The New York Jets' vast inconsistency on offense could promptly lead to a seemingly inevitable pitfall in 2013, despite previously showcasing positive characteristics that define a winning football team.
Gang Green features a reputable defense that mostly enables the team to compete against any team in the NFL, regardless of major mismatches. The Jets have effectively neutralized several key playmakers on opposing offenses this season from breaking out for monstrous performances, such as Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.
However, the Jets' glaring lack of fire power on offense seldom allows the team an opportunity to play out in front. New York's biggest first-quarter edges this season came at home against the Bills (3-5) and Patriots (6-2). Their lead was seven points, respectively.
For the Jets to quickly develop into a team that isn't forced to rely on game-winning drives in the waning moments of the fourth quarter with a rookie quarterback under center, certain improvements need to be made.
Sustaining some element of consistency on offense is going to be the determining factor in whether the Jets can uplift themselves to the brink of playoff contention in the season's stretch run.
The following slideshow examines five key points of emphasis the Jets need to improve upon to become a more formidable offense in the season's second half:
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg typically utilizes an aggressive style of play-calling that forces opposing defenses into press coverage in respect of the potential big-play threat.
The Jets offense features mediocre talent at several key positions, though, namely wide receiver.
For the Jets offense to more effectively move the chains and sustain long drives that result in touchdowns, Mornhinweg needs to allow rookie QB Geno Smith to make quick reads in the three-step drop, ideally resulting in a high completion percentage.
Smith has often looked flustered in the pocket when his first read is smothered in coverage downfield. He doesn't have the football IQ at this juncture of his career to quickly run through his progressions to find an open receiver.
Smith has been sacked 28 times through his first eight games as a pro, but a decent chunk of his sack tally shouldn't be attributed to the Jets offensive line.
Smith often holds onto the football too long, allowing the pocket to collapse before making a decision. The Jets don't boast a ton of speed on offense, which means plays are sometimes slow to develop.
The combination of slowly developing routes downfield with a quarterback who fails to deliver passes on time spells disaster for an offense that needs to execute the fundamentals perfectly to have a high percentage chance of finding paydirt.
Smith averages 7.4 yards per pass attempt in 2013, which is a relatively moderate figure. However, his completion percentage is just 59.3 percent, a mediocre number that seldom wins football games.
Allowing Smith to throw more slant patterns and out routes should ultimately increase his efficiency, which will help prevent the dreaded recurrence of three-and-outs.
Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley is the Jets' more efficient target when trying to move the chains, recording 20 receptions for first downs this season.
Kerley has caught 27 passes on 41 targets for 346 yards and two touchdowns in seven games but has only heavily factored into the Jets' offensive game plan once in 2013. His most productive game happened at home against the Patriots, when he pulled down eight catches on 10 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Kerley isn't a burner in the slot, but he features excellent route-running ability and is frequently able to get open in underneath crossing routes.
For the Jets offense to become more efficient, Kerley needs to be targeted on a continual basis.
Kerley is not the type of receiving threat who's going to yield double coverage because he seldom stretches the field. His longest reception of the season happened on the Jets' first play from scrimmage in 2013, a 26-yard completion.
The Jets' consistent pursuit to chuck passes deep downfield is debilitating the offense's chances of sustaining drives and putting points on the scoreboard.
New York doesn't need to operate a high-octane passing attack to win games, especially in consideration of its defense.
However, the Jets also shouldn't become entirely reliant on the passing game.
Gang Green averages a meager total of 210 passing yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. A more balanced approach that features a more dynamic run game, as opposed to the between-the-tackles tactic, and high percentage passes will likely increase the team's offensive production.
The Jets offensive line needs to improve at protecting Smith in the pocket in the face of a blindside blitz. Gang Green's rookie signal-caller has been sacked on a whopping 10 percent of snaps where he drops back to pass.
The Jets' developing QB hasn't become quickly apt to recognizing disguised blitzes at the line of scrimmage, which often leaves pass-rushing lanes open for defenders to sprint through and penetrate the backfield.
The most concerning element of protecting Smith in the pocket is his seeming inability to secure the football when pass-rushers strike him from behind. Smith has fumbled six times through his first eight games as a starter, losing four.
Losing the ball due to turnovers isn't the single developmental stalemate facing Smith, though. He's also recorded the most yards lost due to sacks of all qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL. The rookie QB has lost 218 total yards on 28 sacks in 2013, equating to 7.78 lost yards per sack.
Rookie left guard Brian Winters is a major proponent of protecting Smith's back in the pocket. However, Winters is essentially learning the job on the fly, representing a seeming vulnerability on the offensive line that opposing defenses have become apt to exploiting.
The Jets' alternative option at left guard is embattled O-lineman Vladimir Ducasse, who was demoted earlier this season due to continual lackluster efforts.
New York unfortunately doesn't have the best equipped personnel on the O-front to solidify the left side of its line. However, this could happen over time if Winters is better able to demonstrate better technique from the point and improve his footwork.
Protecting Smith from the blindside blitz is a key necessity for the Jets offense moving forward. Sacks are crushing Gang Green's ability to move the football down the field.
Smith doesn't fit the mold of the raging popularity that read-option quarterbacks boast in the contemporary landscape of the NFL; however, he features swift mobility in and out of the pocket.
The Jets need to take advantage of Smith's ability to escape pressure in the pocket and gain chunks of yardage downfield. Smith displayed a strong aptitude for eluding should-be tacklers in the Jets' Week 6 showdown against the Patriots, breaking lose on a 3rd-and-long and also scrambling for a touchdown.
Through eight games, Smith has rushed for 154 yards on 30 official carries. He's averaging over five yards per attempt, which is better than both primary running backs, Bilal Powell (3.9) and Chris Ivory (3.1).
It would be unwise for Smith to become a heavily relied upon component of the Jets' run game, although it could be beneficial for Mornhinweg to call more designed run plays for Smith to help ease some pressure off the passing game.
Smith had his biggest game on the ground in Week 1 against the Buccaneers (0-7), sprinting for 47 yards on six rushes. He's run for two scores this season to complement eight touchdowns through the air.
His versatility as a strong-armed quarterback that also has above-average speed as a runner adds dynamism to the Jets offense.
The Jets ultimately need to incorporate a few quarterback-delayed runs into their primary game plan, especially in passing situations. New York's run game hasn't been as effective as it could be in the first half of the season, averaging 4.0 yards per carry as a unit.
But Smith has showcased excellent awareness of where the chains are in limited experience as a pro. Allowing Smith to bust out of the pocket in an attempt to gain some positive yardage on the ground would increase the Jets' play-calling repertoire on offense and ideally improve the efficiency of the run game.
Running back Chris Ivory was supposed to be the Jets' lead back when the team acquired him during the offseason from this week's opponent, the New Orleans Saints (6-1).
A nagging hamstring injury combined with the fortunately timed emergence of Powell led to Ivory enduring limited action.
The 220-pound back has earned more than 12 carries in just one game this season, a monstrous 34-carry performance that netted 104 rushing yards. Ivory has proved himself to be dependable, capable of taking on a hefty work load.
However, he's averaging an inefficient total of 3.1 rushing yards per game, a statistic influenced by inadequate rushing lanes.
Still, for the Jets to be successful on offense down the stretch, they need to develop a hard-nosed run game that can help sustain drives. The Jets' running backs were stuffed on the ground against the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2), accumulating 50 yards on 19 carries.
The culmination of zero rush efficiency and a pitiful performance by Smith essentially gave the Jets no chance to compete.
The Jets' Week 9 contest against the Saints will reveal the team's character after a 40-point blowout loss, especially on offense. New York needs to control the tempo of the game in similar fashion as it did against the New England Patriots in Week 7.
The Saints boast a potent air attack, led by Drew Brees, who's one of the best signal-callers in the game.
The Jets can help neutralize Brees and Co. if the backs, specifically Ivory, can help move the chains and keep the Saints offense off the field.
The Jets don't need to play keep-away to win games, but they need to more effectively assert themselves on offense.