The New York Jets offense was sputtering before Santonio Holmes' fourth-quarter injury in Gang Green's blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, with Mark Sanchez completing less than 50 percent of his passes so far in 2012.
With Holmes sidelined for the rest of the season with a Lisfranc Injury, New York's passing game finds itself in dire straits. Holmes, who racked up 243 receiving yards in the season's first three weeks, was the only veteran receiver on the New York roster and was Sanchez's clear No. 1 target.
Tony Sparano and the Jets offense must regroup now, as a difficult start to the season threatens to get worse. The Jets have a few options with regard to retooling their passing game, and the early Week 5 bye may help Tony Sparano incorporate new game plans.
Option 1: Build Around the Young Receivers
While the Jets have very little experience at the receiver position, they do have some talented youth. Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley were expected to complement Holmes in the Jets offense, but now they may become the focal points.
Both players have had their struggles this year, with Hill most notably being locked down by press coverage in Weeks 2 and 3. But both players have the potential to be quality starting receivers in the NFL and their styles complement each other, with Hill more suited to a wide, down-the-field role and Kerley the prototypical possession slot-receiver.
Chaz Schilens, who was long considered a receiving prospect in Oakland but never really broke out, also figures to play a large role in the Jets passing game from here on out. Schillens was featured more prominently against San Francisco and had three catches for 45 yards—almost half of the Jets' total passing yardage.
Jets management has expressed ample faith in the team's young receiving core in the past; while it's a bit ahead of schedule, Sparano may decide to simply see how Hill, Kerley and Schilens respond to the challenge.
Option 2: Feature Tight Ends and Running Backs More
While the Holmes injury was clearly devastating to the Jets passing game, New York has been playing without a player who is almost as important to Mark Sanchez for the vast majority of 2012.
Starting tight end Dustin Keller is expected to return to the Jets lineup in Week 5, filling the void he has left in the passing game since the second half of Week 1. Keller remains one of the better pass-catching tight end's in the NFL and has always provided Mark Sanchez with a safety net.
Which Jet Can Best Fill the Void Left by Santonio Holmes?
With Keller back in the fold, Sparano can look to employ more two-tight end sets. Both Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland have shown the potential to impact the passing game, so the Jets have options opposite Keller.
Focusing on short, safe passes for Mark Sanchez would also bring the Jets' pass-catching running backs into the fold. Bilal Powell has the necessary elusiveness to threaten defenders out of the backfield, and Joe McKnight can be a weapon in this area.
Even with Holmes, Mark Sanchez has always struggled when making tight throws down the field. Letting Hill clear out the defense and focusing on short passes to the tight ends and players like McKnight, and even Kerley, who can make plays after the catch, may be the Jets' best offensive approach.
Option 3: Find External Help
The Jets will certainly look for external help at the receiver position. In fact, they have already signed Jason Hill. Hill is not likely to make a huge impact and Mike Tannenbaum will probably keep shopping.
Bleacher Report's RC Cos posted a good list of the other available receiving options today, and names like Lee Evans, Donte Stallworth, and Mike Sims-Walker are intriguing possibilities if the Jets are looking for a veteran presence.
The trade market is less appealing for the Jets, as the chance that this is a rebuilding year, combined with the team's lack of depth, makes parting with draft picks less palatable.
In the end, it would not be surprising to see the Jets roll with what they have (plus Hill, of course). The Jets' best solution may be to alter their scheme to fit the talent they already have.