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Monday, January 14, 2013
5 things Jets learned from divisional round

By Rich Cimini

We all know the NFL is a copycat league. That said, the Jets may have been able to learn a thing or two (or five) from the weekend's divisional playoff games -- stuff that could come in handy as they attempt to rebuild from 6-10.

For instance:

1. You need an offense: By that, we mean an offense that can actually score points, something the Jets didn't do very well in 2012. All eight teams scored at least 28 points for a total of 276 points, making it the highest-scoring postseason weekend in history (four games). By the way, the Jets' point total for the season was only 281. Yikes.

Defensive-minded critics will point to the wild-card games, noting that no team scored more than 24 points. True, but that was more the exception than the rule. A championship-caliber team must have the ability to let its hair down, so to speak, and play aggressive, wide-open offensive football if the circumstances dictate that approach. Maybe Rex Ryan finally understands that. As he noted last week, he's willing to shift his philosophy.

2. Quarterback play is vital: It's a quarterback-driven league, and that was on display over the weekend. Not one of the eight quarterbacks produced a passer rating lower than 88.3. Each quarterback, even playoff newbies Colin Kaepernick and rookie Russell Wilson, were integral parts of their respective game plan. In other words, they were catalysts, not just game managers -- the approach the Jets often take with Mark Sanchez.

A new trend in quarterbacking was on display, meaning the exceptional running skills of Kaepernick and Wilson. Whether they were designed plays or scrambles, both players got results with their feet. In fact, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, a league record for a quarterback. He ran for 102 yards and a TD out of the "pistol" formation, which Ryan mentioned last week as a possibility for the Jets. Yes, three of the four remaining quarterbacks are traditional pocket passers, but the wave of the future is upon us.

3. Speed on defense is key: Naturally, the increase in running quarterbacks will force defenses to adjust. You need to fight speed with speed. Anybody who watched the Jets knows that defensive speed wasn't an attribute. They need to get faster, especially on the perimeter.

4. Running backs still matter: Yeah, it has become a passing league, but the four divisional games showed us it's still important to have a threat in the backfield. The four winners each had a back that ran for at least 82 yards -- Stevan Ridley 82, Michael Turner 98, Frank Gore 119 and Ray Rice 131. This doesn't mean Ground & Pound still is in vogue -- sorry, Tony Sparano -- but it's clear that successful teams need offensive balance.

This presents a problem for the Jets, whose top back -- Shonn Greene -- could leave as a free agent.

5. A pass-catching tight end helps: Four tight ends caught at least six passes apiece, not counting the Broncos' Joel Dreessen-Jacob Tamme tandem, which combined for nine catches. Tony Gonzalez, arguably the greatest tight end in history, made a couple of huge receptions. Moral of the story: The tight end is alive and well. When teams use Cover-2 defenses to prevent big plays, the tight end becomes an invaluable weapon over the middle.

Unfortunately for the Jets, this is a major concern. The tight-end position is in bad shape, with Dustin Keller likely to leave in free agency.