2008 New York Jets Season Preview
After a disastrous season in 2007 the Jets have gone back to the drawing board and completely retooled the football team for 2008. GM Mike Tannenbaum and HC Eric Mangini have finally rid the team of almost all of the Herman Edwards era Jets and the practice of trying to make players fit into the wrong system looks to be over. This was the most active the Jets have been since the 1998 offseason addressing big needs with big money players. Approximately half of the starters will be new faces compared to the team that began the 2007 season and only 5 starters remain from the pre-Mangini era.
The biggest change to the team came in the middle of camp with the trade for veteran QB and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who changed his mind about retirement at the last second, from the Green Bay Packers. Favre is a gigantic departure from what the Jets had on the roster in Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens and a huge upgrade. Favre brings a cannon for an arm, a wealth of playoff success, and respect from the entire NFL. It may be a long process for Favre and expectations may be too high to start the season. Favre is learning a new offense for the first time in 15 years, moving from a West Coast Offense to the Jets motion style offense, and by missing all of the offseason he is way behind where he normally would be. Combine that with the fact that Favreís teams in Green Bay have often started slow since the early 2000ís and its unlikely that Favre will get the Jets off to a high flying takeoff. Favre will only get better as the season progresses and has the ability to put up really gaudy numbers that the team has not seen since the heyday of Vinny Testeverde. Brett is a tremendous December QB and rarely ever loses, especially at home, late in a season. He also gives the team the ability to come from 10+ points down in the 4th quarter, a trait they have been lacking since 2000. On the negative side Favre can drive you crazy with some plays and will always have one or two weeks a season where he just doesnít have it. For every few 300 yard 3 TD performances heíll throw in a 250 yard 4 INT clunker here and there. Behind Favre is still a potential QB in waiting in Kellen Clemens. Clemens at best looks suited to be an NFL backup after falling apart in his first season as starter, albeit under bad circumstances, last season and completely wilting under the pressure of a challenge from Pennington in the offseason. The team should have enough confidence that Clemens can run a few plays if Favre has to miss a few downs, but if Favre actually gets hurt the offense will likely crumble. How Clemens does in practice will likely determine if the Jets extend his contract in the offseason or release him. Former practice squader Brett Ratliff should get the nod as the 3rd QB on the roster. He likely wonít see much playing time, but looks to be a future backup for the team.
Prior to the addition of Favre his was going to be a run first offense built behind the legs of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. That plan has likely changed and after a terrible preseason both have something to prove. Jones was brought in last season fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and never lived up to expectations. He has shown himself in the past to be quick and to hit the hole with good acceleration, but that was often not the case in 2007 and has not been the case this preseason. Jones looks mentally out of it and he is getting to the age where the typical RB begins to slow down. He has always performed his best when challenged for playing time so expect more of Washington this year in an effort to motivate Jones. Washington should be a terrific complement to Jones as the open field threat for the team. Even when Jones is going well he isnít a big play guy, but in theory he should wear the defense down and allow Washington to get a big gain here and there. Washington isnít as good around the line as Jones, but once he gets into the open field he can do things Jones can not do. Heíll mainly play on third down, but has to improve his blocking for Favre. FB Tony Richardson, who is a devastating blocker, should be able to open more than a few holes for these two players as his career comes closer to an end. Jesse Chatman could also get into the mix getting a series a half once he returns from a suspension. If the two guys above him fail the Jets have the confidence to give him more reps.
Paving the way for the running game is a revamped offensive line. The O-line was one of the worst in recent memory in 2007 and the Jets spent a fortune to fix it, signing pro bowl left guard Alan Faneca and the steady veteran Damien Woody to play right tackle. Faneca is a terrific run blocker who can get out and pull with the best of them. He will not only be expected to improve the position itself, but to improve the play and speed up the development of tackle DíBrickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson has been steady at LT flashing signs of brilliance and at other times signs of ineptitude particularly as the season wears on. This is an important year for Brick who has been unfairly criticized by not being as good as Marcus McNeil was as a rookie and not as good as Joe Thomas was last season. The team hopes Faneca can give him support and teach him some of the mean streak needed to play the position. If Ferguson is going to develop into an all pro caliber player it will be noticeable this year. Nick Mangold is the best young center in the game and arguably the best in the game, period. He has dominated some big time tackles in his two years in the league and will finally make the pro bowl this season. The Jets gave Woody alot of money to prove he can still play at a high level. Woody was benched on the woeful Detroit Lions last season as a guard before finding a new career as a tackle. Regardless of whether he justifies the contract or not, he is a big upgrade over Anthony Clement who spent as much time on his back staring at the sky as he did blocking. Brandon Moore returns at RG for the team. Moore is a capable player who is playing for a new deal this year. The major question for the starting five is how long it takes them to gel as a unit. Thus far they have had problems with offsides penalties and Woody was a daily offender in camp. On paper this should be one of the best lines in the NFL, but on paper means nothing on Sundays. If any starter was to be injured the Jets would be in terrible shape. The players behind the starters are worse than last years revolving doors of Clement and Adrian Clarke and it is unlikely they could recover from more than the standard few plays per game that the starters miss.
Who Favre will throw the ball to, outside of his number 1 target Jerricho Cotchery, has been a big question in camp. Cotchery has come into his own since Mangini put him in the starting lineup in 2006 and he is clearly the best receiver on the team. Cotchery has great hands, good speed, and the ability to make plays with the ball after he catches it. Favre should love working with him and Cotchery has a legit chance to go over 100 receptions in 2008. Laveranues Coles will get the nod as the number 2, but itís a question as to if he can stay healthy or not. Coles has been limited all of camp and missed significant time in 2007. Coles is a tough player and for such a tough player to miss games its a likely sign they are in tremendous pain and possibly breaking down. If Coles is healthy the Jets have one of the top possession receivers in the NFL and he could easily take the role of a Donald Driver for Favre. Beyond those two the situation becomes more cloudy. Brad Smith has had a nice preseason and it looks like he is now able to focus solely on playing WR rather than WR/QB/RB. Smith had problems catching the football and was often to blame for some terrible looking passes due to running the wrong routes. Chansi Stuckey is a great practice talent but it is completely unknown whether or not that translates to the field. He certainly has not stood out in the preseason games. David Clowney emerged in camp as a down the field threat, but an injury will likely limit his chances this year . Wallace Wright, Marcus Henry, and anyone else who makes the team are all longshots to see any time.
The Jets will most probably rely on the tight end position to be that third target this year. Rookie Dustin Keller looks explosive in the middle of the field and has as good a chance as anyone to win a rookie of the year award. Keller has size and speed and is very athletic. Incumbent starter Chris Baker has soft hands and Favre is familiar with Bubba Franks from their days in Green Bay. Expect the team to continue to use multiple tight end sets and for them to be favorites of Favre in the red zone.
With the addition of Favre and the upgrades in the line the offense has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the NFL. The Jets will likely scrap much of the gimmicky stuff they have run these last two years and let Favre settle in and take control of the game. The team isnít deep enough to be as potent as New England and Indianapolis, but they are right up there in the next class of squads like the Broncos and Bengals. Thatís a vast improvement over where they were last season when they were lumped in a group with the Raiders and Chiefs. Favre likes to play the short game to set things up long so the strengths of the receivers works well for Favre in the possession game. If someone can step up and be the long threat it might be a very fast scoring offense always giving the team a shot to come back late in games.
The Jets have struggled with their transition into a 3-4 defense these last two years and finally pulled the plug on the Dewayne Robertson and Jon Vilma experiments. The centerpiece of the front 7 is now beefy nose tackle Kris Jenkins and he may have as much impact on the defense as Favre does on the offense. Jenkins, when healthy, is a dominant player and thus far has made the transition from DT to NT look easy. He is a giant space eater that canít be moved and is hard to block in pass protection. When he is in the game he will likely limit the amount of plays that can go inside against the defense. Shaun Ellis is still relatively steady in his play and still shows flashes, such as the game against the Steelers, where he can be a great player. Hopefully the addition of Jenkins takes some of the load off of him. Kenyon Coleman is adequate as the final starting lineman, but he never does anything that ever makes you take notice. He does not give up on plays, but has yet to make an impact on plays either. Expect alot of rotations in an out for all three guys this year. Sione Pouha, CJ Mosley, Mike DeVito and Kareem Brown will all see significant time if they play last the season. Mosley is a much better pass rusher than Coleman and DeVito can play well enough in non passing situations to give either Ellis or Coleman a break. Brown and Pouha could turn into everydown players in the future.
The Jets linebackers have to do a better job than they did last season in pressuring the QB, where the Jets were one of the worst in the NFL last season. David Harris is the best player of the group and once he took over for Vilma in 2007 the fortunes of the defense changed. Harris is a huge hitter with a nose for the football. He provides the team with everything you want in a 34 ILB. He can shed blockers, he can stuff a play at the line, he can roll back in coverage, he can blitz the QB, and he can strip the football from a ballhandler. Had he played all of last season he would have led the NFL in tackles. Veteran Eric Barton will line up next to him and he will split some time with Dave Bowens, converting from OLB to ILB. Both are aggressive and can make some plays with opposing teams focused on Harris. The Jets seemed to overpay for OLB Calvin Pace to replace the slow footed Victor Hobson. Pace is a converted DE from Arizona who has tremendous size and is an athlete in every sense of the word. He has been questioned in the past and it remains to be seen if the big payday slows down the progress he displayed in Arizona last season. The team needs him to record double digit sacks. Bryan Thomas looks like he will hold onto his job for the season despite being terrible in 2007 and admitting he dogged it on the field. He has not done anything this preseason to make anyone think that 2008 will be much different, but at least with better talent around him maybe he can walk his way into a few plays. The Jets would have liked number 1 draft pick Vernon Gholston to replace Thomas, but Gholston is having a hard time making the transition to OLB and looks like he wont be much of a factor until later in the season, if he is one at all. One of the keys to the success of the defense has to be the ability to rush the passer from the outside. If the addition of Pace does not help the defense will give up the same huge drives they were giving up last season.
The teams secondary looks strong. Darrelle Revis comes off a terrific rookie campaign and only expects to get better this year. By seasons end Revis was able to blanket the opposing teams best wideout and definitely looks to be the shutdown corner the Jets have lacked since Aaron Glenn. Revis has excellent speed and the strength to cover bigger guys and itís only a matter of time before he starts making more interceptions on the football. Rookie Dwight Lowery will start opposite Revis this year. Lowery was well on his way to claiming the starting job before an injury to Justin Miller gave him the position by default. Lowery had great cover skills in college and fell in the draft due to concerns about his athleticism. He has had a great preseason making plays on the football and always being in the right place at the right time. Justin Miller has the physical traits to be a good corner but has terrible instincts. He never turns around to play the ball in the air and couldnít hold onto a job that the team desperately wants him to have. With injuries starting to pile up his worth to the team is questionable. Veteran David Barrett is a steady defender with little upside or downside. He gives receivers too much of a cushion allowing the opposition to catch passes underneath, but he does often recover and make a quick tackle. He took a paycut to stay on the team and could find some use at safety. Kerry Rhodes is one of the best young safeties in the game. He creates havoc and is the best player on the defense. Heís a player you have to be aware of on every play. He is good in the blitz package, a big hitter against the run, and a hawk in coverage. It doesnít get much better than that. Eric Smith may get the job to play with Rhodes, but he was awful in the preseason and Abram Elam is the much more consistent player. Elam played some good football for the Jets after being signed a few weeks into the season.
The group has the makings of something special with Jenkins, Harris and Rhodes providing three levels of great play right in the gut of the field. The team has done a good job the last two seasons of keeping teams out of the end zone in the second half of the year, but need to do more of that early in the year. Until it is proven otherwise they are a poor tackling team, taking bad angles and using poor technique to bring players down. The tackling problems need to end now if they are going to be one of the more feared units. Robertson got much of the blame for the tackling woes, but the reality is that he was just part of the problem. Harris certainly had no problems tackling with him in the games. Between the tackling and the lack of a pass rush the Jets gave the opposition too many 2nd and 3rd chances each and every play to make something happen. Everyone knows the secondary is good, and if Pace and Jenkins make a difference like the team expects, the opponents will get one chance and one chance only to make something happen. The Jets will hopefully be more aggressive than they were last year in the playcalling. The Jets are a passive reacting defense under Bob Sutton playing on their heels far too often than on their toes. The last two seasons he has made changes during the bye weeks with more aggressive calls and he has to do that from the start in 2008.
The special teams unit is one of the better ones in the NFL. Their strength lies in their kick return game where Leon Washington scored often last year and Justin Miller made the pro bowl the year before. Even the punt returns began to improve. Mike Nugent is what he is. Heís a tremendous kicker inside 45 yards and unreliable outside of that distance. He worked on his kickoff length last season, but when he cant get it to the back of the end zone he doesnt have enough hang time to let the coverage unit contain the play. Ben Graham was lucky to be brought back after a terrible year in 2007. Graham has a big leg, but far too often he shanks kicks off the side of his foot and usually in the most crucial situations. The Jets coverage teams are outstanding.
Itís really all on Eric Mangini this season. His owner and GM spent a great deal of money to bring him the talent to win in NY. Mangini has one great season under his belt and one pretty bad one. 2008 is going to define him as a coach. He is either going to be that one time fluke or he is going to begin a special career with the way the team plays. He seems to have adjusted his style to suit the veterans of the team more and to keep them fresher for the season. Manginiís philosophy is solid. Donít make mistakes and keep moving the chains. Its better to eat some time off the clock and have to punt than to take a chance, have it backfire and hold the ball for all of 20 seconds. Depth will likely be an issue for the team on both sides of the football and Mangini has to make use of the hot hands each week on gameday when it comes to subbing.
Returning to the postseason for Mangini is a must. They wont be expected to win, nor should they win, the division but these moves were not made to get the team to 8 or 9 wins. Thee moves were made to get into special territory---11 or more wins. The Jets schedule has a ton of travel back and forth between NJ and the west coast, but the opponents and way the schedule breaks is not too bad. The team has a bye week early in the season after just 4 games, which is the perfect time to reflect on what is and isnt working and make sure Favre and everyone else is finally up to speed. The Jets have to win at least 1 game in their first 4 and really need to win 2 of them to get everyone feeling good. After that bye the Jets will have a big opportunity to go on a run playing teams like the Bengals, Raiders, Chiefs, Rams, and 49ers
Will Make the Playoffs if: The defense actually pressures the QB in 2008
Will Miss the Playoffs if: Nobody other than Cotchery can make plays in the passing game.
Easiest Stretch of the season: Weeks 7-10: @Oak, KC, @Buff, StL- Oakland has been one of the worst teams in football since 2003, posting 19 wins and 61 losses. It may be a new start for them, but its just a bad team right now. Kansas City is completely inept in every phase of the game and is awful away from Arrowhead. Buffalo is always a hard place for the Jets to play, but that is definitely a winnable game, while the Rams are never a big road team and could be quitting on the coach by this point in the season. The Jets should go no worse than 3-1 in this stretch. If they go worse than that it could be a bad sign for the season.
Toughest Stretch of the Season: Weeks 1-4: @Mia, NE, @SD, ARIZ- Miami is never a fun place to open the season as the heat always takes something out of their opponents. Favre has never been a fast starter and the Dolphins will be looking to make a statement to the NFL that they are finished being a joke. The history between the Patriots and Jets is well documented and the Jets have not beaten New England at home since 2000. This is not the time to be getting New England. San Diego is the best team in the NFL and will be looking to make a statement in what may be the highest rated TV games they will play this season. The Jets should match up well with the Cardinals, but after two rough physical opponents there is a chance the team could be looking a little bit too forward to the bye week. The Jets have to make sure to get 1 of these games and would like to get 2. Its hard to give them a chance at any more than that.
Predicted Record: 11-5, 2nd place AFC East