Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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.
The Big Guy that makes Big Plays.
There will be 7 new starters on defense this year as the team breaks in younger, faster players. The key word this year is versatility as many of the players can play multiple positions and are flexible enough to play in multiple schemes. Rex Ryan takes over the playcalling from the departed Mike Pettine who left for Buffalo despite Manish Mehta’s pleas to stay. This group will be super aggressive and will be blitzing from everywhere. There will be a time of transition but by the end of the year I have little doubt that this will be one of the top defenses.
The defensive front stars Muhammad Wilkerson who in his third year has steadily improved into one of the top defensive ends in the league. Wilkerson plays both defensive end, defensive tackle and was even lined up as a rush linebacker in the last preseason game. This year his pass rush skills seemed to have improved so look for him to improve on last year’s 5 sacks. First round draft pick Sheldon Richardson is as quick and agile as a near 300 pound man can be. He is most comfortable as a penetrating defensive tackle in a 4-3 front but can play some downs as a nose tackle and comfortably line up at end as well. He is a man who was used as a spy for Missouri on Johnny Manziel and help him to his lowest rushing total of the year. If Kenrick Ellis can ever stay healthy he can be an excellent anchor against the run. Ellis is 346 pounds and is hard to move so his health will occupy blockers and let the linebackers do their jobs. Damon Harrison has filled in for Ellis while he rests his back and has been deft at stopping the run and put some pressure on the quarterback as well.
Quinton Coples’ move to rush linebacker has been a hot topic of conversation. While some took his transition to outside linebacker literally and questioned having a 290 pound man trying to cover in space the reality of the situation is that his job will be to get the quarterback or ball carrier by rushing up the field he will not be asked to cover very often and his freakish athleticism will help him make plays. Demario Davis takes over at inside linebacker for Bart Scott. Davis is much faster than Scott and can cover backs and tight ends out of the backfield as well as blitz. What he is missing is Scott’s experience, as Davis is still learning the position and needs to learn to act without thinking so he can be ahead of plays not trying to catch up with his athleticism. David Harris needs a bounce back year because last year he was slow and exposed in coverage. This year he has lost weight but was victimized in the Jacksonville game by backs and receivers when he was isolated. Antwan Barnes is 2 years removed from a 12 sack season in a part-time role and here he will be put in advantageous positions by Rex Ryan to go get the passer. He is Aaron Maybin if Aaron Maybin were a good football player.
The secondary needs to overcome the loss of All-World corner Darrelle Revis who was traded to Tampa Bay. Antonio Cromartie inherits the shutdown corner role which he did well last year after Revis tore his ACL. Dee Milliner was drafted to play opposite Cromartie and is freakishly athletic but has not been healthy after he held out for the first week of camp. Milliner, who has already had 5 surgeries in his career but didn’t miss any games, needs to contribute and succeed as a rookie because Kyle Wilson cannot cover quality receivers on the outside. Wilson got abused by Hakeem Nicks in the last preseason game committing 3 penalties and allowing a long completion. Wilson needs to play a hybrid nickel corner/safety role where he can focus on what’s in front of him instead of press coverage. Darrin Walls is an emerging player that will do well this year. He can stay with just about anyone he just needs to refine his technique to make sure he looks back at the ball to avoid pass interference calls. Isaiah Trufant is a small player but he has been laying the wood as a tackler and has been doing a good job with the backups. Dawan Landry is steady at one safety position but the combination of Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett has not been getting the job done at the other. No one has stepped up to take that other safety job. If nobody grabs it in the last preseason game I would expect the Jets to comb the waiver wire looking for an improvement or at least better depth.
This year the defense will be able to drop from 23.4 points per game down to 20 and will keep the team in most of its games. If the team’s strong defensive line can stop the run then this will be an elite defense. They will be able to get to the quarterback both conventionally through a 3 or 4 man rush and exotically through blitzes. Will the back-end of the defense be able to hold up behind Cromartie? I see Wilkerson rising to an All-Pro level, Richardson developing into a transcendent talent by the end of the year and Coples will adjust well to his new rush role. Milliner will struggle more than we think due to injuries and the time it takes to adjust to the pros (even Revis wasn’t Revis in year 1) and the play of Darrin Walls will be key for the defense. They need to find a safety opposite Landry that can cover or the linebackers will be exposed.
This is the 1st year of a 2 year rebuild undertaken by John Idzik. With nearly 40 million in cap space and at least 10 draft picks 2014 will be the year the franchise is targeting. That being said this team has more talent than it is being given credit for. There is good, young talent on both sides of the ball, especially defense. If this team gets average quarterback play it has a chance to get 9 wins. The problem is getting that quarterback play from either a rookie who looks raw or a 5th year starter prone to the big mistake that is mentally shot from the rigors of playing in New York. Also the schedule is brutal in the 1st half of the season before leveling out late. The key is whether Rex Ryan can hold the players together during the tough opening stretch and get some unexpected wins or whether they will fall apart underneath the media onslaught. Rex is coaching for his job this year and is being put into a situation where he is very uncomfortable publicly because he is not allowed to be the brash, honest person he was when he first came here and he just doesn’t have the power since John Idzik has come in and taken a very hands-on approach. Unlike most I believe the organization knows that this is year 1 of the rebuild and isn’t expecting Ryan to make the playoffs to save his job. What he needs is show the development of the young players on the roster, especially Geno Smith. If Smith shows improvement and the young players develop then he will show that he is the man to lead the rebuild of this team. I’m going to place my bet on Rex Ryan. I know he is a glorified defensive coordinator and I know he can’t get out of his own way publicly sometimes but he is the best defensive coordinator in the league and an excellent motivator whom players want to play for. Going back to his roots this year as a teacher and a playcaller on defense will pay dividends especially since the man he left in charge of the offense, Marty Mornhinweg, is more than competent. That being said I will say that the teams struggles some early but rallies late for Rex and finishes at 8-8. Since most see this as a 6 win or less team I believe 8-8 and trending upwards at the end of the year will save his job and let Geno Smith have stability going into 2014. The future is brighter than it is being portrayed by the media just trust the plan. I do.