GLS Preview: New York Jets

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Darrelle Revis is overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, Revis is a fantastic player, but he’s not Deion Sanders circa 1994 and he doesn’t play quarterback or left tackle or rush end. He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league — Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Woodson and Asante Samuel put up a fight — but he’s not a franchise player.

Of course there are hundreds of columnists and bloggers ready to tell you otherwise. They’re ready to remind you that Revis shut down the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Marques Colston, all by himself.

But that’s a lie. Revis and his 10 defensive teammates shut down those receivers. The sheer numbers are impressive, but statistics are practically irrelevant when analyzing the play of defensive backs. The only way to properly assess a cornerback is by watching him play. I watched a lot of Revis in 2009, once live, and he’s a great player … just not as good as everyone seems to think.

Saying Revis is great because of the poor performances of opposing receivers is a cop out. It’s the easy route for an analyst. Much of Revis’ 2009 success can be credited to the Jets’ pass rush, which gave opposing quarterbacks almost no time to get the ball in the air.

Again, it’s easy to say that the Jets only recorded 32 sacks last year, which put them in the middle of the pack in that category, but then we’d again be relying on statistics where they don’t always tell the story. Rex Ryan’s defence put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than almost any unit in the league last year. It’s a bit disconcerting that they weren’t taking quarterbacks down more often, but the fact remains that they were constantly bringing the heat, which took the heat off of Revis and his fellow defensive backs.

The better the pass rush is, the better the defensive backs look.

With Albert Haynesworth and Co. assaulting quarterbacks in 2008, the Titans secondary was considered bulletproof, with three of the four starting defensive backs making the Pro Bowl. In 2009, with Haynesworth gone and the pass rush considerably less effective, Cortland Finnegan lost his wonder boy rep, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope suddenly became average and Nick Harper lost his job.

In 2006 and 2007, the Chargers led the NFL with 103 sacks. Key pass rusher Shawne Merriman was a stud, and, not so coincidentally, so was cornerback Antonio Cromartie. In 2008, Merriman got hurt and the Chargers’ sack numbers plummeted as they struggled to apply pressure up front. Suddenly, Cromartie was a mediocre cornerback.

Lazy pundits were rarely able to put two and two together in either case.

As a former cornerback I hate saying this, but the front seven make the back four look good and/or bad way more often than the back four make the front seven look good and/or bad. That’s just the way it is.

And nowadays, with most defences locked into zone coverage the majority of the time, it’s extremely hard to call a cornerback a make-or-break player. Revis helps, but he’s not a make-or-break player. The Jets realize this, and that’s why — with looming labour strife on the mind — they’re playing hardball with him for the second time in three years (he was the last first-rounder to sign as a rookie).

The Jets will survive without Revis. They had the foresight to draft Boise State corner Kyle Wilson in the first round of April’s draft and, rather ironically, made a trade in March for Cromartie, who should be able to get back on track with a more talented defence forcing quarterbacks to throw it faster. Dwight Lowery also has starting experience and would make a solid nickel corner.

There’s a belief that, with Revis, the Jets could be a Super Bowl team. But I’ll argue that they’re a Super Bowl team regardless. They know that, and that’s why they aren’t jeopardizing their financial future and caving to Revis’ demands.

2009 in a nutshell: The defence dominates in Ryan’s first year, Mark Sanchez hangs in there and a lucky break or two lands them in the AFC championship game.

Why 2010 could be different, in a nutshell: The continued emergence of Shonn Greene; the presence of offseason acquisitions Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes.

Three random thoughts/observations/projections

1. Mark Sanchez was solid in his rookie season — better than many thought he’d be. But despite the loss of Leon Washington, who was traded to Seattle, he’ll actually have a much stronger arsenal of weapons in 2010. That’s because Greene, who will take over as the undisputed No. 1 option regardless of Tomlinson’s backfield presence, is primed to break out, as he did in the 2009 postseason with monster games against Cincinnati and San Diego. Holmes will have to sit out the first month due to a suspension, but he’ll immediately upgrade a talented but somewhat undisciplined receiver corps when he returns.

2. The major concern among pundits this offseason has been whether the Jets can gel with so many big names and celebrities on the roster. HBO’s Hard Knocks is with the team, which is fitting: reality TV star Jason Taylor was added to the defence in April, one month after future Hall of Famer Tomlinson came aboard to help Green in the offensive backfield and six weeks after Cromartie arrived to replace Lito Sheppard as Revis’ sidekick. That’s a lot of big personalities playing less-than-big roles.

3. As I mentioned, the Jets had just 32 sacks last year despite all the pressure. But obviously Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine feel the sacks will come in 2010, because the team spent zero draft picks on pass rushers and only brought in Taylor via free agency. Calvin Pace will have to continue to deliver, and anything — anything — from Vernon Gholston would be much appreciated.

2010 prediction: Revis or no Revis (he’ll be there eventually) I think they’ll win the AFC East and win at least one playoff game.