We ha a chance to catch up with columnist/editor for CBSNewYork.com and WFAN.com in NYC this week via e-mail to get his thoughts on the New York Jets as they prepare to pay a visit to Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday.
1. It seems like the Jets receiving corps is the healthiest it’s been for some time. What can Bills fans expect to see this Sunday from them? How does Holmes expected return affect the other WRs playing time?
I wrote about this earlier in the week on WFAN.com. I don’t want to see the Jets turn Geno Smith into a game manager. I believe they did so against New Orleans out of necessity due to injuries out wide. I think the last thing they should be doing right now is taking the ball out of his hands. He’s not Mark Sanchez from a few years ago. He’s much further along. The Jets need to strive for offensive balance against every opponent because even though their defense is stout, it still allows points — nearly 26 per game on average (but mostly due to two blowouts). Jets will need a passing game to beat anyone, let alone the Bills. And while I like Chris Ivory a lot, I don’t think he’s a savior, mostly due to the fact that he, more than most, is always one hit from being sidelined.
As for Holmes, if he’s truly 100 percent he changes the passing game in that he can run intermediate and deep routes all over the field, freeing up tight ends and other receivers to do the dirty work underneath. I expect the Jets to take shots down the field with both him and Stephen Hill, even though Hill has seemed to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff over the last few weeks. Also, watch for David Nelson to make plays. He’s eager to show the Bills something and has been an excellent pickup since joining the Jets. And also expect the Jets to target finally-healthy tight end Jeff Cumberland down the seams.
2. The defensive line for the Jets is consistently top tier, even as players switch out from year to year. Why is this?
The Jets made a conscious effort to get younger and more athletic at the point of attack, which is why they win most of the battles at the line of scrimmage. Rex’s schemes are predicated on two things — solid secondary play and stopping the run. But because the Jets’ secondary has struggled, more of the emphasis has been put on the front four causing havoc in opposing backfields. The Jets may not get monster sack numbers, but they are big-time disruptors. Ask Drew Brees. They only sacked him twice, but they hurried him a ton, something you just don’t see against Brees. It’s the same approach they take against Tom Brady. The result of that athleticism is much lower completion percentages and stalled drives. The Jets are a classic bend-but-don’t-break defense, and if they ever sort out of the secondary can be an elite, shutdown unit in all aspects.
3. The Jets run game is currently ranked 9th overall, averaging 129 yard a game. What’s been the primary reason behind their success?
It took a while for the Jets’ run-blocking to get going and to be honest I’m not sure they have reached their peak yet. A lot of credit should be given to Bilal Powell for holding down the fort while Ivory came into his own, but both are not elite runners by any stretch of the imagination. Jets play with a ton of heart up front and the talent they do have at running back is enough, for now, to get the job done. The loss of Mike Goodson as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield has hurt them. You may not see it now, but if the run game gets stuffed, not having that safety valve outlet will become noticeable.
4. Jets fans are excited about Geno Smith and what he’s been able to do so far this year. What does he bring to the table that Mark Sanchez did not?
Sanchez was a victim of several things, but mostly he struggled because, in my opinion, the Jets overvalued him when they moved way up in the 2009 draft to get him at No. 5. He was forced to live up to being a top 5 pick when he really wasn’t a top 5 talent. By contrast, Smith is probably a better talent than the 39th overall pick in the draft.
Smith is fearless. Sanchez is not. Smith has a better arm, but that’s not to say Sanchez doesn’t have a good arm. Geno is just not afraid to take risks and he bounces back from adversity quickly, something Sanchez struggled with. And Smith, despite being known as a pocket passer, is an excellent scrambler when the Jets need him to be. He’s as dangerous a red zone threat with his legs as the Jets hope he becomes with his arm. But, again, Smith can and often does get forced into rookie mistakes. That said though, he’s getting a lot more responsible with the ball, something Sanchez never was.
5. With a new general manager in place, many pundits predicted Rex Ryan would be fired before this season. Then, the prediction became after this season. At 5-4 despite a rookie quarterback, it’s hard to imagine that happening now. What are your thoughts on Rex’s future in New York?
I’ve always said, and I have numerous columns to back it up, that Rex Ryan is the perfect coach for the Jets, now and for the foreseeable future. Players will walk into fire for him. And while he certainly has deficiencies, primarily on the offensive side of the ball, Rex is an incredibly good game planner and motivator. As the second team in the New York City area now and always, the Jets have to think outside the box to not only get attention but to win games. Rex conveys his message in a manner that everyone buys into and he backs up his beliefs by making sure the Jets are always prepared. As a result, the Jets are capable of beating anyone they face, and often without the talent to match up. That’s because of Rex’s preparedness and ability to get the most out all 53 players on the field. A coach like that is hard to find. I think some day a lot of people are going to owe him a huge apology, and, provided the Jets don’t tank the rest of the way, he’ll get his extension.
I often wonder if general manager John Idzik is someone who likes to legacy shop, but the fact that he didn’t select Rex as head coach has, so far, not played into things. That could change of course, or I could be totally wrong, but if the Jets make the playoffs there will be no excuse not to bring Rex back, unless Idzik is only concerned about who he hired and when and how it makes his resume look. And if that happens, the circus music will return.
6. In their last game against the Bills, the Jets attacked the injury-riddled Buffalo secondary aggressively. It’s a much different backfield now. What’s your crystal ball predict for the Jets offensive gameplan this Sunday?
Like I said earlier, I suspect the Jets will unleash a healthy dose of Ivory early and sprinkle in some Powell, but if they want to win this game I truly believe they’ll need balance offensively and to take some shots down the field, much like they did in the teams’ first meeting, a game in which the Jets ran the ball well, but took advantage of chances with the vertical passing game.
I think the Jets win the game, aided by the fact that the Bills are so banged up at wide receiver and the Jets are great at stopping the run. They rendered Spiller and Jackson, short of one long run he had, useless in the first meeting and I’m sure that will be the focal point of their defensive approach again in Sunday.
Thanks to Jeff for taking time out for this interview. The insight is very much appreciated from someone who spends a lot of time covering the New York Jets. Check him out on the web in the links above or on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet.
Jeff brings up a key point when asked about the health of the wide receivers. The Jets have weapons in the passing game that may not be elite players, but they can attack defenses at all levels of the field. If the Bills hope to contain the Jets’ passing game, they will need to be able to get quick pressure on Geno Smith early and often without the need for additional rushers. To help the pass rush, the Bills should play tight coverage to force Smith to hold on to the ball just an extra second or two. The Bills cannot afford to key in on the passing game, though. While not superstars, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will keep the defense honest.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jeff highlights the Jets’ line. Sheldon Richardson is a huge part of that defense’s success. Big men who are that athletic will give opposing offensive lines problems. As Jeff points out, disruption is more important than sack totals. If a defensive line can force quarterbacks into making bad throws, an incomplete pass on third down gets the job done.
The Bills struggled at the point of attack all game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose line is not as good as the Jets. Offensive coordinator Nate Hackett will have his hands full getting a game plan put in place to keep the Jets off balance.
It is hard to see a way for the Bills to win this game. The cornerbacks struggled against the Steelers’ receivers. Geno Smith is no Ben Roethlisberger, but the defense will need to bounce back in a big way to keep the score close. It is just hard to have any confidence in the Bills’ offense right now, especially with wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods not playing.