They talk big, they generally play big and they intimidate opponents with their swagger, but this was somewhat of a substandard offseason for Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, which has me questioning what we’ll see from the team in 2011.
Due primarily to cap constraints, the Jets weren’t able to be the big buyers we’re used to this summer. They swung at Nnamdi Asomugha, missed, and were forced to settle for last year’s talented but inconsistent No. 2 corner, Antonio Cromartie. They lost Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor, and in the end they were only able to add question mark receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason via free agency.
This is a team that has surprised critics by reaching the conference title game in back-to-back seasons. But in their history, the Jets have never even made the playoffs in three straight years. Will they defy the odds in 2011? It might not be as easy as some think.
2010 in a nutshell: They grab the last playoff spot in the AFC with an 11-5 record, upset the Colts and Patriots in the first two rounds of the playoffs and eventually fall to the Steelers in a hard-fought conference championship game.
Three predictions for 2011:
1. If they don’t stay very healthy, they’ll fall off a cliff: Depth is not a strength on this team. The starting lineup is generally star-studded and the offensive line is generally quite jacked top to bottom, but there aren’t a lot of quality backups elsewhere. This is a team that is thin at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback positions. Aside from a few exceptions (Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, Jim Leonhard), the Jets have stayed relatively healthy in recent seasons. But will they be lucky again in 2011?
2. The pass rush will continue to struggle: The Jets defense has registered just 72 sacks in 32 regular-season games during the Ryan era, which is disappointing. Sack totals don’t tell the whole story regarding how effective a pass rush is, but there’s no disputing that Gang Green could bring more heat, especially considering Ryan’s reputation for doing exactly that. There simply aren’t enough quality pass rushers on this team, and I’m not sure why they haven’t addressed that need while they continue to chase corners. They drafted Muhammad Wilkerson, who should eventually be better than an aging Shaun Ellis, but that’s about it.
3. Mark Sanchez will receive less support than he did in 2010: There’s a good chance that an impressive run in early 2010 was 32-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson’s last gasp, and I’m yet to see anything from Shonn Greene that leads me to believe he’ll be a consistently effective starter. The running game will continue to be good, not great. Meanwhile, Sanchez loses three receivers. Big target Edwards is replaced by Burress, who is older and hasn’t played pro football in nearly three years; the underrated Cotchery is replaced by Mason, who has clearly begun to decline at 37; and wildcat specialist Smith is replaced by (fill in the blank). That doesn’t give Sanchez a lot of options if someone gets hurt or shoots himself in the leg or gets busted for pot possession or begins to suffer from arthritis.
The final word(s): I’m not convinced they’re good enough from head to toe to make up for inconsistent play from Sanchez and the offense. So unless Sanchez can take the next step and become an elite quarterback in 2011, this might be a wild-card team at best. I’ll give them a 10-6 record.