After making it to the AFC Championship in the first two seasons of Rex Ryan’s tenure with the New York Jets, the team did not even get over .500 and went 8-8 in the 2011 season. They were their usually stout selves on defense, ranking seventh in the league in yards per play against both the pass and run. Their problem was on offense, as they couldn’t run or pass the football effectively. They were 25th in the league in net yards per pass attempt and averaged the third-lowest yard per carry total in the league at 3.8 YPC. Shonn Greene was solid with 1,000 rushing yards and an average 4.2 YPC total, but the team lacked the presence of a good No. 2 back with the now-retired LaDainian Tomlinson averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season.
The Jets had a positive points differential and actually had the 13th most points scored and were 20th in points allowed, which could lead someone to believe that their defense- not the offense- was the problem. But all you need to do is take a look at Mark Sanchez’s sub-80.0 QB Rating and 56.7% completion percentage to realize that the major problem for this team came on offense. Sanchez was picked off 3.3% of the time and averaged a meager 6.4 yards per attempt.
2011 Record 8-8
QB Tim Tebow
WR Chaz Schilens
FS LaRon Landry
SS Yeremiah Bell
K Josh Brown
DE Quinton Coples 1st round from UNC
WR Stephen Hill 2nd round from GT
OLB Demario Davis 3rd round from Arkansas State
QB Drew Stanton (traded)
RB LaDainian Tomlinson (retired)
SS Brodney Pool
SS Jim Leonhard
Everybody is talking about new quarterback Tim Tebow and how he affects Mark Sanchez’s starting quarterback role for the New York Jets. At this point, I don’t view Tebow as a major threat to Sanchez’s role as the starting QB, and he’s going to be more of a wildcard offensive player who makes plays in goal-line situations and lines up at different spots on the field. This isn’t going to be a two-quarterback system, because Sanchez is clearly the better passer. He completed 11% more of his passes last year than Tebow.
There is a statistic called SR%, which measures what percent of a player’s plays were “successful” based on down and distance. This statistic is used frequently for running backs. I want to share an interesting tidbit on Tebow; his SR% was just 38.9% last season. That’s it. One thing that works in Tebow’s favor is that he threw less interceptions than Sanchez last year, but all that good is sapped out by his completion percentage. You simply cannot be a starting quarterback in the NFL by having a completion percentage that far under 50%; Tebow really needs to improve on that.
The good news is that Tebow looked much better in training camp, and his mechanics are far more refined. That means his completion percentage should go up. If he improves his accuracy enough, then he can beat out Sanchez for the starting role. Even though Tebow is a poor quarterback, Sanchez isn’t much better and could feasibly be usupred as the starter. Tebow actually averaged more adjusted yards per attempt (6.3 to 5.9) than Sanchez last season, and AY/A is one of the best stats to measure QB performance. For as inaccurate as Tebow is, Sanchez is worse due to complacency and a high number of picks. If Tebow’s mechanics and accuracy have truly improved, then it isn’t a long shot to think that Tebow can give the Jets a better chance at QB than Sanchez.
Shonn Greene is firmly entrenched as the Jets starter after being their only consistent running back last season. He’s about an average running back overall, and he’s going to be a two-down running back with Tim Tebow getting GL carries. The more intriguing battle is the battle for the third-down running back spot between Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. McKnight is coming off of a terrible year in 2011 after averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on 43 rushes. If he doesn’t improve this season, then he’s going to be cut. Powell looked good in training camp and is a solid pass-protector, but I doubt he beats out McKnight for the job.
The wide receiver situation is a troubling one for the Jets, because the only legitimate receiver is Santonio Holmes. He has the talent of a number one receiver, but he was mediocre last season with an average of 6.5 yards per catch. Holmes was their primary deep threat and caught about 50.5% of everything thrown at him. The numbers need to be kept in perspective, because Sanchez did average just 6.4 yards per attempt himself. So overall, Holmes was about average last season.
He’s going to need to be better this season, because he has the talent to be so much better than he was. Holmes needs to stay focused even if he’s not getting the amount of targets he wants. He got 101 targets last year, but that number could decline in a run-first offense. The newly signed Chaz Schilens is a good deep threat who has averaged 7.3 yards per target in his career on 72 catches in 31 games. The overall career totals are a concern, and Schilens is a wild card due to a small amount of statistical production as a whole.
Rookie Stephen Hill has a lot of promise after being a big star in college for Georgia Tech, and the Jets are hoping that Hill can transition well. The Jets are a run-first offense under Tony Sparano, which helps make the inexperience of the wideouts besides Holmes less concerning. Still, it would be huge for the talented Hill to emerge as a solid No. 2 wideout beside Holmes. He is the second best receiver on this roster as a rookie and was terrific at OTAs, but OTAs aren’t games. Hill has all the tools to be a top deep threat and No. 2 receiver, and a lot rests on his shoulders as a rookie. He won’t get many targets, but his ability will keep teams honest if they don’t cover him well and lose track of him.
Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley should have locked up the Jets slot receiver spot, but he is the Jets doghouse. Rex Ryan is questioning the true extent of Kerley’s hamstring injury, because he might not even be hurt. The slot receiver position is supposedly up for grabs, but Kerley is the only truly qualified player to take it. Holmes is expected to play in the slot more often as a result, but watch for rookie Jordan White closely. He was a standout for Western Michigan in college, but he is coming off of another injury. White was viewed as a fringe-roster guy, but he has a chance to get some reps in the slot now. Last season, Kerley caught 61.7% of the passes thrown at him in a decent enough year.
The addition of Stephen Hill in the draft was absolutely huge for the Jets, because they desperately needed a talented enough receiver to pair up with Santonio Holmes. There are plenty of question marks at receiver beyond those two, but the rookie No. 2 wideout isn’t exactly a sure thing himself.
Dustin Keller was Sanchez’s safety net last season and the team’s top receiver. He led the Jets with 65 catches for 815 yards and an average of 7.1 yards per targets. Keller was solid last season and was the only receiver on the team who averaged at least seven yards per target.
The offensive line has holes at left guard and right tackle, as Matt Slauson and Vlad Ducasse are a poor tandem at LG and Wayne Hunter is a tackle who gets consistently beat. However, the Jets offensive line should be solid as a whole with standouts Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, and let tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Moore is one of the most consistent and underrated players in the league, and he is probably the best pass-blocking guard in the league. Left guard Matt Slauson, however, is a different story. Expect a lot of pressure coming from the LG spot and the right edge coming at Tebow/Sanchez.
The New York Jets defensive line should definitely be a strong suit for the team, and rookie DE Quinton Coples has a lot to do with it. Both he and fellow end Muhammad Wilkerson have been standouts during the offseason for the team, and Coples’s play has led to some schematic changes. The Jets will be using less of their base formation (3-4) than ever, especially against AFC East foes. A lot of this has to do with Coples, who greatly upgrades a pass rush that was horrendous last season. The UNC product is already their best pass rusher, even as a rookie, and he will be their LDE. Ryan wants to run the 46 a lot more, which will allow Coples to get lose. He will primarily be a third-down pass rusher before easing into a more utilized role as the season wears on.
Elsewhere on the D-Line, Wilkerson has been a standout so far and will have a strong 2012 year. Sione Pouha is clearly one of the best nose tackles in the game and is an absolute monster against the run. Mike DeVito’s role with the team is uncertain due to the emergence of Coples, but Ryan called him an “outstanding” player. DeVito is one of the best 3-4 DEs against the run and one of the most underrated players in the game. He took a pay cut to remain with the Jets, and the team needs to find a way to let one of the more talented DEs in the game get snaps.
Everyone knows that Bart Scott and David Harris make up arguably the best 3-4 ILB tandem in the business, with nobody else in the league having Scott’s ability to redirect runs almost at will. Calvin Pace and Aaron Maybin will figure to be heavily involved as pass rushers in the 46, with Maybin being the reigning team leader in sacks at six (that’s how badly the Jets needed a pass rusher).
The New York Jets made a lot of changes at the safety position, and the changes will help the team in the long run. Jim Leonhard is a favorite of mine and a warrior who is a solid safety, and Brodney Pool was also a solid safety. LaRon Landry has recovered from his achilles injury, and he is one of the best playmaking safeties in the league. Although he is a free safety, Landry is best playing near the LOS where he is an absolute terror against the run. His coverage skills aren’t poor, but he is a much better run stopper than a coverage FS.
At strong safety, Yeremiah Bell is coming off of a season with 100 tackles. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room and is a top tackler, but Bell’s coverage skills are well below-average, especially at this age. Both safeties can stop the run, but the problem for the Jets is that neither of them are true coverage safeties. Landry can cover and is one of the best safeties in the league, but the Jets will need to find out how they can balance both Bell and Landry’s “in the box” skills. Backup Eric Smith won’t be seeing the field much (the Jets certainly hinted that much), as he is a terrible coverage safety who lacks discipline and is clearly worse than the veteran Bell and the superstar Landry. Bell looks geared up for a bounce back year, and Rex Ryan should have a lot of fun utilizing him as a blitzer.
Speaking of utilizing defensive backs, the Jets are going to use Antonio Cromartie as a receiver in certain packages; color me intrigued. Both he and Darrelle Revis make up one of the best CB duos in the business, with Revis clearly being the best corner in the league. Those two will relieve pressure off of the safeties, and that will allow Landry to play closer to the line.
Rex Ryan has such a tough job as the coach of the New York Jets with all the pressure and fanfare surrounding the franchise, as well as having to deal with players such as receivers Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes. It’s the playoffs or bust for the Jets this season, but Ryan’s job security is fine. I think most people realize that a failure to reach the playoffs is more of Sanchez’s fault than Ryan’s, so Sanchez is in the hot seat.
The Jets are doing a lot of different thing schematically on defense, including using the 4-3 more often and using more 46 blitzes and such. There will be more strange packages than ever with Tim Tebow on the team and the expected “Cro-package”. Watch for some more safety blitzes, as Bell and Landry combined for 35 pressures (!) from the safety position over the past three years. On offense, the Jets will be more run-heavy than ever with Tony Sparano as the new OC, which makes Joe McKnight’s third year in the league all the more important for him and the team.
It’s tough for me not to pick Quinton Coples here, but it could feasibly be either him or Muhammad Wilkerson. Since Wilkerson played well last year, however, Coples has to get the nod. He has so much athleticism and pass rushing talent, and he’s done so well this offseason that it is difficult not to think that he can be the Jets impact pass rusher that they were searching for. In fact, the Jets are going to use the 4-3 more in order to take advantage of Coples’s ability; that’s the first sign of a future impact rookie.
2012 Prediction 9-7
The Jets had a great draft with the additions of Stephen Hill and Quinton Coples, with both players upgrading positions of need and will be well-deserved first-year starters. They will improve from last season, but it’s tough to see them winning ten games unless if Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow greatly improve in 2012. I’m not too confident about that happening, but the Jets should be second in the division and have a solid chance of getting a Wild Card spot.
Topics: 2012 Season Preview, Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott, Brandon Moore, Dustin Keller, Jeremy Kerley, Jim Leonhard, Joe McKnight, Laron Landry, Mark Sanchez, Matt Slauson, Mike DeVito, Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets, Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes, Shonn Greene, Stephen Hill, Tim Tebow, Tony Sparano, Wayne Hunter, Yeremiah Bell