymously cited him as being selfish and deceitful, while Rhodes refused to comment, although most of them were indifferent about him potentially joining the Vikings and expressed support for him. (It now appears he is going to stay retired, but who ever knows with this guy).

5. According to Dave Hutchinson, the Jets have recently worked out tight end Michael Gaines, who is one of the players I mentioned they should target a few days ago. I’m glad to see they are taking my advice. Gaines is a good blocking tight end, who would go a long to improving the Jets depth at tight end. He caught 23 passes last season for Detroit.

Don’t Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

Kellen Clemens had to face the media today and said just about everything you expected he would. The common theme being that it is still an open competition, he still believes he will be the opening day starter, and that he is just going to keep working to improve. Rich Cimini made a good point however when discussing Clemens demeanor today, stating that he is “beginning to lose his swagger.” Obviously, Clemens is going to be more confident battling a UDFA with zero career NFL passes in Brett Ratliff, than he is battling the highly acclaimed Mark Sanchez.

Part of me feels bad for Clemens who is coming off a strong mini-camp and by all accounts has had a very good off-season. He is in a nearly impossible situation right now. No matter what anybody says, the odds are stacked heavily against him. He doesn’t need to just outplay Sanchez this summer, he needs to blow him away to win the job.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Last year Clemens was in the exact same position, except reversed heading into training camp. The coaching staff clearly wanted the younger Clemens, who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on, to beat out Chad Pennington for the job. Pennington needed to clearly out perform Clemens to win the job and through the first few weeks that was exactly what he did. Frustrated by Clemens lack of progress and the prospect of having Pennington be the starter for another season, they made the bold move to acquire Brett Favre.

 

Clemens had his chance to seize the Jets quarterback job last year. I can give him a pass for not seizing the job in 2007 in his eight starts behind a garbage offensive line and with no healthy receivers. Yet, during camp last season he did nothing to show he could be the Jets quarterback of the future. If he had outplayed Pennington and showed substantial progress last summer, the Jets wouldn’t have acquired Favre and Clemens would have started last season. He wouldn’t be in this situation now, where he is at a disadvantaged position battling the #5 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Unless there is an extended holdout or injury, bank on Mark Sanchez being under center for the Jets when they open up against Houston. I don’t see him bombing out in training camp or Kellen Clemens all of a sudden looking like a franchise quarterback this summer. The Jets drafted Sanchez to be their guy for this year, and for the next ten.