With the Jets Offense Grounded, the Defense Must Dominate

Anthony TripicchioContributor IMay 22, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 20:  (EDITORS NOTE: IMAGES HAVE BEEN DIGITALLY MANIPULATED) Bart Scott of the New York Jets poses for a portrait on April 20, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Brett Favre failed to deliver a playoff appearance, much less a Lombardi Trophy, to New York. His cataclysmic late-season fall led to his own departure and the ouster of coach Eric Mangini.

After the crippling conclusion to a once-promising 2008 campaign, the New York Jets aim for the playoffs with a veritable host of fresh faces and, most notably, a new quarterback/coach duo. 

First-year head coach Rex Ryan will need the Jets' revamped defense to live up to its lofty expectations and carry the team. The offense will undoubtedly be anemic at times due to its lack of sufficient playmakers and inexperience at the quarterback position. As a result, ball control and defense is central to the Jets 2009 philosophy.

Ryan could easily have rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez under center for the regular season opener in Houston. Inspired by Joe Flacco's 2008 success, Ryan will not be reluctant to immediately throw the former USC star into the fire.

Sanchez, assuming he wins the job, has his work cut out for him. The reliable, though declining Laveranues Coles defected to Cincinnati, leaving Jerricho Cotchery surrounded by a slew of question marks within the wide receiving corps. David Clowney, Brad Smith, and Chansi Stuckey are among the candidates to start opposite Cotchery.

If the defense is not an impenetrable force as advertised, that vast collection of unknowns at receiver could be the Jets' downfall. Clowney has game-breaking speed, but has yet to display it on the regular season stage. Smith has been used as a gadget player to this point in his career, and Stuckey is best served in the slot. 

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Tight end Dustin Keller will have an expanded role in his second year and is critical to the growth of the offense.

The running game, anchored by a solid offensive line, should be the offense's bread and butter. Disgruntled backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington return amid contract disputes, while rookie Shonn Greene was added to the mix in a draft day trade.

Greene's bruising style is a perfect complement to the speedy and illusive Washington. Jones has no leverage in contract talks despite being the AFC's leading rusher last season and is expected to be in camp.

Offensively, the major concern is that opposing defenses will put eight men in the box, negating the run. The onus then would shift to Sanchez or Clemens to make plays, almost certainly leading to failure. Simply devoid of plentiful receiving weapons, the Jets are not constructed to enable the quarterback to succeed in that scenario.

Defensively, the acquisitions of Bart Scott, Lito Sheppard, Jim Leonhard, and Marques Douglas have many believing the Jets can be an elite-level defense. Though the secondary figures to be much improved, the pass rush is still somewhat of an uncertainty. 

Calvin Pace was excellent in his first year, but veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis is aging and had offseason legal issues. Bryan Thomas still does too many disappearing acts and has yet to put back to back good years together. Vernon Gholston, last season's first round pick, was a complete disaster recording zero sacks.

The impending return of Tom Brady elevates New England to the class of the division, yet again. Although Miami won the AFC East last year, the Dolphins should come back to earth after overachieving beyond their wildest dreams in 2008. Buffalo, riding the coattails of the hype surrounding Terrell Owens' arrival, should be around a .500 club.

If the defense is as good as advertised, and the offense doesn't bury the team in turnovers, the Jets can be the second best team in the AFC East. Securing a wild card spot should be the goal with playoff wins contingent upon the development of the quarterback position and the emergence of a second receiver behind Cotchery.