Season preview: X's, O's and crystal ball

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
4:47
PM ET
The Jets were picked apart throughout the preseason, with fans/critics dissecting potential trouble spots. It's time to take an honest look at them, highlighting positives and negatives as they prepare to open the season Sunday against the Bills.

STRENGTHS

1. The front seven: Deep and stout. If the Jets get pushed around on defense, something is really wrong. They have terrific size and depth at the line of scrimmage. Their top five defensive linemen average 316 pounds, with rookie DE Quinton Coples improving the group's overall athleticism. This is the deepest linebacking corps under Rex Ryan; it's seasoned group of veterans have seen just about everything.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis
AP Photos/David DrapkinAntonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis form a top-notch tandem at the corners.
2. Revis Island and Al-Crotraz. Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the league, and Antonio Cromartie is a very good No. 2. In a passing league, the Jets can take comfort in knowing they have two corners, with varied skill sets, who can match up against any type of receivers. Revis and Cromartie are ideal in the Jets' man-to-man scheme; Cromartie would be better if he played more aggressively while jamming receivers at the line. The coaches are constantly on him to use his hands.

3. A clear vision. The Jets lost their identity last season, in part, because of a disconnect between Ryan and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. They shifted away from their Ground & Pound roots to become more pass-oriented, and you saw how that worked out. Ryan and new OC Tony Sparano are philosophically aligned. They know what they want to be -- a power-running team that hopes to attack vertically via play-action. The objective is to force teams to play eight-man fronts, allowing QB Mark Sanchez to see single-high safety looks, an easier defense to read. The run-heavy offense should marry well with Ryan's defense, which will allow him to take more chances with blitzing.

4. Improved speed on offense. Think back to a year ago: The Jets opened the season with Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason -- a couple of antiques currently out of football -- as their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers. They've been replaced by rookie Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley, bringing more speed and athleticism to the offense. The concern is the lack of experience; Hill is as green as Woody Johnson's money clip and Kerley still hasn't proven he can do it over a full season. Hey, but at least the offense won't be stuck in quicksand.

WEAKNESSES

1. Pass protection. The Wayne Hunter mistake has left the Jets with an unproven right tackle, Austin Howard -- aka the new weakest link. If he's a turnstile, it will cause the entire offense to bog down, putting Sanchez in difficult situations. If the pocket is collapsing, it'll eliminate the seven-step drop, hurting the ability to throw downfield. Howard is on a short leash, but is his replacement any better? Jason Smith is a former Rams bust, still learning the offense.

2. Middle pass coverage. They upgraded at safety, signing LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, but neither player is known for pass coverage. Add in an aging linebacking corps, and you're talking about a potential issue -- covering tight ends and running backs in the middle of the field. Sound familiar? This was a problem last season, too. It's exacerbated because opponents, wanting to stay away from Revis and Cromartie, funnel the ball into the middle. The Jets will struggle when their safeties and linebackers are forced to play in space.

3. Lack of depth/experience on offense. This is troubling: Five of the top nine skill-position players (not counting quarterback) have less than a year of experience in their current roles -- Hill, Kerley, TE Jeff Cumberland, RB Bilal Powell and RB Joe McKnight. The Jets have built their offense around WR Santonio Holmes, TE Dustin Keller, RB Shonn Greene and Tim Tebow, who will be used in the Wildcat. An injury to one of these players would be devastating. Holmes is supposed to be their top playmaker, but he's gone 25 straight games without a 100-yard receiving day.

4. No proven pass rusher. Their leading sacker last season was Aaron Maybin (six), who did most of his damage on second-effort plays. Once again, it'll be up to the coaching staff to manufacture a third-down rush with creative pressure schemes. The addition of Coples should help the first- and second-down pass rush, as will improvement from DE Muhammad Wilkerson. But is there anybody here keeping offensive coordinators up at night? No.

LOOKING INTO OUR CRYSTAL BALL ...

Controversy waiting to happen: It may not occur until October or November, but eventually the offense will slump and fans/media will be screaming for Tebow.

Offensive MVP: Holmes. He's their top playmaker, and you know they're going to force-feed him the ball to keep him happy. Too bad he'll average only 10 yards per catch.

Defensive MVP: Revis. He'll have a Revis-type season, setting up the drama for next offseason: Open the vault or trade him.

Comeback Player of the Year: LB Bart Scott. The Yap is back.

Breakout Player: NT Kenrick Ellis. The most improved player on defense.

Best Offseason Addition: S LaRon Landry. He'll be in the Pro Bowl conversation.

Worst Offseason Addition: WR Chaz Schilens. Brought his injury problems from Oakland.

Biggest surprise: Kerley. Now that he's out of Ryan's doghouse, watch him take off as the slot receiver.

Biggest Disappointment: Hill. Talented, but oh so raw. Needs time to develop, but he doesn't have that luxury on this team.

Biggest win: They upset the Texans in a Monday night game, Oct. 8 at MetLife Stadium.

Worst loss: Fall to the Rams on the road on Nov. 18 -- the revenge of Schottenheimer and Hunter.

Prediction: 8-8.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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