Ah, the Jets. The team that should have won Super Bowl XLV has since let its offensive identity slip away, corrected its base pass rush problem with a first round draft pick that showed up when he felt like it at UNC, traded itself into a quarterback controversy (who DOES that?), and turned its training camp into national storylines of shirtless jogging and worldstarhiphop.com style brawling. What happened to football?
Or is the better question “Has our perception of the Jets as a football team become so wavered downward that we don’t realize how good they could actually be?”
Are the Jets an elite contender akin to the Packers, Ravens, Texans and Patriots? No, but aside from those teams, who’s even close to being a lock to win their respective division? Counting the Jets out is dismissive to how wide open the AFC has been the last three years, and this year it seems more wide open to me than ever. So while the media hangs over the Jets with their fangs out waiting for them to show some neck, let’s look at the Jets for what they are: one of the 10 best rosters in football.
Let’s start with what even puts the Jets in the dance to begin with: the defense. They still have Revis and Cro. SPTKF readers know that the way Rex Ryan is allowed to have an “exotic” defense is by locking up the outside with Revis and Cromartie, while sending in whatever combination of the remaining 9 defenders he chooses. Flexibility is big in Rex’s defense, so pure pass-rushers like the Giants have don’t fit. The linebackers need to be versatile, the defensive backfield must be a deep rotation to prevent offenses from reading tendencies amongst them. I think Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace and Aaron Maybin are up to the task. I have a hard time thinking this group will collectively play as poorly as they did last year. Pouha is no slouch at nose guard either. 3-4 defenses need versatile linebackers and a nose guard to survive. The Jets have this and the added benefit of two of the best corners this game has to offer. Don’t sleep just yet.
Now let’s talk about what kept the Jets out of the playoffs last year: the ground and pound offense turning into a grunt and punt. The Jets are short one tackle and one proven running back from my calling them a true contender, but that doesn’t mean these things can’t be found in-season, nor does it mean they can’t be developed. This, I believe based on how much Tebow bulked up (250lbs from 230 last year), is why they went to get Tebow (I’m trying, guys.). Giving him the spell plays in the form of a single-wing offense that Tomlinson got the last two years is really the only way the Jets can re-establish a physical offensive identity. McKnight can’t do it between the tackles, Greene doesn’t get anything that isn’t blocked for him, and Powell can’t stay healthy. The Jets need to use combinations of Greene, Tebow, and McKnight in the backfield that can induce uncertainty in the lateral movement at the second level of defenses. That’s the only way this works. Vick didn’t contend until Warrick Dunn showed up. Tebow didn’t get anything done without an absolute WORKHORSE year from Willis McGahee and contribution from the cast of a thousand backs in Denver. This is what you have to do. It’s not going to work any other way. The good news?…
…Stephen Hill. A physical freak of nature that will immediately contribute in two distinct ways as long as he doesn’t outright suck. First, he played in an option offense at Georgia Tech that forced him to block a LOT because of how much they ran. The reigning theory on Hill is that the only reason someone as big, tall, and fast as he was fell into the 2nd round is simply because of his collegiate offensive scheme not passing enough to show him off. On the Jets, he’ll be able to both rely on what made him good in college AND showcase his speed to take the top off of defenses between the twenties. If Hill can successfully make defenses respect his speed, Holmes, Schilens, Keller and Kerley should FEAST underneath.
If you subscribe to the idea that Tebow can infect a team with his great attitude, then you have to put him on special teams, where it can be most infectious amongst players who mostly have no choice but to buy in and try to keep their jobs. The reports are that Tim’s already gotten ahold of the favor of much of the Jets’ locker room, but for now that’s just from being really enthusiastic during practice. He has to back it up with game production, and he will perhaps have more opportunities in more ways to produce than any player in the NFL. If Tebow lays someone out covering a kick in the first couple of weeks, his respect level across the league will spike tremendously. People don’t acknowledge (largely because it isn’t quantifiable) how much a hit like that can energize the main units on offense and especially on defense. You don’t think Bart Scott will be hyped up after seeing that? C’mon.
Whichever best-case scenario for them you can envision, it has to come early. Look at their first five games.
Bills, @Steelers, @Dolphins, Niners, Texans. I can make cases for a 5-0 start and a 1-4 meltdown. The best case scenario is based on the talent of the players they have, the 1-4 meltdown the media’s waiting for only comes from a lack of trust in their ability to put it altogether schematically and play like the team they weren’t late last year.
Such is life on the brink.