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New York Jets 2011 Preview

“Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay.” F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In the 2010 preview, I had the Jets going 10-6, and getting a Wild Card berth. They finished 11-5 and got a Wild Card berth. In another glorious postseason run, the Jets exceeded expectations and reached the AFC title game. So maybe the third time would be the charm, right? Unfortunately, there was heavy turnover on the roster in this lockout-shortened offseason, and if you couldn’t tell from the Fitzgerald quote (from the Beautiful and the Damned), I don’t think the Jets will be as impressive as they were the last two years. I think the Jets, as currently built, have maxed out. But we’ll always have January 2009 and January 2010. Yes, I’ll have solutions at the bottom.

(I should point out that I am a notoriously pessimistic Jets’ fan and always think the worst. Remember how negative I was after the Jets lost to the Dolphins 10-6 in the ugliest game of the season last year? I really thought they were dangerously close to missing the playoffs.)

That being said, I believe Rex Ryan is one of the five best coaches in the NFL right now (no order: Belichick, Tomlin, Payton, Reid – Philly fans, please spare me your smearing of Reid), and as long as the Jets can get into the postseason, the Super Bowl is within reach. Mull this one over: In the last two years, the Jets have played six playoff games. In those 12 halves of football, the Jets have been bad in just two – the second half of the 2010 AFC title game vs. Indy and the first half of the 2011 AFC title game vs. Pittsburgh. Note: all six of those games were on the road.

Let’s dive into why the Jets won’t be as good as the 2010 version:

1) Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason are not as good as Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. I find it surprising that in the year the Jets claim they’ll open up the offense – they brought in Tom Moore, who previously was in Indianapolis – they’re considerably weaker at receiver. When the Jets went to 4 WRs in 2010, their No. 4 option was sure-handed veteran Brad Smith. This year? Rookie Jeremy Kerley, a 5-foot-11 smurf (whom I love as a player, but he’s a rookie. Go read this about him.) Plaxico cannot get separation from good corners, and Mason is 37-years old. I have high hopes for Kerley, but the kid’s a rookie. Ultimately, I think these options will hinder the development of Sanchez.

2) Antonio Cromartie was hungry for a contract last season, and he earned one. However, the Jets gave him big money (4 years, $32 million) and when you combine the safety of money and the fact that he very obviously wasn’t the team’s first option this summer, I expect a letdown. This is not to say Cromartie will tank the way he did in his last year in San Diego. But he’s always been an awful tackler and relied on his athleticism to get by, and I think those are two areas he’ll struggle in much more in 2011 than he did in 2010. I won’t be surprised if he gets torched in the opener by Dez Bryant (Revis is supposed to defend Miles Austin, their possession receiver) and struggles all season.

3) Too much uncertainty on the defensive and offensive lines. The Jets advanced to the last two AFC title games without a dominant end pass rusher, and they don’t have one this year, either. It appears as if they’ll rotate at least 5, maybe 6 players regularly on the defensive line. Two of these players are rookies. I like what I’ve seen from the rookies – Kenrick Ellis and Muhammed Wilkinson – in the preseason, but both are more geared to stop the run than rush the passer. Wayne Hunter, the right offensive tackle, is a weak link. And the worse news is that there’s zero depth on that offensive line. The Jets led the league in rushing in 2009 (172 ypg) and were 4th last year (148 ypg). Not sure if they’ll crack the top 10 this season.

4) The schedule isn’t favorable. A win over Dallas in week one is crucial, because you’d like to be 3-0 heading into the Baltimore-New England road games. They also have San Diego before the bye week. I’m hopeful for 4-3, but I could easily see 3-4 or 2-5 if they lose to Dallas. The sneaky-tough 2-game stretch: vs. New England followed by a short week and trip across the country to Denver (Thanksgiving).
Dallas – W
Jacksonville – W
Oakland – W
Baltimore – L
New England – L
Miami – W
San Diego – L
Buffalo – W
New England – W
Denver – L
Buffalo – W
Washington – W
KC – W
Philadelphia – L
NY Giants – L
Miami – W
Final record: 10-6. That seems generous, since the Jets always find a way to split with the pathetic Dolphins.

Solutions on how the Jets can get to the Super Bowl in 2013:
1) Find a way to roll the departures of Calvin Pace, LT, Plaxico, and perhaps even Bart Scott and Kyle Wilson (tough to tell if dumping the two LBs is even financially feasible based on the cap) and make a serious run at Ray Rice (assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the Ravens). Obviously this will depend on how Shon Greene does this year, but I see Greene as a nice complimentary back, not a lead workhorse. He’s too inconsistent and fumbles at all the wrong times. Wilson could possibly redeem himself this season after a bad rookie year, but he was not impressive in the preseason. Pace is the most overpaid guy on the roster. He’ll make one really impressive play every six games.

2) I have a feeling the Julio Jones trade will end up being successful for the Falcons, and I think the Jets should consider rolling a few picks together and trading up in the draft to get Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon or South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. Blackmon looks like a young Terrell Owens. He is only 6-foot-1 and supposedly he’s “football fast” and not “NFL combine fast,” so perhaps he falls a bit and the Jets don’t have to give up that much. Jeffery would be the best fast/tall option the Jets have had since Keyshawn Johnson. (Alternative option if you don’t want to mortgage the draft picks: Draft Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd late in the first round.) The Jets have gone defensive in the last two first rounds and it is time to help out the offense.

Previously: The Jets Lost Offensive Talent in Free Agency, and Got Older. What Are They Doing?

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