What the Jets Have to Do to Rebound from 2011
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Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
That's been the story for the New York Jets since Super Bowl III, but especially over the past decade, during which time the New England Patriots have reigned supreme in the AFC East and the AFC as a whole.
If the Jets really want to rebound, a good place to start is to lead the league in wins.
While it may not be exactly realistic to expect the Jets to finish with the best record in football, they can at least make the playoffs, which would qualify as a rebound (they didn't win the AFC East in 2009 or 2010, both years in which they made the playoffs).
And fortunately for the Jets, there are some measures they can take to at least rebound off a mediocre finish to the 2011 season.
Get Back to the Ground-and-Pound
The Jets established an early identity under Rex Ryan. Offensively, that identity revolved around the ability to run the ball often and effectively. They led the league in rushing in 2009 and ranked near the top in 2010.
They got away from that in 2011, and the offense suffered for it.
Bringing in former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to be the team's offensive coordinator should help the team return to that identity and be effective running the ball as well. The Dolphins were consistently a run-heavy team under Sparano, ranking in the top half of the league in rushing year after year under his tutelage.
The question is whether Shonn Greene can be an effective leader for such an offense. He has been solid but unspectacular running the ball for the Jets, but "solid" may not be enough to establish the Jets as a powerhouse in the running game.
The ground-and-pound formula may not be enough to get the Jets a Super Bowl win, but the Jets must play into their strengths, and running the ball is clearly at the forefront.
It would be surprising if the Jets were able to improve on their 2011 season without the best player on their team. He's the reason the Jets are able to get so creative with their fronts, blitzes etc.
Revis deserves to be paid like one of the best corners in the league, but fortunately for the Jets, unless Revis wants to kick in three more years at an incredibly low rate, he'll have to show up. That may not stop him from holding out anyway.
With a new-look defensive front under defensive-line coach Karl Dunbar, the Jets will need as much carry-over as possible from 2011, and that starts with making sure Revis Island doesn't become a sovereign territory.
Remain Elite on Defense
Yes, the Jets must improve offensively, but they can't afford to slip on defense.
They were a top-five defense in yards last year, but finished 20th in scoring. Contributing to that number was an offense that gave up 34 turnovers (fourth-most in the NFL).
Beyond the consistently bad field position that left the Jets defense with, there were a number of fumbles an interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, which resulted in the Jets giving up the most points to opposing defenses of any team in the NFL (according to Team Rankings). So, interestingly enough, some of the Jets' improvement on defense is dependent on improvement offensively, specifically protecting the football (more on that later).
Protect Mark Sanchez
The struggles of right tackle Wayne Hunter were well-documented last year; he gave up 11 sacks, 11 hits and 32 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. Right tackle was considered the biggest need that the Jets didn't address.
Are they really hoping one of the undrafted free agent offensive linemen, Western Michigan's Anthony Parker or Utah's John Cullen, is able to supplant him as a starter? That may be a long shot, even considering Hunter's struggles last year. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be another year of Hunter at right tackle.
That means the pressure will be on D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore to keep the pressure off Sanchez.
Protect the Football
As mentioned above, the Jets finished with the fourth-most turnovers of any team in the NFL. Those turnovers were often at the root of a win or a loss; the Jets turned the ball over 13 times in their eight wins, but 21 times in their eight losses.
I asked Jets blogger Joe Caporoso of TurnOnTheJets.com for his thoughts on what the Jets must do, and he conjoined two separate tactics—one offensive and one defensive—that (as we've discovered in this article) are closely related to one another:
In order to rebound in 2012, the New York Jets must return to having an elite defense in the NFL. They are built to play in low scoring, defensive battles and the unit must consistently rise to the challenge week in and week out to dominate opposing offenses.
In conjunction with that, the Jets must protect the football better than they did in 2011 and stop allowing opposing defenses to score points off turnovers. Last season they allowed the most points per game to opposing defenses, thanks to carelessness with the football.
It's easy to say but more difficult to accomplish. At the forefront of the turnover problems last year was Sanchez's league-leading 26 turnovers, punctuated by nine in the final three games of the season, all losses.
That means two hands on the football for Sanchez, no botched snap exchanges and no more heaving the ball into coverage.
The simpler the game plan is for Sanchez, the better the Jets' chances are for victory week-in and week-out. In addition to returning to the ground-and-pound style of offense, the only thing Sanchez should be concerned with is protecting the football.
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