First, Barack Obama did the unthinkable and became the President of the United States. Next, the New York Jets dethrone the Dallas Cowboys as "America’s Team"?
The New York Jets are the most fascinating team in the NFL entering the 2010 season. Some pundits predict they are going to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC. Other experts claim the Jets are overrated, should not have even made the playoffs last year, and will be hard-pressed to come within a game of the Super Bowl like they did in 2009.
Yes, the Jets obviously need to sign the best defensive player in the NFL, Darrelle Revis, so they can blitz quarterbacks without worry and so he can be on the field covering Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin Week One. And sure, Mark Sanchez has to cut down on the interceptions and add at least five percent to his completion percentage. If these two things do not happen, the Jets will be lucky to go 9-7 again.
Besides those two major musts, though, the Jets need four other things to go right if they are going to make it to the Super Bowl. Here they are.
People seem to be more concerned about Rex Ryan’s cursing and the speed that Antonio Cromartie can rattle off his children’s names than they do about Sanchez’ development or Kris Jenkins’ comeback. On a team that has more distractions and attractions than Las Vegas, do you honestly believe that HBO’s film crews have made things even harder on the Jets this preseason?
The Cincinnati Bengals were the subject of Knocks last season. What happened? The Bengals had their best season in a long time, won their division, and proceeded to get trounced by Gang Green. Did HBO’s constant intruding cause Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco, or Carson Palmer any problems during the season? Sure did not look like it.
I do not remember anyone saying after the seasons Baltimore and Dallas were the subjects of Hard Knocks that the reason those teams did not win their conferences was because of spending too much time preening to the cameras. As long as the coaching staff keeps the players focused on practice and makes sure no one is secretly auditioning for a role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Jets will be fine.
The only problem that could come out of doing Hard Knocks? If the Jets make it to the Super Bowl, Tony Dungy, Tipper Gore, and the FCC might hold a rally denigrating Rex Ryan because of his foul language.
Jay Feely is not Jan Stenerud. Feely missed a couple kicks in the playoffs. But he was solid, and what Jets fans loved about him was that he was not a 100-pound, one-dimensional kicker, he was a football player. Unlike other kickers, most notably Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed, Feely enjoyed jamming his nose into the wedge on kickoffs and sticking his hat in the chests of returners.
Feely has departed and Folk has entered. Folk was so bad last season with Dallas that he was released and replaced by one of the worst pressure kickers in NFL history. But the Jets are ignoring Folk’s 2009 debacle and looking at what he did in 2007 and 2008 when he was one of the league’s rising stars among kickers, scoring 233 points and connecting on 86 percent of his field goal attempts.
The Jets are going to play some close games this season. Their style of play dictates that. There will be a 17-17 tie against Miami where Folk is going to be called upon to kick a 39-yard field goal. If he pulls a Doug Brien or Mike Nugent, the Jets will not reach the Super Bowl. But you have to think that he can bounce back and become the kicker he was a couple years ago, especially with special teams guru Mike Westhoff coaching him.
The offensive line
The offensive line
The Jets had the best offensive line in the NFL in 2009. There is no debate. But credit the organization for realizing that the unit could improve. So line leader Alan Faneca was given his pink slip and the Jets drafted guard Vladimir Ducasse in the second round.
Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson are not youngsters anymore who will be lost without Faneca. They are Pro Bowlers who both signed humongous long-term contracts recently. They do not need to be led by an old-timer anymore. They are now the leaders. And tackle Damien Woody is still around in case a veteran voice is still needed at crucial moments.
The Jets offensive line might not be as cohesive as it was in 2009, but it will be younger, quicker, more athletic, and better suited to protect Sanchez. The best offensive line in the business might have done the one thing no one could have predicted – gotten better. But the line might show a few cracks during the early portion of the season until they get used to playing with Faneca.
Spreading the ball
Spreading the ball
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be able to choose whatever head coaching job he wants in 2011 if he can find enough plays to make all of his ball-hogging guys happy.
Here is Schottenheimer’s dilemma – the Jets are a running team, and they have explosive Shonn Greene and future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson who have to touch the ball. This is not counting the couple times Brad Smith will run the "Gastineau Cat" or whatever the formation is called where Smith gets the snap, and this is also not including the two times per game 70-year-old fullback Tony Richardson shocks defenses with 6-yard runs on sneaky traps.
Meanwhile, the gloves are probably coming off Sanchez a bit. The offense will likely open up a little more, especially before Mother Nature hits the East with her harsh weather. And besides Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller, now Schottenheimer has to call a couple pass plays for his newest and arguably most talented receiver, Santonio "Four-Game Suspension" Holmes.
Say the Jets run the ball 55 percent of the time. That means they will throw 45 percent. Factor in Sanchez’s incomplete passes, interceptions, and the times he slides like Cecil Fielder, and there will only be 15-20 completions to divide amongst Edwards, Cotchery, Keller, and Holmes. And you know Tomlinson will get his mitts on a couple screen passes. The Jets haven’t thrown a screen since Leon Washington broke his leg, so they are dying to utilize L.T. in the passing attack out of the backfield.
How exactly is this going to work with all these weapons? You know Edwards is bound to bark the first time he has a one-catch game while Holmes has a 100-yard game. You know Sanchez might get frantic in the pocket because he won’t know who to throw to because he has three guys open at the same time. You know Tomlinson could sulk on the sidelines if Greene’s consistent 10-yard gains put the ancient one on the bench for consecutive series.
This sounds like a juggling act Penn and Teller would have trouble handling. But if these four things break right – and Revis signs soon and Sanchez doesn’t become Ryan Leaf – the Jets should get over the hump and fly past the Patriots, Colts, and everyone else in the AFC on their way to their first Super Bowl trip in 40-plus years.