Jets Need Big Season From #25

First a few updates:

1. A shorter Saturday post today since news is a little slow until practices pick up again this week and the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington watch can begin. Mark Sanchez should also be feeling a little pressure this week to improve on his first week struggles, and by a little, i mean only a little…it’s just OTAs.

2. How about LeBron last night?

3. A few things to think about when you are wondering why the Jets have issues with depth and may have struggled in recent years, since 2004 they have: traded a first round pick for Doug Jolley, traded a second round pick for Justin McCariens, spent a second round pick on Mike Nugent, and spent a second round pick on Justin Miller…owch.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

Arguably the most important part of Rex Ryan’s defense the past few years in Baltimore has been the Hall of Fame level play of safety Ed Reed. Reed is a one of a kind player and it isn’t fair to expect anybody on the Jets to match his level of play, but the Jets do have one of the highest paid safeties in the league who Ryan has expressed a desire to turn into “a New York version of #20 (Reed).” Kerry Rhodes had a monster year in 2006, followed by another strong season in 2007, prompting the Jets to give him a huge contract since he appeared to be on the path of being a perennial pro-bowler. Yet, last season was a disappointing one for Rhodes, who struggled to make an impact in Eric Mangini’s increasingly conservative system.

It is hard to assign too much blame to Mangini because he was in charge of the team in 2006, which was Rhodes’ break out year. Bob Sutton was also the defensive coordinator for the past three years, so if you want to blame those two coaches for Rhodes struggles in 2008, they deserve at least some credit for his success in 2006-2007.

During the 2006 season, Rhodes was robbed of pro-bowl and all-pro recognition. He finished the season with 98 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions for the 10-6 playoff-bound Jets. Rhodes was constantly making game changing plays, especially in the opposing team’s backfield. In 2007, Rhodes dropped off slightly but still had a productive season. He finished with 67 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. The decline in his production didn’t really get noticed since the Jets tanked to a 4-12 record, thanks mostly to a weak offensive line and inconsistent quarterback play.

In 2008, Rhodes level of play decreased even further. He did jump up to 84 tackles but only had 5 passes defensed, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Many people believed Eric Mangini/Bob Sutton weren’t being aggressive enough with him, but regardless some of the blame must still fall on Rhodes for having a such a major drop off in production the past two years from his 2006 season.

The Jets signed Jim Leonhard from Baltimore to give Rhodes a partner at safety who is comfortable with Rex Ryan’s system and who excelled at playing alongside Ed Reed last year. Ryan is going to let Rhodes be aggressive and be in a position to make plays, similar to Reed. Nobody expects Rhodes to match Reed’s overall production but if he can get somewhat near his 2006 numbers, the Jets defense is going to be that much better.

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).

5 Questions the Jets Defense Must Answer in 2009

First a few things:

1. Congratulations to Erik Boland of Newsday who recently got moved over to the Yankees beat. Boland ran a great Jets blog “E-Boland & Gang Green,” which was always a daily stop for me and countless other Jets fans to read up on the team. He also took the time to reach out and complement my work over at MVN, which was much appreciated. Good luck with the Yankees, Erik.

2. Brett Favre and Brad Childress are meeting to discuss Favre’s potential comeback to football, this time for the Vikings. Honestly, I am so sick of Favre, reading about him, talking about him, and basically everything about him. Have fun with him Minnesota and yes I will be rooting my ass off against him this year. The guy never wanted to be on the Jets and killed our playoff run last year. He has an obsession with Minnesota to have the chance to play against the Packers, well it looks like he is finally going to get his wish. I hope he goes 10/26 with 4 INTs in Lambeau this year, stay retired Brett and learn how to tell truth for once in your life.

3. A quick run-down of the Jets with different numbers this year – Erik Ainge (#10), David Clowney (#87), Mark Sanchez (#6), Marques Douglas (#71), Vernon Gholston (#50), Howard Green (#95), Larry Izzo (#53), Jim Leonhard (#36), Dwight Lowery (#21), Lito Sheppard (#26), Donald Stickland (#34).

4. Some belated second round NBA Playoffs picks: Magic in 7, Cavs in 5, Lakers in 7, and Denver in 6. Also while we are talking about other sports, am I the only one who hates the new Yankees Stadium and are we ever going to beat Boston this year?

5 Questions the Jets Defense Must Answer in 2009

Yesterday I talked about how good the Jets defense has the potential to be in 2009. However, there are a number of variables or questions that need to be answered which will determine how productive the unit will actually be this year. Here is a look at the five most pressing questions the defense has to answer in 2009:

1. Can Kris Jenkins Stay Healthy? – It all starts up front. If the Jets want to stop the run they need a healthy Kris Jenkins plugging up the middle and keeping blockers off Bart Scott and David Harris. Jenkins faded down the stretch last year with hip problems. The Jets must find a way to rest him during early parts of the season, which means players like Sione Pouha and Howard Green (pictured above) need to step up. Pouha didn’t do much last year and Green has never been more than a role player, but for Jenkins to be fresh in the fourth quarter of both games and the season, the two of them need to improve.

2. Are Marques Douglas/Mike DeVito NFL Starters? – Douglas was signed to provide depth and DeVito (pictured above) has made a minimal impact in the NFL during his three years. Yet, with Kenyon Coleman being traded to the Browns in the Mark Sanchez deal, one of these two will be asked to start at defensive end, with other receiving extended time off the bench. Apparently, Rex Ryan thinks DeVito can be a strong pass rusher in his system but it remains to be seen, since he currently has 0.5 career sacks. Douglas is good against the run and has been a productive role player throughout his career but he has never been asked to be a full time player.

 

3. Can Lito Sheppard Stay Healthy and Reclaim his Pro-Bowl Form? – Sheppard has battled injuries the past few years and lost his starting job to Asante Samuel in Philly last season. Yet, he is only a few years removed from being a pro-bowler and a guy who was considered one of the elite corners in the NFL. At his best, Sheppard can match up with the NFL’s top receivers. He won’t be asked to do that for the Jets because we have Darrelle Revis, but the defense needs him to stay healthy, face a ton of balls thrown his way as teams avoid Revis, and provide some stability to the #2 corner spot. Donald Strickland and Dwight Lowery are better suited to be nickel-backs or back-ups than full time players and the Jets could be in trouble if they are asked to be full time players because Sheppard is hurt.

4. Can Vernon Gholston Reach his Potential? – Vernon Gholston did nothing for the Jets last year despite being the #6 overall pick in the draft. One of Rex Ryan’s biggest tasks is going to be pushing Gholston to reach his potential. Gholston has the talent to be a Terrell Suggs type player, but at this point the Jets would be happy if he could just lock down a starting outside linebacker spot and provide a consistent pass rush. The Jets defense could go from good to great if Gholston develops into the double-digit sack guy the Jets drafted him to be.

5. Depth? – The Jets need somebody to step up as their number four safety and number five corner. I am holding out hope Ryan’s scheme will help Ahmad Carroll reach his first round potential, as either a corner or safety. Drew Coleman was an Eric Mangini guy and probably won’t make it through camp. James Ihedigbo is only known for a holding penalty that negated a Leon Washington kick return touchdown last year. At linebacker, there is high hopes for undrafted free agent Jamaal Westerman who looked great in the Jets rookie mini-camp. Marques Murrell, Jason Trunsick, and Kenwin Cummings will battle it out for the key back up spots at both inside and outside linebacker. On the defensive line, the Jets better sign a veteran or pray one of their UDFAs is ready to contribute this year.