After what was a very well-timed bye week, the Jets are set to make their push for the playoffs with seven games left on the schedule and in control of their own destiny.
This unlikely 5-4 team has good reason to be excited about their season outlook over the final two months. Not only will they start to get players back from injury and suspension, but their schedule gets considerably easier with just one five-win team (the Carolina Panthers) standing in their way.
Still, the Jets are a young team that is vulnerable to making inopportune mistakes and allowing their success to develop into complacency.
For a team that has yet to win (or lose) two games in a row, fighting complacency to find consistency is the key to them making an unlikely playoff run.
Things stayed relatively neutral in the AFC East in Week 11, as only two of the four teams played (Jets and Patriots were on the bye).
|AFC East Standings|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points For||Points Against|
|New England Patriots||7||2||234||175|
|New York Jets||5||4||169||213|
The Dolphins' woes continue, as they follow up a drama-filled week by allowing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get their first win of the season. They are still alive in the playoff hunt, but the Jets have gained a bit of breathing room as they fall below the .500 mark.
Meanwhile, the Bills suffered yet another loss, this time at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. More disappointing for the Bills is that they lost decisively despite finally having EJ Manuel back under center.
As of now, the Jets have a solid grasp on the final wild-card spot, but that could change very quickly if they do not take care of the Dolphins in their two upcoming meetings over the next seven weeks.
Outside of the division, Week 10 may as well count as the Jets' first back-to-back win based on how the other games panned out. Two of the Jets' biggest opponents in the wild-card race, the Chargers and Titans, both suffered losses.
|Jets Injury Report|
|Player||Injury||Play This Week?|
The bye week has come and gone at a rather opportune time, as it will allow the Jets to get several key offensive players to bolster their depleted skill positions.
With an extra week to heal, both Jeff Cumberland (concussion) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring) will have had ample to recover from their respective injuries. Holmes, who has not played since Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans, has given himself a comfortable amount of time to come back from his injury.
Additionally, the Jets will be getting tight end Kellen Winslow back from his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Meanwhile, the Jets will be without Jeremy Kerley for a "few weeks," ESPN's Rich Cimini reports:
Kerley's absence will certainly be missed, but the Jets have to be relieved that his gruesome-looking injury was not more serious and that he will likely be available for the latter quarter of the season.
What Must Improve: Receiver Separation
Perhaps the biggest reason as to why the Jets' passing attack has been stagnant over the past few weeks is because their receivers have not been able to create separation on a consistent basis.
The Jets' inability to give Geno Smith (relatively) easy targets to throw to down the field was very evident early in the game against the Saints.
This is a relatively simple play, comprised of three "go" routes that are used to clear up "out" patterns for the slot receiver, Jeremy Kerley, and the running back, Bilal Powell, to gain separation.
When the play is run, however, Geno Smith has no one to throw to. The two outside receivers are smothered, and the covering cornerbacks have support from the safeties.
The two "go" routes being run to the near side is actually either a very poor play design or a result of someone running the incorrect route. The safety dropping into coverage is able to provide support for both players at the same time because they are so close to each other.
Smith's only option is to dump the pass off to Bilal Powell, which falls incomplete. Even if Powell caught the pass, a converging linebacker was there in support to potentially lay a big hit on Powell.
The good news for the Jets is that this problem will likely start to rectify itself as soon as next week with a slew of offensive weapons returning from injury or suspension. Not only are these players more talented and able to get separation from defensive backs, but their experience will lead to less errors when running routes and making sight adjustments.
What Must Improve: Use of Two Tight End Sets
The best way the Jets can replace the massive hole left behind by Jeremy Kerley is with the use of the two weapons they will likely have for next week's game: tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland.
Jeremy Kerley has been lethal in the middle of the field, developing into the team's most reliable weapon between the numbers while the Jets struggled to field an NFL-quality group of tight ends over the past month.
Now, the Jets will have to replace Kerley's production with the combined use of Winslow and Cumberland.
While his production has been up-and-down this season, throwing in Winslow's direction is a sound idea more often than not. According to Pro Football Focus, Winslow has caught 77.3 percent of passes thrown in his direction—the fifth-best among all tight ends.
Jeff Cumberland, on the other hand, has developed into a big play-generator for the Jets. With 16.5 yards per reception, only three tight ends have averaged more yardage per catch than Cumberland.
With Kerley out for at least the immediate future, the Jets would be wise to use two tight end sets to get their best players on the field, particularly in the red zone where size is coveted.
With these two players back in the fold, the Jets will be able to sustain offense much more consistently while being able to generate more of the big plays that the Jets have relied on earlier in the season.
What Must Improve: Consistency
The Jets have proven that they are capable of knocking off the NFL's best, but they are also vulnerable to getting blown out to other middle-of-the-road teams.
Their win-loss-win-loss pattern does not come as a huge surprise. After all, the Jets are starting a young quarterback and seven new defensive starters. When this is combined with a revamped coaching staff, miscommunications and mental errors are natural growing pains.
|Geno Smith Interceptions|
|First Five Games||8|
|Last Four Games||5|
However, now that the Jets are more than halfway through the first season of the Geno Smith era, they must start to show signs of consistency if they plan of making an unlikely playoff run.
To their credit, the Jets have shown improvement in areas that young, inexperienced teams typically struggle in. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, Geno Smith has toned down his turnovers, and penalties have gradually started to decrease each week.
The next task for the Jets is to fight complacency, which is a task much easier said than done following such a big upset. However, as their schedule gets easier and their path to the playoffs becomes more defined, it may become easier for this young, energetic team to remain focused on their task at hand in the latter stretch of the season.