The New York Jets were built to make it to the Super Bowl this season. Too bad it looks like they will be torn down in the offseason for failing to make the playoffs.
The Jets have gone from swaggering to staggering. Back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants have put the Jets in a position where they need to defeat the Miami Dolphins in Miami AND have most of the AFC lose for them to make the playoffs. Rex Ryan beating Usain Bolt in a 100-yard-dash is only slightly less feasible.
So now that the Jets’ playoff chances are slimmer than Keira Knightley, it is time to put a finger on what happened to this team that was destined for another AFC Championship appearance and what will help them regain their mojo in 2012.
Here are the four problems the New York Jets have to solve before the 2012 season:
Safeties? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Safeties! Uh, Yes We Do!
The Jets have been constructed in a way where you almost wonder if the organization thinks that since they have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie manning the corners, that having sufficient safeties is unwarranted.
Hey, don’t waste any salary cap space on safeties! We may need that money to bail Plaxico Burress out of jail or pay for Santonio Holmes’ next fine!
The Jets vs. Giants debacle/fiasco/horror show symbolized the safety position for the Jets with two plays—Brodney Pool getting steamrolled during a touchdown run by Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (who Jets fans wish had missed curfew this past weekend), and Eric Smith comically lunging at Victor Cruz as Cruz was sprinting down the sidelines for a 99-yard TD. These plays were the personifications of pathetic. They made me long for the days of Donald Dykes.
Jim Leonard is an undersized, big-hearted safety with gluey hands and brittle legs. He is the best the Jets have at safety, and that is a major problem. The other major problem is that the other safeties on the roster are not even average, they are below average.
Look at the two teams who have had the most dominant defenses in the AFC the past decade, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. They both have Hall of Fame caliber safeties. The Jets do not need someone of that stature, but they must draft and/or sign safeties who are not league laughingstocks.
The Jets rank fifth in the NFL in pass defense and have a 14-to-17 TD-to-INT ratio defensively on pass plays. Imagine how much better they could be if they had a safety who could cover a tight end?
Wayne Hunter Needs a Pink Slip
Sometimes you wonder if Mark Sanchez has beaten Hunter too many times in checkers or poker on team flights and that Hunter is getting his revenge by allowing defensive ends to pummel his quarterback.
Hunter has been a 300-pound turnstile at right tackle this season. While at times he has had solid moments, like when he shut down Miami’s Cameron Wake during a Week 6 victory, more games than not Hunter has been the main culprit whenever Sanchez is sacked.
The Jets have already allowed 38 sacks this year after only allowing 28 all of last year. While the rest of the line has not been as stout as usual and center Nick Mangold missed a couple games due to injury, Hunter has made many mortal defensive ends look like Richard Dent throughout the season.
“The Sanchise” Not Playing Like “The Franchise”
Sanchez is the Steve Bartman of the Jets. He deserves some of the blame for the Jets issues, but not as much as he ultimately gets.
Many experts have alluded to the fact that Sanchez has not progressed since his rookie season. That is not totally true. His TD-to-INT ratio was 12-to-20 in his “memorable” rookie season, while this year he has a 24-to-15 ratio. His quarterback rating and completion percentage has improved in each of his seasons as well.
But the pundits are partly right that Sanchez has not made strides in certain areas. Here are the three most important ones:
1. Not accurate enough: Sanchez reminds me too much of Joey Harrington, the former first rounder of the Detroit Lions who flamed out quickly because he had the accuracy of Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams.
Even though his 56.8 completion percentage is a career-high, Sanchez is one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the league (28th in the NFL), which is amazing because he plays in an offense where he is hardly ever asked to throw the ball farther than 15 yards.
When Sanchez gets confused by a different defense, he throws picks. When his primary receiver is covered and he tries another target, he throws picks. When he lunges for first downs, gets blindsided or even takes snaps down by the goal line, he fumbles. His 19 turnovers in 15 games are unacceptable, especially because several get returned for touchdowns.
3. Yards per attempt: Sanchez’s YPA has declined from 6.71 during his rookie campaign when he was arguably the worst quarterback in the sport, to 6.39 this year. He cannot complete intermediate or deep passes. Most of his successful passes come on slants, safety valves and eight-yard passes on 3rd-and-longs. Top target Holmes has almost been rendered useless because of this.
Sanchez has been a middle-of-the-road quarterback this season. If the Jets had the best rushing offense and overall defense like they did in 2009, then they would be a Super Bowl team with the way Sanchez is playing. But because the Jets are not the tops in those areas anymore they need Sanchez to step his game up a couple more notches.
Schottenheimer’s Shoddy Offense
Asking Sanchez to drop back and throw the ball 60 times in a game is like asking Steven Seagal to deliver an Oscar-worthy acting performance. But that’s exactly what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did against the Giants, and that is one of the main reasons why the Jets will not make the playoffs and Schottenheimer will be looking for work in the offseason.
The Jets have not been able to establish an offensive identity all season long. They tried to ground and pound with mixed-at-best results, but their running game is ranked 22nd due to the offensive line playing below its talent and Shonn Greene just not being an every down back.
When not grounding and pounding, Schottenheimer has tried turning the Jets into a run-and-shoot team. While this has helped Sanchez’s fantasy value thanks to increased pass attempts leading to more yards and touchdown tosses, it has not helped in the points department in many contests, nor has it helped in the win column.
Sanchez’s lack of development, the team’s lack of an identity and the overall unrest of the organization will lead to Schottenheimer being ousted. He seems like a guy who can be brilliant at times if given the right players, but his mindset just does not fit with the personnel and head coach the Jets currently have.
These are not the Jets’ only problems, just the major ones. There are more minor problems as well, such as upgrading the speed and talent at running back and wide receiver, finding a backup tight end who does not get called for holding penalties on a weekly basis, replacing Bart Scott at linebacker with someone who can cover a RB or TE and acquiring a pass rusher so the Jets are not forced to blitz 90 percent of the time.
The New York Jets are going to have a very busy offseason. But if management makes the right roster moves, a big “if” considering its track record recently (Derrick Mason?), there is no reason the Jets cannot contend again in 2012.