Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Positional analysis: Outside linebacker
By Rich Cimini
This is the 11th part in our daily, position-by-position breakdown of the Jets' roster. Wednesday: Cornerback.
Focus: Outside linebacker.
Depth chart: Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Jason Taylor, Jamaal Westerman, Cody Brown, Joey LaRocque, Brandon Long.
Expiring contracts: None.
Rear-view mirror: Pace, Thomas and Taylor delivered a workmanlike season. They didn't stand out or stink in any one area. The pass rush was spotty, as they combined for 16.5 of the team's 40 sacks. The Jets were only 29th in defending runs around left end (to the defense's right), according to FootballOutsiders.com -- highlighting the suspect speed on the perimeter. The Jets flip-flopped their outside 'backers, so you can't blame it all on one guy. Opponents recognized that weakness and kept attacking. Opponents also exploited the OLBs when they were isolated in pass coverage against a back or tight end.
Pace (foot surgery) missed the first four games and got off to a slow start, but he finished with one sack in each of the three playoff games. Taylor, 36, made a few big plays, most notably his safety in the December game at Pittsburgh, but he disappeared for stretches, showing his age. The organization was disappointed in his sack total (five), but in fairness to Taylor, he often was used in three-man rushes -- hardly ideal sack conditions. Thomas quietly recorded six sacks, his best output since 2006.
Numbers game: The team's top three edge rushers -- Pace, Thomas and Taylor -- never dominated any one game. Not once did all three have a sack in the same game, and there were only four games in which two of them had one sack apiece.
Crystal ball: Taylor is done with the Jets. They're ready to move on and he probably will retire. Hey, it was worth a one-year flyer. The Jets can live with Pace and Thomas another year, but they need to develop an edge rusher that commands double-team blocking. They have a set of complementary rushers, but not a star rusher. They hope to address that need with the 30th pick in the draft. There's hope; after all, the Packers took found Clay Matthews with the 26th pick in '09.
Hot seat: Pace. He has made nearly $26 million from the Jets in three years, producing 20.5 sacks -- good, but not enough bang for the buck.
Positional rating (scale of 1 to 10): 7.5.