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2010 New York Jets Preview

August 25, 2010

Jets Look to Put Money Where the Mouths Are
Last year: 9-7, 9th in TABRankings

It’s funny how a few weeks can turn one team into the casual fan and pundit’s darling alike.  Heading into the final week of December, the Jets were 7-7 and at the mercy of two teams waiting on a sure playoff berth. New York got just that when the Colts played only 30 minutes and the Bengals played only 30 seconds in what was two relatively easy wins for the Jets to close the regular season. With that, the Jets got into the playoffs and beat two franchises with recently poor (or nonexistent) playoff history in the Bengals and Chargers, sending Gang Green to the AFC Championship Game.

Forgotten was the 4-6 start the Jets had, including home losses to Buffalo and Jacksonville. Forgotten were the 20 interceptions by rookie QB Mark Sanchez. Forgotten was the declaration by Rex Ryan after a home loss to the Falcons that his team was “out of the playoffs.”

Since the Jets became football darlings in late January, they made all the right moves to remain the darlings. They picked up the big names, no matter how old (LaDainian Tomlinson) or overrated (Antonio Cromartie) they are. They hosted a reality show (“Hard Knocks”) with plenty of drama (the Darrelle Revis holdout) that everybody expects to eventually end with some sort of pact. They have essentially become the NFL’s chic pick for the 2010 season.

However, rarely do chic picks work out. Just ask the 2004 Seahawks, 2006 Dolphins and Redskins, or 2009 Falcons. Sure, the Jets looked at times like a great team in 2009. Their 11.4 Pythagorean Wins, according to Football Outsiders metrics, certainly reflect that. The defense especially looked strong, with an out-of-this-world season by CB Darrelle Revis. But that doesn’t mean it will apply again to the Jets in the 2010 season. Find out why the Jets have just as good a chance, if not better, to flop to a mediocre season in 2010 than rocket to a Super Bowl season.

UNRETAINABLE HEIGHTS: The engines on defense were working in full force in Rex Ryan’s first season, and maybe believe that means he gets his team to take the next step in Year Two. However, precedent says quite the opposite. Not only will be it nearly-impossible to retain the 58.8 defensive passer rating that almost single-handedly got the Jets into the playoffs. It will also be a gigantic task to improve a defense that allowed only eight passing touchdowns last year. Only nine other teams since 1983 allowed 10 passing TD or less, and the results for the following season generally point towards regression:

Team 1st Yr PTDA 2nd Yr
2008 Colts 12-4* Six 14-2**
1990 Steelers 9-7* Nine 7-9
2006 Patriots 12-4* Ten 16-0**
2005 Bears 11-5* Ten 13-3**
2002 Buccaneers 12-4** Ten 7-9
2000 Titans 13-3* Ten 7-9
1997 Packers 13-3** Ten 11-5*
1997 Giants 10-5-1* Ten 8-8
1996 Cowboys 10-6* Ten 6-10

*-playoffs; **-Super Bowl

Obviously, Jets fans will immediately point to the three teams that improved, all of which made the Super Bowl. However, let’s remember two of those teams had Manning/Brady while the third team played in arguably the weakest conference in NFL history (also known as the 2006 NFC). The Jets neither have an all-time great quarterback nor a cake walk schedule that will end up with a 110-146 combined record. Plus, the Jets are just like the 49ers in that they allowed 10 or less points seven times, so their points allowed total will increase. It’s just natural regression Jets’ fans have to deal with, especially with their all-world cornerback.

ELITE PLAYERS, CB Darrelle Revis and C Nick Mangold: Revis was a one-man crew of destruction. Despite Darrelle Revis (photo rights to Mangold (photo rights to great receivers (Andre Johnson, Randy Moss twice, Marques Colston, Terrell Owens twice, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Reggie White and Chad Ochocinco), Revis held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage and passer rating around 40. That is basically inhuman, especially considering that he was one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the league last year (obviously, given the receivers he faced).

Conventional wisdom is that Revis could only get better against a weaker schedule in terms of top-tiered receivers he’ll face. First off, Revis won’t get much of a break, if any, in having to face great receivers (Anquan Boldin, Moss twice, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Ochocinco and Hines Ward). Second, it’ll be extremely tough for an elite cornerback to hold opposing quarterbacks under 40 percent passing again. Third, the passer rating will suffer even if he can have similar success, simply because opponents will be looking the other way and scheming to get the top-tier receivers open opposite of Revis.

Of course, nobody will know how his multi-month holdout will affect all this, and this would become a moot argument if he’s not atop his game. I think he will still play at an elite level, but even playing at a basic elite level will hurt the Jets defense and bring them down to Earth a bit.

Mangold also faced huge contract talks in the offseason, and he has become a happy camper with a whopping new deal. He certainly deserved the hefty money, as he has unanimously earned the honors as the league’s best center. Rarely will you see flaws in his game; he’s at the top when it comes to pass or run blocking. Since Day One as a rookie in 2006, Mangold has been a consistent force for the Jets, and that won’t change for 2010, barring anything catastrophic.

BOOSTING THE OFFENSIVE JETS: Though the media didn’t express this sentiment, the Jets made the playoffs last year in spite of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez threw 20 interceptions and had only 5.77 net yards per dropback. With his shortcomings, Sanchez had no more than 20 completions in any of his 15 regular season starts. Sure, that will get better, but it’s not certain exactly how much Sanchez will improve.

New York got RB LaDainian Tomlinson and WR Santonio Holmes in the offseason. Tomlinson is at the age (31) where running backs are nothing better than filler backs. That was shown when he averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season. The Jets have much better run blocking O-Line than the Chargers, but by no means will Tomlinson be back to the form he was in 2006 or 2007.

Meanwhile, Holmes has to fulfill a four-game suspension before he plays a down for the Jets. Even when he comes back, he may struggle to uphold the expectations. Although he was the Super Bowl XLIII MVP, Holmes never established himself as the top receiver in Pittsburgh. That won’t happen in New York either, at least in 2010, when he has a new system to learn and a month’s rust to shake off. Holmes will be much better suited as the second receiver who makes big plays, but that’s exactly what WR Braylon Edwards already does.

Finally, there will questions if the offensive line can remain healthy, consider that they’ve had complete health over the last three seasons. It’s a big reason why the Jets have one of the best offensive lines in the league, but it has come with a part of luck. With declining LG Alan Faneca now in Arizona, an injury to one of the other four starters means that the offensive line will have at least two new players working together. That seems like a guarantee, and it could lead to inevitable struggles in the running game, and it may even possibly stunt Sanchez’s growth. That’s the last thing a sophomore quarterback who’s on “career watch” needs.

FRANCHISE BREAKER? QB Mark Sanchez: It’s only fair to put him here. After Matt Stafford’s atrocious season as Mark Sanchez (photo rights to rookie quarterback, he was put on notice as the franchise breaker. Tampa Bay’s Joshua Freeman had a very poor season as well, so he too was considered the franchise breaker. In terms of metrics and quality stats, Sanchez also had a poor rookie season, so he must play at least at replacement level this year so his career projection can be positive. However, if Sanchez plays as poorly in 2010 as he did in 2009, he may become a draft bust that cripples the Jets’ franchise.

FRANCHISE MAKER? TE Dustin Keller: If there’s any one player who can help Sanchez become a Dustin Keller (photo rights to player, it’s Keller. As a second-year player, Keller had a pretty terrible season. He wasn’t a reliable receiver, but was a poor blocker. However, when Sanchez played much better in the postseason, Keller made some big plays, like his 45-yard touchdown catch in Cincinnati during the wild card game. (He also had six catches in the AFC Championship Game.)

If Keller takes the next step in his third season and becomes a true safety blanket for Sanchez, it would make the passing game much better. It would add some stability to a very talented receiving corps. Also, if Keller can be a competent blocker, it could help to compensate a bit for a guaranteed drop in O-Line health. In some ways, Keller could be the key player on offense, in terms of the unit’s development.

UNDER THE RADAR, ILB David Harris: SS Jim Leonhard almost made this spot too, as he had a superb season David Harris (photo rights to year. However, much of that had to do with the spoils of playing behind a cornerback like Revis. Instead, Harris is the true gem on the Jets’ defense. True, New York’s defense had plenty unsung heroes last year (Leonhard and NT Sione Pouha, who will play DE/DT despite outplaying Kris Jenkins after Jenkins’ injury), but none is better than Harris. In fact, the rangy and quick Harris has been one of the best 3-4 ILB since being drafted in 2007. Both he and Revis make the Jets’ 2007 draft a very quality one, despite the team only having four picks. Once again, Harris will quietly rack up tackles and play solid against the pass.

SEASON OUTLOOK: My problem with the 2010 Jets is that most people expect two things from this team. First, they expect the defense to play as good as it did last year. Second, they expect all the offseason acquisitions to make a positive impact on the team. Those expectations are simply unrealistic.

First, the defense will not play as well in 2010 as it did last year. Revis was insanely good, helping the Jets to have one of the top 12 pass defenses in the DVOA era, according to Football Outsiders. Of the other 11, there were four great, three very good and four average defenses the following year against the pass. However, none of those teams were able to be nearly as good as they were the year before. The same will apply this year, especially with the addition of Cromartie.

Second, the offseason acquisitions aren’t nearly as good as most think. Cromartie has been habitually overrated and ineffective since his 10-interception season. Perhaps Jets fans were celebrating too much after beating San Diego in the playoffs, because they seem to forget the laughable play by Cromartie in that game. This addition could be much play the Raiders’ addition of DeAngelo Hall, which was a huge flop opposite an elite CB.

Meanwhile, the other additions aren’t much better. Tomlinson and OLB Jason Taylor are in the twilight of their respective careers. S Brodney Pool has been an injury liability his whole career. K Nick Folk is regularly terrible in kickoffs, and was swallowed up by the Earth in kicking game last year. Finally, Holmes won’t be the impact player most expect him to be, especially with the four-game suspension.

The Jets are product of hype, much of which was created by themselves. However, they are due for a rude awakening when the defense won’t completely carry the team once again, and the offensive line finally faces some adversity in the training room. Though Head Coach Rex Ryan doesn’t see it this way, but the Jets are much better built to seriously contend in another season. PROJECTION: 3rd in AFC East

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