Scouting the AFC East: Buffalo Bills

First a few updates:

1. In this week’s Sports Illustrated Tim Layden has a great feature on Rex Ryan and his rise to becoming a NFL head coach. I am hoping for the chance to interview Layden for the site, so keep a look out for that in the upcoming weeks.

2. Another day passed and even more rumors are circulating about the Jets not being interested in Plaxico Burress anymore. Most of the local media seems against the move, although as I said yesterday the veterans on the team seem to be in favor of it.

3. A late congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers for winning the NBA Finals…I still wish we could have saw Kobe/LeBron, especially after all those hilarious puppet commercials but oh well. Hopefully, LeBron will now be finding his way to my Knicks in 2010, along with Chris Bosh.

4. According to ESPN’s statistic guru KC Joyner, the Jets have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and a better unit than the team they share a stadium with, the New York Giants. I don’t know about Joyner’s stat system but I do know the Jets have a damn good offensive line and who cares if they are better than the Giants O’line?

Scouting the AFC East: Buffalo Bills

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, starting today with the Buffalo Bills.

2008 Record: 7-9

2008 vs Jets: The Jets swept the Bills last year, beating them in Buffalo 26-17 and then winning in the Meadowlands on Shaun Ellis’ miracle fumble recovery, 31-27. Kris Jenkins absolutely dominated in the first game and Darrelle Revis shut down Lee Evans in both games last season (4 receptions 41 yards in week 9, and 4 receptions 22 yards in week 15). Trent Edwards threw two interceptions in the week 9 loss and was injured when the teams met in week 15. Marshawn Lynch gashed the Jets in week 15 for 127 yards. On the Jets side, Thomas Jones ran for 69 yards in week 9 and 78 yards in week 15. Leon Washington had 1 carry for 47 yards and a touchdown in week 15…cough, cough, get him the ball more. Jerricho Cotchery had 62 yards receiving in week 9 and had a touchdown in week 15.

2009 Additions: The biggest one was Terrell Owens, who will pair with Lee Evans to form one of the best receiving duos in the NFL. They also added running back Dominic Rhodes and lineman Seth McKinney. They had two first round selections, picking defensive end Aaron Maybin and center Eric Wood.

2009 Losses: They traded away pro-bowl lineman Jason Peters and released tight end Robert Royal. Marshawn Lynch is also suspended the first three games of the 2009 season.

Why the Jets Should be Worried: The Bills have a deep, talented receiving core. I already mentioned Owens and Evans but they also have Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed and James Hardy…all quality players. If Trent Edwards can stay healthy, he will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. When Edwards has been on the field, he has been a pretty good player. Buffalo also has three very capable running backs in Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes. On defense, they have a good front four led by Aaron Schobel and Marcus Stroud and playmakers in the secondary with Terrence McGree, Leodis McKelvin and Donte Whitner.

Why the Jets can handle Buffalo: The Bills have a suspect offensive line and showed no ability to block Kris Jenkins or the rest of the Jets pass rushers last year, as they totaled 8 sacks in 2 games. Darrelle Revis has Lee Evans’ number and has played well against TO in the past, also Lito Sheppard has had success against Owens in previous match-ups. The Jets were able to run the ball relatively well against the Bills last year, especially in short yardage situations. They should be confident after sweeping them last year and going on the road and beating them.

Prediction: The Bills have a ton of talent at the skill positions but some questions at offensive line, linebacker and most importantly head coach. I don’t think TO is good enough at this stage of his career to individually bump the Bills past the 7-9 level they have been the past 3 years and have no faith in Dick Jauron leading them to playoffs. I think Buffalo is a 8-8 to 9-7 team at best this year. In terms of the Jets. you can never expect a sweep of a AFC East opponent but I am confident the Jets will definitely take at least 1 from the Bills.

2009 Games: Week 6 at New York Jets 4:15 Kickoff, Week 13 at Buffalo, 8:20 PM Kickoff (Thursday Night Football)

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback

First a few updates:

1. According to Rich Cimini of the Daily News, the Jets interest in Plaxico Burress is “cooling off” despite the increased likelihood of him being able to play in 2009. The Burress argument is an interesting one, with fans split on whether the risk outweighs the reward of bringing him in. I still think it is a long shot he ends up in green and white, but crazier things have happened.

2. The Jets signed third round draft pick running back Shonn Greene to a four year deal, meaning all three of their draft picks are locked up. Good work by the Jets front office in getting all their rookies signed well before training camp. Now they can hopefully shift their focus towards pleasing their two pro-bowl running backs…Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.

3. The Jets signed free agent linebacker Brock Christopher, who was a UDFA signed by the Falcons after this year’s draft.

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback:

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, starting today with the quarterback position:

1. Kellen Clemens #11, 4 years in NFL, Career Stats: 1,555 yards passing, 5 TD’s, 11 INT’s

History: Last year, he didn’t play a meaningful snap as Brett Favre’s backup. In training camp he was competing for the starting quarterback position but was being handily outplayed by Chad Pennington before the Jets traded for Favre. The year before he flashed some potential despite playing behind a terrible offensive line and having a weak, injured receiving core.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: For Clemens? It is shocking the world and beating out prized rookie Mark Sanchez for the Jets starting quarterback job and giving the Jets a Drew Brees/Philip Rivers scenario. The Jets organization would like to see Sanchez start but if Clemens can get the job done, they will take who can get them wins. The best thing for the Jets would be for Clemens to push Sanchez to the limit all summer, and eventually lose a close battle before becoming a capable number two for them in 2009.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Clemens struggles heavily in training camp, failing to push Sanchez and inspire confidence as even a #2 quarterback.

Prediction: He gives Sanchez a run for his money, but is eventually named the backup before the third pre-season game. Clemens spends the year as the #2 again and leaves in free agency after the season.

2. Mark Sanchez #6, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets showed their faith in Sanchez by trading up to select him with the number 5 pick in the NFL Draft and signing him to a 60 million dollar contract. Sanchez is coming off a brilliant year at USC but questions remain about his lack of experience as a starting quarterback. After some initial struggles in OTAs, Sanchez progressed nicely and finished on a high note.

Chance of Making Roster: 110%…C’mon Now.

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Joe Flacco/Matt Ryan…Sanchez leads the Jets into the playoffs as a rookie by protecting the football, learning on the job and occasionally hitting the big play down the field. He makes the front office look great for trading up for him and looks the part of a franchise quarterback from the time he steps on the field in week one.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Matt Leinart…Sanchez can’t even come close to beating out Clemens this year or even next year for that matter. He becomes a 60 million dollar insurance policy and eventually is photographed holding beer bongs for 20 year old girls in Morristown, New Jersey.

Prediction: Sanchez wins the starting job and takes the expected rookie lumps in year one. The Jets are able to win because of their running game and defense but Sanchez progresses as the year goes on. He leads them into playing meaningful games in late December.

3. Erik Ainge, #10, 2nd year, No Career Stats

History: Yikes…was the Jets 5throunnd pick last year but was inactive all season. He was also suspended four games for a substance abuse violation. Ainge also missed most of the off-season workouts for personal reasons and went from being mentioned as a contender for the starting job to battling for the #3 spot.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Ainge shows growth in the pre-season and locks down the number three job. He has such a strong pre-season and overall year as the look squad quarterback, the Jets feel comfortable making him their number two behind Sanchez in 2010.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He is cut during the pre-season and the Jets look elsewhere for their #3 quarterback.

Prediction: He shows some measure of progress, at least enough to be the Jets number three quarterback for another year but not enough to be their number two next year.

4. Chris Pizzotti, #19, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent. He was a very successful college quarterback at Harvard. Pizzotti has good size (6’5, 225 lbs) and apparently a strong arm.

Chance of Making Roster: 25%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He beats out Erik Ainge for the #3 spot and becomes Brett Ratliff 2.0.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets cut, sooner rather than later.

Prediction: He makes the practice squad.

Overall Position Analysis: There is almost no experience to speak of in this group. All eyes will be on the Sanchez/Clemens battle in training camp. Hopefully, they will bring the best out of each other and one of them can step up to be playoff caliber quarterback this year.

Three Moves the Jets Need to Make & A Rant on Mike Freeman

First a quick rebuttal to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports:

Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote an article (http://www.cbssports.com/columns/story/11849129) the other day where he pours it on Rex Ryan and the Jets organization as a whole. While I can understand a little bit of where he is coming from, he goes way overboard and makes a few questionable statements.

Yes, I understand Rex Ryan is a rookie head coach and may be doing a little too much talking for his own good. Yet, he didn’t say anything that outlandish or out of line. He is an accomplished defensive coordinator in this league and there is no reason he can’t have confidence in his group of guys or not stand in awe of New England’s past success. The guy never guaranteed anything or disrespected any of the Jets opponents.

Here are a few of Freeman’s excerpts, with my responses:

“Typical Jets: patting themselves on the back even before the season begins. The New York Jets — kings of June wind sprints.”  — Typical? When is the last time the Jets have patted themselves on the back before the season begins? I don’t remember many Junes where the Jets have been made any kind of bold proclamations about the upcoming season.

“Not certain about the rest of you, but I would love to see an organization with the sort of losing and embarrassing history of the Jets, oh, you know, win before the head coach starts beating his chest and running his mouth like he’s Big Pussy from The Sopranos.”  — Yes, the Jets don’t have one of the most illustrious histories in sports. However, the past decade they have been one of the better franchises in the NFL, with playoff appearances in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006 along with a .500 or better record in 1999, 2000, and 2008. Big Pussy from the Sopranos? Oh yes, clever reference since the Jets play in New Jersey but why Big Pussy, why not Paulie or Tony?

“Remember these are the Jets. It was this team that made one of the worst acquisitions in recent history with Brett “The Vikings love me/they love me not” Favre.” — Of course it is easy to say acquiring Brett Favre was stupid now, but at the time the Jets were universally praised for acquiring a hall of famer to fill the one glaring hole on their roster. Nobody was thought it was a bad acquisition when the Jets were 8-3 and had just blown out the undefeated Titans in their building. Yes, Favre and the Jets melted down the stretch but if it is another team that Freeman doesn’t hate, that’s on Favre not the organization for taking a chance by bringing him in.

“Ocho Rexo sounds just as silly as pops. He’s the guy with a larynx larger than his biceps who has had a few too many beers taking on the biggest, meanest guy in the bar. Challenging New England the way he has without a win under his belt puts Ocho Rexo in the same category as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Rex has failed to also show the current division champions, the Miami Dolphins, a modicum of respect”— Did he challenge New England or did he just say he wasn’t going to “kiss their rings?” Should he kiss Bellicheck’s rings? Should the Jets play scared of New England because they won a few Super Bowls a few years ago? The Giants weren’t scared of the undefeated Patriots and they beat them up. Ryan also never disrespected the Dolphins (unless you consider his what his defense did to the wildcat last year as disrespect) he only talked trash to one of their average players, who came at him first.

“This season, after the Jets win five games and Mark Sanchez is a bloodied mess, Ryan’s faux bravado and words will haunt him.”— So now because Ryan is a confident guy the Jets are going to be a 5 win team? It sounds like some wishful thinking by Freeman, but why would a team that won 9 games last year and added Bart Scott, Lito Sheppard, Jim Leonhard, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Donald Strickland, and Marques Douglas become 4 games worse? Also, why will Mark Sanchez be a bloodied mess, because he is playing behind one of the top five offensive lines in the league? An offensive line that is returning all 5 starters and their top two backups, all of whom played together in every single game last year. An offensive line that has pro-bowlers Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold on it…yea, I think Sanchez will make it through the year in one piece.

Three Moves the Jets Need to Make

1. Don’t Trade Thomas Jones –  This is more in the “non-move” category but the Jets need to find a way to make Jones happy for this upcoming season. It would be foolish to trade away a workhorse pro-bowl running back when you are going to start an inexperienced quarterback. I know they like Shonn Greene but give the rookie a year to develop behind Jones and Leon Washington before you start giving 15-20 carries a game. I am not saying the Jets have to give him a long term contract, but they could advance him his signing bonus from next year or reach some kind of compromise.

2. Keep Monitoring the Plaxico Burress Situation – If Burress is going to be able to play football this season, the Jets should take a chance and sign him, even if they only get him for 12 games. Burress is a legit number one receiver who would provide a huge security blanket to either Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens. He would also allow Jerricho Cotchery to go back into his more natural #2 role. The Jets offense would be pretty difficult to stop with Burress and Cotchery split out, Keller at tight end and Jones and Leon Washington in the backfield.

3. Sign Another Veteran Tight End – I am still not comfortable with an aged and banged up Bubba Franks or a converted defensive lineman, Kareem Brown as the #2 tight end. The Jets are in major trouble if Dustin Keller gets hurt. There are still veterans on the market who could provide 20 snaps a game as a blocker.

5 Things We Learned From Jets Minicamp

First a few updates:

1. The Jets released tight end Martrez Milner yesterday, which is a good sign for undrafted free agents Jack Simmons and J’Nathan Bullocks both of whom had pretty good OTAs. Kareem Brown has also progressed nicely at tight end and might be able to handle splitting the #2 spot with Bubba Franks.

2. Plaxico Burress’ trial is apparently going to be pushed back until sometime in 2010, which improves the chances of him being able to play this year. Everybody is expecting him to receive a 4 game suspension from the league though, which is something the Jets will have to consider if they are going to sign him. Regardless, it seems they have a genuine interest in bringing him in.

3. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning the Stanley Cup and congrats to the Orlando Magic for choking away game 4…can you make some free throws? The ghosts of Nick Anderson are still haunting this franchise.

5 Things We Learned From Jets Minicamp:

1. It’s going to be a tight one – The battle for starting quarterback that is, which is bad news for Kellen Clemens. The Jets veteran has been consistent and shown a good command of the offense but hasn’t done anything spectacular that is making the Jets regret trading up for Mark Sanchez. On the other hand, Sanchez started out slow but progressed nicely over the past month and is proving to be a quick learner. The guy is getting one of the most complex defenses in the NFL thrown at him everyday in practice as a rookie and handling it pretty well. I’d be shocked if Sanchez isn’t under center week one against Houston.

2. Receivers Battling – Chansi Stuckey has begun to pull away as the #2 receiver behind Jerricho Cotchery. Stuckey doesn’t make many mistakes and catches everything he can get his hands on. He had a pretty good season last year and if he wasn’t phased out of the offense in the middle of the year, probably could have been a 45-50 catch guy. Brad Smith is making his usual acrobatic catches that excites the coaching staff and is probably the #3 receiver now. David Clowney had a case of the drops the past month but has too much talent to fall too far down the depth chart. Wallace Wright impressed the coaching staff and will be on the roster in September because of his special team skills, but he may be working himself a spot on the offense.

3. Defense Rules – The consensus has been that the Jets defense is miles ahead of the offense right now. It makes sense since the Jets are being led by an inexperienced quarterback and were without Thomas Jones and Leon Washington for long periods of time. Beyond that, the Jets defense is just pretty damn good. Kris Jenkins should be even more effective than he was in last year’s scheme, Darrelle Revis remains a lockdown corner, and Bart Scott has added some intensity and swagger to the unit. This is a very deep and talented group, especially when you throw Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, Lito Sheppard, Shaun Ellis, and David Harris into the mix.  

4. Making a Name – Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Marques Murrell, and Jamaal Westerman all have impressed the coaching staff and look like locks for backup positions on the Jets defense. Smith recorded 5 interceptions in 3 days this past week is a good #3 safety, Ihedigbo will likely be the #4 safety and has some experience from last year. Murrell could see reps off the bench as a pass rusher and is pushing Vernon Gholston for time. Westerman is an undrafted free agent who the Jets love. He has been working at inside linebacker, after playing defensive end in college.

5. Swagger – The Jets new head coach has tons of it, throwing himself into a verbal battle against both the Patriots and Dolphins. This team couldn’t have a more different personality than they did last year, when Eric “10 hour bus ride” Mangini led without any emotion. Rex Ryan put it best, the Jets aren’t in the AFC East to “kiss Bill Bellicheck’s rings.”