For a team that has so much of its identity wrapped up in disappointment, the 2011 New York Jets season was one of the toughest in franchise history. Coming off two straight AFC Championship Game appearances, the Jets seemed poised to contend for a Super Bowl title. Instead, the wheels came off the wagon and the Jets missed the playoffs altogether.
What’s the biggest problem with the Jets? It’s definitely not talent—it’s team chemistry.
Prior to the 2011 season, the Jets said goodbye to Tony Richardson, Braylon Edwards, Shaun Ellis and Jerricho Cotchery, all of whom were well respected in the locker room. Instead of adding character guys, the Jets re-signed Santonio Holmes and flirted with Nnamdi Asomugha. The pursuit of Asomugha led to Brad Smith signing with Buffalo, and his versatility and explosive plays were missed. Holmes became the poster boy for the disastrous 2011 season. Perhaps most troubling of all is that coach Rex Ryan, considered by many to be the ultimate player’s coach, had no idea just how fractured his locker room had become.
Despite the team’s internal struggles, the Jets entered the offseason motivated by making headlines instead of solid football moves. While the Jets certainly needed a backup quarterback capable of pushing incumbent starter Mark Sanchez, the acquisition of Tim Tebow brings a ton of distractions to a team that doesn’t need any more negative media attention. Tebow doesn’t bring negative publicity, but a lot of the attention he gets doesn’t have much to do with the team; it’s usually about his faith and other factors.
Tebow is an exciting but flawed quarterback who suffers from many of the same deficiencies as Sanchez. The two may combine to create magic, but there’s a far greater chance this experiment could blow up in the team’s faces.
Of course, there’s more to football than the quarterback position. The Jets have lacked any semblance of a pass rush for years. Aaron Maybin was a pleasant surprise, but he works best when he doesn’t play every down. The Jets invested a lot in Muhammad Wilkerson last year, but they may have to use another pick on the defensive side of the ball this year, since Bryan Thomas and Bart Scott aren’t getting any younger.
Another major concern is depth at all positions. The entire team seems to be just one injury away from disaster. The Jets definitely need insurance for individuals like Sanchez who took a lot of hits last year. In the improved AFC East every game will be a battle. If you saw the Baltimore Ravens manhandle Colin Baxter when Nick Mangold was injured, you know the Jets need some added offensive line depth. They also need some insurance on the defensive end as well. Jets fans shudder at the thought of Darrelle Revis missing any time, but it’s bound to happen at some point. Judging from how teams have torched Antonio Cromartie over the past two years, a secondary without Revis is not a pretty sight.
At the end of the day, the New York Jets are a reflection of their coach. Rex Ryan claims he’ll tone down his usual act this year, but he should still have his team ready to play. If he can motivate his team – and keep his mouth shut – the Jets can fly below the radar and be a surprise team in 2012. The Jets play a great underdog, and their fans wouldn’t have it any other way.