It is that time of year again. The preseason is coming to an end with tonight’s 4th game and final roster cuts are Saturday with the first game a mere 10 days away. Time to use my magic crystal ball to try to see what is ahead for the 2013 Jets.
Last year under Offensive Coordinator Tony Sparano the Jets were last or near last in every statistical offensive category. They were 28th in points scored at 17.6 points per game and 29th in turnover margin at -14. Those two statistics tell you all you need to know about a year to forget. There was no offensive identity or rhyme or reason to the play calls and coupled with bad quarterback play and very few playmakers sealed their fate.
This year Marty Mornhinweg takes over the offense having had a top 10 offense eight of the last ten years in the league. Mornhinweg runs his version of the West Coast Offense which is marked by high percentage passes, utilizing creativity to exploit advantageous match ups and misdirection especially in the running game. So far this preseason the offense has moved well despite turnovers from the quarterback position. Receivers have been open and gaining the separation that was lacking last year and the pass protection has held up from the first unit. The running game still hasn’t come around yet but should improve as the cohesiveness of the offensive line does.
Personnel-wise some changes were made. Geno Smith was drafted in the second round to eventually take over for Mark Sanchez. Smith is still adjusting to the pro game but he is an excellent athlete who showed good accuracy in college at around 70% completions and his touchdown to interception ratio was outstanding at 98 to 21 which almost 5 to 1. He worked almost exclusively in the shotgun and has to transition both to the West Coast Offense, to operating under center as well as adjusting to the speed of the pro game. This will take time and some patience to absorb the bumps along the way but these bumps are necessary to develop him.
The running game was also revamped with Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson arriving and Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight departing. Ivory is a power runner with deceptive speed who excelled in the playing time he did get with the Saints but injuries and not being an effective pass catcher limited his opportunities there. Here, if he can avoid injuries, he will do the bulk of the running and is a candidate to run for 1200 yards. Mike Goodson, who will be suspended for the 1st 4 games of the regular season due to a substance abuse violation, is a speed back who does his best work running to the edges and is an excellent pass catcher (a very important part of the West Coast Offense) who is a threat to take it to the end zone every time he gets his hands on the ball. If he can get his life in order after his stint in rehab and avoid the injury bug he could be a valuable weapon as a change of pace back that can be moved around like a chess piece by Mornhinweg. Bilal Powell has improved over the offseason based on his preseason work. Powell has improved his elusiveness in the open field to go along with deft hands as a receiver as well as being a good pass blocker. While not a star his all-around skills are very helpful as a 3rd down back where his presence will keep the opponent guessing as to whether he is in there to be a runner, receiver or blocker. There are more weapons in the running game this year as long as the blocking is there they should be able to move the ball and in ways that complement each other.
The receivers do not have any splashy additions to last year’s underperforming group. Santonio Holmes has been activated off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and has returned to practice after a season-ending Lisfranc fracture in his foot. I’d guess that Holmes returns by Week 1 but deciphering Santonio Holmes’ media sessions is difficult because he hates the media and enjoys trolling them as I detailed here. A returning Holmes will make life much easier for Jeremy Kerley, who has been open pretty much all preseason although he has had more than his share of drops, and Stephen Hill, whose hands have improved but is still working on his route running. Ben Obomanu was signed after spending last year with the Idzik-run Seahawks and has done an excellent job of finding the holes in zones. Ryan Spadola, the undrafted free agent from Lehigh, has been the surprise of camp showing good speed and hands as he assures himself a roster spot. Clyde Gates has improved his route running to go along with his speed but his play has tailed off as the preseason has gone on as he deals with injuries. Nagging injuries were a problem last year for Gates and the hope is history does not repeat itself. Even without Holmes the playcalling has been able to scheme the receivers open but this is an underwhelming group that needs more than one receiver to step up and take his game to the next level next to Holmes. Kerley should be one but Hill’s development will tell the tale of how good the offense can be.
The offensive line is going through a time of transition. Both guards from last year, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, left and were replaced by Willie Colon from the Steelers and Vladimir Ducasse (yes that Vladimir Ducasse). Colon is a mauler in the run game and a leader in the locker room but he needs to cut down on penalties and stay healthy. Ducasse is another good run blocker that has to be a better pass blocker or he will get someone killed and will have to hold off 3rd round pick Brian Winters who is raw and has struggled through injuries. I would not be surprised to see the Jets pick up a guard from final cuts by Sunday as I don’t think living with Ducasse at guard is a workable scenario. Steven Peterman struggled so much he was cut before he even made it to the regular season. For all of the good run blockers on the team it has been the run blocking which his so far been terrible. Jeff Cumberland seems to have improved both blocking and receiving plus the addition of Kellen Winslow Jr. adds a good receiver with something to prove however a blocker he is not. Konrad Reuland is a willing blocker and will be necessary for 2 tight end sets running the ball. The line will need time to gel and will improve as the season goes on.
This offense will improve over last year. Last year was rock bottom with an awful coordinator, awful quarterback play and no weapons. This year the coordinator and quarterbacks coach are much improved and the scheme plus play calling will lead to more accuracy and fewer turnovers. I say the team averages 21 points per game which would be almost a 4 point improvement and the turnover margin will fall closer to even at -3. 11 less turnovers and 4 more points are notable improvements that help win games. Mark Sanchez will start game 1 but will give way to Geno Smith by Week 6 at the latest. Chris Ivory will run for 1100 yards and it will take until the second half of the season to see dividends from Mike Goodson but we will and Powell will be a steadying force. I say Holmes, Kerley and Obamanu are the top 3 receivers while Hill is a year away from breaking out.