The Hangar - My Random Thoughts About the New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS - Season Preview for 2014
Geno Smith acquitted himself well against the Patriots in the JETS' 30-27 overtime win, completing 17 of 33 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown (1 INT), and ad
New York JETS 2014 Season Preview - Intro
Like many die-hard New York JETS fans who enjoy analyzing the team a lot deeper than more casual fans, heading into last season, I had very low expectations for this team. While I was expecting to watch a bad football team playing some ugly football and had no real hope that the team would be a legitimate playoff contender, as always, I still watched all of their games. When my JETS have a season like that, I do so for the primary purpose of evaluating personnel and watching the development of the team's handful of young players that GM John Idzik might one day be able to build a legitimate playoff team around.
The team went on to surprise me by playing far more watchable football, and far less hideous football, than I expected, finishing the season at 8-8 (many so-called "experts" expected them to win half as many games, give or take two). I disagree with my fellow Gang Green fans who prefer their teams to "tank" when it has no legitimate shot at making the playoffs in order to improve the team's draft position. I understand this phenomenon and don't believe that they are "bad" fans. After all, the reason they want the team to tank is because they believe that doing so puts the team in a better position to improve down the road.
But as a general matter, I don't believe that losing an additional 3-4 games, thereby "earning" the resulting corresponding higher draft picks, puts a team in a better position to improve down the road compared to where the team would be if they finished with a respectable 8-8 record. It is only under certain rare circumstances that I would deviate from this belief, such as if an awful season coincided with there being a truly elite QB prospect that will be available in the draft (think back to "Suck for Luck!")
The reason I explained my philosophy on the relative merits of team-building with a worse record and higher draft position vs. doing so with a better record and lower draft position, is that I think it has some relevance to my hopes and expectations for the 2014 season. As Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are." And I think this ties into my pre-draft 2014 season preview because we JETS fans are pondering what our 8-8 team should do with the 18th pick and 12 picks overall. And I believe that situation is eminently preferable compared to one in which fans are pondering what their 2-14 or 4-12 team should do with a higher pick in order to mold itself into a playoff contender.
To complete this segue into my 2014 season preview, I think Bill Parcells was spot-on when he uttered the famous phrase quoted above. As a result, as they head into the 2014 season, the JETS are what their record says they are. In this regard, the team has retained nearly every key player from their 2013 roster (Cromartie has had some great seasons with the team, but was far from a "key player" last year), and I think replacing Austin Howard with Breno Giacomini was a lateral move.
His Wilkshake brings all the ... QB's? ... to the ground!
New York JETS Season Preview Part 1 - The Defense
Prior to the 2011 NFL season, I wrote the following introduction to my analysis of the team's defense:
"Any JETS season preview must start (but hopefully not end) by noting the obvious: this team's strength will once again be the star-studded defensive unit featuring the game's best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, and it's dynamic duo at MLB, David Harris and the underrated Bart Scott."
With little under a month between now and the 2014 NFL draft, which begins on Thursday, May 8, 2014, my 2014 New York JETS season preview analyzes a team with similar strengths (defense, albeit one that is structured very differently from the 2011 version), weaknesses (offense) and question marks (both in 2011 and 2014, by far the single greatest variable that would affect the JETS' fortunes was the development of the team's young quarterback who showed flashes of ability but otherwise played wildly inconsistent football).
We start this year's preview by taking a look at the defense, and following the strategy of the team's decision-makers who, starting with former GM Mike Tannenbaum and continuing through new GM John Idzik's first year, started building this defense into what it is today from the trenches outward.
Even the most casual JETS fan probably knows that I've picked the proverbial "low-hanging fruit" by starting my preview of the 2014 New York JETS' defense with the defensive line. It's not exactly rocket science to "analyze" what is one of the strongest individual units at any position in the entire NFL.
As a whole, the JETS' defense remains the strength of the team despite finishing the 2013 season with significantly worse overall statistics than JETS fans are accustomed to seeing from a Rex Ryan defense. And it is the defensive line's high level of play in 2013 that saved this team's defense from falling even lower in the rankings with respect to the most frequent-referenced statistics. In that regard, if you believe that finishing 19th overall in points per game given up was bad, imagine a scenario where the team played the entire 2013 season with an average NFL defensive line unit rather than an elite one; it would have been horrendous!
The JETS' defensive line deserves the vast majority of the credit for the team finishing the 2013 season ranked 3rd overall against the run, surrendering 88.2 rushing yards per game on the ground. I also think this unit should be given additional credit for the JETS' defense finishing "only" as low as 22nd overall against the pass in 2013 after having surrendering an average of 246.7 yard per game through the air. The entire secondary, almost without exception, was horrendous throughout the entire 2013 season. In fact, the secondary was so bad that it is kind of remarkable that the JETS' finished 2013 ranked 11th overall in total yards against at 334.9 per game!
11 April 2014 - I Think I'll Start With a Wilkshake!
Muhammad "Wilkshake" Wilkerson:
Muhammad Wilkerson is a beast and is the established star of this unit, finishing the 2013 season with 63 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception. He is such a special player and had such a special season in 2013 that I'm still dumbfounded that he was only an alternate for the 2013 Pro Bowl. Standing at about 6'4" and weighing 315 pounds, Wilkerson, who was the JETS' first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (30th overall), has a prototypical frame to play defense end in a traditional 3-4 defense (the JETS' typically line up in formations that are not "traditional" 3-4 looks, but if I had to drop a traditional label on his defense, I'd call it a 3-4).
Wilkshake's frame, combined with elite athleticism and burst off the line, make him especially valuable in Rex Ryan's defense. Sexy Rexy's loves having versatile defensive linemen to use as chess pieces that he can line up all over the place to create exotic looks to deploy exotic blitz packages from. The Jets Blog (my favorite JETS blog by a mile) reported earlier today (April 11) that Wilkshake publicly stated that he would like to be a JET for life - click the link to read more - http://thejetsblog.com/nyjets/wilkerson-i-want-to-be-a-jet-for-life/#comments. It would be excellent news indeed if the JETS and Big Mo are able to make that happen by agreeing to a long-term extension of his current contract, or simply ripping it up and giving him a new one. It is an incredible understatement to call him a keeper!
While I accurately referred to Wilkshake as the star of this unit above, in my next post, I'm going to analyze a player who may very well give Big Mo a run for his money in that regard. That player is none other than the Boss Hogg, Sheldon Richardson, a force of nature who is so unstoppable that he, despite being a defensive lineman, finished with 20% of the team's total rushing touchdowns on offense!
Whose the Boss [Hogg]?
Sheldon "Boss Hogg" Richardson:
Like many JETS' faithful, when the JETS used the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (acquired from Tampa Bay in the Revis trade) to take Sheldon Richardson, I was perplexed. It wasn't because I thought that the 6'3" 294 pound defensive tackle from Mizzou wasn't an elite prospect, and unlike many of the so-called "experts" argued, I wasn't concerned about how Richardson would fit into a "3-4" defense, because (as hereinbefore stated), the JETS do not employ a traditional 3-4 look, meaning that a number of players have been key contributors who didn't have a prototypical frame of a 3-4 NT or DE (think of Mike DeVito, and now, the Boss Hogg himself).
Instead, following the selection of Dee Milliner at #9 overall (which I was quite pleased with), I was anxious for the team to acquire some weapons on offense after taking Wilkshake and Coples with their first-round pick the previous two drafts. Moreover, I felt that the team's situation at QB was so dire that starting the re-tooling of the offense with Geno Smith would have been a prudent use of their second 1st-rounder (if I had a crystal ball, I'd have been comforted by the knowledge that they would go on to draft him with their 2nd-round pick).
In any event, all I knew of Richardson was that some felt he was the best defensive linemen in the draft and that he had incredible burst and athleticism. Because the time I spend leading up to the draft learning about players is focused heavily on players who I think might be drafted by the team, I didn't otherwise know much about him. The post-draft analysis on The JETS Blog made me feel better about the team having spent their second 1st-rounder on yet another defensive lineman, and part of the equation in the TJB coverage was that this move could actually be considered the team drafting an OLB, as rumor had it at the time that Quentin Coples might be converted into a "rush" linebacker/DE hybrid.
In terms of how things unfolded in Richardson's rookie season, he earned his Defensive Rookie of the Year award by being a constant disruptive force, netting 42 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one fumble recovered, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Oh yeah, and as referenced above, he had 2 TD's rushing!
I look for more great things to come in 2014 as Richardson looks to build on an excellent rookie season. As mentioned a number of times in this 'Hub, Rex Ryan values versatility in his defensive linemen, and Richardson has all the tools and athleticism needed to allow Rex to do what he does.
Next, I will profile "Snacks," whose recent emergence - seemingly out of nowhere - helped this unit play at the very high level we saw in 2013.
Now Let's Go Have Some G-D Snacks!
Damon "Snacks" Harrison:
Standing at around 6'4" and 350 pounds, "Snacks" is a mountain of a man! Harrison, who went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft, has experienced a meteoric rise that saw him go from an undrafted standout at tiny William Penn University of the NAIA (generally, NAIA competition is a step below even D-III athletics!), to a key contributor on one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Here is a link to a story posted on ESPN.com about his remarkable emergence: http://espn.go.com/new-york/columns/nfl/story/_/id/9717854/new-york-jets-damon-harrison-water-boy-starting-nose-tackle.
Damon Harrison finished the 2013 season with 66 total tackles (36 solo), 1 sack, 2 passes defensed, 7 "stuffs" (a stat listed on his ESPN profile) and 6 tackles for loss. Due to his size and relative athleticism (with his girth, it isn't fair to compare him to Wilkshake or the Boss Hogg in this regard), Snacks - with his prototypical frame for a 3-4 Nose Tackle, was lined up by Sexy Rexy at various positions up and down the line of scrimmage above and beyond that which would be associated with a pure 3-4 NT.
While Snacks isn't a stand-alone pass rush threat like his fellow "SONS of Anarchy" Wilkerson and Richardson, by virtue of his size, strength and ability to apply leverage, he is able to push back the pocket effectively, disrupting an offense's passing game and opening up lanes for his teammates. Eating up space and blockers also opens things up for his fellow defensive lineman and strong-side and weak-side middle 'backers David Harris and Demario Davis.
In summary, the JETS have an embarrassment of riches on the defensive line, having realized substantial returns on investing 1st-round picks in three consecutive drafts on defensive linemen in Wilkerson, Coples and Richardson. The team is incredibly fortunate that - above and beyond realizing significant ROI from sources where significant ROI is expected (i.e., 1st round picks), they've also found a "diamond in the rough" in Harrison, who compliments the talents of his line-mates beautifully.
Next, I'm going to lump in the remaining defensive linemen on the roster into one profile to wrap up the defensive line portion of my 2014 JETS Season Preview. Coples is going to be treated as a rush OLB under separate heading.
The Boss Hogg unleashing the beast!
Kenrick & Co.
There is quality and quantity in the remaining defensive linemen in the JETS' rotation and/or on the depth chart. I believe that Kenrick Ellis is far and away their most important depth and rotational player on the defensive line. The 6'4", 350-pound Ellis likely would have been a 1st-round pick but-for off-field legal issues that saw him transfer from South Carolina (where he was an emerging player in their defensive line rotation following a promising redshirt freshman year) to Hampton, where he dominated for two seasons before declaring for the NFL Draft.
The JETS wagered their 3rd-round pick on Ellis, despite concerns that his off-field legal issues might see him missing a substantial amount of time (if for no other reason than potential incarceration and/or deportation to his native Jamaica). I firmly believe that the JETS will see their faith in Ellis pay off in 2014, as he appears to have made significant advancements in his technique per defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, and has the burst and agility to be a real trouble-maker for opposing offenses. Thus, Ellis represents not only a potential excellent rotational option for the team, but also an outstanding insurance policy in case Damon Harrison were to go down for any extended length of time with an injury.
2011 Season Preview - Defense - Rexy's Defense Will Once Again Lead the Way
In the days that follow, I will do a write-up of my thoughts on what to expect from the JETS' offense this year. However this season pans out, it is likely that we will get what we've come to expect from the defense in recent years, and the key to whether or not the JETS are contenders or pretenders will be how the offensive unit evolves.
One thing is for sure: whatever the impact of replacing Damien Woody with Wayne Hunter turns out to be, or however dynamic the passing game will be with the addition of Plaxico Burress and Derek Mason, the man pictured on the left, Mr. Dustin Keller, will play a key role in the offense. As I will touch upon in my upcoming 'Hub on what to expect from the JETS' offense in 2011, while I generally feel positive about Mark Sanchez at this point, he's been extremely erratic. I think Dustin Keller should have already seen one Pro Bowl, and if he were on the Green Bay Packers, he would likely have already had an 80-catch season.
I hope you enjoyed the 'Hub and look out for my upcoming article on the JETS' offense!
Any JETS season preview must start (but hopefully not end) by noting the obvious: this team's strength will once again be the star-studded defensive unit featuring the game's best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, and it's dynamic duo at MLB, David Harris and the underrated Bart Scott.
The lack of a single player who poses a pure pass-rushing threat has been this unit's weakness in recent years. Last year they tried to fill this void by bringing in Jason Taylor, who made a few nice plays including his safety in the surprising regular season victory in Pittsburgh, but who otherwise did not strike fear into the opposing QB. They did not even attempt to procure such a player leading into the 2011 NFL season, whether by draft or in free agency (although they did attempt to catch lightning in a bottle by signing Aaron Maybin, who was released after a few weeks).
So while this unit heads into 2011 without that heralded player who can single-handedly rush the passer (e.g., a healthy James Harrison or his teammate, Lamar Woodley), Rex Ryan's defensive schemes bring the heat by using extra linebackers and defensive backs in exotic blitz packages. Of course, it would be great as a JETS fan to see their sack numbers increase, but despite the lack of a high sack total in recent seasons, the JETS have ranked near the top of the league in QB pressure, forcing QB's to get rid of the ball quickly by dumping it off, make a bad decision, throw an errant pass, etc. The JETS can get away with bringing extra pass rushers to create pressure because they're comfortable leaving Darrelle Revis in man-to-man coverage on the opposing team's top WR without help over the top, and likewise (but to a far lesser extent) feel that Antonio Cromartie can handle the #2 WR competently on his side.
So while this preview unfortunately doesn't talk of a new dynamic pass-rusher for Gang Green, there are certainly a number of hot topics heading into this season.
Losing Shaun Ellis and Muhammad Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis to the Defensive Line Rotation:
Shaun Ellis was a great JET, period. Perhaps not "great" in the sense that he wasn't a perennial All-Pro or Pro-Bowler, but he was the longest-tenured JET before bolting for New England after Mike Tannenbaum gave him a low-ball offer (the veteran minimum for a player with his number of years in the league). He is among the all-time leaders in sacks in JET history, and had a memorable game in the playoffs against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the JETS' beat-down of the Pats. His steady veteran presence will be missed, as he was a very solid 3-down traditional 3-4 DE against the run and pass.
However, every team in the NFL loses important players in the off-season, and what matters is who remains on hand going into this year, and who was added into the mix. Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha are among the most underrated players in the league, and Rex Ryan can move them all around the D-Line in both 3-4 and 4-3 sets (sometimes you can even consider it a 5-2 depending on the way Rexy lines 'em up). These guys are simply competent, high-motor players who mitigage the damage caused by Ellis' departure.
The hope is that Devito and Pouha can help bring along 2011 draft picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis. Wilkerson has a classic traditional 3-4 frame, and while his stats in college were arguably inflated due to the level of competition he played against at Temple, I know that I personally celebrated the fact that a guy with his potential fell into the JETS' lap on draft day. Kendrick Ellis is an absolute beast who transferred to the conference formerly known as D-IAA after facing legal troubles. But-for his trouble with the law, its highly likely that he would have been a first-round pick, as his talent and massive size (340-360 pounds) compare favorably to that of Cleveland Browns' first-rounder Phil Taylor from Baylor.
I have high hopes for this unit heading into 2011, and I feel that Wilkerson and Ellis added into the rotation with DeVito and Pouha, at the very least, give the JETS a competent DL. In particular, while Shaun Ellis will be missed, I'm confident that Wilkerson's youth and athleticism will make him more of an asset on pass-rush downs. Of course, a 3-4 DE isn't expected to get many sacks, per se, but his youth, size and athleticism compare very favorably to Shaun Ellis, and he may be better able to push his blocker around, push the pocket, and help create pass-rush lanes for the blitzing LB's and D-Backs. DeVito and Pouha are high-motor guys who can create some pressure, and Kenrick Ellis should be able to collapse the pocket with a bull-rush if Rexy should choose to use him on passing downs.
One final note regarding the D-Line: the return of Rapoti Pitoitua must be mentioned. This guy is an absolute monster. standing at an absurd 6'8", 315 pounds. He showed flashes and was highly regarded by Rex Ryan and Defensive Coordinate Mike Pettine before he went on the DL during last year's preseason. He should have a role in this year's DL rotation, as might Marques Dixon, who has shown flashes but has done so only against inferior competition in the preseason.
At linebacker, the JETS have a pair of keepers in David Harris (recently locked up to a long-term deal) and Bart Scott. Harris is young at among the top 3-4 MLB's in the NFL, while Bart Scott's impact on the defense goes far beyond his seemingly pedestrian tackle statistics. Specifically, Bart Scott is elite at the part of his job which requires him to blow up blockers, most notably pulling Guards, and allowing others to "clean up" and rack up superior statistics. They're thin behind Harris and Scott with the unproven Josh Mauga and Garrett McIntyre and rookie Nick Bellore, so JETS fans must pray for health at MLB.
The JETS' OLB's are solid but unspectacular, with familiar faces Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas topping the depth chart. While neither of these players are the type of dynamic pass-rusher that is coveted in a 3-4 defense (once again, think James Harrison or Lamar Woodley), they're both solid 3-down 3-4 OLB's. Once again, Jamaal Westerman from Rutgers is a primary backup and has shown flashes of talent, but hasn't shown enough for the JETS to continue to look for the answer by picking guys like Aaron Maybin up off the scrap heap. Barring an injury, his main contribution in 2011 should be on Mike Westoff's Special Teams units.
The strength of the JETS' defense is clearly at Cornerback, with Darrelle Revis being nearly the consensus top man-to-man, "shut-down" CB in the entire NFL. Accross from Revis is Antonio Cromartie who, while maddeningly inconsistent at times, is certainly among the best #2 CB's in the league, and is dangerous whenever he gets his hands on the ball. Kyle Wilson has been an enigma wrapped in a puzzle since the JETS drafted him, and while he's certainly no Vernon Gholston at this time, there is a growing consensus among informed JETS fans that at some point very soon, a "bust-watch" will be in effect. That said, and despite his shakiness, I'm very happy to have him and/or Donald Strickland rotating in as our #3 CB.
Safety is an area of concern for the JETS, as both Jimmy Leonhard and Eric Smith are somewhat limited athletically. Their strength is against the run, and it is troubling that both are marginal in coverage. What they do well is tackle (Eric Smith being a particularly hard hitter, and I was at the game vs. the Carndinals where Brett Favre threw 6 TD's and Smith shattered Anquan Boldin's face). They're also both very smart, "cerebral" players who can call the defense (Smith had to take on these duties after Leonhard went down for the season in a collision with WR Patrick Turner in practice last year).
In the end, I fully expect the JETS to be among the league leaders in total defense this year. Of course, this is in part due to the presence of special talents such as Revis, Harris and Scott, and to a lesser extent Bart Scott, Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha and Antonio Cromartie, but is at least equally attributable to Rex Ryan's ever-evolving, exotic schemes. I don't foresee the dynamics changing, however, and I think they will have to once again find their way towards the top of the league in total defense and points allowed without a single defensive player having more than 8 sacks (the only realistic candidates to even reach this number are the aging Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas; I think Big Mo' Wilkerson has the potential to get 8 sacks like Shaun Ellis did last year, but he's a rookie after all). In the end, I will take it!