Doom and gloom were the two leading predictions for the Jets in 2013, but the team defied those execrable expectations to go 8-8 while securing wins over teams like the Patriots and Saints over the course of the season.
Predictions aren’t quite as bad this time around, although that doesn’t mean people are clamoring to get in line for playoff tickets. The team improved their offensive supporting cast, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty about Geno Smith’s ability to drive the bus. On defense, the strength of the defensive line is balanced out by a shortage of cornerbacks that could prove fatal given the Jets’ schedule.
Questions about quarterback and cornerback kick off our five queries about the Jets and the answers to them will probably go a long way toward answering the final entry on the list.
1. Who will start the most games at quarterback?
Unless things go terribly wrong against the Giants in the team’s third preseason game on Friday night, Smith will be starting the opening game against the Raiders. That hardly settles things for the entire season, though.
With Michael Vick on the roster, Smith won’t have the same kind of rope he got when Matt Simms was the only other option during his rookie season. With Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and other new additions on offense, Smith also won’t get the benefit of doubt that comes from playing with a skeletal supporting cast. Smith will have to show that his strong close to last season was a building block for the future, something that hasn’t been readily apparent in the team’s first two preseason games.
If he can retain the job through the season, it should mean that the Jets have taken a significant step forward offensively. If he can’t, Vick may be able to rally the team but it would leave the Jets back at square one in their decades-long search for a franchise quarterback.
2. Were the Jets too dismissive of cornerback needs?
The offseason started with the Jets cutting Antonio Cromartie because of his outsize salary, a move that opened up cap space that many imagined General Manager John Idzik would use to bolster the position. While they did sign Dimitri Patterson, the Jets otherwise resisted the temptations of free agent cornerbacks and end the summer with a lot of cap space that should help them maintain fiscal sanity in the coming years.
It won’t do them any good against the pass, though, and that’s become a big problem with Dee Milliner’s readiness for the season in doubt because of an ankle injury and third-round pick Dexter McDougle lost for the season because of a torn ACL. Patterson’s also been banged up this summer, no surprise given his history, and there’s not much behind them on the roster.
Idzik says he has no regrets about how things went this offseason, but let’s check in again in a couple of months. The Jets open with the Raiders and then go on to face the Packers, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos and Patriots with the last two coming five days apart. Those are all potent passing offenses and the Jets’ corner issues could make it late real early this season.
3. How will the running back workload shake out?
Johnson still has the aura of a marquee back because of his past exploits, but he’s not guaranteed much of anything with the Jets after offseason knee surgery and two disappointing years with the Titans. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are back after each had strong stretches for the Jets in 2013 and the desire to put too much on Smith’s shoulders should leave work for all of them come the regular season.
There’s little question that the best-case scenario for the Jets offense is that Johnson rediscovers his old magic and takes the lead role in the backfield while Ivory and Powell do complementary work. If he can’t, the Jets offense will likely be on the plodding side and that hasn’t worked out for them the last couple of years.
4. Will Quinton Coples take the next step?
Given the issues at corner, the Jets would help themselves a lot if they can pressure quarterbacks into mistakes. Rex Ryan’s defenses have had some success doing that over the years, but his recent Jets teams have been a bit short on that front if their talented defensive line doesn’t get the job done on its own.
The addition of Jason Babin gives the Jets another piece to use in hopes of generating a more robust pass rush this season, but it would be ideal if Coples were to find more success in that area. He’s a better all-around player at this point than Babin and his work down the stretch last season provides hope that the light’s coming on for the talented but inconsistent linebacker.
5. Is this Rex Ryan’s last season with the Jets?
Ryan signed an extension with the Jets after last season, but it fell well short of securing his job for years to come. He got one more year of guaranteed money, which means he enters this season in pretty much the same position he entered last season. He did some of his best coaching by squeezing an 8-8 record out of a roster short on talent, but he was hired before Idzik and may still face the axe if there isn’t a significant improvement after three years out of the playoffs.