It’s hard to imagine that this is the same franchise that went to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010. Yet the very same New York Jets come into the 2013 season off the back of 6-10 year which was more memorable for the farcical play and handling of a quarterback situation that seemed to ruin the rare moments when they looked to be building any kind of momentum in games.
Head Coach Rex Ryan knows that he needs to take the team forward this year if he wants to stick around in New York but he faces plenty of challenges as he attempts to level the wings. The quarterback position is once again under scrutiny but the team does still have enough bright spots for fans to be encouraged by. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the reasons for Jets fans to be confident, and concerned, in this upcoming campaign.
Reasons to be Confident
1. Improvements at Running Back?
The first good news for Jets fans at the running back position was the subtraction of Shonn Greene, who departed for Tennessee during Free Agency. His 11.7 Elusive Rating was the lowest among all running backs with enough qualifying snaps. That highlights just how little he did beyond the work of his offensive line, which performed particularly well in 2012. The team added two players who have shown their ability in that regard in Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory. Goodson’s future with the team isn’t necessarily secure with his off-the-field troubles already causing him problems in New York. In limited action in Oakland a year ago he showed he could be a difference maker on the field. Likewise for Ivory who, despite injury concerns, has Jets fans excited about what he can bring to the offense in New York. He forced 12 missed tackles on just 40 carries and averaged a somewhat ridiculous 4.73 Yards After Contact Per Carry in New Orleans in 2012.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson
Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson has received plenty of hype in the weeks leading up to the 2013 preseason, with many believing he’s primed for a breakout year this coming season. The truth, however, is that he broke out in 2012, finishing the year with the second highest grade (+49.1) we’ve ever given to a 3-4 defensive end. Had it not been for Houston’s J.J. Watt re-writing the rules on what to expect for a player at the position, Wilkerson would have likely gotten more credit for what was a fantastic season. He finished the year with 54 defensive stops, 13 more than any 3-4 defensive end not named Watt. We may disagree on whether or not this year will be a breakout or not, but we fully expect a fantastic season from the best player on the Jets roster in 2013.
3. Cromartie Stepping Up
While the loss of Revis definitely hurts the Jets, more on that later, the significance of the loss is lessened by how well Antonio Cromartie (+10.0) has played in recent times. Up and down for much of his career, he heads into 2013 coming off his best season, allowing just 46% of the 87 passes thrown into his coverage to be completed in 2012. He finished 2012 allowing a quarterback rating of just 69.7 on those 87 throws, breaking up 12 passes and picking off another three along the way. There are plenty of areas to be concerned about on the Jets roster this year, but they’ll be confident in the abilities of their top cornerback.
4. Consistency from D’Brickashaw
Consistency isn’t a word that’s been used to describe the Jets often in recent times, at least not in a positive sense, but D’Brickashaw Ferguson has consistently been among the best left tackles in the league. The lowest he’s graded over a season in the PFF era is +12.2 and that was a “down year” for the former fourth overall draft pick, with three seasons where he has finished the year graded at +30.0 or higher. He doesn’t wow you with his run blocking, but as a pass blocker he has given the Jets quarterbacks, as bad as they have been, ample time from pass rushers trying to get past him. Whoever the Jets opt for under center in 2013 will go into the year knowing they can rely on Ferguson to keep them safe on the field.
5. Youth Brings Hope
It probably says a lot about where the Jets are headed this season but one of the most exciting things to watch about the team is how their prominent youngsters play this coming season. Their top two draft picks, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and Dee Milliner looked solid, if unspectacular, in their preseason debuts a week ago. Second year man Quinton Coples showed flashes as a rookie and, even though we were told he’d be moving to outside linebacker, he still played with his hand in the dirt more in the preseason opener. Add in the excitement around a high draft pick being spent on a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith and you can see why fans are beginning to hope again after a rough couple of seasons.
Reasons to be Concerned
1. Mark Sanchez
While there is optimism surrounding Smith arriving in New York, the same can’t be said for the continued presence of Mark Sanchez. It’s at that stage now, and has been for a while to be fair, where it’s difficult to understand why he’s still in the mix for a starting job, considering how bad he has been. He’s been in the league for four years and has a cumulative PFF grade of (-80.1) in that time, while his best season saw him grade out at a meager -7.2! There are certain mistakes that teams can live with from young quarterbacks, for some of them its part of the process they go through as they develop but this has gone on for four years now. Four years down the line and we still see the same mistakes from Sanchez. It looked as if the team was at least looking to replace him both short term and long term when they added David Garrard in free agency before drafting Smith, but that was ruined by Garrard’s injuries proving too much for him to come back from. Now they are left with the options of starting a second round rookie or rolling the dice on Sanchez again when they already know which side it will land on.
2. The Loss of Revis
We touched earlier on how the play of Cromartie has lessened the loss of star cornerback Darrelle Revis however, as much as his play can limit the loss, the fact can’t be avoided is that losing one of the best players in football hurts the Jets this year. Maybe it was the right time given the circumstances, and they were at least able to recoup significant draft picks in the deal that sent him to Tampa Bay, but we all know just how good a player Revis was before his injury. Provided he can return to that form, and unless Milliner can become a great player quickly, this one is going to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Jets fans for some time yet.
3. Targets on Offense?
While it’s bad enough to have Sanchez potentially under center again, it’s even worse when you look at who he’ll be throwing the ball to. Santonio Holmes, the team’s best receiver, missed all but four games in 2012 and his status for the beginning of this coming season is still in question. Second year man Stephen Hill got fans excited with two touchdowns and 89 yards in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills last year but proceeded to add just one touchdown the rest of the year while dropping six of the 46 passes thrown his way. Braylon Edwards returned to New York late last year but hasn’t shown anything to get even remotely excited about since 2010, so it all adds up to a pretty concerning Jets passing game as we head towards the season opener.
4. Replacing the Grinders
Given the circus that has been the New York Jets in the Rex Ryan era, it’s not surprising that players like Brandon Moore and Mike DeVito weren’t recognized more, but with both gone, their absence will likely be noticeable. Moore was one of the league’s best guards for a number of years and, despite still playing at a high level, opted to retire and go out on his terms. DeVito on the other hand, headed for Kansas City in Free Agency, taking with him his 27 defensive stops in 2012. Never a flashy player, DeVito has been a solid member of that defense since his arrival and the Jets may find his steady production harder to replace than they’d like to admit.
5. The New England Patriots and Company
It’s the same for every team other team in the AFC East, with all three heading into the season knowing that, once again, the New England Patriots are the team to beat in the division. They may not be without their issues, the receiver position in particular coming under increasing scrutiny just now, but as long as they have Tom Brady at the helm they seem to be a Super Bowl contender. Adding to that steady headache are the improvements made by the Bills and the Miami Dolphins and suddenly the Jets are fighting to avoid landing at the basement of the division again. There aren’t any easy division in the NFL, but once again the specter of New England looms large in the East and the Jets know they’ll face a tough battle to unseat them as division champions.
What to Expect
There’s no denying that the Jets have added players worth getting excited about to their roster this offseason but there are no guarantees that they’ll find themselves better off come the season’s end. The role players that have arrived all have the potential to improve the team but it all comes down to what they have at the quarterback position.
Smith is an unknown quality and, however unlikely it may be, should he have the type of season we saw from the top rookie quarterbacks a year ago, the Jets would likely find themselves contending for a playoff spot. That’s a big ask however and, if Sanchez winds up getting the nod again, expect the Jets defense to keep them close only for them to lose plenty of games off the back of his mistakes.
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