As we near the end of the doldrums of summer and football season edges closer, only one team has been on everyone’s minds – the New York Jets. In 2009, the Jets finished 9-7 and earned a trip to the AFC Championship game, all while building an excellent chemistry between experienced veterans and talented rookies that will guide the team into 2010. The acquisitions of four former Pro-Bowlers – cornerback Antonio Cromartie, running back LaDanian Tomlinson, defensive end Jason Taylor and wide receiver Santonio Holmes – strengthen an already stalwart defense and provide additional support for sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez. The spotlight has been on the Jets as they headed into training camp with cameras rolling for HBO’s series, Hard Knocks. Through three preseason games, many concerns have already arisen over the team’s credentials as a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Primary among these are apprehensions about the reliability of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has looked far from stellar throughout minicamp and the preseason. Although there is a steep learning curve for every young quarterback, Sanchez seems to be the barrier that is preventing the Jets’ offense from being one of the strongest in the league. The best offensive line in football, explosive wide receivers and a stable of talented running backs could be the backbone of a Super Bowl team, but if the man at the helm cannot take control in key situations, the Jets are doomed to fall short. Sanchez has looked anxious in the pocket, causing him to rush decisions and make poor throws. Through three preseason games, Sanchez has thrown for only 270 yards with a lowly passer rating of 75.6. Sanchez’s subpar play is best exemplified by his horrendous interception thrown against the Washington Redskins, resulting entirely from his reluctance to look away from his intended target. In reality, Sanchez needs at least one more year of development before he can provide the composure and leadership necessary to take his team to the next level.
On the defensive side of the ball, the absence of holdout cornerback Darrelle Revis has the potential to devastate the Jets’ secondary. Revis is the best at his position in the league and, if he opts to hold out during the 2010 season for a better contract, the Jets’ defense will be in for a world of hurt. Revis single-handedly took the likes of Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Vincent Jackson and Terrell Owens out of games last year. In Revis’s absence, however, the Jets have been able to give more game time to Antonio Cromartie and 2010 first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson. Cromartie has performed well, as expected, but Wilson has a lot of room to improve, as shown by his horrific performance against the New York Giants. Wilson was responsible for covering Victor Cruz, who scored three touchdowns on the day. Originally given the role of covering slot receivers, Wilson will be forced to step into the spotlight against big-time wide receivers that Revis had previously rendered obsolete in key games. In Revis’s absence, safety Jim Leonhard, Rex Ryan’s protégé in Baltimore, will have to help Wilson and new signing Brodney Pool develop. Losing Revis will undoubtedly hurt the Jets, but far more important to the team’s success will be the play of the defensive front seven.
In that part of the field, the Jets’ main worry at the moment is the injury to linebacker Calvin Pace and the effect that could have on the defense’s ability to stop the run. His rare blend of size and speed allows him to quickly react to the run while still possessing the ability to run with tight ends and running backs. The Jets have their work cut out for them, as defensive leader and linebacker Bart Scott will have to pick up the slack for the injured Pace. Also, former first-rounder Vernon Gholston, who was recently moved from defensive line to linebacker, could finally get his chance to prove that he is still the dominant defensive player he was at Ohio State. The Jets are looking to fill Pace’s void with free-agent Adalius Thomas, but the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. Should the Jets land Thomas, the front seven, which includes run-stopper extraordinaire Kris Jenkins and pass-rusher Jason Taylor, could help the Jets create enough pressure up front to allow the secondary to perform well. It would seem that, even in Pace’s absence, the defensive front seven are good enough that the Jets will have no problem stopping the run and helping the secondary generate turnovers.
On paper, the Jets may look like they are runaway picks to take home the Lombardi Trophy, but their shortcomings will hold them back. Sanchez’s inability to progress through reads and maintain composure – he threw 20 interceptions last season, tied for second-worst in the league – are not what the Jets need from the starting quarterback position. Sanchez is a year or two away from being the prized quarterback that the Jets drafted him to be, but unfortunately, the time for the Jets to snag a ring is now. Most of the pieces are in place for the Jets to contend, even with a weak secondary, á la the 2007 New York Giants. Still, they will fall short in their quest for a title, finishing 10-6 before losing, again, in the AFC Championship game.