The circus that is the New York Jets has been a little quieter this year. Not only is Tim Tebow gone from the quarterback picture, but any sort of expectations are gone from the team picture. It would seem that the season is just about letting Rex Ryan have one more year to finish hanging himself before moving on.
The folks in Las Vegas back up this view, by posting the Jets’ Over/Under number on wins at a mere 6.5. As our NFL analysis continues with today’s focus on the AFC East, let’s take a closer look at New York.
Ryan’s got his faults as a head coach, but the man can still coach a defense. The Jets’ pass defense graded out very well across the board last season. They were the second-best defense in the league at forcing incompletions and the sixth-best at limiting yardage. They could cover you short or cover you deep, and now Ryan has a new toy in cornerback Dee Milliner. Fresh off helping Alabama win last year’s national championship in college, Milliner will line up opposite Antonio Cromartie.
What the New York pass defense does not do is make plays, be it interceptions on the back end or sacks on the front end. They’re in the lower third of the NFL in both categories. The formula of sound competence without big plays can work if it fits into an overall team concept where the explosive plays are coming from somewhere else. But, to put it mildly, that does not apply to the New York Jets.
This offense is an absolute train wreck. Mark Sanchez deserves all the criticism heaped upon his play, and I hope critics will have learned a lesson. When Sanchez rode the Jets’ defense and running game to two straight AFC Championship Games in 2009-10, the media shouldn’t have heaped praise on the quarterback for “knowing how to win”, when he was merely in the right place at the right time. Sanchez has not changed. The team around him has.
New York has no running game to speak of, and with Santonio Holmes expected to miss at least the first four games with a foot injury, they have no playmakers.
It’s appropriate with a Rex Ryan team that we bring this back full circle to the defense, and point out that this is still a unit that had problems stopping the run last year, a fact that makes the problems forcing turnovers even more acute. It’s tough to get an opposing offense to make mistakes when they can play conservatively and still move the ball.
The best hope is that 23-year-old defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson will build off his five-sack season a year ago and become more of a force. That’s still a lot to ask of an end in a 3-4 alignment. Big plays have to come from the linebackers, and at 32-years-old, Calvin Pace doesn’t seem to have that capability anymore.
Even given all that, I’m still leaning Over on that 6.5 win prop. In truth, I see this as a sound number, with the Jets winning either six or seven games. But I believe in Ryan’s defensive coaching enough to think he at least wins seven and maybe even eight.