Jets' offseason moves falling short
Following the Jets' Week 5 loss to New England, the team's third consecutive setback, Steve Kallas of CBS New York offered a pretty damning synopsis of why New York was struggling:
The Jets are not as good defensively as they were last year. The Jets are not as good offensively as they were last year. But it’s worse than that. The Jets are not as cohesive in the locker room as they were a year ago.
The 2010 Jets were within one win -- and, really, one play -- of beating the Steelers in the AFC title game to claim a Super Bowl berth. This year, they've lost to three of the four good teams they have played, the one win coming against Dallas in Week 1. New York's other two victories came against opponents with a combined record of 1-10 (Jacksonville and Miami).
How did the Jets go from the verge of the Super Bowl to the fringe of the playoff race in just a few short months?
Well, the 2010 was helped greatly by some risky, big-name additions like Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. The Jets knew they were a contender and laid it all on the line in an effort to get over the top.
They followed a similar strategy heading into 2011, but the results, both in the locker room and on the field, have been disappointing.
Here's how some key spots on the Jets' roster have changed in the past year, and what those changes have meant:
• Wide receiver
2011: Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Derrick Mason, Jeremy Kerley
Say what you will about Braylon Edwards, but when he was on his game, the Holmes-Edwards combo gave the Jets a dynamic pass-catching duo, while Jerricho Cotchery added a reliable third receiver.
So far in 2011, the Jets haven't been able to find any complementary piece for Holmes -- tight end Dustin Keller has done his best. Burress has just 14 grabs in six games and looked lost, at times, during Monday's New York win over Miami.
The drops are nothing new -- Edwards provided plenty of those -- but Burress has yet to show any big-play potential or force defenders to pay extra attention to him.
And the move from Cotchery to Mason blew up in the Jets' faces, with Mason complaining about the offense prior to being traded to Houston. Kerley, a fifth-round pick in April, has seen more playing time lately, but he's a ways away from being a huge contributor.
2010: Tony Richardson
2011: John Conner
Conner probably had one of his better blocking games of the season Monday against the Dolphins, especially late as the Jets ran the ball to eat the clock.
But go back to that mention earlier about the Jets being less cohesive in the locker room. This positional swap comes into play there, and it's no fault of Conner's, who was on the team for all of 2010.
Richardson was not only one of the greatest blocking fullbacks the NFL has ever seen, he was a stabilizing influence in the locker room. That's something the Jets desperately need, with in-your-face personalities up and down the roster. Losing Richardson also has something to do with the Jets' sluggishness on the ground in 2011, but the intangibles behind Richardson's loss are the bigger problem.
• Defensive line
2010: Shaun Ellis, Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito
2011: Muhammad Wilkerson, Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito
The Jets' loss of Shaun Ellis hurt doubly bad -- one, because he was a fixture on New York's defensive line for 11 years; two, because Ellis wound up signing with the rival Patriots.
And just like in Conner's situation, you hate to blame Wilkerson. The Jets' first-round pick has started all six games and has played about as well as anyone could have hoped for. His numbers (12 tackles, one sack) actually are better than Ellis' (seven tackles, no sacks) so far this year. In terms of on-field production, it's hard to say the Jets really took a huge step back.
But other than at outside linebacker, where New York lost veteran Bryan Thomas to a season-ending injury a couple of weeks back, the switch from Ellis to Wilkerson is the only move the Jets made in their starting defensive lineup from 2010 to '11. However, cutting Jason Taylor in March left them without a reliable fill-in for Thomas.
Still, most of the issues so far on defense have come from returning players, notably Antonio Cromartie, who's turned in a couple of absolute dud games. The loss of Ellis, though, no doubt took some time to adjust to.
The Jets also opted to cut veteran offensive lineman Damien Woody in March. Woody then retired once the lockout ended.
Woody was as reliable as they come and had started 45 games in three seasons for the Jets. His retirement made Rob Turner's preseason injury an even bigger issue. Six games in, the Jets are still piecing together their offensive line, an experiment that has resulted in Mark Sanchez taking a beating. New York didn't go for a full roster overhaul this offseason, opting to try to make some quiet upgrades. Instead, at least thus far, the decisions have backfired.