Rex Ryan's New York Jets Need More Than Tim Tebow to Contend Again
It is incredible how much the identity of this team has changed since Rex Ryan’s first year as head coach. When the former defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens got his rookie head-coaching gig with New York, he immediately converted the Jets into a defensive powerhouse and a ground-and-pound machine.
Since then, the defense has aged, but remained strong while the running game has withered away, and the offense has regressed to the point where it is one of the worst in the league. The season is only a quarter of the way through, but the Jets currently sit at 28th in the league in total yards per game.
Certainly, the Jets have been unlucky so far this year, losing their best player overall in Darrelle Revis for the season as well as their two top offensive weapons in Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller for the time being due to injury. However, while these injury woes are unfortunate, the Jets might have only barely made the playoffs if these star players were all healthy.
Last year, Holmes, Revis and Keller played in all 16 regular-season games, and New York ended the year with an 8-8 record. Anything is possible in sports, but it would be tough to make a strong case that Rex Ryan’s team would be able to do much better this year, with their major acquisitions of the offseason being LaRon Landy and Yeremiah Bell at safety and Tim Tebow at quarterback.
As for those who think that the Jets just had an off-year last season and still could be a contender at full health, let’s take a look at how the team has regressed in just a couple of years, especially on offense.
First of all, the Jets no longer have the unstoppable running attack that they did in Mark Sanchez’s rookie and sophomore years. Thomas Jones averaged 4.2 yards a carry and Shonn Greene averaged 5.0 yards per rush to help the Jets lead the league in total rushing yards in 2009, and when LaDainian Tomlinson replaced Jones in 2010, the running game barely slowed down. Greene averaged 4.1 yards a carry while Tomlinson had a 4.2 yards per carry average, and the Jets were ranked fourth in the NFL in terms of total rushing.
Now, Shonn Greene’s numbers have fallen off significantly, and he is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. Thus, Bilal Powell is probably going to take his place as the starting running back since he has been averaging 3.8 yards per rush so far this season.
In fact, the transition seems to already have begun to take place as Powell was on the field for 32 snaps against the 49ers while Greene was only in the game for 18 plays. However, even if Powell can prove to be a better back than Greene, he would have to have an MVP-like season to find a way to replicate the damage that Jones and Greene were able to inflict together on opposing defenses in 2009.
As for the passing attack, the Jets lost one of their most important assets before the 2011 season when Braylon Edwards went to San Francisco. Edwards was good for at least one deep catch per game, which not only allowed the Jets to get into the red zone on one play, but it also forced defenses to think again about double covering Santonio Holmes and loading up the box against the run.
On the 2012 team, rookie Stephen Hill was supposed to replace Edwards as the deep threat, and it looked like he would do just that when he had a terrific season opener against the Buffalo Bills, hauling in two touchdown catches and 89 receiving yards. However, in the next two games, he didn’t catch a single pass, and he is now out with a hamstring injury.
Certainly, if there is any young offensive player to be optimistic about, Hill is the guy. He is blazing fast and blocks incredibly well for a wideout. It isn’t his fault that at Georgia Tech, he rarely was thrown to since the Yellow Jackets mainly run the ball. Therefore, he deserves time to develop.
However, the trending topic of discussion in the media has predictably been about who should be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets.
What’s the answer?
The answer is: Right now, it doesn’t matter.
Switching from one mediocre quarterback to another isn’t going to help the team in the long run and making sure that Sanchez has job security won’t either. While the problem at quarterback is significant, the controversy between Sanchez and Tebow has become too much of a distraction from the other issues, which are also important.
At the end of the day, the Jets need more than just a dependable quarterback. They need a reliable set of wide receivers, but mostly they need to find a way to jumpstart their running game.
Rex Ryan is at his best when he has a ground-and-pound attack that can keep his stalwart defense rested and guarantees that his quarterback doesn’t commit turnovers because the QB feels like he needs to make big plays.
The NFL has certainly turned into a passing league, but take a quick look at the only three undefeated teams.
The Atlanta Falcons have a terrific quarterback in Matt Ryan and excellent wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, so they are not afraid to air the ball out. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are conservative on offense and are led by their defense while the Houston Texans are paced by their running game.
These teams understand what their strengths are and play to them. The point is that Rex Ryan never should have allowed the identity of his offense to change from being run-first to pass-first because that’s not playing to his own strengths.
However, the change from being run-oriented to pass-oriented is indisputable.
In 2009, the Jets ran 393 passing plays and 607 rushing plays, and in 2011, the team ran 547 passing plays and 443 running plays.
Hopefully, the Jets aren’t sidetracked by the quarterback controversy and can somehow find a way to retool their offense quickly, because otherwise they will probably have to rebuild the entire team.
As talented as the Jets defense is, the players are getting old. On the defensive line, Mike DeVito is 28 and Sione Pouha is 33. In the linebacking corps, David Harris is 28, Calvin Pace is 31, Bart Scott is 32 and Bryan Thomas is 33. At safety, LaRon Landry is only 27, but he is injury-prone and Yeremiah Bell is 34.
This is an important time for Rex Ryan to try to find some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Maybe it would be worth it to try giving Redskins coach Mike Shanahan a call and trading him some defensive pointers in exchange for advice on how to find offensive talent. Otherwise, it could be more than just until Tom Brady retires before the Jets have a chance of winning the AFC East and returning to the playoffs.