Why the 2011 New York Jets Have Struggled and the Importance of "Going Green"
Every team has regrets of players missed during the NFL draft. While hindsight is 20/20, that still doesn't stop fans from thinking, "What if?"
A good friend of mine still cringes every time he hears the name Bryan Thomas. Not that Thomas, the 22nd overall pick in the 2002 draft as a defensive end out of UAB, has had a bad career. If anything, he has been one of the more successful of the Jets draft picks in the last decade, still a fixture on defense and one of the team's most versatile LBs.
A graduate of the "U," my friend was praying a certain safety would be ignored by enough teams so he would wind up in the Jets' lap at 22.
The Jets at that time needed an upgrade at safety. 2001 free agent signee Damien Robinson was proving to be a bust, and longtime fixture Victor Green had just played his final season in a Jets uniform.
The defensive line was less of a need. Two drafts earlier, the Jets had taken starters Shawn Ellis and John Abraham with back-to-back selections at 12 and 13 in the first round.
Nevertheless, the announcement was made and Thomas was a Jet.
These things happen, though, and every team in the NFL can cry about a future Hall of Famer they missed out on (like the 22 other teams that passed on Reed, including the Raiders twice).
However, Thomas being drafted had a lot to do with the team choosing not to re-sign LB James Farrior, who vaulted and became an All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler on Steelers teams that have won three AFC Championships and two Super Bowls.
But enough about history. Lets deal with 2011.
I only bring up the past because that was a different time, and different people were making player decisions on a team that finished 10-6 in 2001. They were picked by some to win the AFC in 2002.
How the team handled their offseason and the players they brought in determined that success.
After getting off to a 2-5 start and replacing Vinny Testaverde with Chad Pennington at QB, the Jets found their rhythm and won just their second and last division title in team history. Thanks also to some help by the Patriots on the final day of the season.
Much like the 2002 offseason, the 2011 offseason has played a huge part in the success this team is having this year. Yes, the NFL strike put many teams behind the eight-ball as far as preparation goes.
All teams had to deal with the same circumstances.
As training camp moved on, and Rob Turner went down with an injury, the team's inability to provide adequate backups or replace Damien Woody on the offensive line become obvious.
Mike Tannenbaum still had three preseason games and a full month before the season started to address the issue, but somehow he failed to take the situation seriously. Instead, the front office decided to wait out Turner's leg injury (even by the most favorable outcome, he would be out until November) and cross their fingers.
They hoped the personal escort services of Wayne Hunter, Vlad Ducasse and other possible replacements (Matt Kroul, Dennis Landolt, Chris Stewart, Robby Felix, Pete Clifford, Curtis Duron, Trevor Canfield and Zane Taylor) could somehow learn to protect their third-year franchise QB.
By the final preseason game, it was obvious the cast acting as replacements were not capable of providing any kind of protection, so GM Mike Tannenbaum decided to release all the backups (with the exception of Ducasse).
If you have followed the 2011 Jets through 10 games, you have seen how these moves and the failure of the front office to bring in quality backups or find a suitable replacement for Woody have destroyed the Jets' running game.
And Sanchez is too often running for his life. The eventual help the Jets thought they had in the return of Turner never occurred, as he was put on IR and is now lost for the season.
While it's obvious to most front offices in the NFL that a solid offensive line is needed to have success, the Jets apparently forgot they had a third-year QB in Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez needs to be able to depend on a consistent running game and some sort of protection to help the Jets win. In losses at Baltimore, Oakland, Denver and home against the Patriots, the Jets' holes in their line led to turnovers and five TDs scored by opposing defenses.
After Jim Leonard went down with a season-ending leg injury in 2010, Eric Smith filled in capably, helping the Jets reach the AFC Championship for the second straight year.
This season, the return of Leonard and play of Smith should've given the Jets more depth at the safety position. However, instead of building the strength of a deeper secondary, the Jets traded Dwight Lowery—another player who helped fill the void for Leonard's injury in 2010—at the end of the preseason.
Ryan decided to then start both Smith and Leonard at safety, a combination that has been exploited time and again. First it was Jason Witten, then Ed Dickson, then Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and Antonio Gates.
Are you getting the picture?
Opposing offenses have made Eric Smith and Jim Leonard targets. While Leonard has definite strengths, consistently matching up against physical tight ends in pass coverage is not one of them.
Smith has fewer strengths and can't be relied on as an every-down player. If he is, opponents seem to always find him. The you-know-what really hit the fan in the Patriots' exploitation of Smith on Sunday Night Football.
Gronkowski caught eight passes (seemingly every one against Smith) for 113 yards and two TDs. When Smith isn't getting burned by tight ends, it's usually because he is committing a penalty.
When Eric Mangini brought in Brian Schottenheimer as the new Jets offensive coordinator in 2006, he came with a reputation of being one of the brightest young offensive minds in the NFL.
Six seasons later, the only thing that has progressed is his age.
Sanchez is now the fourth QB that Schottenheimer has consistently worked with (Pennington, Clemens and Favre were the others). Despite this being their third season together, the Jets offense still has little, if any, fluidity.
Four of the six seasons with Schottenheimer calling plays have seen the Jets finish no better than 20th in the NFL in total yards, with two of those seasons (including the Jets current ranking at 26th) coming with Sanchez.
It's becoming more obvious the two don't work well together. Schottenheimer has been unable to exploit Sanchez's strengths and limit his weaknesses.
After 10 games this season, the Jets offense has been incapable of consistently putting together scoring drives. Anyone who has eyes can see this relationship just doesn't work.
Everyone except the Jets, who continue to allow Schottenheimer to call plays.
Like any NFL team, the Jets have their share of other inconsistencies that hinder them from week to week (lack of breakout RB, lack of consistent pass rush, occasional inability to stop the run), but they can all be corrected or covered up with good coaching.
However, the Jets can't consistently protect Sanchez or provide a consistent answer to teams exposing their safeties.
And the three-and-out show put on by their offensive coordinator will eventually stop the Jets from being an elite team this season.
Unless Ryan and Tannenbaum find replacements not currently on the roster, or take the play calling away from Schottenheimer (something that should have been done after the Broncos game), it's hard to imagine them fixing these glaring deficiencies.
If Ryan and Tannenbaum are unable to address each of these areas in the offseason, along with having the insight to see possible future shortcomings, it's hard to see the Jets taking the next step into the elite.
Unless Sanchez experiences a major upswing and turns into Aaron Rogers.
One thing that bothers me when I have watch the Jets is their white uniforms. While the Jets can't help the decision to wear white on the road, they can control when they wear white at home.
This season, the Jets are 5-0 when they wear their green or "dark" tops (they wore their throwback blue tops in their Week 2 win over the Jaguars).
But they are 0-5 when they have dawned their white tops. I don't know how most Jets fans feel, but as an unbiased third party, I like the Jets' green tops much better than their white ones.
As one Jets fan said to me earlier this season, "Joe Walton favored the white tops at home and I still have flashbacks when I see them too much in white."
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