Two years ago in the AFC Championship, the Jets played a great first half against Indianapolis and then got mauled in the second half. That lead to a long off-season and a promise by Rex Ryan that weíd win it all. Fast forward to a year later and another incredible playoff run and the Jets were in the AFC Championship game for the 2nd year in a row. This time, it was in Pittsburgh who the Jets had beaten a few weeks prior. This year, the Jets forgot to show up in the first half before staging a miraculous comeback that fell a little short. The season ends again and a long off season of depression set in.
This off season was like no other. We had lost two straight AFC Championship games with a 2nd year head coach who has promised the Jets would win the Super Bowl, and a 2nd year quarterback whoís been learning on the job and growing with ever game he plays. However, we had suffer the entire winter, spring, and summer months with a lockout over the split of nine billion dollars. Once that was finally settled, it was a frenzy to sign players, get in shape, and start to practice. The loss of all off season OTAs hurt but Mark Sanchez, who has been appointed team captain by Rex Ryan, let a few team workouts and practices which should help. Rex again said we are going to win the whole thing. Could the third time be the charm? Only 12 times in NFL history has a team gone to three straight Championships. The last time itís happened was 2002 to 2005 by the Eagles. So, the odds suggest that itís time for a 13th team to get there 3 straight times. However, this time, the third time, they are not going to fail.
Coming off two straight trips to the AFC Championship, Mark Sanchez, entering just his third season as the Jets starting quarterback will improve. He has a solid offensive line to protect him and is in the third year of the same offensive system. The only negative is that for the third consecutive year, he has almost an entire new crop of wide receivers. Sanchez must continue to improve and reduce his interceptions while increasing his completion percentage. Some of Markís percentage problem was due to the many drops by wide open wide receivers. With his new receiving corps and the departure of Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, and Braylon Edwards, three droppers, he should naturally complete more balls with the receivers dropping the ball less. Sanchez needs to get into a rhythm earlier in the game and with Brian Schottenheimer running the same offensive and now trusting Sanchez more, there is hope that we can move the ball and score early as opposed to last yearís four or five 4th quarter comebacks. Part of this will be Sanzhez playing smart football and he will also be helped by newly acquired Plaxico Burress whoís jumping ability should improve our red-zone scoring instead of settling for field goals. Rex Ryan may call this team ground and pound, and our running game should help the passing game but with all of the receiving weapons we have, I hope that we can throw the ball a bit more than run the ball now that there is some confidence in the man behind center. And, adding Tom Moore on the coaching staff to work with Schottenheimer and help in with our offense should be of great value as he is an offensive genius. Maybe with Tom Moore helping on play calling, we can get the ball in from the 1 yard line this time (bad memories of the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh still.)
As for our receiving corps, itís hard to say if we are better or worse. As far as Iím concerned, Dustin Keller is the only tight end on our roster and we need to utilize him more. This guy can get open and makes things happen. There is no reason why he shouldnít be catching at least 80 balls this year. The coaching staff just canít forget about him in the middle of the season again. As for our wide receivers, signing Santonio Holmes was a no brainer. He won about 3 or 4 games alone and that was after missing the first four games of the year. It will definitely be nice to have Santonio for a full 16 games this season and he is the one wide receiver that was on the team last year so letís hope Holmes and Sanchez built some chemistry. Then, this is where things get dicey. The Jets went out and signed Plaxico Burress who has been rotting in jail for the past 2 years. Due to a tight salary cap, I thought this was a good move. It gives the Jets another playmaker who can score in the red zone with his leaping ability. Hopefully his rust can wear off quickly. He basically replaces Braylon Edwards who basically signed for nothing in San Francisco. I would have loved Braylon back despite his drops as he had a ton of key catches in the 4th quarter that lead to victory. I guess a few DWIís and bar fights made him expendable. Then there was the issue of Jerricho Cotchery. Jerricho has been a great Jet the past 7 years. However, he didnít want to be a 3rd receiver and asked for his release. He still had two years under contract but the Jets obliged and released him. Iím not sure that was too smart on the part of Cotchery as he was coming off winter back surgery. To replace J-Co, the Jets signed Derrick Mason from the Titans. This guy has had a solid career and despite being old at 37, he has still been productive and could be the perfect 3rd down receiver for this team. Finally, Iím liking what Iím hearing about the Jets 5th round pick, Jeremy Kerley. This guy has the potential to be the 3rd down receiver one day and be a playmaker from what Iím reading. He could also assume the role of departed Brad Smith. The Jets had no choice but to let Brad Smith go for the money he was offered. With this salary cap what it is, the Jets just couldnít afford to keep him for the wildcat and for special teams. This is a big loss but the Jets will survive. With the new rules of where kickoffs start, this will prevent the long kickoff return taking away Smithís biggest threat to return the ball. I also loved the wildcat formation with Brad behind center but 98% of the time, it was predictable. This guys was a quarterback in college so Iím not sure why the coaching staff didnít let him throw the ball a bit more often. Jeremy Kerley, Joe McKnight, and LT will all be getting a chance at running the wildcat as Brad Smithís replacement and on ďgadgetĒ plays.
The Jets offensive line is good but I think it was still better two years ago when we had Alan Fanaca and I think our running game had some issues is short yardage situations last year due to the line. The retirement of Damian Woody hurts as well. However, we have two studs on the line in Nick Mangold and DíBrickshaw Fergueson. These guys are beasts. Brandon Moore is solid as well but on the PUP list due to hip surgery in the off-season. Rob Turner is slated to take Mooreís spot on the line. Last year, Matt Slausen filled in great for Alan Fanaca and this year, Wayne Hunter takes over for Damian Woody. While both of these guys may be ample solutions, Iím not 100% confident in their abilities. I am truly hoping that Vlad Ducasse can contribute this year to see if his a failed project or a lineman with potential. Still, these guys should do a good job protecting our franchise quarterback and hopefully open up some nice holes for our running game. Our running game depends on this line and Iím hoping they can handle the task at hand.
I loved the Jets running back tandem of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. It seems like Greene will take more of the load on 1st and 2nd downs this year with L.T. handling most of the 3rd downs but donít let that fool you; LT can also be used in a double back set to catch balls out of the backfield as he has much better hands catching the ball than does Shonn Greene. I think the goal is to keep L.T.ís legs more fresh for the stretch run this year then overuse him in the beginning of the year. All I know is that L.T. wants to win a Super Bowl before he retires, heís hungry, and will do what it takes to help get this team to the promised land whether though running, receiving, or just his leadership presence. Joe McKnight looked good at the end of the year in the little action he received. I hope he steps it up this year and becomes that #3 back that will eventually be used to replace L.T. when he retires. While Shonn Greene is more of a powerback, McKnight seems like a finesse back so it would be great to use McKnight to change things up. With the retirement of Tony Richardson, we lost a lot of experience and leadership at the fullback position. Hopefully, the Jets wonít lose a step with John ďTerminatorĒ Connor entering his sophomore season. I know the coaching staff has high hopes for him and I just hope that heís ready to assume the starting role.
The Jets defense, which was not nearly as good as it was two years ago, is supposed to be the strong part of this team with Rex Ryanís defense. I was disappointed with the defense last year giving up way too many first half points and having issues stopping the run until settling down in the second half. This needs to change. Jason Taylor was a total disappointment last year and Iím glad heís back on the Dolphins. Kris Jenkins who has been hurt for two straight years finally retired. And the Jets drafted two defensive studs with their first two picks in the draft to replace Shaun Ellis who we let go only to sign with the Patriots and then wind up on the PUP list. There is also a healthy Darrelle Revis who basically got hurt last year and was not 100% healthy until the second half of the season due to his extended holdout and missing all of training camp. Itís nice to have him back for 16 games to put the opposing wide receiver on Revis Island. The good thing is that besides the rookies, the defense is mostly the same including the coaching staff.
Letís start with the strong part of the Jets Ė the secondary. Darrelle Revis is 100% going into the season and basically gets no action as no one even attempts to throw in his direction. Luckily, after a failed attempt to land Nnamdi Asomugha, who went to the Eagles out of the blue, we were able to resign Cromartie who was solid last year except for the first game against the Ravens and the New England debacle. Having two great cornerbacks like that naturally helps the pass rush as quarterbacks will have difficulty finding an open receiver. Things got a bit hairy at the end of the year when Jim Leonhard went down as he was the signal caller on defense. Having him back is a huge plus with aspirations of getting back to the playoffs. Dwight Lowery, Eric Smith, and Brodney Pool are back to help out in the secondary. The biggest change for this team will be the emergence of second year player, Kyle Wilson. From what I hear, heís bulked up on weight, really studied this off-season, and has been hanging out with Revis to really learn the ins and outs of the position. Since he did basically nothing this year, itís almost like we have a new player on the roster to contribute. The Jets also brought back Donald Strickland after a year off the team. He already knows the playbook and will help in providing depth to the secondary.
Iím a little concerned with our defensive line and the pass rush. The Jets gave the opposition too much time to throw the ball last year. Kris Jenkins, hurt all of last year, finally retired and our best defensive player in that final Patriots game, Shaun Ellis, we didnít re-sign and let him leave and sign with the Patriots. Also, Jason Taylor, while he didnít have a great year, provided some pass rush. Now, we are counting on our top two draft picks, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis to help in this area. Wilkerson has already been given a starting job and we have got to hope that Ellis doesnít go to jail or get deported for his legal issues. Joining Wilkerson on the line is Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito. While both of these guys are by no means stars, they did a solid job last year. We have got to hope that the two rookies live up to Rexís expectations. Iím also hearing good things about Ropati Pitoitua who is supposedly having a great camp after being hurt all of last year. He should provide some good depth for the line. Based on what we have, if these rookies arenít what we expected, you sort of have to scratch your head on why we didnít sign Shaun Ellis in this year were we could truly make the Super Bowl.
I actually like our linebacker core; however, they did disappoint me a bit last year in the way they tried to stop the run. We were getting grounded and pounded last year giving up 8 yard chunks in huge situations. It was a no brainer to sign David Harris to a 4 year deal as he is the key to the defense. Bart Scott is an animal out there and Calvin Pace, who played most of last year hurt, is back to 100% healthy. My biggest concern is Bryan Thomas who is starting to get old and is probably the weakest of our four starting linebackers. I feel Jamaal Westerman could challenge Thomas for some playing time this season.
Our special teams could have a setback. We didnít sign Steve Weatherford, our punter, and let him sign with the Giants. Weatherford was one of our best players last year so I still donít understand letting him go considering he was always pinning the opponent deep. The Jets now have a battle for punter between T.J Conley who Rex loves and Australian kicker, Chris Bryan, who Westoff loves. I couldnít tell you a thing about either guy so Iíll leave it up to the coaching staff to pick the best guy. As for the Jets kicker, I know they brought in Nick Novack to battle with Nick Folk. Besides a few games, I thought Folk had a great year with extra points and field goals. I believe Rexís biggest issue is leg strength on kickoffs. However, with the kickoff rule being changed, this should help in either kicker forcing a touch back. With Westoff in charge, I know our special teams will be great. Jeremy Kerley will be replacing Brad Smith on kickoff and punt returns and there is always Cromartie and Wilson on the roster as well if the Kerley experiment fails.
The coaching staff is intact so itís the third straight year of a the same system. You got to love consistency. When in Jets history do you remember the same system being installed for 3 straight years especially with the same quarterback and core group of players? The addition of Tom Moore will surely help with the offensive and despite no OTAs, except for the rookies and free agents, the players should have a great grasp on the playbook.
What concerns me is that the last that the Jets were favorites to reach the Super Bowl, Vinny went down in the first game with his Achilles and you know what happened from there. One of the keys is obviously to stay healthy. If Sanchez gets hurt, Iím not convinced we can get to the promised land with Mark Brunnell as quarterback at his age.
Some other points of interested. There is no HBO Hark Knocks this year in camp to be any distraction so the players can truly focus on game plans, practice, and drills. We had no distractions of holdouts this year ala Darrelle Revis. Everyone got to camp as quickly as they got signed or as soon as they were allowed when the lockout ended. This team is now adjusted to the new stadium; however, it would be nice if they played as good at home as they do on the road.
This season comes down to a few things. First off, they need to have a better regular season. You have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat. You have to win at home. You have to beat some of the good teams and win the AFC East to get at least one home game if not two in the playoffs. Winning three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl is not impossible but itís not easy either.
Can the Jets finally put this all together and win that elusive Super Bowl that has haunted this team and fans for over 40 years? The talent is there. The staff is there. The fans are ready to rock the meadowlands.
This year is Super Bowl or Bust. If I want ďbustĒ, Iíll watch porn. However, if I want Super Bowl, Iíll watch the Jets. I believe in Rex Ryan. Heís said we were going to win it all while Obama is in office. Weíve come close twice. Itís now time they seal the deal.