Midseason Report: New York Jets
November, 6, 2013
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com
On the eve of the season opener, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan gave his team a visual presentation that set a tone. He showed the ESPN.com Power Rankings for Week 1, which placed the Jets at No. 32. They took it as an insult and used it as motivation.
Two months later, the Jets still talk about those Power Rankings, mocking them.
Can you blame them? At 5-4, the Jets are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL, a legitimate wild-card contender in the AFC. Except for the front seven, there's not an abundance of talent on the roster, but Ryan and his staff have terrifically managed the highs and lows that come with having five rookies in the starting lineup, including the quarterback. Only one of their remaining opponents has a winning record, so the Jets should be in it for the duration.
On to the grades ...
GRADING THE NEW YORK JETS
|Quarterbacks||Because he's a rookie, Geno Smith is graded on a curve. The arm talent is obvious, but his decision-making remains suspect. His ability to perform in the clutch (four winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime) has been a pleasant surprise. The passing game has ground to a halt the past two weeks; he has to pick up the pace for the team to make a strong playoff push.|
|Running Backs||Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell form a solid one-two combination, with Ivory emerging in recent weeks as the No. 1 back. You can't call them Thunder and Lightning because there hasn't been much lightning (save for Sunday), but the Jets can win games with these two backs.|
|Wide Receivers||Injuries (mainly Santonio Holmes) and ineffectiveness (Stephen Hill) drag down the grade. They've already used 10 different receivers, making it tough to build continuity with Smith. Jeremy Kerley has held up his end, and David Nelson has been a nice addition to this banged-up unit.|
|Tight Ends||There hasn't been much production in the passing game, as the tight ends have combined for only 37 catches and four touchdowns. Kellen Winslow still leads in receptions even though he missed the past four games while serving a suspension. Jeff Cumberland has demonstrated big-play ability, but he doesn't get enough opportunities.|
|Offensive Line||The Jets have allowed way too many sacks (31, the third-highest total in the league), but a lot of them can be attributed to Smith, who holds the ball too long. The run-blocking has been decent, but they struggle against big, physical fronts. The left side (D'Brickashaw Ferguson and rookie Brian Winters) needs to step it up.|
|Defensive Line||This is the strength of the team. The Jets are No. 1 against the run, and they already have 27 sacks, only three shy of last season's total. Muhammad Wilkerson (eight sacks) should be in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Sheldon Richardson is having an all-rookie kind of season.|
|Linebackers||Thanks to DeMario Davis and a lighter, quicker David Harris, this is a more athletic unit than last season. As a result, the linebackers have become better space players. Quinton Coples has plenty of talent, but he needs to be more consistent on a down-to-down basis.|
|Secondary||This used to be the strength of the team. The Jets have allowed 251 passing yards per game (21st), with only five interceptions. Antonio Cromartie has slipped from his Pro Bowl form, and rookie Dee Milliner has disappointed. The bright spot is Antonio Allen, a unique athlete with better-than-advertised coverage skills.|
|Special Teams||In terms of the return and coverage units, the Jets have been fairly average across the board, but the overall grade is high because of one man -- Nick Folk, who is 23-for-23 on field goals. Folk has won three games with clutch kicks. That's the difference from last season, when special teams actually cost them games.|
|Coaching||This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Ryan has his team in the playoff hunt. He reinvented himself, allowing him to overcome huge challenges -- a rookie quarterback, seven new starters on defense and the pressure of having to please a new GM. If the Jets make the playoffs, Dead Coach Walking will hold the hammer in contract-extension talks.|