Commentary

Jets' mindset: classic or just old?

Bills pose challenge for a Gang gone retro with focus on defense, ground game

Updated: September 7, 2012, 7:59 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Let's pick a soundtrack for the New York Jets' season. Circus music? Tempting, but no. The tune should be Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

In an era of high-scoring, wide-open offensive football, the Jets will take an old-school approach into 2012. They're passing on the passing craze. The marriage of a defensive-minded head coach and a meat-and-potatoes offensive coordinator surely will produce some ugly results, but they believe ugly can win in the NFL.

The Jets are planning to do it their way, bucking the trend. Welcome to the 1980s, folks. Anybody have a Rubik's cube?

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
MSA/Icon SMIWe'll finally see Tim Tebow in the Jets' top-secret formation ... but is the Wildcat antiquated?

"Even if it goes great, it's still not going to be Air Coryell, that's for sure," CBS analyst Phil Simms said.

If you're not fascinated by field-position football and low-risk offense, you won't be entertained by the Jets, who will provide more entertainment off the field than on it.

They will play complementary football (you'll be sick of that phrase by midseason), they will use the clock, and they will extend games to the 58th, 59th and 60th minutes, trying to steal them in the end. Field goals will count as victories, and turnovers will be considered daggers.

You listen to Tony Sparano, and you get the feeling the job of the offense is to show up for attendance, sit in the back of the classroom and stay out of trouble. He understands his marching orders, that the offense is the supporting actor in this show, not the lead. That role belongs to Rex Ryan's defense.

"You can go back and look at history and see whether or not [our style] works," Sparano said, leaving no doubt he believes it does. "These teams that are playing in January and February, those types of teams, they do it [our] way."

At least Sparano and Ryan are philosophically aligned, which means you have two retro coaches in a world of techno whizzes. But as Ryan said, "You look at the players you have and do what's in the best interest of your team."

Starting Sunday, we'll find out a lot about the Jets. Because of the way they're built, the Buffalo Bills will challenge some of the Jets' supposedly outdated beliefs, especially in these three areas:

Running game. Historically, the Jets always run well against the Bills. In fact, four of the top five rushing days of the Ryan era have come against Buffalo. That explains Ryan's 5-1 record. But the Bills have invested a lot of resources in an attempt to improve on defense.

They signed a pair of defensive ends, Mark Anderson and Mario Williams, a rare talent with the ability to galvanize an entire defensive unit. The $100 million man will be matched against the Jets' $540,000 right tackle, Austin Howard -- a huge mismatch. Williams and Anderson join inside run-stuffers Kyle Williams and former No. 1 pick Marcell Dareus. Finally, the Bills have a respectable front.

"Our offensive line is about as good as it gets, and it's gonna need to be," Ryan said.

Despite a poor preseason, the Jets remain ultra-confident in their ability to run the ball. If they fail against the Bills, even with Buffalo's improvements, it will be a bad omen.

The Wildcat. After months of anticipation, the curtain finally gets pulled back and the football-watching world will get its first glimpse of Tim Tebow in the Wildcat -- or a version of the read-option attack he ran with the Denver Broncos.

The Wildcat was the rage in 2008, when Sparano and David Lee (now the Bills' quarterbacks coach) introduced it with the Miami Dolphins. But now many feel its time has passed and that the Jets are wasting their time, desperately reaching for a gimmick to save their offense.

Privately, they're supremely confident the Wildcat will be a weapon, not just a change-of-pace package. The feeling in the locker room is that it could be used about a dozen times this week, particularly in short-yardage and red zone situations, highlighting Tebow's unusual talents.

Problem is, are they really going to fool the Bills, who practice their own version of the Wildcat? This is risky business for the Jets. After all the build-up, a flop would be embarrassing.

Defending the spread. The Bills ran a league-leading 313 plays out of four-receiver sets last season, and they haven't altered their philosophy one bit. We'll find out whether the Jets, with their new safety tandem and aging linebackers, are equipped to handle this type of offense.

The Jets acknowledge they had become "dinosaurish" last season, but they kept the linebacking corps intact (the starters' average age: 31) and they acquired safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, not known for pass coverage. Neither is holdover Eric Smith, who will miss the opener.

Many teams opted for smaller, faster safeties to cover; the Jets went big with big hitters -- aka, in-the-box safeties. Against the Bills' spread attack, Bell and Landry will find themselves in man-to-man situations.

"I've been asked the question before, 'Why do you guys have three box safeties?'" Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "We never for a second thought of it that way."

On Sunday, we find out whether they thought right.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE NFL HEADLINES