J-E-T-S… not quite yet!
New York, as almost everyone knows, is split in to two when you think in terms of the NFL. There’s the blue side who are of the Giants persuasion, and then there’s the slightly more, shall we say, vociferous “Gang Green” who chose the Jets.
Coming in to the 2015 season, I think there was also something of a split within the Gang Green as to how their season was shaping up.
One group was all in on a defense that had seen some impressive development in 2014 and enjoyed further ‘upgrades’ during the off-season. Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson were to be joined by impressive USC defensive end Leonard Williams who surprisingly fell to the Jets at 6 in last year’s Draft, although Sheldon was to sit out the first four games following suspension for violation of the League’s substance abuse policy, giving them strength and depth up front.
The secondary also had something of an overhaul, with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine all added to the roster producing I think, on paper at least, one of the best equipped secondaries in today’s pass happy NFL.
With a strong front seven and a “shut down” secondary, there was optimism among some that it was a defense that could carry them deep in to the Play-Offs.
Then there was the other group.
This group of fans saw the improvements on the defense and all the benefits that could (possibly would) bring, but couldn’t get too excited about it due to what they saw as their Achilles heel – the offense.
Granted, they had a decent running back corps with Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and the newly joined Zac Stacy who had had two solid if unspectacular years in St Louis. In Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, they now had a Top 10 WR pairing although the depth chart wasn’t quite as impressive, and yet again they would enter 2015 without a viable threat at Tight End, but they had weapons on offense and a solid offensive line for it to operate behind.
There was, however, one area where things weren’t quite so peachy. Quarterback.
Their starter from 2014 – Geno Smith – was proving to be unreliable with the ball, throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions on the year (13) and generally failing to make the plays when it counted. More importantly, he was starting the season on IR after a locker room handbags session with IK Enemkpali left him with a broken jaw.
That left Ryan Fitzpatrick the de facto starter, and he tended to blow hot and cold as frequently as a cheap Chinese air conditioning unit. The offense had the weapons, but did it have the Quarterback who could make best use of them? You couldn’t help but think the Jets were maybe just a solid QB option away.
The one thing that perhaps all Jets fans were agreed on though was the upside of the changes off the field. Mike Maccagnan got his first shot at GM and he delivered an off-season that looked both impressive and confident in equal measure, not only with the roster additions using the bountiful cap space at this disposal but also with his decision to make a change at Head Coach.
Gone was the rolling circus attraction that was Rex Ryan and in came former Cardinals DC Todd Bowles. In him, Maccagnan had replaced a coach who had struggled to keep the team effective (they finished 4-12 in 2014 including an 8 game losing streak) and, in my opinion, had perhaps crossed too far in to the realms of being one of the guys with a man who was clearly in the mould of his two biggest mentors – Bruce Arians and Bill Parcells. Quieter and with a slightly harder edge, Bowles was the physical manifestation of the new, more business like, approach Maccagnan wanted at the Jets.
Moving in the right direction
As it transpired that approach worked pretty well and not just where it was maybe expected.
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker lived up to their billing as an effective 1-2 punch and a resurgent Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a franchise record 31 touchdowns and 3,905 yards, which was the mot by a Jets Quarterback since Ken O’Brien all the way back in 1985. For everything he did right however, I think he was also part of the problem.
He threw six 4th Quarter interceptions when there was a 7-point or less margin in the scores as the Jets repeatedly failed to put games away. Of the 9 games where the result was decided by 7 points or fewer, the Jets managed to win just 4. Not enough for a side who were still desperately chasing their divisional nemesis the New England Patriots.
For all the impressive improvements on the defense they, too, proved to be both Jekyll and Hyde when it came to the success of the season.
Wilkerson and Harrison were both hugely effective at the line and Leonard Williams had a strong Rookie campaign that confirmed some were right to have him as one of the best prospects in the 2015 Draft.
They helped tie down the run game against many opposing offenses leaving the secondary to prey on Quarterbacks forced to air the ball out, Revis and Co. finishing the year with 18 interceptions. They would finish Top 10 for points allowed per game but it was all a bit “all or nothing”. Seven times over the course of the season they gave up 22 points or more, and one just one. Another area where their record could have been improved and the gap in consistency tightened down.
It’s something I’m sure that Todd Bowles will have firmly in his sights ahead of this season.
Hold fire on lighting the cigars
The Jets will again be chasing the Patriots along with everyone else in the AFC East and, whilst there was clear progress last year they are still some way short in my opinion.
The ugly (borderline crazy) shenanigans during the off-season over Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract extension were at times laughable and almost always baffling. Geno Smith isn’t the answer at Quarterback for the Jets and Bryce Petty was never going to be a viable option, which I think Maccagnan was acutely aware of given he elected to spend hi 2nd round pick in this year’s draft on a QB, so having Fitzpatrick in the facility was crucial. They’ve resolved the issue now, but I can’t help thinking it’s damaged not only preparations but also relationships on the QB front.
Marshall and Decker will reprise their roles again in 2016 and the addition of another former Bear, Matt Forte, gives them more options in receiving terms as well as an upgrade in the backfield, but they still elected not to address the Tight End position. I personally think that’s a vital cog of an effective offense in current game, and something the Jets will suffer for again this year, particularly with the weaker offensive line this time around following D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s retirement.
Defensively they remain strong. Ish.
Wilkerson et al give the Jets one of the best defensive lines in the AFC, if not League, and will again be a force against the run. However I think the Jets’ problems this year will be in the secondary.
Darrelle Revis’ island appears to be open to visitors far more often these days and although his figures from last year would perhaps suggest otherwise, he’s not the elite shut down corner he used to be. Across from him Buster Skrine certainly isn’t his mirror and struggled to be effective as the Jets’ third option last year. I think we’ll see him targeted a great deal in 2016, and not just because Revis is on the other side.
With teams likely moving toward the pass as the Jets close down their run game, and in a division with some strong receiving talent, it could be another all or nothing year for that secondary in my opinion.
The Jets have to be more consistent across the board this time around, and they absolutely MUST find a way to win the close games when they come along. It was the difference between success and failure last year and, ultimately I think it will this.
They’ve almost certainly closed the gap on the Patriots again this off-season but they are still some way from being a serious contender for the division title I think.