The Jets hit some turbulence in last week’s 34-17 loss to the Broncos but the Jets remain in first place in the AFC East. With just four games left to play, the Jets will look to continue to ride their punishing offense. The lone concern? A paper-thin pass defense that has been threaded all too often this season.
Brett Favre has not been his old gunslinging self, but he hasn’t needed to be. In wins over the Patriots and Titans, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer mixed a power running game led by Thomas Jones with an efficient passing attack. Favre has helped move the football downfield (214 yards/game, 13th in NFL) without turning over the football. Through 12 games, Favre has thrown 20 touchdown passes compared to 14 interceptions (90.4 rating).
Running Back: A
The combination of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington have been as dangerous as any backfield duo in the league. Jones leads the AFC in rushing (233 carries, 1088 yards, 11 touchdowns) and has been the downfield runner that teams covet. Combined with the Jets’ dangerous passing attack, Jones has turned the Jets’ offense into one of the most explosive units in the NFL. Washington has been the lightning to Jones’ thunder and he’s clearly finding a groove in his third season. Washington (34 carries, 288 yards, two touchdowns) has been most effective running the football late in games, when he uses his speed to elude tired defenders. Aside from running the football, both players have turned effective out of the backfield as receivers. Jones and Washington have combined for 61 catches for 449 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: B
Laveranues Coles (55 catches, 612 yards, six touchdowns) and Jerricho Cotchery (58 catches, 692 yards, four touchdowns) just continue to produce. After struggling through miscommunication issues with Favre earlier this season, both receivers have meshed well with the quarterback. Chansi Stuckey got off to a fast start with three touchdowns in the season’s first three games, but he’s been invisible since. Brad Smith hasn’t had many opportunities to catch the football (eight receptions, 61 yards) so the Jets have lined him up under center in the wildcat formation. The Jets are still waiting for him to break through.
Tight End: C+
Rookie Dustin Keller is quickly developing into Favre’s favorite target. Keller has turned into a sure-handed option on third-down and is becoming a matchup problem for opposing defenses. His 16-yard reception on the third-and-15 in overtime against the Patriots may be the turning point of the season. Chris Baker has contributed to the running game with his solid blocking, but he’s been an afterthought in the passing game. Baker has just 16 catches for 135 yards. Bubba Franks (six catches, 47 yards) has been a disappointment.
Offensive Line: B+
After Favre was beaten and battered in the Jets’ overtime loss to the Raiders on Oct. 19, the Jets’ offensive line has been stout. The offensive line is quickly turning into one of the league’s top units as its allowed only 23 sacks (15th in NFL) and has powered the league’s eighth-best rushing attack. The only kryptonite for the line could be depth.
Defensive Line: B+
Nose tackle Kris Jenkins has been as valuable to the Jets as any other player. The lone hiccup came in last week’s 34-17 loss to the Broncos, in which rookie Peyton Hillis rushed for 122 yards. Jenkins single-handedly shut down the Titans’ elusive duo of Chris Johnson and LenDale White as he beat Titans center Kevin Mawae and repeatedly found himself in the backfield. Defensive end Shaun Ellis began the year strong but has quieted since. He leads the team with seven sacks. His biggest mistake came the morning before last week’s loss to the Broncos, when he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Defensive end Keyon Coleman produces no pass rush, but he’s effective in the run defense. Both Sione Pouha and CJ Mosley have made solid contributions in limited action.
Calvin Pace (five sacks) and Bryan Thomas (4.5 sacks) were supposed to provide a solid pash rush, but the two have been invisible in recent weeks. The lack of a pass rush was never more evident than in the 34-17 loss to the Broncos, where quarterback Jay Cutler was barely even touched. David Harris has suffered a sophomore slump as he’s been sidelined the previous five weeks with a groin injury. Eric Barton has been solid in run defense, as he leads the Jets with 89 tackles. Ten-year veteran David Bowens (four sacks) has been a pleasant surprise. Sixth-overall pick Vernon Gholston (12 tackles) has been a disaster.
Kerry Rhodes does not have the numbers on the stat sheet (one sack, one interception) but he continues to be one of the league’s best safeties. With the troubles the Jets have had in the secondary, offenses have turned their head away from Rhodes and thrown to other options. Abram Elam has been a hit or miss player in his second season with the Jets. While Elam has made game-breaking plays such as his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the victory over Buffalo, he’s also made game-breaking errors. Instead of attemping a sure tackle on Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal in the first quarter last week, Elam jumped for the interception. The result was a 59-yard touchdown grab. Eric Smith got off to a slow start to begin the season and then suffered three head injuries within a four week span.
If you’re looking for a shutdown cornerback, turn toward Darrelle Revis. In just his second professional season, Revis is already forcing quarterbacks to throw the ball in different directions. Rookie Dwight Lowery burst onto the scene late in training camp and made two touchdown-saving plays at starting cornerback in the season-opener. However, Lowery has also had his struggles. The coaching staff lost their confidence in Lowery and decided to sign 14-year veteran Ty Law. The Jets’ pass defense has allowed 214 yards per game (30th in NFL).
Special Teams: A-
Since replacing Mike Nugent for the Jets’ Week Two matchup with the Patriots, Jay Feely has connected on 21-of-25 field goal attempts and has been clutch. Feely connected on a 52-yard field goal to send Jets into overtime against the Raiders and he nailed a game-winning 34-yard kick against the Patriots. Reggie Hodges hasn’t been any better than Ben Graham but the Jets’ offense allowed him to remain on the sidelines in their victories over the Patriots and Titans. Hodges punted just twice within the two week span. Washington continues to be one of the league’s best kick returners as he’s averaged 27.9 yards on 31 returns. The kick coverage has also been among the league’s best (21.1 yards allowed per return, 6th in NFL).