Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order or our initial 2014 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the preseason begins with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.
At this time last year it was a foregone conclusion that Rex Ryan would be fired. But he's still around after a solid 8-8 season for the Jets.
Ryan keeping his job is a good thing for the Jets. No matter what you think of his bluster, Ryan is a fantastic motivator and a good defensive mind. But can the Jets repeat what they did last year? And how might it affect Ryan if they can't?
The Jets' point differential of minus-97 last season made their 8-8 finish seem fluky. The 4-12 Browns were minus-98. The 5-10-1 Vikings were minus-89. The 4-12 Falcons and 4-12 Buccaneers were minus-90 and minus-101, respectively. Basically, when the Jets were bad, they were really bad. There was a 40-point loss to the Bengals, a 23-point loss to the Bills and a 20-point loss to the Dolphins. The Pythagorean win projection, made solely from a team's points for and against, and added up by Football Outsiders, said the Jets should have won 5.4 games.
Other stats say the Jets weren't really that bad. They ran the ball well (ninth in yards per rushing attempt). The defense was good, allowing the fewest yards per rushing attempt and ranking 11th in Football Outsiders' DVOA per-play metric.
What's realistic for the Jets this season? They had a fairly good offseason and an interesting draft. If quarterback Geno Smith can make a leap in his second year, being in the mix for a wild-card spot again is realistic. Of course, it's not easy finding people who think too highly of Smith going into this season. Let's just say we're not finished talking about the Jets' quarterback options in this preview.
2013 review in less than 25 words: The Jets alternated wins and losses for their first 10 games. A two-game winning streak at the end gave them a .500 finish.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: The Jets had a productive offseason and their roster is better for it. Michael Vick (yeah we're going to get to him), Chris Johnson and Eric Decker give a boost to an offense that needed it. First-round pick Calvin Pryor gives the Jets a much needed chess piece at safety. He'll be a big upgrade. New York lost cornerback Antonio Cromartie, but in his case, the name rarely lived up to the production.
Best offseason acquisition: Most people scoffed at the Decker addition, but I still don't see why. The five-year, $36.5 million contract wasn't outrageous for a player of his talent. Decker was certainly helped by Peyton Manning in Denver, but he had eight-touchdown season with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton at quarterback in 2011. The argument seemed to be that the Jets didn't sign a true No. 1 receiver, but nobody ever could provide a blueprint that the Jets should have used to get that A.J. Green or Dez Bryant-type talent who are obviously so easy to acquire. Decker is a good receiver, certainly better than anyone the Jets have had in a while. He helps the offense and upgrades the worst spot the team had. It was a good signing.
Achilles heel: It's clearly quarterback. I still like Smith well enough, but the lack of patience for quarterbacks in the post-Cam Newton/Andrew Luck/Russell Wilson/Robert Griffin III era will work against him. Most young quarterbacks need some time. That said, Smith's 12-touchdown, 21-interception season was a bit scary. The Jets had the worst quarterback rating in the NFL. Smith had very little to throw to, though, and the Jets tried to address that. He had a few good moments to indicate that better days may be ahead. However, at the first sign of trouble ...
Position in flux: The argument can be made that Smith's long-term development was really undermined when the Jets got Michael Vick. It was completely a Jets move, which made some waves but may not make much practical sense. Vick hasn't really been a good NFL quarterback since 2010. But he's Vick and we're all still smitten with the incredible highlights we remember, and the Jets probably aren't exempt. If Smith struggles, in preseason or early in the regular season, the temptation will be too strong to put Vick in. Smith has to know he's on a short leash. Maybe the competition provides some urgency and that helps. Or, maybe 34-year-old Vick gets his chance and shows he just isn't the player he once was. This entire quarterback situation could go in many different directions. If the Jets are going to be good in 2014, one of the two has to play well.
Ready to break out: Sometimes pass rushers need a year or two to figure out the NFL. Maybe that's the case with Quinton Coples. The outside linebacker, a 2012 first-round pick, had 5.5 sacks as a rookie but an ankle injury last August contributed to a slow start. But Coples had 3.5 sacks in a four-game stretch in December, and the strong finish was a good indicator that this is the year Coples starts to pay off on that first-round promise.
Stat fact: Chris Johnson managed to gain at least 4 yards per carry in each of his first five seasons. In his sixth season, he gained 3.9, a troubling mark for a player with 1,742 career carries. The Jets are hopeful that Johnson still can be an effective back after snatching him up following his release in Tennessee. Nobody should be expecting the same player who had more than 2,500 yards from scrimmage in 2009. But maybe in a new environment Johnson can still be a solid 1,200-yard back to go with Chris Ivory, who was pretty good last year. That would suit the Jets' offense just fine.
Schedule degree of difficulty: The Jets have the ninth toughest schedule in the NFL, based on 2013 opponents' records. They face the NFC North gauntlet of Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit in September, which will be interesting, and three of their last four games are on the road. The lone home game in that stretch is against New England. If the Jets make the playoffs, they can say they earned it.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: The defense is going to be pretty nasty, as all Ryan-coached defenses are. That will keep them in games. Johnson and Decker provide a couple much-needed skill position playmakers (and keep an eye on rookie tight end Jace Amaro too, who could have a nice impact). If the Jets can find average quarterback play from Smith or Vick, there's no reason the Jets can't compete for a wild-card spot in a top-heavy AFC. They almost did it last year with terrible quarterback play and practically nothing at the skill positions.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: If the Jets fail it will be because of the offense, but that's nothing new. It's possible Decker takes a big step back with the pressure of being a No. 1 with a shaky quarterback, and it's also possible that Johnson is more trouble than help. If Smith is a turnover machine again and Vick continues his three-year trend of being a mediocre quarterback, the Jets might lose a lot of low-scoring games.
The crystal ball says: I just don't think the Jets have the quarterback play to get over the hump. I think Smith will be better, and in a perfect world he'd be a solid quarterback by year three or four, but good luck finding that kind of patience in that market. The schedule and offensive issues might prevent the Jets from reaching .500. If that's the case, it'll be interesting if Ryan survives for another season.
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