The Jets’ season suffered a big blow in pre-season, when Mark Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. Thrust into the limelight earlier than he would have expected, rookie Geno Smith endured a difficult first season. That the Jets were able to rally from a 5-7 record to win three of their last four games and finish at 8-8 speaks of the character that Rex Ryan is able to call on amongst his troops. Ultimately a run of five defeats in seven games cost the Jets the final Wild card and a place in the postseason; something that they will look to improve on heading into 2014.
With no Sanchez, the focus fell firmly on rookie Smith. With seven games in which the offence posted 14 points or less, scoring enough points to win was a problem to contend with. Smith’s 3046 yards showed his promise, but 12 touchdowns compared to 21 picks and a rating of just 66.5 serve to highlight his struggles. A run of five games without a touchdown passes in the middle of the season adds to the evidence of offensive problems. Smith was not helped, however, by the lack of weapons he was provided with. Only Jeremy Kerley (with 43) managed more than 40 catches with Santonio Holmes managing a mere 23 grabs all season. With only 13 passes thrown all year, the four hauled in by Jeff Cumberland lead a disappointing total. More weapons are needed in the passing game in 2014. On the ground, Chris Ivory racked up 833 yards at 4.6 yards per carry and Bilal Powell managed 697 yards at 4 yards per carry. Smith himself showed that he is part of the group of modern ‘mobile’ quarterbacks with 366 yards at 5.1 yards per attempt. But for the Jets to improve in 2014, there is huge room for improvement offensively.
Defensively, the Jets ranked 11th in the NFL in allowing 334.9 yards per game and 19th in allowing 387 points (at 24.2 per game). David Harris (124), DeMario Davis (107) and Dawan Landry (100) all racked up triple digit tackle totals whilst Muhammad Wilkerson (with 10.5) and Calvin Pace (with 10) provided an effective pass rush. Rookie Sheldon Richardson was particularly effective against the run in the centre of the defensive line. In the secondary, cornerback Dee Milliner justified the faith that the Jets had shown by drafting him ninth in the draft in picking off three passes and defending a further 17. The Jets did, however, give up 4189 yards through the air and Milliner will need some support in order to make them a tougher proposition to beat in 2014, especially with two games against Tom Brady and the Patriots to overcome in their division.
The fact that kicker Nick Folk was awarded the franchise tag emphasis his importance to the team. He connected with 91.7% of his 36 Field Goal attempts over the course of the season. Punters Ryan Quigley and Robert Malone combined for a net average of 39.7 yards per punt and the Jets may look to improve this area. Josh Cribbs averaged 24.5 yards per kick return and shared punt return duties with Kerley.
There was much speculation over the future of Rex Ryan during the season, but he will still be in place as Head Coach for the 2014 season. At one point Ryan himself seemed to be expecting to leave, but he remains committed to improving his team going into next season. Progress could lead to him keeping his job but regression would almost certainly leave him looking for alternative employment for the 2015 season.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
The need for offensive weapons in the passing game is huge. Adding former Bronco Eric Decker at wide receiver and bringing in Michael Vick at quarterback should both help in this respect, but the Jets still need to add weapons, especially with the cutting of Santonio Holmes put into that equation. Expect Ryan to look to exploit the depth at this position in the draft by adding at least one new target for Vick/Smith to exploit.Help on the offensive line will also be a priority, with whoever is starting at quarterback needing greater protection to be able to try to move the ball though the air and, as stated above, the secondary will also be addressed via the draft. Milliner will start on one side, but with Antonio Cromartie now plying his trade in Arizona there is a hole to fill on the other side of the defence. This is almost certain to be another area that will be identified for improvement via the draft in May.