No NFL team starts with a clean slate, but more than most, the 2013 Jets carry with them the ghosts of their prede¬cessors. From 2009 to 2012, the Jets were defined by four men: general manager Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Rex Ryan, quarterback Mark Sanchez, and cornerback Darrelle Revis. And in case you just woke up from an eight-month nap, the half of that quartet not involved in foot fetish videos or the Buttfumble are the ones who are gone.
New York made the AFC Championship Game in 2009 thanks to a dominant defense created by Ryan and centered around Revis. History repeated itself a year later, when New York once again fell just one game short of reaching the Super Bowl. Things fell apart in 2011 before the wheels came com-pletely off last season. Both years, the biggest culprit was the quarterback. Two years ago, Mark Sanchez finished second in the league with 26 turnovers (just one behind Josh Freeman), causing a Jets team that was playoff caliber everywhere but quarterback to finish 8-8.
Ryan blamed Sanchez’s struggles on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, so Ryan replaced Schottenheimer with former Miami head coach Tony Sparano. The result? Sanchez again committed 26 turnovers, this time leading the league, and did it on fewer plays to boot. Sanchez also set career lows in both traditional statistics (yards per attempt, sack rate, touchdown rate) and our advanced stats (DVOA and DYAR). A disastrous 6-10 season that felt more like 6-100 resulted in significant changes throughout the organization.
Tannenbaum is now gone, a casualty of back-to-back disap¬pointing seasons. So too are Sparano, Mike Westhoff (spe¬cial teams), Mike Smith (outside linebackers), Bill Hughan (strength and conditions), Matt Cavanaugh (quarterbacks), Dave DeGuglielmo (offensive line), Mike Pettinte (defensive coordinator), Jim O’Neil (defensive backs), and Bob Sut¬ton (linebackers). The Black Death resulted in a few more evacuations than the 2012 Jets, but it’s close. When the music stopped, Rex Ryan was left sitting in the only chair.
Owner Woody Johnson embarked on a 19-day search for a new general manager, with the one requirement being that Ryan must be retained. Johnson eventually landed on John Idzik, who spent the past six seasons as the Seahawks’ vice president of football administration. It only took a few hours for Idzik to be flung into the Revis Situation™, which eventu¬ally ended with the All-Pro cornerback traded to Tampa Bay.
Idzik also inherited a salary cap nightmare, and the solution involved massive bloodletting. Gone are long-tenured Jets like Brandon Moore, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Eric Smith, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene, Mike DeVito, and Sione Pouha.
Incredibly, Mark Sanchez returns as the likely starting quar¬terback. We’re long past the point where we need to convince folks focused on playoff wins that Sanchez is a below-average quarterback. But to put in perspective how incredible it is that Sanchez may start in 2013, consider that only five quarter-backs in NFL history have met the following criteria in four straight seasons:
• Finished below league average in completion percentage.
• Finished below league average in yards per attempt.
• Thrown at least 300 passes for the same team each year.
One of them, of course, is Mark Sanchez. The other four were also high first-round picks.
The first was Trent Dilfer, who like Sanchez saw some success opposite excellent defenses. Dilfer’s streak ran from 1995, his second season in the league, until 1998. In 1999, Dilfer’s completion percentage soared to above league aver¬age, but a benching and a season-ending injury limited him to just 10 starts. The next season, of course, he joined the Ravens and won a Super Bowl.
The second quarterback was Donovan McNabb (2000- 2003), but he’s a poor comparison. McNabb was an excellent runner early in his career, and he was outstanding at avoiding interceptions, a label never applied to Sanchez. The third was Joey Harrington (2002-2005), who was a much more similar player. The main difference between Sanchez and Harrington is that the Lions gave him no help—Detroit ranked 19th or worse in defensive DVOA each of those seasons—so Har¬rington limped to an 18-37 record. After four years, even De¬troit had seen enough, and Harrington had a fifth straight year of below-average play as quarterback of the Dolphins in 2006.
The fourth comparison is, presumably, the only reason Johnson and Ryan continue to believe in the Sanchize. New York fans criticized Eli Manning early in his career about as much as they do Sanchez now. If you include his 197-attempt rookie season, Manning finished below league average in both completion percentage and yards per attempt in each of his first five seasons.
Still, there’s a pretty big difference between Manning and Sanchez. Manning won his first Super Bowl in 2007, his third season as a full-time starter, and he was trending upward by 2008. Although Manning was still (barely) below average in completion percentage and yards per attempt that season, it also was the year he made his first Pro Bowl, and Manning posted impressive rate numbers with respect to both sacks and interceptions. It takes the greenest of glasses to project a simi¬lar career arc for Sanchez. And with a $13.1M cap number in 2014, Sanchez will be out of New York after the season unless he turns into Eli Manning overnight. Sanchez’ bloated salary is the only reason he’s on the 2013 roster, as releasing him would have counted for more against the cap than keep¬ing him.
That said, even though Sanchez won’t ever live up to his first-round status, it’s also unlikely he will play so poorly for the second year in a row. The Jets ranked 30th in pass DVOA, and Sanchez ranked dead last in DYAR. Even for Sanchez, throwing five more interceptions than touchdowns is unchar¬acteristic; he threw 43 touchdowns against 31 touchdowns in 2010 and 2011. And if nothing else, new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg represents a major upgrade in the area of “not being Tony Sparano.”
The Jets also selected Geno Smith with the 39th pick in the draft, so the team finally has a backup who is neither in his 40s (Mark Brunell) nor has a completion percentage in the 40s. Smith fell in the draft because of his inconsistent play at West Virginia. At his best, he was video game good, as evi¬denced by his stat line against Baylor: 45-of-51 for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. But Smith slumped in the second half of his senior season, and his flaws were exposed as the team finished 2-5 down the stretch.
Smith doesn’t possess top-end arm strength. His high com¬pletion percentage (71.2 percent last season) was a function of a very passer-friendly offense, and he needs to improve on both his pre- and post-snap reads. But he’s an athletic quarter¬back with a good arm who can make the big play, even if he’s streaky and prone to mistakes. If he hits, he’s Tony Romo. If he misses, well, the Jets already have one Mark Sanchez on the roster. And while some folks will fawn over last year’s college stats (42 touchdowns, just six interceptions, and 8.1 yards per attempt), remember that his head coach was Dana Holgorsen, the same man responsible for Brandon Weeden’s outstanding numbers at Oklahoma State in 2010.
But the Jets are hoping that they won’t be forced to rely on the passing game for big plays in 2013. New York had just four runs of over 20 yards last season, tied for the second low¬est mark in the league (the Colts had just two). Shonn Greene was responsible for only two of those runs (Tim Tebow and Joe McKnight had the others), but the plodding back is now in Tennessee. The Jets added Chris Ivory (New Orleans) and Mike Goodson (Oakland) to replace Greene, and both players are upgrades in the excitement department.
As an undrafted rookie in 2010, Ivory excelled for the Saints in a part-time role: He finished in the top ten in both DVOA and DYAR and ranked first in Success Rate. But when the Saints added Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram in 2011, Ivory’s playing time decreased even as his production stayed strong. With Ivory, there are two big questions: can he stay healthy, and can he be as successful against defenses not fo¬cused on stopping Drew Brees? At his best, Ivory is a power¬ful runner with more agility than Greene, making him a good under-the-radar addition for a cap-strapped team.
Ivory doesn’t need to be a 300-carry back, either. Assuming Goodson makes the team (he was arrested in May on drug pos¬session and weapon charges), he gives the Jets the explosive back New York was looking for when they drafted Joe McK¬night. On just 35 carries last year with the Raiders, Goodson had three runs of over 20 yards. Goodson caught every pass thrown to him last year, and had the most receptions (16) of any player with a 100 percent catch rate. He should have a bigger role in New York, and could be a fantasy sleeper.
Of course, Goodson has long been one of the NFL’s great teases. He has started only three games in his career, all of which came in November 2010 with the Panthers. In those games, Goodson totaled 400 yards from scrimmage, and twice rushed for 100 yards. But like Ivory, he has struggled to stay healthy, with an added side of fumbling problems.
With Marty Mornhinweg and his West Coast Offense now in New York, that could mean good things for Goodson. Re¬gardless of system, expecting consistent production from either Santonio Holmes or Kellen Winslow, Jr., is foolhardy, so the Jets may wind up throwing a bunch of short passes to the run-ning backs. Over the last three seasons, LeSean McCoy has caught 180 passes in just 42 games while playing under Morn¬hinweg. Last year, Greene led all Jets backs with 19 catches, but a healthy Goodson—who is a better receiver than Ivory— could easily double that number. The offense won’t be great, but fewer turnovers from the quarterback and more big plays from the running backs could go a long way towards making this unit respectable. The Jets’ average rank in offensive DVOA for the first three years of Ryan and Sanchez was 19th. That’s not above average, but it’s also a long way from ranking 30th.
If you’re still wondering why Rex Ryan was brought back, it’s because of Woody Johnson knows Ryan can coach a de¬fense. Even without Revis, the Jets defense still ranked ninth in DVOA, and the future is bright for 2013. The most success¬ful 3-4 defenses have at least one dominant edge rusher at line-backer, and that’s been the Achilles heel for the Jets defense since even before Ryan’s arrival. For years, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace graded out as “barely satisfactory” in those roles, but they have been the ex-girlfriend the team clings to the morning after their one-night stands (Vernon Gholston, Jason Taylor, Aaron Maybin, Jamaal Westerman). This year, it’s former defensive end Quinton Coples making the posi¬tion switch, although he’s a curious fit as an edge rusher (as we detail later in this chapter). In any event, Coples is much more athletic and a more disruptive force than Bryan Thomas, and the former first-round pick will play with his hand in the dirt more often than the typical outside linebacker. Pace and former San Diego Charger Antwan Barnes will share the other spot, but neither are long-term solutions. The Jets will be in the market for a 3-4 outside linebacker again next year in what is starting to look like a football production of Goldilocks: Aaron Maybin was too light, Coples is too heavy, but next year, the Jets hope to find a pass rusher that’s just right.
With Revis gone, the best player on the defense is now Muhammad Wilkerson, who has become one of the best five-technique linemen in the league after just two seasons. (He and Calais Campbell get to fight for J.J. Watt’s scraps, and then ev¬eryone else has to fight for their scraps.) The other defensive end spot will be manned by rookie Sheldon Richardson, the player the Jets selected with the pick they got from Tampa Bay for Revis. Draftniks considered the Missouri product one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the draft—the Ti¬gers even used him as a spy against Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel—but Richardson is probably best suited as a one-gap player in a four-man front. The Jets use both three- and four-man fronts, and Richardson’s versatility should suit the scheme well. When the Jets make Coples the fourth down lineman, Richardson will shift to the three-technique, where his pass-rushing skill set will be on full display.
The only question mark on the line is at nose tackle. With Sione Pouha hampered by injuries most of 2012, the Jets rush defense regressed. After allowing 130-plus rushing yards just nine times from 2009 to 2011, New York let opponents hit that mark in eight different games last year. Curiously, the team ignored this position on draft day; as talented as Richardson is, drafting Star Lotulelei and keeping Quinton Coples at end would have been made a lot more sense in terms of need. But the Jets have to trust Rex Ryan when it comes to the front seven—if not, where else can they trust him? As it stands, the Jets appear to be banking on some combination of Kenrick Ellis, Antonio Garay, and Damon Harrison to hold down the middle of the defense.
Even in a post-Revis world, the cornerback position remains one of the strengths of the team. After drafting Dee Milliner (Alabama) with the ninth overall pick, the Jets’ top three cor¬nerbacks will have first-round pedigrees for the fourth year in a row. For you trivia buffs out there, the Jets and Bengals were the only teams to field three former first-round picks at cor¬nerback each of the last three years, and both teams will make it four straight in 2013. The real concern in the secondary is at safety. Dawan Landry, last seen being mediocre in Jack¬sonville, will be the strong safety, and that’s not the problem spot. Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, each low on both pedigree and production, will battle to start at free safety. Considering the struggles of inside linebacker David Harris in pass cover¬age, the Jets could again be very vulnerable against the tight end this year. New York ranked 27th in DVOA against tight ends in 2011, and were much improved last year (14th) largely due to the presence of safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, who are now in Indianapolis and Arizona, respectively. At least the Jets can take solace in seeing their biggest rival having a bit of trouble at the tight end position these days.
For years, the Jets spent the offseason trying to plug leaks as part of a Super Bowl push. With a new general manager who was given a long leash and a lot of bad contracts, this off¬season wasn’t about maximizing the team’s chances in 2013 but getting the team on the right long-term track. It may take some time, but the outlook on offense is promising for 2014 if Smith can match his potential. For this year, the goal is more modest: simply holding onto the ball. The Jets have 71 turn¬overs the last two years, a number only eclipsed by the Eagles (with 75). Yet despite the focus on the future, this season is not necessarily a total write-off. With a younger, faster, and poten¬tially better defense (remember, they didn’t have Revis for 14 games last year), a playoff push is not out of the question if the offense can improve from embarrassing to mediocre.
The Jets’ offense was so bad that they somehow managed a horrible -41.7% DVOA when using play action. The league average with play action was 21.9% DVOA. Nine of Sanchez’s 18 interceptions came off play action. Perhaps that’s why the run-first Jets were actually below average on frequency using play action, especially on second downs, where they used it on just 14 percent of pass plays (31st in the NFL). 6 Gang Green recovered 11 of 14 fumbles on defense. 6 The Jets had the smallest gap in the league between DVOA when bringing pass pressure (-56.4% DVOA, 3.1 yards per play) and DVOA without pressure (13.4% DVOA, 6.6 yards per play). Does this signal the quality of the Jets’ cornerbacks, or the impotence of their pass rush? 6 The Jets blitzed a defensive back on 21.8 percent of pass plays; no other defense was above 18.5 percent. 6 In 2011, the Jets used quarter personnel (seven or more defensive backs) on 11 percent of plays, five times as much any other defense. Last season they were more in line with the rest of the NFL; they still led the league, but with only 3.7 percent of snaps.
No matter how bad the rest of the offense has been over the past few years, the Jets’ line has given the quarterback time to throw and made nice big holes for the running backs. It’s not their fault that neither the quarterback nor the running backs have been able to do much with that blocking. Unfortunately, after another solid year—four-fifths of a strong year, at least—free agency is forcing change and a loss of continuity that could neutralize the only strength of New York’s offense. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, center Nick Mangold, and right guard Brandon Moore had played together every year since 2006; left guard Matt Slauson joined them in 2010. Moore and Slauson are now gone after the Jets decided their prices were too high in free agency, but instead of replacing them with young and developing talent, the Jets replaced them with two fellow veterans. New left guard Colon was good for the Steelers last season, but he’s three years older than the man he replaces and missed nearly all of 2010 and 2011 with injuries. New right guard Peterman had pretty much run out of gas in Detroit; last year, our game charters recorded him with more blown blocks on pass plays than any guard except Mike McGlynn of the Colts (of course, the Lions did set a new record for pass attempts). Fortunately, knowing these veterans may not have much time left, the Jets used two mid-round picks on developmental linemen. Both third-rounder Brian Winters (Kent State) and fifth-rounder Obay Aboushi (Virginia) played left tackle in college but will move to right tackle or guard in the pros, and both will need a lot of technique work to learn how to pass-block in the NFL.
The three linemen carried over from last season include not just the two building blocks Ferguson and Mangold but also the weak link, right tackle Austin Howard. Howard was at least better than the man he replaced at the start of last year, Wayne Hunter, but this may be one of the great examples of “damning with faint praise” in the history of human existence. Howard was good on runs, but he finished among the top ten tackles in the league for blown blocks on pass plays, and our charters blamed more sacks directly on Howard than on the rest of the Jets’ starters put together.
Last season brought a decline in nearly all of our front seven metrics, so the buzzwords for the Jets front seven this offseason are “change” and “flexibility.” However, it’s hard to see how much more flexible the Jets can be. The Jets were one of just three defenses that we marked down playing both 3-4 and 4-3 at least 10 percent of the time, and in sub packages they alternated between odd and even looks.
With the linebackers aging, the star of the Jets’ front seven is now defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was excellent against the run, and though he couldn’t match J.J. Watt’s ridiculous season, he still produced far more pass pressure than you usually see from a five-tech end. The new starter opposite Wilkerson will be first-round pick Sheldon Richardson, who should kick inside to tackle when the Jets use a four-man front. Richardson has a freakish combination of size and athleticism, and in his senior season at Missouri he led all SEC interior linemen with 75 tackles and added on 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He also has experience as a stand-up rusher and dropping into short zone coverage. Again, the buzzword is “flexibility.”
Richardson’s arrival moves last year’s first-round pick, Quinton Coples, from defensive end to outside linebacker when the Jets are using three-man fronts. That would get all the Jets’ best players on the field, but it may not be the best use of Coples’ talents. Coples is listed at 285 pounds; last year, no outside linebacker had a listed weight above 270 (although Mario Williams will be a linebacker again this year at 290). Coples had an underwhelming SackSEER rating of 25.4 percent, mainly because of poor performance at the Combine in the drills which make up our “Explosion Index,” including the 40-yard dash, broad jump, and vertical jump. In college, his best year rushing the passer came as a defensive tackle, not a defensive end.
His skill set calls for overwhelming blockers with strength, not dominating them with speed and movement, and the lack of a first-step burst will hurt him more as a linebacker than it would with his hand on the ground. Calvin Pace will be back at the other outside lineback¬er spot; he was cut in February to make salary cap space, then re-signed to a much cheaper one-year, $1 million contract. Pace may not have recorded many sacks last year, but our pass pressure numbers show he still spent a lot of time harassing opposing quarterbacks. Both Pace and Coples will spend plenty of time with a hand on the ground in passing situations. They’re backed up by free-agent signing Antwan Barnes, who, after an 11-sack season in 2011, had only five hurries and three sacks on fewer than 200 snaps for San Diego last year. On the inside, David Harris continues to decline as he nears age 30 and is far from the run-stopping machine he once was, but he’s still a respectable starter. Demario Davis is the kind of aggressive, hard-working player that Rex Ryan loves. As a rookie, he played over Bart Scott in sub packages and showed up with some big plays on film. It’s important that he plays well as he moves into the starting lineup this year, because the backup inside linebackers are special teams-only roster fodder like Josh Mauga and Nick Bellore. On passing downs when the Jets field only one inside linebacker, Harris will likely take a backseat to the more athletic Davis.
The Jets cut veteran Sione Pouha and look ready to hand the nose tackle position to 2011 third-round pick Kenrick Ellis. However, Ellis hasn’t developed much in his first two seasons and there are signs the Jets are a bit lukewarm on his talents. He didn’t get on the field much last year despite Pouha struggling with back problems, and he’ll get competition for the nose tackle role from ex-Chargers veteran Antonio Garay. A sleeper to watch here is Damon “Big Snacks” Harrison, a second-year development project from NAIA-level William Penn. He was one of the team’s stars in the 2012 preseason, played the run well as a rookie, and looked good this summer in OTAs.
Football Outsiders has now been keeping cornerback charting stats since 2005, and one of the shocking issues is just how incon¬sistent they tend to be from year to year. We don’t know yet if this is an issue with how we track coverage, a sample-size problem, or something endemic to the cornerback position. However, we do know that only two cornerbacks have finished in the top ten for Adjusted Yards per Pass twice in the past three years, and one of them plays for the Jets. Notice we didn’t say played for the Jets, because the cornerback in question is Antonio Cromartie, not Darrelle Revis.1 In fact, Cromartie has had two-and-a-half stellar years out of the last three, since he improved significantly in the second half of 2011. When Cromartie was this good in 2010, we thought it might be a byproduct of the way Darrelle Revis forced quarterbacks to play against the Jets’ secondary. Now that he’s played this well with Revis battling injuries (second half of 2011) or gone altogether (second half of 2012), I think we can safely say that Cromartie is really quite good on his own. Kyle Wilson improved in his third season and moved into the starting lineup when Revis went down, but he’ll have to hold off stud rookie Dee Milliner to hold onto that spot. Milliner is a big, physical, and intelligent, with press coverage experience and strong play-recognition skills. There are some worries about his injury history (which includes a torn labrum, a rod in his tibia, and hernia surgery) and the fact that Nick Saban doesn’t teach his cornerbacks at Alabama to backpedal. At safety, the Jets swapped out LeRon Landry for his brother Dawan in free agency; Dawan is the older and less talented brother, but he’s also the healthier one. Two low-round 2012 picks, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, will battle in camp for the other safety spot.
The great Mike Westhoff Era sputtered out to an ignominious end, as the Jets finished 21st in our special teams values after ranking in the top ten in nine of the previous ten seasons. Nick Folk had three field goals blocked and missed three others; he also ranked in the bottom six in gross kickoff value for the third straight season. If ever there was a chance for a team to spend a late pick on a kicker without anyone laughing at them, this would have been it, but instead the only camp competition for Folk will be ex-Nebraska walk-on Brett Maher. At least Maher has some promise on kickoffs, with nearly 60 percent touchbacks in his senior year. Robert Malone is nothing special as a punter and will also get camp competition, from Boston College grad Ryan Quigley. Returns are in better hands with Joe McKnight on kickoffs and Jeremy Kerley on punts. Coverage teams are led by linebacker Nick Bellore and cornerback Ellis Lankster and should rebound after a down year.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got a lot of the credit when Michael Vick finally calmed down a bit and reached his potential as quarterback of the 2010 Eagles. The Jets want him to instill that same improvement in discipline and consis¬tency as he tries to mold Geno Smith into an NFL quarterback. Hopefully, Mornhinweg can avoid indoctrinating Smith with whatever mistaken lesson made Vick revert to his old bad habits and inconsistent ways in 2011, Flowers for Algernon-style. It will be interesting to see how Mornhinweg merges his pass-first mentality with Ryan’s desire for “ground and pound,” but the Mornhinweg passing game is not going to just be a bunch of little crossing patterns. Despite his West Coast offense reputation,
Mornhinweg’s Eagles teams often were close to the top of the league in big downfield passing plays. The Jets players seem very happy with Mornhinweg. “Marty’s like a Cadillac,” Jeremy Kerley told Newsday during the June minicamp. “He’s laid back. He’s cool. He gives us leeway to be ourselves.” Well, if there’s anything that’s been missing from the Jets locker room the last few years, it’s enough leeway for players to be themselves.
With Mike Pettine leaving town, the Jets gave the title of defensive coordinator to former defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, although Ryan himself will take over defensive play-calling duties in 2013. The Jets also promoted their new special teams coordinator from within, tapping Mike Westhoff’s assistant Ben Kotwica. Kotwica has an interesting background: he was a three-year starter at Army and defensive captain of the 1996 team that won 10 games, the most in Army history. After graduation, he flew helicopters in the early years of Operation Desert Storm and was a high school coach before he was brought to the Jets by his Army head coach, and former Jets defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton.
Very detailed synopsis. The Jets basically will float under the radar because we have so much youth and these guys aren't known for good or bad yet. Still any serious scout of the talent would realize that a lot of these kids are very talented and if the coaching is on point they will most likely produce at a good level. Consistent good play is probably going to be the one gotcha with so much youth.
Love the talent on D and I think that's going to be the saving grace of the team. I think the speed and power on D has improved. With more aggression from Rex I can see this D being very strong.
Love the additions to the RB group by Idzik. We've got WAY more explosive talent at RB. With the additions on the OL I think they'll be very dynamic in the run game.
The QB and WR situation is still unclear. Depending upon health we could have a really good WR group with Holmes, Kerley, Hill etc. I like some of the talent behind those guys even tho they're uproven. The QB is gonna help make that situation better or not good at all. I have very little faith in Sanchez throwing his soft and late passes but if we can get Geno up to speed I feel he's perfect for the WCO with his strong and accurate passes. Geno was killing it with short and on time passes at WVU.
Last year the preseason had too many distractions. It was like a carnival atmosphere with Tim Tebow. Hopefully, this year they start off better and the offense can show some improvement. The defense looks very solid.