The LiveBall Sports New York Jets Season Preview
Checking in on the 32 NFL teams, continuing from the bottom
What we said about the Jets prior to the 2012 season
You’ll have to think back to a time when trading a mid-round pick for Tim Tebow was not a joke in order to remember this, but I don’t know if the consensus opinion was that the Jets we’re expected to miss the playoffs in hilariously entertaining fashion. LiveBall Sports expected a rebound season for a team that had made the playoffs in back-to-back years with no meaningful offensive threats before falling late in the 2011 season to finish at .500. It seemed like at their worst, the Jets would play .500 football because in Rex Ryan’s three year tenure, he had built a defense with the remarkable consistency of the Ravens, Steelers, or Bears. A unit that is so dominant every time it takes the field, that any game the Jets offense doesn’t force feed the other team points, is a game the Jets should win.
What should we have known with hindsight?
Probably that a sample size of three years tells us very little about unit consistency. The Jets were a good defensive unit again in 2012, but this was not the same unit that dominated AFC offenses in 2009, 2010, and 2011. It was an aging unit with holes, and as the Jets attempted to scheme around some glaring holes, they trended towards the middle of the pack on defense. The issues were most glaring in the two games against the Patriots. Rex Ryan’s defense had given Tom Brady and the Pats fits through the years, and those fits were no more glaring when they knocked out a championship contending Pats team to go to the 2010 AFC Championship.
But that ended up being the pinnacle of the Rex Ryan era, because the young offense just never developed. Blame for this falls squarely on the organization and the coaches, because Mark Sanchez and the offense continue to make terrible, rookie-type mistakes every year. This isn’t a Sanchez-only problem, though it does seem to be a Jets-only problem.
Where does the team appear to think it is at?
The Jets are not the best example of an organization with great self awareness, so in a single offseason, they both decided to retain Rex Ryan as head coach and deal CB Darrelle Revis to the Bucs for a first round pick. Things might simply be so bad in New York for first-year GM John Idzyk (replacing the disposed Mike Tannenbaum) that he didn’t feel like bringing in his own coach until he could get some semblance of stability on the roster. But the Revis saga would suggest that this is not really Idzyk’s show just yet, but rather the responsibility of Woody Johnson, the owner.
The Jets are clearly leaning towards rebuilding, though they do have a heck of a lot of young talent under the age of 25 already, most of it on the defensive end (Muhammad Wilkerson, Quintin Coples, Sheldon Richardson, Dee Milliner), so given a year to free up salary cap space, you could see the Jets going hard in free agency again in 2014 trying to compete by throwing some money around. It may make more sense to go through a long term rebuild, given the team’s current quarterback situation. Even the best laid plans can fall apart before they begin so long as the “best laid plans” involve betting on injury-prone (now retired) quarterback David Garrard after sitting out two years of football due to surgery.
How did the team improve in the draft and free agency?
The Jets probably lost more pieces than they were able to replace during a salary cap bad-contract purge, and that was before the Revis trade. They did a good job replacing those pieces in a single offseason, but because they had to buy talent on the cheap, they were not able to get it at premium positions. That means that the Jets will enter the 2013 season with a fair amount of young talent, but major question marks at critical positions.
The team’s single best draft choice bucked that trend, as the Jets selected West Virginia QB Geno Smith. Smith gives the Jets a first round skill set at a second round price, which is an excellent buy when looking at undervalued assets. Very few evaluators were completely sold on Smith, which is why he was available in the second round. It is always helpful to remember that “fading the evaluators can be a successful draft strategy (so long as you aren’t ignoring common sense) because no team or scout has shown over a long period of time an ability to beat the rest of the league in the draft. If you are limited in your resources, you need to be creative, and by taking a shot on Smith, Idzyk may have found a Mark Sanchez replacement in the second round.
However, Geno Smith does not improve the Jets enough to conclude the rebuilding project a success right as it begins. If he wins the job out of camp, it may just mean that the Jets were worse off going into the offseason than anyone realized.
The Jets focused on giving Rex Ryan more pieces to work with on defense during the draft, and it’s usually a good move for a team coming off a bad season to fortify it’s strengths as opposed to trying to address every weakness.
What is the team’s outlook for the 2013 season?
You’ve probably seen through enough of these team previews (linked below) that the AFC is just too weak to write off any teams who get to compete in it. The Jets are going through a rebuilding year, but they are not doing it traditionally. They are doing it with an embattled coach with a recent history of success at this level in a desperation season. Last time Rex Ryan entered this situation, he inherited a team in 2008 that had fallen off in December under Eric Mangini (and Brett Favre) and missed the playoffs. That 2008 Jets team appeared to be headed for a rebuilding season under Ryan. It went to the AFC Championship game.
So Rex Ryan has done this before. In a weak AFC, there are worse teams to be bullish on than the Jets. Someone is going to get to 8 wins and make the post season.
I can’t see this Jets team getting to 8 wins. It is lacking on offensive talent, lacking an obvious long term solution at quarterback, and does not have even one player on the roster who can make defenders miss in the open field, as much as the team would like Joe McKnight to be that guy. The defense is a lot younger than the defense that Ryan built into the best in the NFL back in 2009. It’s does not have Darrelle Revis at corner. Safety play remains a problem from last year. This is just not a great situation to be responsible for. Tannenbaum already paid the price. Ryan is next up.
5 wins sound about right for the Jets, and that is a win total that means a new coach for next year. But it would also be an evasion of disaster by John Idzyk, who very well might have a future in New York, and needs to get the team on the right track quickly enough before expectations return…in 2014.