Four losses in the last five games in 2008 – guess who the one win was against – sealed Eric Mangini’s fate in New York despite finishing the season with a 9-7 record. New coach Rex Ryan has apparently never met a microphone he didn’t like, but the players have embraced his brash style, and the Jets won their first three games before falling to the Saints and Dolphins.
OFFENSE (#24 total yardage, #7 rushing, #26 passing, #t20 scoring):
The Jets have used five first- or second-round draft picks on quarterbacks since Joe Namath’s career began winding down in the mid-’70s. Some (Ken O’Brien, Chad Pennington) were better than others (Browning Nagle), but none ever truly became the “franchise QB” the team sought. They went in a different direction last August, swapping a conditional pick to rent the services of Brett Favre for 16 games, which got them equal amounts of touchdown passes and interceptions in a playoff-free 9-7 season. Oh yeah, and a fine for manipulating the injury report to hide the fact that Favre played the end of the season with a torn biceps tendon.
Enter Mark Sanchez. The Jets traded up to Cleveland’s No. 5 overall pick to take the USC signalcaller and installed him as the starter during the preseason, a decision rewarded when Sanchez became the first rookie QB since 1969 to begin a season 3-0. He’s had some shaky moments since then, but still looks like he could be the long-term answer the team has been seeking at the position.
He gained a new No. 1 target last week, when the Browns had finally had enough of wide receiver Braylon Edwards and dealt the 2005 third overall pick to New York. (Guess they needed someone to replace Laveranues Coles after all.) They’re in trouble behind him on the depth chart, though, as both Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith are listed as doutbful for this game and Chansi Stuckey headed west to Cleveland in the Edwards trade. That leaves training-camp all-star David Clowney to start on the other side, with special-teamer Wallace Wright becoming the top option in the slot. Tight end Dustin Keller, already the team’s second-leading receiver, could take on an even more prominent role in the passing game until Cotchery returns.
Thomas Jones and Leon Washington provide a solid tandem at running back; Jones broke the franchise record last season with 15 touchdowns, and is on pace to match that this year. They have fullback Tony Richardson to block for them, giving the Jets perhaps the only trio of Pro Bowl RBs in the league.
The line returns intact from last season, with tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody bookending an interior group that includes center Nick Mangold and guards Brandon Moore and Alan Faneca. Woody is battling an ankle injury, but is still expected to start.
DEFENSE (#9 total yardage, #19 rushing, #8 passing, #8 scoring):
Rex Ryan’s 3-4 formation may look similar to Mangini’s, but only until the ball is snapped. After that, in the coach’s own words, it’s “organized chaos” with players liable to blitz from anywhere on the field. Interestingly, though, that aggressive mindset has led to just four sacks so far this season. Four-time Pro Bowl nosetackle Kris Jenkins anchors the formation, flanked by Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas, the latter one of three former Ravens who followed their coach north from Baltimore.
Of course, the marquee name in that group was linebacker Bart Scott; the 2006 All-Pro signed a six-year, $48 million deal early in the free agency period. He and 2007 second-round pick David Harris, who leads the team in both tackles and sacks, give the Jets a solid set of inside ‘backers. Veterans Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace line up on the outside. Pace’s return following a four-game suspension sends first-round pick Vernon Gholston back to the bench .. and closer and closer to irrelevance.
The team tried to solidify the cornerback slot opposite Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis by trading for Lito Sheppard in the offseason, but the former Eagle has missed the last three games with a quadriceps injury. Sheppard should be able to return this weekend, sending Dwight Lowery back to a reserve role. Old friend Jim Leonhard joins Kerry Rhodes at safety.
The Mike Nugent era ended with a quiet release during the offseason, but Jay Feely had taken the kicking job from the former second-round pick well before that. The ninth-year vet finished 24-of-28 on field-goal tries last season and has yet to miss on eight attempts in 2009, tying Pat Leahy’s franchise record last week with his 22nd consecutive successful kick. Steve Weatherford handles punting duties.
Washington is a dangerous kick returner, earning a trip to Hawaii and making the All-Pro team in 2008. He has yet to break one for a touchdown this season, but is still averaging more than 25 yards per return. The coverage teams are above average.
A season which started with some promise in the woulda/shoulda/coulda loss at New England has quickly spiraled downward, as the Bills have been outscored 71-20 in the last three games. It appears that quarterback Trent Edwards will be trying to throw passes from behind yet another different lineup in the front five, with rookie Jamon Meredith taking over for the injured Jonathan Scott at right tackle.
Good luck, Trent.
On the other side of the ball, Buffalo’s wounded linebacking corps, reeling after season-ending injuries to Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Buggs, got a little help this week with the addition of veteran Chris Draft and Paul Posluszny’s potential return. But even though New York is missing half their receiving corps, their veteran o-line will be difficult for the Bills’ front seven to handle.
And after that horrific performance by the offense last week, they’ll have to prove they can find the end zone before I pick this team to win another game.
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