Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. The New York Jets loss to the Packers was a gut punch and inexcusable considering the 18 point lead. I know it, you know it, Rex Ryan knows it, worst punter in the NFL Ryan Quigley knows it, everyone knows it. I’m not letting anyone off the hook, and I know there’s plenty of blame to go around…What I am going to say is how despite that loss, there’s an awful lot to like about this team through two weeks. There, now that we got that out of the way, let’s get started!
There are so many reasons to be optimistic about these Jets going forward, and as with most teams in the NFL, it starts with the quarterback. That’s right, despite what you may read in crappy columns written by terrible sportswriters, or hear from mouth-breathing football fans who vote in ESPN polls and things of that nature, Geno Smith is NOT the worst quarterback in the NFL. In fact, he’s far from it and rapidly rising in the ranks. After a mostly terrible rookie season in 2013 throwing to “talents” such as Clyde Gates (out of the NFL), Stephen Hill (out of the NFL), and Santonio Holmes (Chicago Bears punt returner), something magical happened around Thanksgiving and Geno became a competent NFL quarterback. He started trusting himself, trusting Marty Mornhinweg’s offense, and trusting his athletic ability. He had a strong December and carried it over into the spring/summer, where by all accounts he had a great offseason and became a team leader.
Now is Geno perfect? No, of course not. But for the first time in years he is giving a little hope at quarterback. He shows flashes that make you think he can be “The Guy” here for a long time. Yes, he makes mistakes. Yes, often those mistakes are horrible, horrible mistakes that make you want to slam your head into a wall or punch your television (or maybe that’s just me). He’ll fumble on a play where he should have just went down, or take a bad sack putting the team out of field goal range like he did last week. Or maybe he’ll take a chance on a deep pass down the field with 2 minutes to go before halftime instead of playing it safe, or miss Eric Decker on what could have been a long touchdown. These things happen, and Geno is going to learn from them and it will make him a better quarterback in the long run. These things don’t happen overnight, and expecting Geno to play flawlessly this early in his career is foolhardy.
As I said on Twitter, those terrible plays are maddening and they make me want to scream as much as anyone, but they’ve only accounted for like 5% of the whole picture. For the other 95% so far, Geno has been GOOD. Often times, he’s been much better than good, actually. Did you see him complete 80% of his passes last week, or the touchdown pass he threw to Eric Decker down the sideline, on the road, in a hostile environment, against a Super Bowl contender, on a play he got drilled? I know I did. Did you see how much better he looks in the pocket, avoiding sacks and making something out of nothing? I did. How about his touchdown run and the other first downs he picked up with his legs? Did you see that? I know we all saw that beautiful pass he made to Jeremy Kerley with the game on the line that should have tied it up late in the 4th quarter, but for some reason didn’t count. That was a big boy throw that not every quarterback in the league can make. Will he continue to make mistakes? Yes. But he’s also going to make some great plays, have great games, and be a major part of wins going forward.
Geno isn’t the only reason for optimism, however. We have a very good head coach in Rex Ryan, who gets the most out of his team, and Marty Mornhinweg is a generally strong offensive coordinator (even though he gets too cute at times, but that’s a story for another time). John Idzik has done a great job replenishing the talent on the roster from top to bottom, and there are young players who can play littered throughout. When you have so many young players playing big roles, there are going to be ups-and-downs, just like with Geno.
Brian Winters is going to look great one week, then miss a huge block that leads to a turnover the next. He’s young and he’s improving. Tight end Jace Amaro is learning how to play in the NFL and is going to be a major factor on offense, probably sooner rather than later. Jeremy Kerley is young and clearly has the trust of Smith, which will only lead to more huge plays in the future. Hopefully next time he catches a touchdown it actually counts and the refs don’t steal it away from him (not that I’m bitter or anything).
And look at the defense. Antonio Allen switched on the fly from Safety to Cornerback. Of course there are going to be peaks and valleys with a transition like that. But Double A is a versatile player who is going to give us more good than bad. The same goes for guys like Dee Milliner, Demario Davis, and Calvin Pryor, who all have the ability to be major players. They’re going to grow and improve alongside stalwarts Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Snacks Harrison, and Quinton Coples up front. Also, 3rd round pick Dexter McDougle will be back next year to hopefully bolster the CB unit that could really use some help, as we know.
Look, I know the secondary is pretty terrible right now, and everyone wants to fire John Idzik because of it. But with Allen improving and Milliner getting healthy, there’s a good chance things will look much better in a few weeks. Milliner will probably never be Darrelle Revis, but how many corners actually are? Jets fans got spoiled with “Revis Island” here for a few years and now everyone gets compared to him. Maybe he’ll never reach that level, but Milliner was pretty damn good down the stretch last year, and once he’s healthy there’s no reason to think last year’s #9 overall pick can’t be a strong starter. Calvin Pryor has shown early potential and veterans like Landry, Pace, and David Harris are still around to provide leadership and make plays.
Oh, and while it won’t help much in 2014, it is worth noting John Idzik has a ton of cap space ready to be used in 2015. Mo Wilkerson will get his huge payday, as should Harrison and to a lesser extent Kerley and I’d venture to guess the GM won’t make the same mistake again in leaving the cornerback cupboard bare. Despite what those in the media are saying about him, the guy knows what he is doing, and he’s building this team for the long haul. As we all know, he came over from Seattle, and he had a front row seat to see how that team was built. It doesn’t happen overnight, and a team has to go through some tough times to learn how to win and become great.
Contrary to popular belief, the Seahawks didn’t turn into a great team overnight; It took two or three years before they became what they are now. Consider yesterday in Green Bay as another lesson for Geno and these Jets. They will learn from it, grow as players, and grow as a team.