As much as it pains me to say this as a Patriots fan, I cannot deny the talent that the New York Jets have all over the field, well at least the majority of the field. This season, just as it was last year, the Jets defense will be the focal point of a lot of discussion and the one Top-10 list that they will likely fight for top billing on. With an already stacked secondary, and by stacked I mean featuring Darrelle Revis and company – seriously though, if they only had Darrelle Revis, I would still consider them stacked – the Jets decided to make their top ranked defense just ridiculous by working the phones and splashing some cash via trade and free agency.
After years of relative dormancy, what could Rex and the J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! possibly do? Let's take a look at both sides of the ball...
The Jets quite simply, ‘went to the mattresses.’ First, they went and picked up another solid, albeit declining, corner in Antonio Cromartie. Sure, he comes with some baggage, and the baggage of his seven kids in five states, but with the solid core from last season still in the trenches I can’t imagine him hurting them. Then in the draft they snatched up Boise State stud corner Kyle Wilson, leaving opposing offenses, oh, about a three-inch window to throw any ball into. I mean seriously, with a jacked up secondary like this and every team already throwing the ball as far away from Revis Island as possible, lesser offenses will become imminently predictable and copious amounts of ball hawking will ensue.
Next, they addressed the one area where they “struggled” last season, defending against the run, where they ranked 8th allowing 98.6 yds/g. To do so they managed to seduce a key veteran, from an AFC East rival no less, into their locker room in the form of OLB Jason Taylor. Taylor, despite his age, can still be an explosive, disruptive force attacking the line and provides some much needed experience and leadership to a relatively youthful outfit. Taylor joins a front seven that already includes the likes of:
- Kris Jenkins
- Shaun Ellis
- David Harris
- Calvin Pace
- Bart Scott
- and the innocuous draft bust that is Vernon Gholston
um, other than the less-than-effective Gholston, where is the chink in the armor?
Quite simply, on the defensive side of the ball, the Jets’ off-season was clear-cut case of the rich getting much, much richer, but with so much talent in the secondary their team sacks could decline as opposing offenses may have no other choice than to turn to a run first scheme. Look for the glamour stats, like sacks and interceptions, to either hold the course or even decline slightly, but I definitely see tackles for a loss, fumbles and batted balls increasing as the Jets adapt, attack, and tee-off on the run.
Offensively, you could say the Jets knocked it out of the park again, but for this one it comes down to two things: the Clash of the Egos and Mark Sanchez. During the off-season the Jets made massive, big-name trades and signings of some very unsettled athletes, most notably on the offensive side of the ball with the signing of running back LaDainian Tomlinson and former Super Bowl MVP, and currently suspended, wide receiver Santonio Holmes. At a glance, both are great trades, because Rex Ryan emphasizes the run and, more importantly, isn’t the kind of coach to put up with any off-the-field crap, or so I thought. Then Holmes causes a disturbance and is escorted off a plane. Yes, that unmistakably tabooed tandem rears its ugly head again: trouble on a plane and the city of New York, two things that should never be synonymous ever again.
First, let’s look at Tomlinson, who joins an offense that led the league in rushing last season, while having had a string of disappointing seasons in San Diego himself. Needless to say, he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and the mindset of someone with a lot to prove. For Tomlinson to become a solid contributor in Rex Ryan’s offense, he’ll be used less as a runner and more for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, the one aspect of the NY running game that was somewhat lackluster. Shonn Greene was a pleasant surprise last year, but is a north-south runner and not overly reliable in passing situations. Tomlinson fills that 3rd down/scatback role nicely, but like every other year, he needs to stay healthy, which is going to be even more difficult in the cold in the latter part of the season.
As for Santonio Holmes, he’s coming off one of his best years to-date and into a situation where he believes that he is going to be “the man,” but is he really? Last season the Jets brought in a high profile, cement-handed receiver in Braylon Edwards who also thinks he’s “the man”. You have these two “number one” receivers possibly squabbling with the likes of Jericho Cotchery still in the picture and who has been “the man” since before the other two arrived. What to do, what to do? Three wide outs that all think they should be the go to guy on one team. I can already smell the backpage scandal ink! In all likelihood, Cotchery will have to take a step back, but the other two, I really hope, could be an issue. Edwards has been there a year and has established himself as a “solid” contributor in a weak passing offense, but Holmes has that MVP label looming over his head everywhere he goes and is going to want to prove that the honor was no fluke. If Rex Ryan can find a way to keep all of his receivers happy without feeling like a dad showing preference to one of his twin children, then they could be extremely dangerous, especially when balanced with a potent running attack.
To be honest, all of this talk about the Jets’ wide receivers could be a moot point if Mark Sanchez doesn’t step up his game for his sophomore season. Last year he was a rookie that "led" his squad to the AFC title game, but was marginally part of it in my eyes. It’s easy to lead a team to the title game when you have the luxury of a hostile and aggressive defense that kept opponents from putting up a lot of points and a dominant running game where you only have to hand the ball off for the majority of the game. This year, however, will literally be a whole different ball game. The expectations coming out of New York and squarely mounted on his shoulders are, at a minimum, a trip to the Super Bowl, especially with the aforementioned big-name, high-risk, high-reward, off-season signings. Every team knows that Sanchez is the weakest link in this scenario and they are going to do whatever it takes to stop the run and force him to the air, where he struggled the deeper into the season they went, throwing only four touchdown passes in the second half of the season and finishing with only twelve to go with his twenty interceptions and a QB rating of only 63.0. To put that into perspective, out of all the starting quarterbacks in the 2009 season, Sanchez had a better QB rating than just four others: Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman, Jake Delhomme, and the ever present basement dweller, JaMarcus Russell. This is not exactly the list you expect a franchise quarterback and Super Bowl contender to be etched upon. I think Sanchez will have a much better year with the additional firepower and the confidence that his defense will bail him out time and time again, which they will, but for how long? And, how long will Edwards and Holmes tolerate inconsistency from their young quarterback?
In fantasy terms I would look for the Jets defense to continue to put up gaudy numbers, but don’t expect them to reach the status they were at last season. Most other AFC East teams have been just as active in the off-season bolstering their offenses and will look to attack the Jets with a focused ground game exploiting what few holes they have. Even though I believe most teams will try to increase their focus on the rush, I really don’t see their interception numbers declining significantly because of the talent on the field, putting them in the 15-18 INT range for the season. Sack numbers could increase with the addition of Taylor and the one-on-one pressure provided on the receivers will cause opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball just a second or two longer. I see the Jets getting to the QB somewhere between 30 and 35 times simply due to the upside of their frontline. Offensively, Rex Ryan will most definitely loosen the reins on Sanchez and let him attack down the field, putting more trust in the fact that his all pro receivers will go up and get the ball rather than Sanchez having to put the ball on the money. Touchdowns will increase into the 20s but so will his interceptions simply due to his lack of experience. Lastly, the Jets running game, which led the league a year ago in attempts and yards, will be just as consistent this year. With more threats on the outside to catch the ball, holes will open up, but looks for Rex to spread touches around a bit more and try to strike some balance between his backs, but it will not change the outcome in terms of scores and yardage. Look for the Jets backs to hit the end zone around 22 times this season and average 165 yds/game.