Lessons the New York Jets Can Take from Watching the Playoffs
Teams like the Patriots or 49ers just look leagues ahead of the Jets talent-wise, and if Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are sitting home, what makes anyone think the Jets can find a quarterback next year capable of making a playoff run?
However, watching the playoffs should not be a depressing task for Jets fans.
In addition to rooting for the failure of enemies like Tom Brady and Manning, fans could take note of what makes a successful NFL playoff team in today's game.
It's obvious watching the playoff teams that the Jets need to completely overhaul their offense and need to find more playmakers on defense; however, all hope is not lost.
The Jets have a good core of stars, have a coach who has had playoff success and have a draft pick high enough to find players to make an immediate impact.
Although the Jets have been busy searching for a new general manager and for new candidates to fill the coaching staff, it would be smart if they observed the teams playing in the NFL playoffs in 2013 very closely.
This slideshow examines the lessons the Jets should have learned after the first two rounds.
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The Ground-and-Pound Won't Win
Years ago the most sound way to build a championship football team was with a strong defense and an unstoppable running game.
The best run teams could win the battle for time of possession and field position and dominate the line of scrimmage.
It's just not the old days anymore.
Of the eight teams who played in the divisional round, only two featured running backs who gained 100 yards in their respective games.
While a good running back is essential, the NFL is very clearly a passing league.
After four years, the Jets finally seem like they will be moving on from the ground-and-pound mentality.
In his season-ending press conference, Rex Ryan said:
I want to be more of an attack-style team whether it’s running the pistol or running different types of offenses. That’s what I’m looking to do. I want to be as hard as we are to attack defensively, I want to be the same way on offense. I think that’s what we’re looking for. That’s what I’m looking for. I can’t wait to get that process started. (h/t New York Post)
The Jets have already taken that first step by firing Tony Sparano and showing interest in aggressive coordinators such as Marty Mornhinweg and Hue Jackson.
The real question though is whether or not the Jets can actually run an offense like that with Mark Sanchez at the helm.
Their Current Running Backs Aren't Good Enough
Even though the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, teams are still advised to have a reliable running back who could take over a game at any time.
The final four teams left standing in the 2013 playoffs feature Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Stevan Ridley and a combination of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Compare that group to the riffraff the Jets had in their backfield in 2012 and they just don't stack up.
Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell aren't a disaster by any means, but the mediocre pair just doesn't have what it takes to carry a team through the gauntlet of the postseason.
Greene or Powell, though, could be a good No. 2 back behind a true feature back.
The best-case scenario would be for the Jets to let Greene walk via free agency, grab Eddie Lacy from Alabama in the draft and pair him with the emerging Powell.
A Lacy-Powell backfield in 2013 would be a huge step forward for the Jets.
The Jets Need a Pass Rush
The Jets aren't going anywhere in the playoffs if they are going to let Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or any decent quarterback stand back in the pocket comfortably.
With teams passing the ball more often, this one is a no-brainer.
The final four teams standing in the 2013 NFL playoffs each recorded at least 37 sacks on the season, while the Jets checked in with 30.
The Falcons were the only team with 30 sacks or less to even make the playoffs, and when you look at the top of the list, five of the top six sacking teams in the NFL qualified for the playoffs this year.
Even looking back at last season, the Giants rode an elite pass rush to a Super Bowl victory.
The Jets have a good start in developing a pass rush, as Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson have shown the ability to make their presence felt in the backfield.
However, the Jets need someone to step into Calvin Pace's role and register double-digit sacks on a consistent basis.
There are a number of players who might be able to fit that role who could be available to the Jets at the No. 9 pick in the draft.
Simply put, they need their own version of Von Miller, Aldon Smith or DeMarcus Ware.
The Jets Need More Speed at Linebacker
The success of Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick is going to spur a change in the NFL as we know it.
The copycat nature of the NFL will have teams valuing and turning to mobile quarterbacks on a more regular basis, and the Jets need to do something to stay ahead of the curve.
Although there is no way to measure it, David Harris, Calvin Pace and Bart Scott had to be the slowest trio of linebackers in the NFL in 2012.
The linebacking corps is due for a massive turnover due to Scott and Pace's contracts and Bryan Thomas' possible retirement and legal troubles.
The Jets will have Garrett McIntyre and Demario Davis on their roster in 2012, and that's a good start.
Their new general manager will need to find multiple linebackers who have the speed and willingness to play with reckless abandon and who could keep up with the ever-changing game.
Darrelle Revis Is Invaluable When Healthy
Based on the 2012 NFL All-Pro team, Richard Sherman and Champ Bailey were the two best cornerbacks to play in the playoffs this year.
Despite the fact that they received a ton of hardware following terrific regular seasons, both Sherman and Bailey failed to live up to the hype in the playoffs.
Sherman started his game against the Falcons strong, defending two Matt Ryan passes in key situations. However, Ryan continued to target Sherman and eventually beat him for a 47-yard touchdown to Roddy White.
White ended with five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown while primarily being covered by Sherman. In addition, Sherman went through his typically boorish routine, wagging his finger and giving Ryan the "crazy" signal for throwing in his direction.
Smith torched Bailey for two first-half touchdowns in the 38-35 Ravens win.
Does anyone think Revis would have performances like that in the postseason?
The status of Revis is up in the air for sure. Whether he returns to his vintage form after knee surgery remains to be seen.
However, when the two best cover men in the NFL playoffs are abused the way they were in the playoffs, one has to realize just how important a healthy Revis is to the Jets going forward.
Tight End Is a Valuable Position
This is another point that was crystal clear to any Jets fan this year.
There is just no way a team can run a successful offense with Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland as the main options at tight end.
The teams remaining in the playoffs have Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis and Dennis Pitta playing tight end for them.
Of that group, only Pitta hasn't been to the Pro Bowl, and he had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season as the team's main tight end.
The tight end position is in a state of flux for the Jets going into 2013.
Dustin Keller is a free agent, and for the first time in his career, questions about his health have arisen.
Keller is no lock to return, and if he doesn't, the Jets will be dealing with a thin free-agent market or unknowns in the draft to take his spot.
The Jets Have the Right Coach for the Postseason
It seems that every year in the NFL playoffs there are a handful of coaches who didn't get the message that you can't win games by "coaching not to lose."
Norv Turner and Herman Edwards have been sterling examples of this in years past, and this year John Fox was sent home early largely for this reason.
Rex Ryan has coached in six postseason games and never once has he been accused of coaching scared.
Whatever type of motivation he uses in the postseason, he has gotten his teams to overachieve in both of their postseason appearances. Criticize him all you want for the past two regular seasons, but his postseason success can't be dismissed.
Watching coaches like Fox, Mike Smith and Pete Carroll push the wrong buttons in divisional round playoff games should give Jets fans comfort in knowing that if the Jets should ever get back to that level under Ryan, they at least have someone reliable leading the charge.
He knows how to motivate, he knows how to unify his team for the postseason charge and he's not going to go into a conservative shell and hope his team can just get by.
A Reliable Kicking Game Is a MUST
The Jets have learned this lesson the hard way in the past (we're looking at you, Doug Brien).
Just this past weekend Matt Bryant nailed a 49-yard field goal and Justin Tucker hit a 47-yarder, each advancing his respective team one step closer to the Super Bowl with their respective kicks.
Although those were two game-winners, there were a number of key field goals and punts throughout the first two rounds.
This is one area where the status quo is good enough going forward for the Jets.
Nick Folk has revived his career with the Jets and has turned himself into a reliable veteran, and Robert Malone looks like a keeper as the team's punter.
Folk is 3-of-4 kicking field goals in the postseason, including a game-winner at Indianapolis. He also converted a 42-yarder in Pittsburgh, which is a tough assignment as well.
Folk isn't a Pro Bowl kicker by any means, but he's a known commodity, and if the Jets let him walk in lieu of an unknown, it would be a mistake.
The Jets Need Receivers Who Can Make Plays
You didn't have to watch the postseason to realize this point, but it certainly was driven home in the playoffs.
No matter who the quarterback is, not every throw is going to be right on the money. There are going to be times where receivers are going to have to dive, jump and battle for passes thrown their way.
Until the Jets signed Braylon Edwards, they didn't have a single receiver capable of doing so.
Jeremy Kerley does well enough catching passes thrown in his direction, but when has anyone seen him make a catch like the one-handed grab Wes Welker made while battling a defensive back with the other?
Santonio Holmes is capable of making the acrobatic catch as well, but the Jets need their entire stable of receivers to be able to make plays on their own, especially if they want to run an attacking offense.
The Right Moves Will Allow the Jets to Return Fast
In the NFL, teams can rebound from down seasons very quickly.
That was no aberration either.
In case you are too lazy to do the math, that's nine teams over the past two seasons who made the playoffs one year after a losing season.
Watching the Bengals and Colts play in the playoffs this season should give Jets fans hope that with the right moves, there's no reason to think they can't surpass them in 2013.
The new general manager certainly will have his work cut out for him, but there is a silver lining.
The team will be getting back Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis and once they cut the dead weight in the salary cap, they'll have enough room to make some moves in free agency.
However, the real key to a quick turnaround will be determined by the outcome of their draft class.
The Jets hold the No. 9 pick, and if they can hit on their first three picks the way the Seahawks did in 2012, it will provide a huge boost to the franchise at a cheap price.
The Seahawks received terrific performances from their first three picks (Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson) in 2012. It gave the team a sack master, their leader in tackles and a franchise quarterback.
If the Jets could add players like that to a star core of Muhammad Wilkerson, Revis, Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, it would give the Jets the star power needed to rebound in 2012.
The key to their success, though, is predicated on fixing their quarterback situation.
There are a lot of "if's" hanging around the Jets in 2013, but in the NFL, quick fixes have become very commonplace.