Where Can the New York Jets Improve Most in 2013?

Scott Kacsmar@CaptainComebackContributor IJuly 4, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets walk off the field after losing to the Buffalo Bills 28-9 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

New York will host Super Bowl XLVIII this season, which may not be a good thing.

No team has ever reached the Super Bowl when the game has been in its building. The 2013 New York Jets feel like a safe bet to continue that streak.

Last season was a disaster. The Jets' big 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 quickly silenced some of the critics after the primary offense failed to score a touchdown in a winless preseason. That would only be fool’s gold though, as the Jets' offense went go on to be one of the worst in the league.

A big problem for the Jets was the number of injuries to their best players on both sides of the ball. Stud cornerback Darrelle Revis missed 14 games while No. 1 wide receiver Santonio Holmes missed 12 games. Each player was injured on non-contact plays.

Tim Tebow, the most over-hyped backup quarterback in NFL history, did not prove to be a healer. He never even took over the reins from Mark Sanchez, who had the worst season of his career, as the Jets seemingly had no real plan for Tebow but to draw attention.

Those critical injuries would hurt any team in the league, but they dramatically exposed some of the persistent flaws on this Jets' roster. With Revis traded to Tampa Bay and Holmes talking about “learning to walk again,” it’s not like the Jets can still rely on these players.

In giving each team a realistic preview, it is difficult to be optimistic about the 2013 Jets. A team like the Seattle Seahawks has so much to look forward to. Kansas City is coming off the worst season in team history, yet even the Chiefs are thinking about the playoffs after some big changes this offseason.

With the Jets, you almost want to write the early obituary for the New York careers of Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez. They came in together in 2009, and they may go out together, unless there is a miraculous change or an intervention from rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

Considering the Jets have as little offensive talent as any team in the league outside of maybe the Oakland Raiders, it does not seem likely things are going to end well this year.

So, on the Fourth of July, here’s a detailed look into a team that is more destined to be a stink bomb than a dazzling display of fireworks.

Mark Sanchez: From “The Sanchize” to Falling on the Butt of the Sword

While you can search online for any NFL quarterback and find some absurd results for the auto-complete on Google, the most popular words following Mark Sanchez’s name clearly suggest something is wrong with his career:

There’s not even a result as simple and football-related as “Jets” in there. It’s all embarrassment and nonsense, which may be how we end up describing Sanchez’s career at the rate he is going.

Entering his fifth season, this has to be the final opportunity Sanchez gets to show improvement and that he can be a franchise quarterback. Last year’s ludicrous contract extension through 2016? Forget about that. Without real improvement, this team absolutely cannot move forward with a quarterback playing as poorly as Sanchez.

Maybe it was just a mistake all along.

The risk of drafting a quarterback with only 16 college starts is real. Starts are not one of college football stat best correlated with pro success. Even Sanchez’s coach at USC, current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, questioned the readiness of Sanchez in 2009.

The Jets still traded a second-round pick and three players to move up from No. 17 in the draft to take Sanchez No. 5 overall. Had they stayed put, they may have been able to take Josh Freeman, who went 17th to Tampa Bay.

New York coddled Sanchez in his rookie season with the league’s best defense and the most rushing attempts. Sanchez often struggled, but enough happened late in the season for the Jets to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7.

Once there, Sanchez played a wonderful game on the road to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, threw his first game-winning touchdown in an upset over San Diego Chargers and then played admirably in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.

Any type of playoff success was going to allow Sanchez to have a pass for his countless mistakes. In 2010, he peaked with his best season so far. The Jets were second in rushing attempts and had a very good defense, but young Sanchez was developing a good rapport with proven receivers like Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.

Sanchez led six game-winning drives, including three that started in the game’s final minute. He again pulled off a huge road upset with his best playoff performance, shocking the dominant New England Patriots in Foxboro. He also put in a solid half in the AFC Championship Game, but it was not enough to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers and a berth in the Super Bowl.

At that point of his career, there was no reason not to be confident in Sanchez’s progression. In 2011, however, he lost some of the insulation around him, exposing his flaws. The Jets' running game slipped to 30th in the league in yards per carry, and while the defense was still No. 6 in points per drive, according to Football Outsiders, it cracked more often than in 2009-10.

Believe it or not, Sanchez accounted for 32 total touchdowns (26 passing and six rushing) in 2011, yet most statisticians will tell you he played poorly. The offense had below-average production and he had 26 turnovers.

Sanchez still needs coddling. He’s not good enough to carry a team on a consistent basis like a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. He’s not as accurate or decisive.

Even when he gets that help from his team, there’s no guarantee he will make it count.

  • The Jets are 14-4 (.778) when allowing 0-10 points in a game since 2009.
  • The four losses are the most in the league, and Sanchez started all of those games.
  • Only Chicago (9-3) has a worse winning percentage in such games.
  • Excluding the Jets, the rest of the NFL is 294-13 (.958) when allowing 0-10 points since 2009.

On the other side of things, it’s not like Sanchez is a quarterback you are going to win high-scoring games with very often.

  • Sanchez is 5-23 (.179) as a starter when the Jets allow more than 21 points.
  • None of those five wins came against a team with a winning record.
  • To help the comeback against Dallas in 2011, the Jets blocked a punt and returned it for a critical touchdown in a 27-24 win. Sanchez went 0-of-2 passing on the game-winning drive, which was set up by Revis’ interception of Tony Romo.
  • In the 48-28 win over Buffalo last year, the Jets led, 41-7, in the third quarter with a punt-return touchdown and pick-six already on the board.

Even in a 28-24 win over Buffalo in 2011, in which Sanchez led a fourth-quarter comeback and threw four touchdown passes, I was asked if that’s the worst game ever by a quarterback who did those things. Statistically, it was close, as Sanchez only completed 17-of-35 passes for 180 yards with an interception.

Last season was very similar in that the running game still struggled, the defense was good, but not great, and Sanchez continued to get worse.

The loss of Holmes was obviously big. That’s how Jeremy Kerley led the team with 827 receiving yards on 95 targets. Even tight end Dustin Keller missed half the season, leading to little-used Jeff Cumberland finishing second on the team with 359 yards.

It always helps to have good receivers, but great quarterbacks also make those around them better. For Sanchez, that’s just never been the case. Much of his success can be attributed to Holmes doing great things after the catch or big targets like Edwards and Plaxico Burress making plays for him.

The low point of 2012, and perhaps in his career, came on Thanksgiving with Sanchez and “The Butt Fumble.” Millions watched it live and millions still laugh to this day. It has even just recently received silent-film treatment.

Sadly, Sanchez finished that game with a 94.8 passer rating, which was his fourth-highest game of 2012. His ESPN QBR, which is an advanced calculation of everything the quarterback did, was 22.9. That’s much more in line with how he actually played that night.

According to the QBR, Sanchez only had three games last season above 50.0, which is considered average. His 23.4 QBR for the season is the worst of his career and was the worst in the league in 2012. It is the sixth-worst season by a quarterback since 2008. Sanchez has never been considered even average by this metric—not in his rookie year (31.6), almost in his second year (48.0) and not in 2011 (33.6).

If we look at the passer-rating index from Pro-Football-Reference.com which adjusts for era, then we see that Sanchez is among the worst quarterbacks in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts):

How many more opportunities can Sanchez get to start at his current level of play? Notice no one on this list had more career starts than Joey Harrington’s 76. Sanchez is already at 62 starts.

Harrington was out of Detroit after four seasons. He actually may be the best modern comparison to Sanchez. They are the two most recent quarterbacks to have had more interceptions than touchdowns through five seasons (minimum 60 touchdowns).

David Carr also had more interceptions (71) than touchdowns (65). He was given five seasons in Houston as the No. 1 overall pick on an expansion team before being relegated to a backup.

These are no longer the days where you can wait so long on a quarterback to prove his worth. Terry Bradshaw may have been out of a job had he not won a Super Bowl in his fifth season (1974). The cases like Alex Smith, who went through poor play and injuries before breaking out in his seventh season, are the extreme rarity.

Some people blamed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for the bad offense in the past. He went to St. Louis last year, and Sam Bradford had his best season. Tony Sparano took the Jets job last year and has already been fired after the worst season of offense yet in the Ryan/Sanchez era.

At some point we must realize many offensive coordinators get fired because of bad quarterbacks. Good luck to Marty Mornhinweg.

The Jets have a contract with Sanchez that can keep him around for a long time, but why would they do that if he’s not going to play better? Why hurt your chances at finding the next quarterback when the current one clearly isn’t working?

I have joked that the drafting of Geno Smith might have an effect on Sanchez the way San Diego getting Philip Rivers did on Drew Brees in 2004.

Few remember how bad Brees was at the time. In 2003 he had 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, a 67.5 passer rating and was benched for 41-year-old Doug Flutie. He was a struggling, check-down machine.

Yet in 2004, Brees came out with a vengeance, laying the foundation for the Hall of Fame quarterback we are used to seeing in New Orleans today.

For Sanchez to keep his job in New York, he has to show that big improvement too, though the difference is that he’s not handing the ball off to LaDainian Tomlinson in his prime. Sanchez played with the "on-his-last-legs" LT a few years back. There’s also no hidden gem like Antonio Gates ready to break out. I have seen Jeff Cumberland play. He is no Gates. Kellen Winslow Jr. is not his father.

So Sanchez is almost set up to fail this year. However, after four seasons of such inconsistency and little-to-no progression, the best thing for the long-term future of the Jets may be to watch him choke on his own headband so they have an excuse to get rid of him.

Onto the next quarterback, right Jets fans?

Should Geno Smith Start in 2013?

The Jets had a crucial draft with two selections in the first 13 picks. They waited until the 39th pick in Round 2 to take West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.

Smith, once thought to be the draft’s top pick, fell like a rock here, which by itself should raise a huge red flag about his prospects as a NFL quarterback. He played in a spread system that is not even close to what Ryan likes to see from his offense.

There really is no rush to play Smith this year, as his draft slot does not demand a significant salary. Though teams like Cincinnati and Seattle have started quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson in Week 1 the last two years, the Jets just do not have the pieces in place to bother handing the team over to the enigmatic Smith.

Should Smith have an incredible preseason while Sanchez struggles, then maybe you debate that move, but with what the Jets have on the roster, who really expects that to happen? This offense has very little to help Smith.

In West Virginia, Smith had Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Now Sam Bradford has those guys in St. Louis. The Jets are just not in a good position to groom a quarterback right now.

Have you ever wondered why the pace of a Jets game is usually not that great?

Incompletions can cause that, as they stop the clock. With Sanchez throwing and what has often been a very good pass defense, incompletions happen often on both sides of the ball during Jets games.

In fact, if we look at every team since 2005 and add their passing totals together with those of their opponents, we find a stunning list of the teams with the lowest combined completion percentages in their games:

Out of a sample of 256 teams, Ryan’s Jets take the top three spots and four of the top (or bottom in this case) 10. That’s not a coincidence. It is because Sanchez is not an accurate passer and has wasted some really fine defensive performances in an era in which 60-percent completions is the league average.

Last year’s team comes in third. Sanchez completed 54.3 percent of his passes. He has never done better than 56.7 percent (2011).

Even with Revis gone most of the year, the defense only allowed 53.8 percent completions. Sure, elite players like Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady had their ways with defenses, but the Jets did a solid job against Matt Schaub and Sam Bradford. The worst game of Andrew Luck’s rookie season came against the Jets.

We have probably talked enough about Sanchez, but if the lack of supporting cast is not going to do him any favors, then how can it get any better for Smith as a rookie?

If it’s late in a lost season and the Jets want to give Smith some experience, then that’s fine, but it makes no sense to start him in Week 1 as of right now.

Though once you make that move to Smith, there’s no turning back to Sanchez.

Departures and Arrivals: The 2013 Starters

Credit to Ourlads in helping with the creation of this list of potential 2013 starters.

David Garrard had a cup of coffee with the Jets this offseason before officially retiring after swelling in his knee. It’s all about Sanchez and Smith. Thank God for no more Tim Tebow. 

The offensive line is solid and still led by 2006 draft picks D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. The guards have changed, with Matt Slauson (Bears) and Brandon Moore gone. Willie Colon mostly played right tackle in Pittsburgh, but he played left guard last season. He’s turned into a decent player when he stays healthy. Stephen Peterman comes over from the Lions with 86 career starts.

Holmes is no guarantee to be back healthy, while second-year receiver Stephen Hill has a lot of improving to do. There’s not much exciting depth here, with Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates and Ben Obomanu having good shots to make the roster.

The Shonn Greene era is over, as he went to Tennessee. The Jets traded for running back Chris Ivory from New Orleans. He’s looked pretty good (5.1 average on 256 career carries), but this ground-and-pound running game is going to be a big shift from him coming out of pass-happy New Orleans. Mike Goodson comes over from Oakland.

Dustin Keller went to Miami, potentially leaving Jeff Cumberland as the starting tight end. He’s simply not as good. Kellen Winslow Jr. is there too, but he’s coming off a season in which he played in one game for New England.

Defensively, the team plays a 3-4, but Ryan is going to have his share of options in moving around these high draft picks in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and now Sheldon Richardson. Defensive end Mike DeVito went to Kansas City.

Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is gone, and the team signed Antwan Barnes from San Diego. David Harris remains the team’s best linebacker. Veteran Bart Scott was released.

The Jets had big decisions to make, with two picks in the first round. They went with Richardson and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

As history shows, teams with two first-round picks hit on both about 40 percent of the time. Only 13.5 percent of the time do both players bust, so there’s a good chance at least one of Richardson and Milliner pans out.

It’s easy to already feel bad for Milliner in that he will be expected to replace Darrelle Revis, but we’ll see what he can do. Few players in history can pass the Revis standard.

Beyond just the departure of Revis, the safeties are all different. Yeremiah Bell (Cardinals), LaRon Landry (Colts) and Eric Smith (Burger King?) are gone. Dawan Landry, who is indeed LaRon’s brother, comes over from Jacksonville with plenty of experience (96 starts). Josh Bush was just a sixth-round pick in 2012, but he has a shot to start this season.

Conclusion: Keep Reaching For Those Stars, Jets Fans

Rex Ryan talked a big game in his early years as coach of the Jets. He backed it up to an extent with those conference-championship appearances.

However, the last two years have been like a circus that’s gone about as well as the one in Batman Forever. From under the bright lights in Gotham, we have been spoon-fed a massive amount of coverage for a team that’s gone 14-18 in that time. Most recently it’s been a 6-13 stretch with one win over a team that did not have a losing record.

The Jets will not be bad enough to get the top pick in the draft, so cross Jadeveon Clowney off the wish list. You may be able to keep Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on there, because it’s not like the Jets owe Geno Smith anything as a second-round pick. Just ask John Beck.

The schedule certainly appears front-loaded. In the first two weeks of the season, we could see Sanchez throw an interception to Revis at home against Tampa Bay, while possibly being sacked by Tim Tebow in New England in prime time. If Tebow does anything this season for the Patriots, you can bet Bill Belichick will make it happen against the Jets.

After the bye in Week 10, things should lighten up, which could allow the Jets to win 6-8 games (at best) this season. That would be a repeat of the record over the last two years.

Is owner Woody Johnson going to stand for such mediocrity any longer? Eric Mangini was fired for a 9-7 finish in 2008.

Without serious improvement, the best move is to blow it up and start over with the next era. That means out with Sanchez and out with the defensive-minded Ryan, who like his father Buddy, has just not grasped coaching the offensive side of the ball.

Ryan, with his usual profanity-laced bravado, told the team in 2010 on HBO’s Hard Knocks that he wasn’t a great leader.

We ain’t going to win, guys, if it’s about me. I’m sitting back waiting for us to understand the team that we said we were going to be. What the hell are we waiting on?

Three years later we find a team declining in talent which is trying to consistently win with defense and a ground-and-pound attack in a league built around the quarterback. Had Ryan stayed in Baltimore as John Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator, he probably would have that Super Bowl ring by now. He’s better suited for that job anyway.

Ryan infamously ended that speech with “Let’s go eat a (expletive) snack!”

When the fans pay to watch the Jets play this season, they will have no problems leaving the game to go get a snack themselves. The product on the field will not whet their appetite.

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.