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How to Fix the Jets: Replacing Rex Ryan with an Offensive Coach, For Starters

rex ryan good call

The New York Jets came into this season with zero expectations. ESPN famously ranked Rex Ryan’s team as 32nd in its week one power rankings. A 4-12 or 5-11 season seemed likely, and everyone assumed Rex Ryan was coaching his last season in New York.

Then, a funny thing happened: The Jets got lucky to beat Tampa in the opener, the defensive line was suddenly the best in the league, and rookie QB Geno Smith orchestrated a few late comebacks. The Jets registered wins over the Patriots and Saints at home, and in mid-November, the unthinkable was within reach: the playoffs!

Then New York got slapped around by Buffalo and was inept against Baltimore and at 5-6, they’ll need a minor miracle to sneak into the playoffs given the tiebreaker situation with Cincinnati, Tennessee, Baltimore and Pittsburgh (all losses).

So what now? What does the early-season overachieving mean for the futures of Rex Ryan and Geno Smith? I decided to pick the brains of three passionate Jets observers: stats wizard Chase Stuart, of Football Perspective and the New York Times; Jason of NYJetsCap.com & OvertheCap.com; and Brian Bassett of The Jets Blog.

geno smith jets

Here were my questions:

1) Is New York’s biggest problem right now:
A) They need a new QB, Geno isn’t the guy
or
B) They need to get rid of Rex Ryan he can’t coach QBs
or
C) Other

2) Have you seen enough of Geno Smith to know whether or not he’s the future QB for the Jets? If so, what specifically do you like? When you compare his rookie season to that of Glennon in Tampa, or the mild success so far of guys like McGloin in Oakland or Keenum in Houston, how much does that impact your thoughts on Smith?

3) Based on what you’ve seen through 11 games, should Idzik extend Rex Ryan or move on and start over? If starting over, please provide names of coaches you’d like to see on the sideline. How much would firing Rex set the franchise back, when you consider everything? Are the close to Harbaugh/SF and Reid/Chiefs, or a longer term overhaul?

4) The Jets figure to be drafting in the 9-15 range in May. Is QB the top priority right now, or do they need skill position talent?

Johnny Manziel 49-yard touchdown run against UTEP

CHASE STUART:

1) Other

Geno Smith has played poorly, but that isn’t a surprise. In May, I wrote that the average second round quarterback has an underwhelming career, and that the type of West Coast Offense the Jets use is particularly challenging for rookie quarterbacks.  Add in the fact that Geno was a “raw” player in the eyes of scouts, and it was unrealistic to expect him to be above average.

I don’t love Rex – more on that in a minute – but I think the biggest issue is the overall talent of the team.  That’s why Tannenbaum was fired: the wide receivers and tight ends are among the worst in the league, and the talent at running back is mediocre. The secondary has been bad this year despite the Jets having invested significantly into that position.  The outside linebackers remain an issue, too.  The only area where the Jets are set is on the defensive line. From a pure talent perspective, the Jets need a lot of help.

Muhammad Wilkerson interception against Bengals

2) No question is harder than determining when to give up on a quarterback.  There’s no right answer: give up too soon, and you miss out on Drew Brees; wait too long, and you have four years of Mark Sanchez. It’s not really “fair” to give up on a quarterback after one season, particularly one saddled with such a weak supporting cast. On the other hand, that’s exactly what the Jets did with Kellen Clemens. Drew Stanton was the 43rd pick in the draft and he’s started 4 games – is that “fair”?

My favorite part of Smith’s game is that (at least, when he’s not being neutered by the coaching staff) he’s a gunslinger at heart. Did you know that Smith’s average pass travels 9.7 yards in the air, the third highest number in the league? The average Smith completion travels 7.87 yards in the air and has 4.85 yards of YAC (which ranks only 24th); as a result, his 12.7 yards per completion ranks seventh in the league.  I at least think there’s a chance that when his line is better and he has legitimate downfield weapons, he could be a very good quarterback.  The issue, of course, is how long do you wait to find that out?

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3)  It’s time to move on from Rex, because the Jets are never going to field a top offense with him in charge.  The Jets last five first round picks were on defense, and that’s a direct function of Rex being the head coach.  Even Rex supporters would have to admit that the idea of spending another high draft pick on a quarterback and letting Rex develop him is insane.  The only way I would keep Rex is if the team went all in on Jay Cutler, but (1) I don’t think that’s a good idea, (2) I have no faith in the Jets using Cutler properly, and (3) the Jets aren’t one good quarterback away from the Super Bowl.

Kevin Sumlin (A&M) and David Shaw (Stanford) will be the names people throw out.  Darrell Bevell (Seahawks OC) is doing a very nice job in Seattle, and I think Ken Whisenhunt (Chargers OC) would be an interesting pick. He’s not a sexy pick, and will get groans from the crowds, but he’s done a great job in San Diego this year and was the best coach the Cardinals have had in decades.  The Jets haven’t hired an offensive-minded coach since Rich Kotite – understandable, perhaps – but it’s time to make the move from the Parcells/Groh/Edwards/Mangini/Ryan line to an offensive guru.

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4) This question is both simple and impossible.  If there’s a quarterback available at 15 that the Jets think can be a future star, then you have to draft him.  If not, then you don’t. Of course, it’s too early to make definitive evaluations about the players available to the Jets in the middle of the first round, but Jets fans simply must have faith in Idzik to make that determination after months of scouting and analysis.

As I noted earlier, one thing I don’t want is to draft a quarterback in the first round with Rex still around.  I’m okay passing on a quarterback in the first and (1) drafting a quarterback in the second or third rounds and/or (2) signing a veteran to compete with Smith.  If the Jets want to enter 2014 with Smith as the quarterback, I’m okay with that, because that means he’s improved.  He can’t simply be handed the job.

JASON of NY Jets Cap

1. Jets Biggest Problem

C. Other. I don’t see the Jets as a team that is one player or coach away from being a good team. The biggest problem for the team is just an overall lack of talent. Of the Jets 11 offensive starters against the Ravens only three of them would likely start for a majority of teams in the NFL, and two of those players, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold, are both overpaid comparative to the positions they play. The secondary of the team has gone from a strength to a weakness and starts players who were cut by the Jaguars and Texans.

Things are so bad for the team that they used Josh Cribbs, who was sitting at home on his couch for the first six weeks of the season, as QB on 4 of the teams first 11 offensive plays. That tells you everything you need to know about what the Jets think about their running backs, quarterback, and skill players. It’s just not a good team from 1 to 53 and most of these players will not be back in 2014.

geno smith and mark sanchez

2. Thoughts on Geno

My gut feeling is that Smith is not the guy for the team. I don’t even know if the Jets thought he was the guy. In many ways it was a “well he’s there so I guess we’ll take him” decision similar to the feeling you got from the Browns selecting Brandon Weeden. Usually QB needy teams like the Jets move up to get a player, whether it’s the Browns for Brady Quinn, 49ers for Colin Kaepernick or a host of others doing the same to prevent the second wave of poor teams from snagging him first. Still I wouldn’t throw in the towel, but I don’t think at this point you can do anything more than allow him to compete for a starting job next year, which may be against a rookie or even Mark Sanchez.

I try not to get my judgment clouded too much by the way other young players have performed. That said I do think Geno sends off a few warning signs. One is that I don’t see the team rally around him at all. It’s like there is such a limited relationship between he and the team. I watched the Jets give 110%, especially up front, in 2009 when a rookie QB was hurting their season. I look at the Buccaneers turning their season around and playing much harder with Mike Glennon at the helm than Josh Freeman. I don’t see that with the Jets. The effort the Jets have given the last two weeks on offense resembles that of a defeated team that has given up and they were in the front of the playoff hunt when it happened. That’s a bad sign to me about the way he is perceived by those around him.

The second warning sign is that I see the game getting harder for him. Go back and look at Sanchez’ rookie year. His first 7 and last 7 games were pretty much identical in terms of production. I feel like that should be the usual case. Smith in his first 7 games was completing 58.2% of his passes for 246 yards a game and 13.25 yards per catch. In his last 4 games he is down to 47.9% for just 126 yards a game and 11.2 yards per catch. It’s not as if the Jets are asking him to do difficult things out there either. In the last two weeks he has completed just 45% of his passes that travelled under 10 yards in the air. It works out to a YPA of 2.35. The league average is about 6 on those throws. That’s pretty bad.

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3. Extend or Fire Rex

Rex isn’t exactly playing with a full complement of players this season but you can not win in the NFL without an offense and in five seasons with the Jets he has failed to field a good offense. He has gone through three offensive coordinators, one seemingly worse than the next, and two starting Quarterbacks (three if you want to count McElroy). The talent level has decreased but the approach never has.

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Rex runs a terrific defense but unfortunately that is his ceiling right now. He runs the defense on Sunday while the overall team wastes time outs, can’t figure out who is supposed to be on the field, and keeps their fingers crossed that the offense can fluke their way into 20 points. The Jets have now lost 7 games in the last two years by 20 or more points and we still have 5 games to go. That’s the same number as the Jaguars in the same timeframe.

I don’t think firing Rex really sets the Jets back as this is going to be a process whether it’s with Rex or with someone else. If they find the right QB this can be a fast turnaround but the overall talent is not there to be the 49ers style turnaround where the coach makes all the difference in the world. This is more about moving forward as an organization and out of the stone age offensively.

Two names jump out at me as possible head coaches for the team. Ken Whisenhunt has a relationship with Rod Graves from his time in Arizona and like Ryan was very successful early on before failing when the talent declined. He is going to get credit for Philip Rivers turnaround and hopefully learned from whatever went wrong in Arizona. The Jets last 4 head coaches – Al Groh, Herman Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Rex Ryan- have all been first-run coaches so he would break that tradition which I would be happy with. My reservation about him is that the track record for development QB’s in Arizona is awful meaning the team would need to press the issue in free agency to look at the Jay Cutler/Matt Schaub types or seeing how serious the Steelers would be about moving Ben Roethlisberger. If that isn’t feasible I’d worry about the hire.

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers

If they must go the rookie head coach route again I like the idea of hiring Darrell Bevell from Seattle. He’s worked with a number of QB’s, both good and bad, and has a great deal of experience despite being so young. There is a relationship between he and John Idzik so the cultural fit is likely there in the organization. Bevell’s work with Russell Wilson should make him a hot commodity come January. The lack of experience bothers me but if the Jets are headed to the draft to get a QB this probably makes more sense than Whisenhunt. What I don’t want to do under any circumstance is go into the college ranks for coaches with almost no NFL experience or hire a certain analyst from ESPN.

4. Draft

My top priority would be to draft a QB, but I don’t want to just take a QB for the sake of taking a QB. That’s how you get stuck with players like Rex Grossman in the first round. So I guess I’d say offense needs to be their top target in the draft regardless of BAP philosophies. Since 2002 the Jets have had 14 first round draft picks and just four of them have been offensive players, and only two of whom were selected with their top first round selection. They have neglected that side of the ball for too long and they can’t keep drafting cornerbacks and expect to compete at a high level.

BRIAN BASSETT

1) I don’t think it is that Rex Ryan is the problem — at least this time around. With QB coach David Lee and OC Marty Mornhinweg I think they have sufficient knowledge to help a young quarterback, I just think that Geno Smith wasn’t ready to take on full starting responsibilities so we’re going to have to see this through. That said, with what seems like a bumper crop of quarterbacks about to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, any team would be a fool to place all the eggs in the Geno Smith basket.

Zach Mettenberger hit in the junk by bad snap against Alabama

2) Aside from McGloin, at least Glennon and Keenum have some offensive weapons. Players like Andre Johnson in Houston and Vincent Jackson have been a big help for the quarterbacks in Tampa and Houston. Still, part of being an NFL quarterback is being fearless and having the ability to read through progressions. Most rookies struggle with that, but for Smith his progressions have been atrocious over the last month.

Personally I have not seen enough to isolate him from any serious young QB competition, specifically some of the potential first and second rounders in the projected 2014 draft class. I do like Smith’s icy demeanor and his willingness to run the ball when needed as well as he has demonstrated a decent deep ball, but it’s been his hesitance to step up in the pocket and read through his progressions that has made life very difficult for the rookie.

3) It’s obvious that Rex Ryan knows how to coach a defense and my biggest thing is who will the Jets get that is even close to equal in that regard should they let him go?

New York Jets Minicamp

New GM John Idzik will now be clear of the terribly timed Mike Tannenbaum contracts and so the Jets will have a ton of cap room available for 2014 along with a promising group of draft picks and compensatories and they could keep Marty Mornhinweg to continue to run the offense under Rex. The Jets could make some serious investments in the skill positions this coming offseason and that might make all the difference for whomever their quarterback will be.

I believe it is worth one more year based on the potential acquisitions they could make this coming offseason before blowing the whole thing up.

4) As currently constituted they couldn’t go wrong with either. Receiver, running back, tight end are all areas where they could use real skill to boost the output from the quarterback. For instance, Clemson’s two potential first rounders could have a home with a team like the Jets. WR Sammy Watkins would be enticing, but so too would QB Tajh Boyd. I think the Jets will see what talent they can fill in prudently at the skill position through free agency to allow them to take the best player available at the time of the NFL Draft. That said, I think unless Smith really unravels here, Idzik will want to commit to his first quarterback drafted for at least another year … and I think that could be dangerous depending on how the 2014 Draft plays out.

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