What Are The New York Jets Going To Look Like After The Bye?
By Craig Hoffman
The Jets have made it to a well-deserved and well-timed bye week at 5-4. They have largely done so with smoke and mirrors on offense with so many injuries and a rookie quarterback. On defense they have played well despite breaking in 7 new starters. How will they look in the second half of the season?
The offense is going to get some key pieces back from injury shortly that might change how they play. The Buffalo game following the bye is the scheduled return of both Santonio Holmes, Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland. Having a healthy Holmes in the lineup helps everyone as he draws the coverage away from them and towards him. No one has benefitted more than Stephen Hill who had three of his best games and most of his yardage while Holmes was healthy and has pretty much disappeared off of the stat sheet since. Getting Winslow and Cumberland back gives the Jets three receiving tight ends that can be security valves for Geno Smith. Zach Sudfeld has played well both as a receiver and surprisingly as a blocker while filling in and should continue to be part of the rotation.
In the second half of the year I would expect the Jets to have more balance than they do right now. They will continue to run Ivory and Powell but with more options available in the passing game I do not believe they will tie Geno Smith’s hands together. Marty Mornhinweg has adapted well to this situation and called more runs than he probably ever has but his natural inclination is to throw and I don’t see that changing. Make no mistake they will still run the ball 50% of the time but it will not be 60-40 run unless the weather is a factor. They will be unpredictable some weeks running to set up the pass, other weeks passing to set up the run. I believe with three quality receiving tight ends they will run a lot of two tight end formations to create mismatches. Cumberland, Sudfeld (surprisingly) and Reuland can all block well so those formations can be run out of or used to max protect. I think they will continue to expand Josh Cribbs’ wildcat role adding in more passes and other wrinkles. As defenses commit more men to stop the run Smith will be able throw easier due the fact that he will see more man coverage and should be able to go back to taking some shots vertically with the extra safety in the box.
The most important things to watch in the second half of the season on offense is Geno Smith’s development, Chris Ivory and Santonio Holmes’ health and Brian Winters improvement. As Geno Smith progresses through the year and gains experience he should be a better quarterback than the 1st half of the season. He will need to be more consistent from week to week and even from half to half. He will need to take the lessons learned against the Saints of taking less chances, avoiding turnovers and letting the running game and defense do it’s job and apply them to when he needs to carry them. He will need to scramble more when a lane is available instead of trying to force a throw. Chris Ivory and Santonio Holmes are playmakers that the Jets need on the field. They need to buck the trend of injuries in their careers and stay healthy. Brian Winters has to have the game slow down for him and not be a turnstile. He made some nice blocks against the Saints, and did not allow a sack which is a step in the right direction. In order for the Jets to have a chance they have to win the battle in the trenches and there can’t be any weak links.
Could D-lineman Mo Wilkerson be the ” MVP” of the Jets defense?
The defense is going to keep playing the same way they did in the first half of the year they just look to tighten up a few things and eliminate communications breakdowns. The key has been the amazing play of the front seven. Muhammad Wilkerson has 8 sacks and has been unblockable, Sheldon Richardson has been dominating in stopping the run and has 2 1/2 sacks, Damon Harrison has statistically been the best run stuffer in the league, David Harris has been rejuvenated he has been all over the field blowing up screens, stopping the run, blitzing and covering better than he has in a couple of years, Demario Davis has added the extra element of speed to the lineup he hits hard and has great range as well, and quietly Calvin Pace has five sacks and two forced fumbles.
The problem has been the secondary which has three new starters including both safeties. They have been picked apart by quarterbacks who get the ball out quickly and nullify the pass rush. They have also been beaten deep repeatedly. Antonio Cromartie has had multiple injuries including a hip injury that has made him much less of a player than what we saw last year. He is getting beaten on double moves and deep. Dee Milliner has been injured and has looked lost at times. He had to be pulled from the first Patriots game as well as the Cincinnati game because he was getting beaten on every play. Kyle Wilson has been up and down playing like Kyle Wilson. Darrin Walls has been pretty good when called upon. Dawan Landry takes bad angles to the ball and has missed some tackles but he has also made some plays including tipping a ball to Demario Davis for an interception. Antonio Allen has been a surprise as he has been able to have a level of success covering tight ends making some big plays one on one against Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
The key to the rest of the season is the play of Dee Milliner, Quinton Coples and Antonio Cromartie. Rex Ryan defended Milliner after the Cincinnati benching saying that he believed in him and said that Milliner would finish the year as the best rookie corner in the league. Milliner responded by showing some of that promise against New Orleans flying around to the ball and showing better technique especially when he broke on a pass to Pierre Thomas and almost intercepted it. Having a super athletic corner such as Milliner start paying dividends in the second half would help everyone on defense. The longer he can stay with a receiver the more time the pass rush has to get the quarterback, the more competent he is the less safety help he will need and that safety can help elsewhere or even blitz, and his ball skills can create turnovers which have been few and far between so far. The same goes for Cromartie. If he is really healthy after the bye and returns to form and can lock down the opponent’s top receiver he can help fix that leaky secondary. Another interesting usage of Cromartie was at safety vs New Orleans. Just a few snaps at safety saw him in position to grab two additional interceptions to add on to the one he had. Quinton Coples’ fractured ankle near the end of the preseason derailed his momentum of trying to build on a 5 1/2 sack rookie year. When Coples returned he was nowhere to be found he pretty much disappeared. Until this week when he added three quarterback hits, some other pressure and a tackle for loss on a 4th and 1 that caused a turnover on downs in the 4th quarter. Coples is a dynamic pass rusher who can rush from end, from tackle and even from standing up. He demands a double team when he is playing well and with Wilkerson and Richardson also commanding double teams somebody is going to get a one on one mismatch and hit the quarterback. This is how a very good defense can become a dominant one.
If the young players continue to develop and improve throughout the rest of the year and major injuries are avoided the Jets are going to be a very dangerous team as the year progresses. Once they learn consistency the sky is the limit.