What's Right and What's Wrong with New York Jets After First Quarter of Season

Philip Schawillie@@digitaltechguidContributor IIIOctober 4, 2013

What's Right and What's Wrong with New York Jets After First Quarter of Season

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    Jets' GM John Idzik at the preseason game against the Giants
    Jets' GM John Idzik at the preseason game against the GiantsJim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    The first quarter of the 2013 NFL season has revealed the New York Jets' greatest enemy; themselves.

    They've been competitive in every game. Even their 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans was far closer than the score indicated. Take a look at these statistics:

    • First downs: Jets 16, Titans 17
    • Running/passing plays from scrimmage: Jets 62, Titans 65
    • Net rushing yards: Jets 91, Titans 78
    • Net yards passing: Jets 239, Titans 244
    • Total net yards: Jets 330, Titans 324
    • Net punting average: Jets 41.8, Titans 40.9
    • Time of possession: Jets 29:22, Titans 30:38

    Undoubtedly, the Titans statistics reflect quarterback Jake Locker's early second-half exit. But they're not the statistics that decided the game. Here they are:

    • Penalties: Jets 10 for 66 yards, Titans 4 for 30 yards
    • Turnovers: Jets 4, Titans 0
    • Points from Turnovers: Jets 0, Titans 28

    It's a classic case of a team beating itself.

    The Jets' loss to the Patriots in Foxborough was similar, if less dramatic. Quarterback Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, one with 38 seconds remaining. None of them resulted in Patriots' scores. However, it was a 13-10 game by then. Those turnovers cost the Jets opportunities to tie or win.

    But if all the Jets did was turn over the ball and commit penalties, they'd be 0-4. They've made significant progress as a team to be .500.

    It's time to celebrate that progress while acknowledging the work that remains to do as the Jets continue their return to respectability.


RIGHT: Nick Folk's Perfection

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    Opponents have only returned five of Nick Folk's first 17 kickoffs.
    Opponents have only returned five of Nick Folk's first 17 kickoffs.Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    You can't argue with perfection. After facing two competitors during training camp, Nick Folk has justified the Jets' decision to retain him. He hasn't missed a kick.

    Folk has converted all six of his extra point tries. He's kicked eight field goals in eight attempts, including five between 40 and 49 yards. He has yet to attempt anything longer.

    Opponents have only returned five of Folk's 17 kickoffs, according to profootballfocus.com (paid subscription required). That translates to an average post-kickoff drive start of the 20.2-yard line. There isn't much Folk can do to improve upon that.

    It's unlikely that Folk will complete the season without missing a field goal. He'll face more hostile weather, attempts of 50 yards or more and fatigue. However, that doesn't mean he can't have a career year.

    Folk's two most accurate years kicking field goals were his Pro Bowl year of 1997, when his field-goal percentage was 83.9 percent, and 1998, when it was 90.9 percent. His eight attempts thus far project to 32 for the season. Kicking 30 field goals would make 2013 his most accurate year ever. Kicking 27 field goals would top 1997.

    However, any miss can define a kicker's career if it occurs at a critical moment. For Folk's sake, let's hope that doesn't happen.

WRONG: Unspectacular Punt Returns

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    The Jets' Jeremy Kerley's longest punt return in 2013 has been 12 yards.
    The Jets' Jeremy Kerley's longest punt return in 2013 has been 12 yards.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    One way to help a young quarterback is by giving him good field position. The Jets' punt return game must do more to help.

    Through four games, opponents have punted 32 times.

    • Five punts resulted in touchbacks.
    • 11 punts either went out of bounds or were downed.
    • Eight punts resulted in fair catches.
    • Eight punts were returned.

    These eight returns produced 41 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per return. The longest return was 12 yards.

    In contrast, Jets' opponents have returned 13 of the Jets' 28 punts. These returns generated 147 yards, an average of 11.3 yards per return. Even worse, the season-high opponents' return of 35 yards came in Week 4, when the Titans' Darius Reynaud took a 56-yard Ryan Quigley punt and returned it from the Tennessee 24-yard line to the Jets' 41-yard line.

    That 35-yard return dropped that punt's net yardage from 56 yards to 21 yards and gave the Titans excellent field position. The Jets' defense held, but the ensuing punt pushed the Jets to their 1-yard line.That punt return didn't result in points. But it let Tennessee push the Jets' drive start from their own 20-yard line before the return to their 1-yard line after. The Jets' return game hasn't displayed that capability.

    It would be a welcome addition to the Jets' arsenal.

RIGHT: Receiver Productivity

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    Kellen Winslow Jr. (No. 81) leads the Jets with 16 receptions.
    Kellen Winslow Jr. (No. 81) leads the Jets with 16 receptions.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Before Week 4 injuries sidelined them, Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill had a chance to become a special pair. They each had a chance to gain 1,000 receiving yards.

    Through four games, Holmes had 10 catches for 243 yards. Hill added 13 catches for 233 yards.

    The numbers don't quite project to 1,000-yard seasons. At their current rate, Holmes was on pace for 972 yards, Hill was on pace for 932 yards. However, they're close enough. Holmes would have needed an extra 2.33 yards per game to reach 1,000. Hill would have needed an extra 5.67 yards.

    They probably won't have 1,000-yard seasons this year. But they’ll have a few games left to show us why we thought it possible.

    Complementing the outside receivers is the Jets' newfound productivity at tight end.

    In 2012, the Jets' primary tight ends were Dustin Keller, Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland. Combined, they made 68 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns. Dedrick Epps and Hayden Smith added two more catches for 25 yards, making total tight end production 70 receptions for 784 yards.

    For 2013, Kellen Winslow Jr. has replaced Keller. Cumberland and Reuland remain. This year's trio of tight ends is on its way to better things.

    Winslow already has 16 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. Cumberland has 15 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Reuland adds one catch for seven yards. Combined, that makes 21 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

    Even better, the full-season projection reads 84 catches for 940 yards and eight touchdowns. That represents 14 more catches, 156 more yards and three more touchdowns than tight ends produced in 2012.

    Kellen Winslow Jr. is one of the best off-season acquisitions the Jets made. He's officially listed as Jeff Cumberland's backup, but has made four times as many receptions and gained over 100 more yards. Although his chronic knee problems restrict his participation in practice, he gets full-time results on game days. John Idzik did well to get him.

    Winslow contributes in another unexpected way—run blocking.

    According to profootballfocus.com (paid subscription required), Winslow has done all right in another critical area, run blocking. His grade of 0.3 is only slightly above average, but it significantly bests Jeff Cumberland's grade of -4.2.

    It's all the more the Jets need Winslow to last the entire season.

WRONG: Wide Receiver Health

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    After setting a personal record of 154 receiving yards against Buffalo, Santonio Holmes injured a hamstring against Tennessee.
    After setting a personal record of 154 receiving yards against Buffalo, Santonio Holmes injured a hamstring against Tennessee.Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    Wide receiver injures are becoming a fact of life for the New York Jets. However, in the NFL, one man's misfortune provides another's opportunity. In this case, injuries to Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill may open doors for Clyde Gates, Ryan Spadola and new arrival David Nelson.

    However, the changes at wide receiver represent a new challenge for Geno Smith. He's got his hands full trying to master the NFL game. As if that weren't enough, he now must cope with in-season personnel change.

    Such change appeared unsettling for Mark Sanchez in his fourth NFL season. It will test Smith's composure and confidence.

    For now, he still has his favorite target, Kellen Winslow Jr. Plus slot receiver Jeremy Kerley and running back Bilal Powell have combined for 20 catches and 243 yards. That's a projected 80 catches for 972 yards for the season. They're still around.

    The good news is that Holmes and Hill will only be out a matter of weeks, not a season. They won't have 1,000-yard seasons, but they'll contribute again this year.

RIGHT: Quarterback Sacks

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    Muhammad Wilkersonmay more than double his 5.0 sacks of 2012.
    Muhammad Wilkersonmay more than double his 5.0 sacks of 2012.Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    Last year the Jets didn't have anyone with double-digit sacks. This year they could have two.

    Mohammad Wilkerson's three sacks put him on pace for 12. Calvin Pace's 2.5 sacks put him on pace for 10. Antwan Barnes' two sacks are close to a double-digit pace, he could finish the year with eight.

    Rookie Sheldon Richardson's 1.5 sacks project to six for the year. That would surpass the 5.5 sacks by last year's team leader, Quinton Coples.

    In all, the Jets' 14 sacks put them on track to get 56 this season. That would almost double last year's 30.

    It's a great foundation on which to build a defense in the post-Revis era.

WRONG: Giveaway/Takeaway Ratio

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    Through four games, Dawan Landrry owns the Jets' only interception of 2013.
    Through four games, Dawan Landrry owns the Jets' only interception of 2013.Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    One area the in which the Jets' defense and special teams must improve is its ability to generate turnovers. So far, the Jets have one interception and one fumble recovery to their name. That makes their giveaway/takeaway ratio -10.

    The following factors make generating turnovers important:

    • Turnovers generate points. Tennessee scored four touchdowns as a result of Jets' turnovers. One of them, the "behind-the-back but fumble" recovery, required no offensive effort.
    • Turnovers change field position. Smith's first interception set the Titans up on the Jets' 18-yard line.
    • Generating turnovers reduces stress on the offense. Generating turnovers not only leads to easy points or favorable field position. Generating turnovers gives a team a psychological lift. It's not just the tactical advantages that turnovers provide. It's the feeling that an offense doesn't need to be near-perfect. If a team generates turnovers consistently, it feels that for every turnover it surrenders, it will gain one in return.

    A young offense like the Jets' needs all the support it can get. It won't be perfect, we've learned that. But, the impact of its imperfections will be less if the Jets' other units help. Answering Jets' giveaways with takeaways would be a significant step.

RIGHT: Running Back Bilal Powell

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    Bilal Powell has 292 of the Jets' 492 rushing yards.
    Bilal Powell has 292 of the Jets' 492 rushing yards.Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    Bilal Powell has saved the running game of the 2013 New York Jets.

    After the Jets obtained Chris Ivory from New Orleans, Powell's place on the depth chart was uncertain. Some writers, like ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, questioned if he'd even make the team.

    Then some interesting things happened:

    • Mike Goodson missed training camp because of personal issues. He won't make his Jets' debut until the Week 5 game against Atlanta.
    • Chris Ivory has battled a hamstring injury that has limited his practice and playing time. He's on the sidelines again because of it.
    • Joe McKnight was supposed to have the edge on Powell because of his special teams' role. But injuries limited McKnight's participation in practices. He did not survive the first cut.

    Powell persisted, stayed healthy and is now the Jets' feature back.

    He's done justice to the role. Powell's four-game totals are 66 carries for 292 yards and a touchdown. That projects to 264 carries for 1,168 yards and four touchdowns over the season.

    He has added 11 catches for 108 yards. That projects to 44 catches for 432 yards, giving Powell a projected offensive production of 1,600 yards.

    Granted, 149 of Powell's rushing yards, or a little more than half, came in one game against Buffalo. In his other three games, Powell averaged 47.7 rushing yards.

    To rush for 1,200 yards, Powell must average 75 yards per game. At his current average of 4.4 yards per carry, he must average just over 17 carries. With a season's average of 16.5 carries per game, that represents a slight increase in workload.

    That's a challenge Powell's probably happy to face.

WRONG: Running Backs Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory

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    Mike Goodson makes his Jets' debut against Atlanta.
    Mike Goodson makes his Jets' debut against Atlanta.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    "Wrong" is too strong a word to assign to Goodson and Ivory. A more fitting description would be "Incomplete."

    Neither man has fulfilled the expectations the Jets had for them, but for different reasons.

    Ivory is battling the injury bug that has plagued his NFL career. He showed glimpses of his potential against New England when he rushed 12 times for 52 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. However, Ivory only rushed for 20 yards in 14 carries during his other two games.

    Against Buffalo, Ivory re-aggravated the hamstring injury that he's fought since training camp. The Jets list him as out indefinitely.

    Goodson will make his Jets' debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating NFL substance abuse policy. How quickly he can contribute will be interesting to watch. He's supposed to complement the steadiness of a back like Bilal Powell with the speed and explosiveness to break long runs after clearing the line of scrimmage. He also boasts skills as a receiver and kickoff returner.

    Depending on how quickly Ivory recovers and Goodson finds his role, these backs could easily be on the "RIGHT" side of the ledger before the season's through.

RIGHT: Passing Revival

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    Geno Smith passed for 331 yards against Buffalo.
    Geno Smith passed for 331 yards against Buffalo.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    We've heard plenty about Geno Smith's interceptions and fumbles. It's time to examine his accomplishments.

    If Smith continues to produce at his current rate, he could rewrite the team's record book. What's more, he won't just break rookie passing records. He might break passing records that stood for decades.

    Through four games, Smith has completed 78 of 136 passes for 1,090 yards, and four touchdowns. His completion percentage is 57.4. His passer rating is 68.6

    Projecting those numbers to 16 games gives Smith 312 completions out of 544 attempts for 4,360 yards and 16 touchdowns.

    He'd be the second Jets' quarterback to surpass 4,000 passing yards. Joe Namath passed for 4,007 yards in 1967.

    Smith would also obliterate several of Mark Sanchez's rookie records.

    • Smith's projected 544 attempts would top Sanchez's 364 attempts.
    • Smith's projected 312 completions would top Sanchez's 196 completions.
    • Smith's completion percentage of 57.4 percent would top Sanchez's 53.8 percent.

    Smith's projected numbers would top Sanchez's rookie numbers in touchdown passes and passer rating:

    • Smith's projected 16 touchdown passes would top Sanchez's 12.
    • Smith's 68.6 passer rating would top Sanchez's 63.0.

    These numbers don't make Smith Canton-bound by any means. They're the product both of rule changes that support the passing game and of an offensive coordinator who favors passing. Plus, Smith also projects to commit a team-record number of turnovers, which offsets many positive accomplishments.

    Still, the improved productivity of the Jets' passing attack this year illustrates Smith's potential. That's why he's still around.

WRONG: Turnovers and Penalties

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    Geno Smith is on track to break team records other than passing. Unfortunately, they're of the wrong variety—turnovers.

    If Smith keeps throwing interceptions at his current pace, he'll break the team single-season record of 30 held by Richard Todd and Al Dorrow.

    That's not all.

    Mark Sanchez and Ken O'Brien share the single-season team record for fumbles with 14. With three fumbles in four games, Smith does not project to break that record.

    But if he combines a projected 32 interceptions with a projected 12 fumbles, he'll have 44 turnovers in one year. That's eight turnovers fewer than the 52 turnovers that Mark Sanchez amassed over his last two years as Jets' starter.

    Imagine the criticism both Smith and the Jets would endure if that projection holds true. But I'm sure public outcry isn't what motivates Rex Ryan to strive for ball security. He's doing it because increased ball security helps the Jets win football games.

    I'm not and never have been a football coach. However, I think there's a logical series of steps the Jets can take to help Smith:

    1. Start with ball security while running. Smith's first fumble against Tennessee came after he had already picked up a Jets' first down. It looked like he was either trying to reach the sidelines to turn upfield or trying to get out of bounds. Regardless, he should have slid to down himself once he'd gained the needed yards. Secondly, Smith must learn to hold the ball close to his body while running. Running backs' coach Anthony Lynn devised a ball security seminar in 2012 to help backs like Shonn Greene with that issue. Hopefully Smith will reap the benefits of that seminar as well.
    2. Learn when to throw the ball away. Both of Smith's interceptions against Tennessee resulted from throwing the ball into tight coverage. Another incompletion occurred when Smith tried to throw while running. He didn't set his feet and the ball sailed. While Smith prides himself on his accuracy, he must learn that not every incompletion is bad. It's far preferable to control the opponent's field position with a good punt than to give the opponent a short field with an interception.

    This slide sounds like I'm picking on Geno Smith. I'm not. But, only one other Jets' player, wide receiver Stephen Hill, is guilty of losing the football.

    Turnovers have their consequences no matter who commits them. However, they're even harder to bear when you replace a turnover-prone player with someone even worse. However, Geno Smith's NFL career is only four games old. He could grow a lot between now and Week 17.

    But there's one disease that's far more pervasive among the Jets than turnovers. It's penalties.

    Turnovers kill drives and score points for the opponent. Penalties don't score points. But they kill drives and keep opponents' drives alive. The Jets have been doing far too much of both.

    According to profootballfocus.com (paid subscription required) the Jets have incurred 28 offensive penalties, 18 defensive penalties and four special teams penalties. Seven of those penalties were not enforced, which means the Jets incurred a net total of 43 penalties, over ten per game.

    Guard has been the most penalized position, which may cost one starter his job. Willie Colon has drawn five yellow flags. Vladimir Ducasse has drawn six. Ducasse has also yielded two sacks, four quarterback hits and 10 quarterback pressures compared to Colon's zero sacks, two quarterback hits and five quarterback pressures. That's probably why Ducasse may cede his job to rookie Brian Winters.

    Kyle Wilson is the most penalized defender. But his five yellow flags occurred in one game—the Buffalo game.

    Rex Ryan tried to embarrass players into committing fewer penalties with his group pushup approach. The penalized player got to watch everyone else do pushups, Ryan's metaphor for how penalties affect the team.

    That only worked if you consider halving penalties from 20 to 10 acceptable.

    I wish I had a sure-fire solution. I don't. But I believe that the Jets have a few key areas where they must focus their anti-penalty efforts:

    • Offensive line (17 penalties called)
    • Defensive back (nine penalties)
    • Defensive line (five penalties)
    • Tight end/wide receiver (four penalties each)

    Those groups represent 39 of the 50 penalties called. That's where Ryan and his coaches should focus.

    Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid