THIS FEELS FAMILIAR
This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2015 issue
There were sweeping changes this off-season in Florham Park, N.J., but will that mean much of a transformation in terms of wins and losses for the Jets? Coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik were offed after a 4--12 season—the franchise's fourth straight without a playoff berth—and replaced by former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan, the Texans' director of college scouting. Like their predecessors, Bowles and Maccagnan are in their positions for the first time in their careers.
On the field the Jets addressed defensive deficiencies by bringing back stud corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who thrived together in New York's secondary from 2010 to '12. They also added underrated Browns corner Buster Skrine, a tough, versatile gamer who can also play safety; and they used the No. 6 pick on powerful USC D-lineman Leonard Williams, whose rare size-speed combo will make him a matchup nightmare.
So, just like Ryan's Jets, Gang Green is stacked on defense, even with Sheldon Richardson suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. (With Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Williams on that line, New York will easily absorb the blow.) Outside of their line the Jets are lacking edge rushers, but manufacturing pressure and confusing the QB is Bowles's specialty: His Arizona units ranked fifth and seventh in points allowed. Safety, however, will continue to be an issue after Antonio Allen was lost for the season with a right-Achilles injury.
And just like Ryan's Jets, New York will be hoping and wishing that QB Geno Smith (in his third season) makes the leap, if not to stardom, at least to consistency. That prayer seems unlikely to be answered after Smith had his jaw broken in an altercation with a teammate. Smith, who is not expected back until mid-October, had stretches last year when he played well, but he's been prone to the big mistake, having thrown picks in 22 of his 29 starts while losing seven fumbles.
To help Smith, the Jets have created a more QB-friendly environment, both in terms of talent and coaching. Maccagnan boldly traded a fifth-round pick for five-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to supplement holdovers Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley, and he used a second-round pick on Ohio State deep threat Devin Smith. A change at coordinator should also give Geno Smith the best chance at success in a make-or-break campaign once he returns. In his first two seasons, he played for Marty Mornhinweg, and while the coach's strong belief in the West Coast offense worked for some QBs (see: McNabb, Donovan), it seemed to be a strange fit for the freewheeling Smith, and that was borne out by his performance. Two years after being fired as the Bills' coach, Chan Gailey is back in the NFL as the Jets' offensive coordinator. Gailey has a great track record of accomodating his system to the strengths of his passers. Smith will receive top-notch tutelage, but he won't be given more than he can handle, which was a problem with Mornhinweg's system. Gailey will spread the field and give Smith more defined reads.
"As far as taking care of the football, I'm seeing things better, I'm not feeling as rushed, I'm just more comfortable in the pocket," Smith said in camp. "I feel like I know the timing of when things should develop and when to get the ball out of my hands."
One major difference from the previous Jets regime: Maccagnan hasn't placed the entire burden on Smith's shoulders, as Ryan did with Sanchez. New York traded for veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had success with Gailey in Buffalo—and who will now get the nod, at least until Smith returns. (They also used a fourth-round pick on Baylor star Bryce Petty; he'll need extensive work transitioning to a pro offense, but he's worth developing.)
Still, you can expect the Jets, who finished No. 3 in rushing last season, to be a run-first team. They boast talented backs—Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy, Stevan Ridley, in order of likely impact—and a line whose addition of former Seahawk James Carpenter at left guard should help aging left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
With Ryan's bombastic nature replaced by Bowles's stern, nose-to-the-grindstone approach, and a capable personnel man running the front office, the Jets might seem like a franchise on the rise. But their hopes are again riding on a questionable quarterback, one whose timetable has been pushed back by a training camp fight. Has all that much really changed?
SI'S PREDICTION: 5--11
ANDY BENOIT ON THE JETS' NEW DEFENSIVE AGGRESSOR
Ask an NFL coach which unit on an opposing team—offense or defense—most impressed him from a schematic standpoint last year, and there's a good chance he'll say Arizona's D. That group's coordinator, Todd Bowles, was the prize coaching candidate of this off-season because he's mastered myriad designer pressure concepts. While many coaches save their most aggressive blitzes for select situations, Bowles unleashes his anytime, anywhere. That threat lends legitimacy to his presnap blitz looks—even the ones that are merely meant to intimidate. For Bowles, generating pressure is all about controlling the action, not just creating sacks. His scheme doesn't require an expensive edge rusher. Instead, he uses linebackers and D-backs on blitzes, often up the middle, where they can cover ground the quickest and best obscure a QB's vision. This requires corners who win in isolation on the outside; hence the signings of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. It also requires putting the opposing offense in passing situations to begin with; hence the drafting, at No. 6, of USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams (above), despite the Jets already having one of the league's most vociferous fronts. On top of all else, it requires a coach who's willing to make the aggressive call.