Welcome to the first installment of Enemy on the Ship, a series of articles where I am graciously given the time and effort of a writer or blogger for the teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face in 2013, and they share their thoughts on the team they cover, and how they’ll do against the Bucs in 2013.
We will start at the beginning and welcome in John B, who is the editor of Gang Green Nation, the SB Nation blog about the New York Jets. You can visit their site here, and find them on Twitter here. He gives some honest thoughts about how the Jets will do in 2013, and how it impacts their week one game against the Bucs.
Leo Howell- The Jets don’t seem to have much talent on paper, but that can often be a deceiving way to evaluate a team. From what you’ve seen and heard, what will be different about the 2013 New York Jets, for better or for worse?
John B.- I think the biggest difference is there is at least a possibility of having a functional offense. The Jets took the consensus best quarterback in the Draft, Geno Smith, and got him at very good value in the second round. How much can we expect of a rookie? It is tough to tell. We have seen recent rookie success stories. He really could not help but be an upgrade over what Mark Sanchez did in 2012 either way.
Another important addition was offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Objectively speaking, Mornhinweg is not an elite coordinator, but he at least has a track record of putting together credible offenses and can construct a real NFL playbook. He understands basic concepts in constructing an offense. Sadly, that’s more than you could say for Tony Sparano and Brian Schottenheimer, his two predecessors.
It also seems like the Jets have upgraded their backfield with the additions of Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson. Neither has carried a full workload so their durability is a big question, but both have been very productive in the opportunities they have received in the past. Having a strong run game to keep pressure off the rookie quarterback will be essential. With most rookie quarterback success stories, a strong run game to protect him is an important part of the mix.
To be honest, the Jets need an awful lot to break right on offense for the unit to be even an average one, but there is at least a path. This was not the case a year ago.
LH- The quarterback situation is obviously a huge talking point when it comes to the Jets. With the Buccaneers first on the schedule, they will get the first look at the Jets offense under whichever QB wins the job. Who do you think starts week one for the Jets, and will that be the same player who starts week 17?
JB- I think drafting Geno Smith was a clear sign the Jets have had enough of Mark Sanchez. Unless Geno falls flat on his face in training camp and preseason, I expect him to be the starter. Even in OTA’s, Sanchez reportedly could not separate himself from Geno despite having four years of starting experience and three extra months to get the playbook down. Given Sanchez’s 2012 meltdown, going back to him would be an extremely difficult sell to the fans and probably to a good chunk of the locker room.
There is one thing that makes me hedge my bets a bit. Rex Ryan is loyal to his favorite players to an alarming degree. Last year he stuck with Sanchez through thick and thin right until Sanchez’s play took the team out of the running for the Playoffs. Now his job is presumably on the line. Sanchez was the quarterback when the team went twice to the AFC Championship Game. When the chips are down, coaches tend to trust the guys who have helped them attain success in the past. My gut tells me Geno gets the nod, but these factors would leave me unsurprised if it is Sanchez.
Whether the same quarterback starts both Week 1 and Week 17 probably depends on whom the starter is. If it is Geno, I imagine he will start the whole year. The Jets will let him take his lumps and evaluate him as closely as possible to see whether they want to stick with him going forward or maybe take a quarterback in the first round in 2014. If Sanchez starts Week 1, he’s probably going to melt down at some point so badly that the Jets will have no choice but to make a change.
LH- How good will the Jets defense be? The offense has some question marks, but really it has for a while in New York. The defense has been the teams silver lining in even the worst of times, so do you think that trend will continue, and the Jets will have a respectable defense in 2013?
JB- The Jets have excellent coaching on the defensive side of the ball. I believe these coaches will keep the unit respectable. In the early Ryan years, however, it was an elite unit that carried the team to success. It probably will not be that anymore.
In the days where this defense was a top unit, it was built around Darrelle Revis. Revis was so good that he could take away the best receiver on the other team by himself and allow the Jets to reallocate their other defenders to clog passing lanes on the other side of the field and blitz. It was a huge advantage. Revis is obviously no more. Other important parts to the defensive success like Mike Devito, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott, and Jim Leonhard are gone (and declined before leaving aside from Devito). Calvin Pace is a shell of the player he used to be. David Harris has inexplicably gone from being second team All Pro in 2009 to one of the least effective middle linebackers in the league.
Last year’s defense finished 8th, but it was something of a paper tiger. The unit was 19th in the league through eleven games. In the last five weeks, the Jets faced four of the five worst offenses in the league in terms of DVOA (the Jets themselves were the fifth). The defense annihilated some awful competition to pad its stats. Again, I think the coaching staff is a huge plus. It’s just the coaching staff used to take average talent and improve it into a top unit. This year, it might be taking below average talent and molding it into an average unit. Now things might end up looking a lot brighter if premium but unproven young talent like Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, and Sheldon Richardson are able to make huge contributions quickly, but that is never something one can count on. (I’m cautiously optimistic about Coples having a breakout 2013 but less so about the other two.)
LH- How do you believe Jets’ fans feel about the departure of Darrelle Revis, and the added insult to injury of having to play against him week one? Is there a respect for Revis, or is there bad blood over his holdouts?
JB- I think Jets fans are split down the middle. Many are angry he sought every last dollar instead of trying to stay with the team. Others understand he had every right to maximize his earnings and respect that he was the greatest player to wear a Jets uniform in at least two decades. Even among the second group, though, Revis is not loved at all, merely respected for his accomplishments. If he plays Week 1, he should brace himself to be booed heavily. Very few Jets fans have any genuine affection for him.
LH- Tell us how you believe the Jets will do against the Buccaneers week one, and what you expect from the team for the season.
JB- I think the Bucs are a very tough matchup for the Jets. On paper, the Jets look like they’re really struggle defending the run. This is clearly a good thing for a team that has Doug Martin. On the other side of the ball, the Bucs are not the kind of defense you want to face right off the bat when you have an offense with a rookie quarterback trying to establish confidence, particularly with the revamped secondary your team has.
While I certainly hope I’m wrong, I see Week 1 being the start of a long season for my Jets. By my count, over 60% of the starters the Jets have are either unproven as starters, have enormous injury question marks, or simply rate at the bottom tier of their position. That isn’t a recipe for success. This team also faces a five game stretch starting in October of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, and New Orleans all in a row. It feels likely that stretch sends this team into a downward spiral.
If I had to guess, I would say this is probably Rex Ryan’s last year. The new general manager John Idzik was forced to keep Rex by the owner upon landing the job, but he will be able to make the decision on the coach after this season. Usually in these situations, the new general manager wants to bring in his own guy. In this case, he will probably have plenty of cover, a third straight bad year.