Scouts Inc.: Jets need to address passing game

March, 12, 2009
3/12/09
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Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and an ordinary receiving corps, the Baltimore Ravens advanced to the NFL's 2008 postseason final four. In fact, the Ravens won more than their share of games with what we will graciously call a lackluster passing attack. Often, the Ravens' saving grace was their staunch defense led by coordinator Rex Ryan.

 
  Andy Marlin/Getty Images
  Jets coach Rex Ryan has bolstered his defense but neglected his passing game so far this offseason.

As the head coach of the New York Jets, Ryan obviously is applying some of the same principles to his new team that made the Ravens successful. The Jets have used their offseason resources to bolster their defense -- Ryan's favorite side of the ball -- and have flat-out ignored their passing game.

While this strategy worked for the Ravens -- and I don't dismiss that it could be a successful formula for the Jets -- it is troubling. I am not so sure that there is a passing game in the league, besides maybe the Oakland Raiders, that is worse off than the Jets'.

It's only March so the Jets have time to bolster their air attack, perhaps through the draft. But as things stand now, don't expect many -- if any -- shootouts in the 2009 season featuring the Jets.

If the Jets are looking for receiver help in the draft, they're in luck. This is a deep wideout class and surely there will be someone like Darius Heyward-Bey that New York should consider with their 17th overall selection.

But a hunch tells me that Ryan will opt for someone along the lines of Tyson Jackson, the top 3-4 defensive end in this class and someone who potentially could be his version of Trevor Pryce. Ryan might choose to go in that direction in the first round rather than bolster a seemingly anemic air game.

Why am I so pessimistic about the Jets' air assault?

Well, their quarterbacks are incredibly unproven, their wideouts are very questionable outside of Jerricho Cotchery, who isn't a No. 1 wide receiver, and their edge pass protection is a liability.

With Brett Favre retired again, the Jets' current quarterback options are inexperienced. But either Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff could develop into a suitable NFL starting signal-caller. Both have shown glimpses of doing just that, but between the two of them, they have attempted just 133 passes at this level in the regular season. All of those passes belong to Clemens, by the way.

Meanwhile, Ratliff was only a one-year starter in college -- although he was impressive during the 2008 preseason. And while Clemens rarely has had much help, his performance has been erratic and his pocket presence and ability to improvise are in doubt. Ryan surely will give both quarterbacks an opportunity to compete for playing time and undoubtedly will choose the passer who manages the game best and doesn't put his defense in too many compromising situations.

All-purpose back Leon Washington will be instrumental in keeping the pressure off the Jets' vertical game. He should see a heavier workload as a pass-catcher, as he probably is the Jets' most dynamic offensive player.

 
  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
  Jerricho Cotchery will lead a group of otherwise inexperienced receivers.

The Jets are apparently high on a few of their lesser known wideouts like Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney and the ever-improving Brad Smith. But again, this crew is unproven. Clowney has caught one pass in this league and Stuckey has just 32 receptions. Smith has just 53 career catches, despite seeing the field far more often than these other two.

As a group, the Jets' wide receivers do not have great size. But tight end Dustin Keller is capable of filling the role of a big, reliable target a la Dallas Clark does with the Indianapolis Colts. However, outside of Keller, who is much more of a pass-catcher than blocker, New York is presently very thin at the tight end position.

If this isn't remedied, it surely will compromise the Jets' abilities to run on the edges or attack their opponent with multiple tight end sets.

This will be a run-first offense that grinds out yardage behind a physical offensive line that is far more equipped to block for the run game than in pass protection. This is especially true at tackle, where left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson still gets overpowered by the bull rush. Right tackle Damien Woody, a squatty center/guard by trade, simply does not possess the quickness out of his stance, stride length in reverse or overall agility to deal with speed rushers. The Jets' pair of offensive tackles are drastically different -- they're polar opposites, in fact. By moving around pass-rushers, opposing defensive coordinators easily can exploit the tackles' weaknesses.

I am not ready to write the Jets off in 2009. I have a very high opinion of Ryan and do believe that his defense will keep New York in many ballgames this season. Let's just say that there are more than a few concerns with the Jets' passing game as it sits right now.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. 

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