New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan
The first four games of the New York Jets campaign have certainly had their ups and downs, with the latter of the two usually being more extreme and the former containing only small glimpses of promise and positivity. While the negatives have been bountiful so far in almost all three major areas of the game for the Jets, they stand at a modest 2-2 record through four games which some may argue as fortunate or unfair, but I’d say it’s an accurate portrayal of this team. As Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the Jets have performed on offense, defense, special teams, and also, coaching so far.
OFFENSE: Geno Smith has certainly had an interesting start to his season. Until yesterday he was tied with Eli Manning for the league lead with 11 turnovers. However, he is averaging 272.5 passing yards a game and in every one of their games, he has made throws that are surprisingly good for a rookie. His mobility in and out of the pocket add a weapon that the Jets had not had in quite some time at the quarterback position, maybe ever. While he has played well in the Jets’ two victories, you cannot overlook the glaring mistakes he has made. His interceptions have been forced and underthrown badly while his fumbles have been a result of carelessness; haven’t we heard this story before somewhere? Smith has the potential to be a good starting quarterback regardless of his erratic play. The tools are there and we need a bigger sample size than the first four games of his career with a depleted receiving core to throw to.
Elsewhere on offense, Bilal Powell has been a very pleasant surprise with 292 rushing yards in the first 4 games. His average of 4.4 yards-per-carry is slightly above average and I would like to see head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg shift more of the offensive game plan to running the ball with Powell, Chris Ivory when healthy, and now, Mike Goodson. Geno Smith throwing the ball 34 times a game as a rookie might not be the ideal route to success and the run game has been good enough so far to suggest we see more of it.
The receiving unit, as I alluded to earlier, have been hit with injuries for much of the season so far. Almost every game, they have been without of their top four receivers: Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, and Kellen Winslow. They will be without Holmes tonight and possibly Winslow as well. Having all of your top receivers healthy makes the quarterback’s job much easier and it can be argued that it has stunted Smith’s growth a bit. Also, the talent level of each of the receivers may not be up to the standard many other teams in the league have set. It’s hard to say Santonio Holmes looks like a true number one receiver anymore, and Stephen Hill has disappeared too often to be seen as the next good receiver for this organization. There are flashes of previous performances levels and potential respectively for the two receivers but they have been disappointing.
Offense Grade: C-
DEFENSE: As always with a Rex Ryan team, the backbone of the team lies in defense. The defense ranks third in run defense, seventh in pass defense, and second overall in yards per game. The rank 14th in points per game mainly due to the outlier of a game last week against Tennessee. If you looked closer, you’ll see that Smith’s turnovers on offense often gave Tennessee great field position which they used to their advantage efficiently. The usual “bend, but don’t break” philosophy did not hold true and for that, they suffered a bit last week. The only main knock on the defense so far is that they haven’t been generating enough turnovers of their own. They are sufficient in stopping opposing team’s offenses, but they haven’t had enough big plays yet. The defense deserves a large portion of the credit for the Jets’ success so far due to the fact that when Smith turns the ball over on offense, the defense picks him up and gets a three and out or limits the damage to a field goal. If they start producing turnovers, the burden on Smith will decrease and they might have an easier time winning games going forward.
Defensive Grade: B+
SPECIAL TEAMS: In their first year without special teams guru Mike Westhoff, the Jets have taken a step back in this area of the game. Only stalwart kicker Nick Folk, who has been a perfect eight-for-eight on field goals so far, gets commendation for his efforts. The punting, split between Robert Malone and Ryan Quigley, has been of little influence. Malone had a long punt of 84 yards, but has since been released. Quigley has been a marginal upgrade, being almost a yard and a half per punt worse than Malone, but with no touchbacks and an equal number of punts inside the 20, we’d be nitpicking to say either have been overly good so far. Coverage on both kick returns and punt returns have not been good enough either. The Jets allow an average of 27.8 yards per kick return and 11.3 on punt returns, good enough for fourth and sixth worse in the league, respectively. Their own return game is just as poor. Their kick return average of 16.9 yards is second worst in the league and their punt return average of 5.1 yards is seventh worst. Simply put, everyone not named Nick Folk involved with special teams needs to improve.
Special Teams Grade: C-
COACHING: The addition of Marty Morhinweg to the staff has been a breath of fresh air this season. The offense looks improved, regardless of the turnovers, and the play-calling has become less frustrating to fans and observers. The turnovers are solely reflective of the individual mistakes Smith has made playing quarterback and not the plays Morhinweg has called this year. A bit more focus on the running game is the only minor quibble so far.
Dennis Thurman has commanded a stout defense, surely with some assistance from Rex Ryan, but the question is how much influence. Rex is a brilliant defensive mind and some pundits have questioned how much Thurman actually does with defensive schemes and play-calling. While I can understand Rex still being heavily focused on his defense, Thurman deserves a lot of credit for how well they are playing right now.
Finally, we turn the spotlight to Rex. One of the best defensive coaches in the game, his game management has still not improved enough to warrant a high level of security with his job or even the idea that he is an above-average head coach yet. He has relied time and time again on his defensive knowledge and his team’s defensive ability while limiting the amount of time he spends dedicated to learning more about the offensive side of the game. As we’ve seen, the defense is not the element of this football team that Rex needs to devote most of his time to. His lack of awareness during games to certain situations like when to challenge plays, how to conserve timeouts and challenges for late-game sequences, and clock management have been astounding. These things are not that complicated or difficult to improve upon. If he wants to be taken seriously as more than just a great defensive coordinator who couldn’t cut the mustard at a higher coaching level, these problems must be taken care of.
Coaching Grade: C
Final Grade: C+
The Jets are a surprising 2-2 through four games, and while they have had their problems, they could have a worse record and most likely be out of the AFC East race, but they are not. This next stretch of four or five games will make or break their season and also show what kind of team Rex Ryan has. In the past, resiliency has been a trademark of his teams and they will need to show some to steal a few games against tougher opponents than they have faced so far.
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