Are the Jets Good or Delusional?

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Rex Ryan takes after his father, Buddy Ryan.  They have a preternatural understanding of defense, they are fat unathletic guys who know how to motivate true athletes, and they both have had success at the NFL level.  Ryan has every expectation to make the playoffs and win a Super Bowl.  Is this Ryan taking a page out of Jimmy Johnson‘s handbook, a self-fulfilling prophecy the players eventually believe.  Cowboys fans all recollect Johnson’s prediction that the Cowboys would beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.  Is this simply a modern day version of Johnson’s confidence and hubris?

Mark Sanchez will be entering his second year as starting QB for the NY Jets.  Sanchez lead his team to the AFC championship game as a rookie which is a feat accomplished by Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco.  Not surprisingly, both quarterbacks heavily relied on a solid running game and an outstanding defense, just like Sanchez.  Roethlisberger followed up his rookie season with the worst winning quarterback performance in Super Bowl history; Flacco’s sophomore season he lead his team to a 2nd round defeat against the Indianapolis Colts.

Considering the above, it is not outside the realm of reason for Coach Ryan to have faith in the 2nd year quarterback.  I am not a believer, however.  Actually I am a firm believer that they are the third best team in their division and are deeply flawed.

While a teams previous year rarely has a definitive impact upon the outcome of the following season (e.g. the Titans going from 13-3 to starting the season 0-6), it is not impossible to divine whether a teams success was related to their schedule or whether they indeed had a breakthrough.

Only considering the Jet’s final 8 regular season games (as the defense would have an understanding of the new system installed and Sanchez would be comfortable in the system), the Jets beat Carolina, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati.  They lost to Jacksonville, New England, and Atlanta.  Everyone remembers that Indianapolis elected to rest their starters mid-way through the game while they were nursing a thin lead.  Shortly after replacing Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter literally threw away the game when he was intercepted by Dwight Lowery for a touchdown.  The following week, the Jets played a lame duck Cincinnati team who rested their starters with the intent of not showing any of their game plan for the playoff game against the Jets the following week.

The team won 5 games at the end of the season and two of them were literally gimmes.  The remaining three games were against world beaters like Carolina (8-8), Buffalo (6-10), and Tampa Bay (3-13).  There is the argument that it wasn’t what the Jets did in the regular season, which is why prognosticators and Ryan are so high on the Jets.  It was the post-season.

The Jets beat the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers in successive weeks.  Darrelle Revis’s star had never shown brighter.  Is all this hype really based upon two wins?  Or is it based upon their 4-1 record in their final five games?  Afterall, the Jets beat a Bengals team with a quarterback nursing a sore arm, their 2nd WR playing in Seattle, and their 3rd WR resting in peace.  The Chargers lost by 3 points after Nate Kaeding missed a 40 yard field goal which kept the margin at 10 points at the time.  The Jets won those games, but it does not suggest they would win even one playoff game in January 2011.  When the Colts actually played to win (prior to Manning being benched and during the AFC Championship game) they outscored the Jets 45 to 27.

More important than what the Jets did in the 2009 season and playoffs is what the Jets have done during their off-season to prepare for the 2010 season.  The Jets signed LaDanian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Laveranues Coles, Brodney Pool, and Mark Brunell.  They also brought in Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie via trade.  Certainly it could be said that the Jets in an uncapped 2010 season have elected to bring in veteran talent to backup their front line players.  It could also be said that most of the new players are well past their prime and they simply collected a number of players who will be dominated by their opponent if they ever hit the field.

Tomlinson and Cromartie will receive a majority of the playing time out of the free agent pool along with Holmes after returning from his 4 game suspension.  Tomlinson replaces an incredibly popular Thomas Jones.  Jones wasn’t simply popular among the Jets fanbase, but he was a leader in the Jets locker room.  When Jones was cut, there was an inordinate amount of grumbling from the players who believed it was unfair and unjust of Jets management to release Jones for what appeared to be trivial financial reasons.  Especially considering that Jones had one of the best seasons of his career in 2009.  At this point, it can be assumed Jones will be nearing the end of his career partly due to age, and mostly due to playing in Kansas City.  The question is whether the 2010 version of Tomlinson can be as productive as the 2009 version of Jones.

Tomlinson is inarguably the best running back in the game… 5 years ago.  When the wheels fall off on a running back, they come off quickly.  Towards the latter years of his career, Emmith Smith was a shadow of his earlier self.  The vision, speed, quickness, and desire had dissipated.  If the Cowboys were a playoff contender during the early 00’s, Smith would have been the weak link.  As it was, Smith was still a star on a team that was bereft of talent.  A fading Tomlinson is going to a talented team with high expectations.  If the Jets expect to improve upon their 2009 season, they will have to rely on Shonn Greene or Joe McKnight.  Leon Washington is in Seattle and as previously indicated, Jones is in KC.  What the Jets may be missing is the explosiveness of Washington (when healthy), and the heart of Jones.

For Tomlinson, it may be unfair to say that many of his Charger teammates do not miss him.  Tomlinson and Philip Rivers have acknowledged that it was the right time for him to leave San Diego, and other teammates stated Tomlinson wasn’t a team first player.  What should concern Jets fans is that they not only lost an offensive leader, but swapped for a selfish player who sucks energy from a team.  This storyline will play out over the season.

Cromartie will play well in 2010.  He is in the last year of his contract and is looking to be paid commensurate with his hype.  He was perceived to be a lazy player in San Diego.  While this may or may not be the case, he should have a good 2010 season.  As for Holmes, he was a Super Bowl MVP.  He’s a good WR, and the best WR on the Jets squad.  I have also believed him to be a very good #2 WR.  Unfortunately for the Jets, I believe Braylon Edwards is also a very good #2 WR.  Tom Brady won several Super Bowls with #2 and #3 WR’s, so it can be done, though Sanchez has quite a way before he can spoken of in the same sentence as Brady.

As for the Jets’s 2010 draft class, they selected Kyle Wilson, CB, Vladamir Ducasse, OL (a very raw prospect from a small school who won’t contribute immediately), Joe McKnight, RB, and John Conner, FB.  The players may contribute on the field, but it would be surprising if the players have big rookie seasons.  There does not appear to be a Percy Harvin or Brian Cushing who will contribute immediately and impressively.  With the Tomlinson situations illustrated above, certainly McKnight may have the best opportunity to contribute.  Wilson should not have to start unless there is an injury to Cromartie or Revis.  Revis will be resigned and there will be smiles and glad-handing, until the season starts.

The Jets do have a good defense with a defensive minded head coach.  Beware those who are prone to hyperbole.  This is not the second coming of the ’86 Bears, and there is a chance the defense will regress.  The Jets do share a similarity to the Cowboys.  When the Jets do anything, the media covers it (because of the size of the New York market).  When Dallas does anything, people hear about it (because of the large national following for the Cowboys).  Players receive more recognition and consequently, more fame.  Recognition and fame does not automatically translate into improved talent though it may perceived as such.  Kenny Gant is one of the most famous Cowboys of the 90’s, but there are 15+ better special teamers than Gant in the league today who live in anonymity.

To surmise, the Jets were a 7-7 team before beating two teams who stopped caring.  They beat one wounded team, barely beat a good team who’s kicker missed what should be a gimme at the NFL level, and they have questionably better talent than the year prior.  On “paper”, the Jets play 10 games where their opponent is either as good or better than the Jets (Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins, Broncos, Packers, Texans, & Steelers).  If they sweep the 6 games where they are better than their opponent (Bills, Lions, Browns, Bengals, & Bears), they only have to win four of the more difficult games to have a playoff spot.  I don’t think they will get those four wins.  They won’t be awful, but they won’t be in Dallas in early February celebrating.

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