It seems all too convenient, doesn’t it? The tried-and-true blood feud between Team Manning and Team Brady renewed on National Football’s second biggest stage. The decades old rivalry between the Bay and the Pacific Northwest looks to play out like a slobber-knocker of old. The Networks, Roger Goodell, and his legion of referee-minions couldn’t have planned it out better.
Well, take off your tin-foil caps and crawl out of your bunkers. Let’s be honest, if any of us really believed in some great football-fixing conspiracy we wouldn’t be watching and you most likely would not be reading this article. The truth is, the four teams that will be playing for Super Bowl dibs come next weekend share some very similar traits. Perhaps there is a blueprint that championship caliber teams follow that the New York Jets could follow to field a winner in the coming years.
Of the four teams entering the Conference Championships (Broncos, Seahawks, Patriots, 49ers) there seems to be two blueprints. The first blueprint would be the elite quarterback with an offense, defense, and scheme tailored to their strengths. The second would be the balanced team with a stout defense and efficient offense.
Elite Passer Blueprint: The Broncos and Patriots
- The Quarterback: It may be easier said than done (and some franchises seem to have all the Luck) but both the Patriots and Broncos have managed to arm themselves with elite arms. Brady and Manning are unquestionably the pinnacle of the quarterback position and make their whole team better. Both have mastered their craft, consistently throwing receivers open and forcing pre-snap mistakes.
- Customized Offense: You can praise Josh McDaniels, Mike McCoy, and Adam Gase till the cows come home but Brady and Manning are the ones calling the shots. With that in mind, both team’s de facto GMs – Elway and Belicheck – have tailored their offense to fit the quarterback. The talent at the Broncos skill positions is so profuse that you might mistake their squad for Joe Schmoe’s fantasy football roster. Many will point to Brady’s exodus of talent this offseason but, let’s be real, the man clearly has a type. No, not DeCaprio’s throw-away supermodels, but possession and slot receivers. Edelman, Amendola, and Gronkowski (the Patriot’s leading receivers) all have exceptional body control and a mastery of the route tree. They use these attributes to get open on every play and allow Brady to play the pitch-and-catch football he loves.
- Customized Defense: Before being paired with those dang spotlight stealing quarterbacks, Bill Belichick and John Fox were some of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds. With those brilliant noggins the two men have built defenses to help support Brady and Manning. The formula to beat one of these elite passers is to run the ball, milk the clock, and keep them off the field. However, more often than not, the will take advantage of this opportunity and take a lead. When this happens, the opposing team is forced to switch tactics and start slinging the rock. With this in mind, the defensive personnel and scheme are made to stop the pass. Pass rushers are at a premium and the linebackers and defensive backs have to be athletic and fast enough to keep up with opposing pass catchers. Outside of the massive exception of Vince Wilfork, the Patriots and Broncos defenses pretty much stick to this blueprint. The best example of this strategy may be the Colts defense from the Manning Era, featuring Freeny and Mathis.
Balance Blueprint: The Seahawks and 49ers
- Defense First: The defensive side of the ball is the identity of both teams. The unit sets the tone of the game and comes to play week in and week out. The front sevens sport elite level talent that are able to both stop the run and rush the passer. The secondaries routinely shut down the passing game and play an integral role in run support. Much like the offenses of Denver and New England, names like Willis, Smith (both), Bowman, Clemens, Wagner, Sherman, and Thomas sound like they belong on a Madden Fantasy roster, not just two teams.
- Ball Control Offense: To some, this label may seem insulting. Think about it though, Seahawks and Niner’s drives are not explosive. They are methodical. Gore averaged a healthy 4.1 yards per carry and Lynch at a 4.2 pace. They were the essence of consistency this season. Tate and Boldin, two very similar players, led the teams in receptions and yards. Both sport some of the most reliable hands in the game and made hay on intermediate routes. Kaepernick and Wilson threw only eight and nine interceptions respectively, displaying great awareness and decision making. Neither quarterback is a world beater, but with a solid supporting cast at the skill positions and protection from their offensive line, both have brought their teams to the next level.
- Management: Trent Baalke and John Schneider are the front office envy of the NFL. They managed to transform two middling teams into elite clubs in an incredibly short amount of time. Solid scouting and drafting, complimented by smart free agent spending, have made them the epitome of consistency. They built their respective teams with depth in mind and spread the talent throughout the roster. It seems like every time one star falls, another emerges (see Walter Thurmond III and Dan Skuta).
These formats seem to be the best ways to reach the ultimate goal. Many teams in the NFL have followed these blueprints to similar levels of success. The Packers and Colts seem to fit the Elite Passer Blueprint while the Panthers and Bengals follow the Balance Blueprint. Neither method is the be all and end all. Neither is without flaw. Yet, presumably, given their record of success, one or the other is a good place to start.The New York Jets, as currently constituted, are already on the path of the Balance Blueprint. The defense is a safety or cornerback away from being elite. The offense desperately needs an infusion of skill position talent. Luckily, this offseason provides an opportunity to expedite the process.
With a potential starting quarterback in place the Jets can focus on arming him properly by taking a strong look at free agents like Golden Tate and James Jones and drafting a prospect like Eric Ebron or Marquise Lee. Adding one or two of these players, plus depth and potential players through the draft and lower-tier free agency, could give the offense an immediate boost.
With an already dominant front seven, the Jets can look to add talent to their struggling back end. Cornerback Alterraun Verner and Safties Jarius Byrd and TJ Ward highlight a deep free agent class of pass defenders. Even just one of these players could put this defense over the top.
Geno Smith throwing to Jeremy Kerley, Golden Tate and a rookie pass catcher with an elite defense to fall back on sounds a lot like the 49ers, Seahawks, and Panthers of 2013. Look for the Jets and John Idzik to follow this Balance Blueprint during the offseason as they continue their quest to build a perennial contender.