We’re turning to New York Daily News beat writer Manish Mehta to examine the team he covers (check out Manish’s work here and his blog here). And here he goes with some very detailed analysis …
Where they’re good: Rex Ryan’s defense is a schematic anomaly – a unit built in reverse. While most teams are constructed from the defensive line and out, Ryan prefers to start with lockdown cornerbacks, so that he can free everyone else up to bring heat on the quarterback. The Jets could have the best trio of cornerbacks in the league when it’s all said and done. All-Pro Darrelle Revis, who anchored the league’s top-ranked pass defense from a year ago, will be joined by former Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie and first-round pick Kyle Wilson in what could turn into a downright scary group for opposing receivers.
Consider: Before Revis Island was spotted on a map, Cromartie was getting all the rave reviews for his freakish athleticism and league-high 10 interceptions in 2007. His production dipped in his final two seasons in San Diego for myriad reasons. He played much of 2008 with a two-millimeter crack in his right hip and struggled in the Chargers’ soft zone coverage schemes. Ryan will put Cromartie back in the man-to-man, press coverage situations he prefers. A stout secondary will allow Ryan to go wild with the disguised and overload blitzes that have baffled the league for the better part of a decade.
Don’t expect the Jets to deviate too much from the “ground and pound” offensive philosophy that took them to the AFC Championship Game in 2009. Sure, it’s unlikely they’ll duplicate the franchise-record 2,756 rushing yards, but the core belief remains the same. Mark Sanchez has viable pass-catching options in Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and LaDainian Tomlinson, so the odds that the Jets will have a 59:41 run-to-pass ratio agaim is unlikely. Expect closer to a 50-50 split.
The big camp questions: To hold out or not to hold out? … That could be the pivotal question for young stars like Revis and All-Pro center Nick Mangold, who have both expressed discontent with their contractual situations. Revis, who has three years remaining on his six-year rookie deal, is looking to cash in on one of the most impressive seasons by any cornerback in NFL history. Mangold, arguably the top player at his position, is entering the final year of his five-year rookie contract.
Who will replace nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca at left guard? … General Manager Mike Tannenbaum took a calculated gamble by breaking up arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. Faneca’s pass protection skills may have eroded, but he was still a solid run blocker. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, this was a head scratcher. Rookie Vladimir Ducasse, who played at Division 1-AA UMass, will battle second-year pro Matt Slauson for the vacant spot. It’s a risky move, to say the least.
Which Nick Folk will show up? … The Jets may also regret letting unrestricted free agent kicker Jay Feely walk if Folk struggles. How ugly did it get for Folk last year? Well, he missed a field goal in six consecutive games before the Cowboys had seen enough and released him. Folk had made 87 percent of his field goal attempts in his first two seasons before missing a third of them last season. Folk contended that he developed bad habits from hip surgery after the 2008 season.
This needs to happen to win big: Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene must stay healthy. … Let’s face it: The Jets’ don’t have a viable No. 2 quarterback if Sanchez misses any extended period of time. It looks like they’re going to dust off soon-to-be-40-year-old Mark Brunell to mentor Sanchez. But does anyone actually think the lefty can still play? Erik Ainge and former college quarterback Brad Smith will likely round out a group that won’t scare many teams. Sanchez saved his smartest football during the Jets’ memorable post-season run. If he can build off that and take advantage of the receiving threats at his disposal, the Jets could be in line for another deep postseason run. Of course, he’ll have to drastically cut down on his 20 interceptions.
Greene steps into the No. 1 RB role with Thomas Jones out of the picture. The former Iowa star was eased into the offense last year before erupting for 263 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. He’ll have to stay relatively injury-free this season – he had two different rib injuries and an ankle problem last year – or the Jets will be in big trouble. LaDainian Tomlinson could be an effective complement, but his days of carrying the mail are long over. Don’t expect rookie Joe McKnight to be the workhorse, either, if Greene is out.
There’s no “I” in Super Bowl. … With so many key players looking for long-term extensions after the season, it’ll be pivotal for Ryan to keep everyone in line. Can Holmes and Edwards co-exist? Ryan insists potential chemistry problems are a media fabrication. Only time will tell.
Where they stack up: The Jets are a trendy Super Bowl pick, but they’ll have a hard enough time getting past the Patriots (you know, the defending AFC East champions) and the upstart Dolphins. On paper, the Jets are loaded. Of course, football isn’t a two-dimensional game. If Sanchez can take a step forward and the new pieces make seamless transitions, the ingredients are there for another deep playoff run. Prediction: 11-5
SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE SERIES