The 6 Biggest in-House Questions the New York Jets Must Address in 2011
The NFL lockout is over! Football is back and teams will get back to work shortly. Fans, players, and owners are happy to finally prepare for the 2011 season but there are still a plethora of questions that all 32 teams are going to have to address throughout the season.
Not only do teams have to worry about getting under the salary cap, signing their draft picks, re-signing free agents, restructuring contracts, and looking into undrafted free agents, but teams must also answer some in-house questions that have been raised following the 2010 season.
The New York Jets proved a lot to their fans in 2010 by making the AFC Championship game once again after upsetting the rival Patriots in a thrilling AFC Divisional matchup in Foxborough. However, there is still more that New York must do to prove the doubters wrong and build on their impressive season a year ago.
If the Jets are going to backup Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl guarantee, they will have to answer these six questions with number six leading the team in 2011.
1. Who Will Be Playing Wide Receiver?
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All the questions surrounding Jets free agents have centered around the wide receiver position. Will the Jets sign Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, Plaxico Burress, or any combination of these talented receivers?
If New York is going to be a contender, they need to provide Mark Sanchez with enough weapons in the passing game for him to be able to effectively mix up run plays and pass plays. Even the best quarterbacks in the league need help at the wide receiver position and that is especially true for a young quarterback like Sanchez.
The Jets will face stiff competition in the Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards sweepstakes which might leave New York without a viable number one receiver. The Washington Redskins have expressed interest in Holmes and everyone already knows what owner Daniel Snyder is capable of doing when it comes to breaking the bank for a hot commodity in free agency. While Snyder might have learned from signing Albert Haynesworth to a ridiculous deal, there is always the possibility that he throws a ton of money Holmes’ way.
Free agency will be crucial in determining where Gang Green will finish this season. The first and probably most important question that Mike Tannenbaum must answer deals with who will be on the other end of Mark Sanchez’s passes.
2. How Much Does L.T. Have Left?
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When the Jets signed LaDainian Tomlinson last offseason, there was a great deal of talk about who would be the starting running back once the regular season rolled around. The veteran and future Hall of Famer L.T. said all the right things after he was named the backup to Shonn Greene but deep down he probably wanted to start.
Many weren’t convinced that Greene could be a number one running back because of his inexperience in the league yet Rex threw him into the fire early in the season. He started the first two games of the regular season against the Baltimore Ravens in week one and New England in week two, recording a total of 70 yards on 20 carries with no touchdowns.
His ineffectiveness in these two games led Rex to call on Tomlinson to get the running game going for the ground and pound Jets offense. L.T. performed extremely well and won the starting job after helping the running game and adding some spark to the passing game. Tomlinson had a great comeback season finishing with 914 yards and six touchdowns but age is certainly an issue this season.
Number 21 slowed down after a great start to the 2010 season which was to be expected. The question he has to answer this year is how much does he have left in the tank for another long Super Bowl run. It is the final year of his contract and it might very well be his final season as a pro before he puts an end to his legendary career.
3. How Will the Offensive Line Hold Up?
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Many Jets fans were shocked last year when New York decided to release nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca after a dominating performance in 2009. No one knew much about Vladimir Ducasse or Matt Slauson but both were competing for the vacancy left by Faneca.
Ducasse was supposed to be the starter after gaining attention as a second round draft pick in 2010. His transition to the professional game was a rough one to say the least. Struggling with technique and the speed of the NFL, he looked overmatched and often put Mark Sanchez’s health in danger.
Slauson unquestionably had the better preseason and wound up taking over the starting job. Despite a shaky start, Slauson was solid on the line and has fit in well.
However, after the Jets released Damien Woody, another vacancy must be filled. This time it is at right tackle. Last year’s right tackle for New York filled in well for the injured Woody but now Gang Green is in danger of losing Wayne Hunter to free agency.
Should that happen, New York will need to sign a veteran tackle before they let Ducasse take over the job. We have seen how important an offensive line can be to a team. For the Jets, the line is something that must hold up if the team wants to have a successful season.
4. Can the Defensive Line Put Pressure on the Quarterback?
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Once again the New York Jets were a top defense in the league with Darrelle Revis blanketing number one receivers across and guys like David Harris and Antonio Cromartie making solid contributions on the defensive side of the ball.
New York finished tied with the Titans for eighth in sacks with 40 but incredibly, the team’s sack leader on the defensive line only recorded 4.5 sacks. Shaun Ellis was the best pass rusher on the team last season, but he is currently a free agent and might not return to New York this season.
The pass rush for the Jets was non-existent in 2010, causing Rex Ryan to send linebackers and members of the secondary to get after the quarterback. It was risky leaving Revis and Cromartie in single coverage but it worked well. How long until offenses figure out Rex’s blitzes though?
Sooner or later the defensive line needs to do their job and sack the quarterback. First-round draft pick Mohammad Wilkerson and nose tackle Kenrick Ellis were brought in for that very reason. Both rookies are key to the success of the defense and both need to get accustomed to the league as soon as possible.
If not these two defensive beasts, who on the defensive line will get after the quarterback?
5. Can Key Players Stay Healthy?
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A whole bunch of things in football can be prevented but injuries aren’t one of those things. Football is a tough game in which any one player can succumb to a career-ending injury on any play. There is so much risk involved with being a professional football player in the NFL that any game can be a player’s last.
Teams can train all they want, do as much stretching as possible but it still won’t protect key players come game time. We have seen so many devastating injuries to some of the Jets most important players the past few seasons.
The injury-ridden career of Kris Jenkins forced him into retirement and left New York with a tremendous hole to fill two years in a row. Jim Leonhard broke his leg practicing before the Patriots gamelast season. Jerricho Cotchery was banged up after making an incredible catch against Cleveland. Damien Woody went down with an injury before the Jets decided to release him. There are so many more injuries the team has had to deal with and even more that players have managed to play through.
All of these injuries were devastating for a team that was one win away from the Super Bowl. In the end, it was just too much to overcome. So in 2011 we must ask the question of whether or not the most important players on Gang Green’s roster can stay healthy throughout the course of a long and grueling season. Better yet, can the Jets still win if any one of their star players goes down with an injury?
6. Can Mark Sanchez Take This Team to the Promised Land?
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Overrated, mediocre, average. He’s heard them all. Call him anything you want, but you cannot say Mark Sanchez isn’t clutch. Sanchez arrived in New York with great expectations and a lot of potential, often being compared to Broadway Joe. His career has had its ups and downs but number six is THE GUY for the Jets.
Good defenses get a team to the playoffs but good quarterbacks win Super Bowls. Sanchez came so close to one that he will want a ring even more in 2011. He put the team on his back in the playoffs when the defense let the team down. He led the team when everything was going wrong in Pittsburgh.
Sanchez might not be an elite quarterback like Brady or Manning, but he is a winning quarterback. He has a playoff record of 4-2, winning all of his games on the road. Not even Dan Marino or Brett Favre can say the same.
Sanchez also has five fourth-quarter comebacks under his belt and seven game-winning drives. He was clutch against Indianapolis in the playoffs and marched the team down the field with less than a minute to play and down by two.
Sooner or later he needs to get the credit he deserves. But until then he must prove again why he is one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league by taking the team back to the Promised Land. 2011 is his year. This is his chance to bring a championship back to New York.