Let’s start with a picture showing just how ugly the Jets passing game has been over the last four years. The chart below displays where New York has ranked in Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, passer rating, Football Outsiders DVOA, and ANS’s Pass EPA/Play in each season starting in 2009. The black line shows an average of the team’s ranks in those five metrics. On the left, is the team’s rank from 1 to 32.
There are a few things that should be pretty obvious: all data points reside in the bottom half of the picture. New York ranked 18th in passer rating in 2011, its highest ranking in any of the five passing measures over the last four years. The Jets passing game was bad last year and looks to be bad this year, but we’re only talking about measures of degrees. The 11-5 Jets in 2010 ranked 20th in ANY/A and made it to the AFC Championship Game. In Mark Sanchez’s rookie year, the Jets ranked 27th in ANY/A and were leading the Colts at halftime of the AFCCG in Indianapolis.
One interpretation is that Sanchez was steadily improving, as he made gains in most metrics in both 2010 and 2011. I don’t think that’s the correct interpretation, however. Yes, the Jets ranked 18th in passer rating and in the top 20 other three other categories, but the real story is that New York only finished 25th in NY/A. The discrepancy between the statistics is the result of a fluke season with respect to passing touchdowns, which are ignored in NY/A but a part of passer rating, ANY/A, DVOA, and EPA. The Jets ranked 2nd in red zone scoring percentage in 2011, but ranked 17th (2009), 28th (2010), and 25th (2012) in that metric the other three years. Sanchez threw 14 touchdowns from inside the ten-yard line that year, more than double his performance in any other season. Some credited his red zone performance in 2011 to offensive guru Tom Moore’s tenure with the team that year, others believed it was due to the addition of Plaxico Burress, while still more thought it was a sign of Sanchez’ improvement as a passer. In retrospect, I think we can chalk most of that up red zone success up to good old fashioned luck and small sample size.
We still don’t know if Geno Smith (you can read four of my previous articles about Smith here) or Sanchez will be the starter for the 2013 Jets. Kerley, Hill, and Holmes will be the Jets top three receivers when healthy this year, a group that may not be very good but should be an improvement over 2012 (Kerley and Hill were first-time starters, while Holmes will presumably play in more than four games). Behind them, Clyde Gates, Edwards (Update: Edwards was released Monday afternoon), Mohamed Massaquoi, Ryan Spadola, and Ben Obomanu are competing for three spots. Kellen Winslow Jr. and Jeff Cumberland are the tight ends, which perhaps will be a slight upgrade over the position in 2012. Right now, you’d be hard-pressed to expect the Jets to finish in the top 24 in ANY/A this season, but they don’t necessarily project to be as bad at 30 again, either. I didn’t love the Marty Mornhinweg hiring, but based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, the Jets offense should be slightly better in 2012 (lest you forget, the Jets looked even worse last year in the preseason): if nothing else, he’s an upgrade over Tony Sparano.
The light has shined so brightly on the Jets struggles in the passing game that New York’s consistent steps backwards against the run have been kept in the dark. The Jets ranked 8th in rushing yards allowed in 2009, 3rd in 2010, and then 13th in 2011 before the bottom fell out (26th) last season. In yards per carry allowed, the ranks go 4-3-7-21. In rushing touchdowns allowed, it’s 11-12-27-26. Advanced metrics tell a similar story. Let’s go through some of Football Outsiders’ situational rush defense stats:
In terms of Stuffs, which measure how often a running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, the Jets have gone from 5th to 16th to 6th to 27th last year.
Open Field Yards measure the amount of yards per carry earned by opposing running backs more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. After ranking 10th and 3rd in this metric in 2009 and 2010, the Jets ranked 13th in 2011 and 23rd in 2012.
Adjusted Line Yards is one of FO’s favorite stats, as it attempts to quantify the battle between the two lines. The Jets ranked 2nd, 5th, and 2nd in that metric from 2009 to 2011, before struggling (18th) last season.
Sione Pouha was a first-team All-Pro nose tackle according to Pro Football Focus in 2011, but he was limited to just 306 snaps last year due to injury. Mike DeVito was an excellent run-stuffing defensive end, but he was used only on a rotational basis last year after the team drafted Quinton Coples. Now with DeVito in Kansas City and Pouha gone, the backbone of the Jets strong run defense is gone. New York drafted Sheldon Richardson in the first round, but he’s more of a one-gap pass rusher than an answer to the team’s woes at stopping the run.
And, of course, the struggles of inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott have played a big part in the team’s decline. In 2009, a 25-year-old Harris and a 29-year-old Bart Scott were in their primes; in 2012, they were a disaster. Demario Davis takes over for Scott this year, although the early returns on him this preseason are uninspiring. The Jets also replaced LaRon Landry with his less-talented brother Dawan, so there’s little hope for the Jets run defense to revert to elite form in 2013. More likely, the Jets will struggle to stop the run, and the Game Scripts might cause them to finish in the bottom 10 in rushing yards allowed for the second year in a row. We saw on Saturday just how poor the run defense can look, and playing without Quinton Coples to start the season won’t help matters.
Pass DefenseThe pass defense remains the strength of the team, even if it will never again approach the otherworldly numbers they produced in 2009. Darrelle Revis is gone, but the Jets ranked 12th without him in my favorite measure of pass performance. Drafting Dee Milliner may not provide immediate dividends — as Football Outsiders has repeatedly pointed out, even the best rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle — but his presence allows the team to move Kyle Wilson to nickelback. Antonio Allen (or Josh Bush or Jaiquawn Jarrett) will be a downgrade from Yeremiah Bell, but I suspect the Jets will have a top-ten pass defense in 2013 (and the Game Scripts might allow them to again finish in the top five in passing yards allowed). I didn’t love the idea of drafting Richardson, but the Jets pass rush should be better this season. As noted in the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac, the Jets blitzed a defensive back 22% of the time, the highest rate in the league. By not having to manufacture a pass rush in 2013, and adding Milliner, the defense’s overall numbers should be better (this also assumes Coples can provide an edge rush, Richardson builds off his strong preseason, and Muhammad Wilkerson continues his ascension into an All-Pro caliber player).
Where does that leave the Jets? If Geno Smith has a Blaine Gabbert-like rookie season, the floor is the worst record in the league, of course. But New York was 6-7 last season, and it took Sanchez’s fifth turnover, with the team trailing by 4 with two minutes to go at the Titans 23, to ensure that the Jets would drop to 6-8.1 In other words, even with Mark Sanchez playing like the 33rd best quarterback in football after 15 weeks, the Jets were a mediocre team, and not a bad one.
Swapping out Shonn Greene for Chris Ivory means the running game shouldn’t be any worse this year, and could be a bit more explosive. The rush defense remains a concern, but the pass defense will be able to contain most opponents. For all the criticisms levied at Rex Ryan, he’s effective as getting the most out of his parts on defense. With great quarterback play, the Jets would be an 11-5 team. With average quarterback play, they’d probably be an 8-8 team. I don’t think we’re going to see the passing game look like the 2012 Cardinals, and the floor is probably the 2012 Jets. That’s also the most realistic expectation, so I see another 6-10 season on the horizon. And that likely means the Jets will be in the market for a new head coach in four months.
Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams