When Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum opened his checkbook to the tune of $140 million this offseason, there was little doubt he brought great promise to a franchise that had fallen considerably since its surprising run to the playoffs in 2006. Once the fragile-armed Chad Pennington was jettisoned to the free agent market and replaced by Canton-bound Brett Favre at quarterback, there was reason to believe again in Jets camp. Suddenly the mission to snap the Patriots’ five-year run of AFC East dominance appeared less daunting and a return-trip to the playoffs for the Jets no longer seemed like a wild imagination.
Now, as the the Jets pass through the first quarter of their season and head toward Sunday’s matchup with the 0-5 Bengals, the return on the Jets’ high-priced but talented investments continues to become clearer. At 2-2 and third place in the AFC East, the Jets have had their share of hiccups (i.e. losses to New England and San Diego), but they’ve also shown their fans and the rest of the NFL that they will not be going away anytime soon.
Here are the first-quarter grades for the Jets:
With the rocket-armed Favre under center, opposing defenses can no longer stack eight defenders in the box and disregard the downfield routes as in past years. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer can now diversify his play-calling and utilize one of the team’s greatest strengths, its receiving corps. After spending the previous 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre’s transition into his new offense has looked shaky at times, but that’s to be expected. In the Week 4 victory over the Cardinals, Favre showed how valuable he can be, as he completed 24-of-34 passes for 289 yards and six touchdowns. Through Week 5, he leads the NFL with 12 touchdown passes and a 110.8 quarterback rating. Those numbers will continue to improve as the schedule softens in upcoming weeks (Cincinnati, at Oakland, Kansas City) and Favre becomes more entrenched in the Jets’ playbook. Other than Favre, the only other quarterback to attempt a pass this season is Kellen Clemens, who relieved Favre late in the loss to San Diego.
Running Backs: C
Whereas the Jets’ passing game took off in the previous two weeks, the running game continues to remain stagnant. Through the first four games, the Jets are averaging a respectable 3.8 yards per carry, but have only totaled 346 yards. Much more was expected from Thomas Jones (67 carries, 254 yards, 1 TD) with the revamped offensive-line and Favre’s downfield prowess. If the Jets want to develop into a top-flight offense, consistent production from the running game will be needed. Also, the Jets have yet to really work Leon Washington (16 carries) into the mix.
Wide Recievers: B+
The combination of Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery is slowly developing into one of the more lethal duos in the league. The two have already combined for 36 catches for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. After battling a thigh injury throughout training camp and a case of the drops through the season’s first two weeks, Coles turned in his much-needed breakout performance against the Cardinals with eight catches for 105 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Chansi Stuckey has been a pleasant surprise inside the redzone with three touchdown grabs, while Brad Smith has yet to catch a pass.
Tight Ends: C+
It’s been a quiet start for the trio of Chris Baker, Bubba Franks and Dustin Keller. The three have combined for a grand total of 18 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns. But with so many options surrounding them in the Jets’ offense, it makes the task of spreading the wealth difficult. Favre’s trademark within the redzone is the quarterback bootleg, meaning Baker, Franks and Keller should all get plenty of opportunities to contribute.
Offensive Line: B
In the Jets’ $140 million offseason overhaul, $57 million was devoted to improving the offensive line. With G Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody joining the young, talented trio of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore, one of the Jets’ biggest weaknesses had become one of the greatest strengths. The line developed a strong cohesiveness in training camp and it has boiled over into the regular season. The line has allowed ten sacks, a few of which are the product of Favre holding the ball for too long. The one weakness along the line is the lack of depth.
Defensive Line: A-
There is not much to complain about when analyzing the Jets’ front three. Kris Jenkins has made the difference at nose tackle in limiting both the pass and the rush. Jenkins’ importance to the defense was exemplified in the loss to San Diego. After Jenkins left in the first quarter with a back injury, the duo of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles pounded the ball through the Jets’ weak front. DE Shaun Ellis has contributed to the Jets’ dangerous pass rush with three sacks, while DE Kenyon Coleman has helped limit the running game.
The combination of Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas have been all the Jets hoped they would be at outside linebacker. After suffering through a disappointing 2007 season, Thomas returned to camp motivated, and has been a force in the pass rush with four sacks. Pace has validated the $42 million contract the Jets handed him this offseason with 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks thus far. In the middle, Eric Barton is building off an impressive training camp with a productive start (24 tackles) to the campaign. Ten-year veteran David Bowens has been a pleasant surprise (2 sacks). Only David Harris-one of the lone bright spots in 2007-has yet to make his mark.
Kerry Rhodes continues to prove that he is one of the league’s most unheralded stars. Although Rhodes has yet to intercept a pass this season, he’s lived up to his role as a ballhawking safety. Rhodes is also a solid contributor to the Jets’ improved run defense, as he is tied with Jenkins for the team lead with three tackles-for-loss. Alongside Rhodes, the trio of David Barrett, Abram Elam and Eric Smith has been less than stellar. If the Jets want to become a dominant defense, someone must step up in the secondary.
Darrelle Revis continues to develop into the top-flight cornerback the Jets hoped he would be when they traded up and drafted him 14th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Revis leads the defense with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in the win over the Cardinals. Alongside Revis, rookie Dwight Lowery had his share of mishaps in the loss to San Diego, but otherwise he has been solid. Lowery burst onto the scene in training camp and remained hot until the Chargers burned the Jets for 48 points. Even so, Lowery has provided the Jets with some stability in the secondary. Also, David Barrett and Drew Coleman have been quiet, while Justin Miller continues to be sidelined with a foot injury.
The Jets were dealt a significant blow when Mike Nugent strained his right thigh in the season-opening win at Miami. Nugent was coming off his best season as a pro, in which he was successful on 29 of 36 kicks. Jay Feely has made four of six attempts this season as Nugent’s fill-in, but his missed 31-yard attempt against the Patriots in Week 2 proved costly.
Ben Graham, Reggie Hodges, Waylon Prather, all of which have been signed by the Jets this season. Enough said.
Kickoff/Punt Return: A-
Leon Washington continues to live up to the billing as one of the league’s top return men. Washington has averaged 31.3 yards on eight kickoff returns, highlighted by a 94-yard return against San Diego. All that’s missing is a touchdown. With an explosive offense, solid field position makes the Jets even more dangerous.
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