Even though we're coming off a brutal loss this week, I'm going to start by saying that I am pleasantly surprised by the Jets production this season. I could barely see us edging more than 6 wins, and here we are with half as many going into our 7th game. I thought for sure the Jets had one of the weakest rosters in the NFL this year. And in many ways, maybe they actually do. But it has got me to thinking, just how important is a "weak" roster and what constitutes that "weakness" exactly?
It's no secret the Jets have a lot of holes. The most glaring is our defensive backfield, which can't seem to help themselves, our less than average receiving core, our erratic QB play (but to be fair, that is expected of a rookie) and something that I feel will be our most glaring hole in a couple seasons if we don't change it, our aging offensive line. Seeing all this before the start of the season, and seeing our performance last season, my thinking was "of course we'll be terrible! That's just too many holes for this team to recover from!" But instead, we have not been terrible. Not great, but not terrible. We've played like a young, middle of the road team that has a bright future ahead of it. So how do you account for this?
I don't think there is one answer to that question, but I personally think the key lies in the construction of the team itself and its adaptability for the players it has. I, like many others, have spent years criticizing Rex's attempts to recapture lightning in the bottle with his "ground and pound" philosophy when we just didn't have the roster for it. That said, looking at this team, he may have figured himself out as we seem to have the right kind of roster for the kind of playing we've been doing. It has certainly not been "ground and pound" by any means, but the adjustments, and that's what I think is most key here, has made all the difference.
If you think back to our first championship season, we had the one of the best o-lines in football, the best running game, a below-average rookie QB, a decent receiving core, one of the best (at the time) cornerbacks in the game flanked by near-terrible backfield counterparts and a front 7 that was easily top-10. Essentially, the recipe for a highly successful ground and pound scheme, except when playing teams that could stop our pass-rush (always a poor area), expose our backfield and make our rookie QB screw up in spite of his minimal responsibility. The next season, we fixed every single hole, with the exception of QB, played with the same philosophy, yet ended with the same result. And after that? Well, old Christmas Tree the GM showed he wasn't such a cap genius afterall and our team was decimated.
So I come to the point of this thread. It's too early to tell how the Jets will finish this season. However, it is clear we have exceeded most peoples expectations. I, like many people, thought the Jets had one of the best rosters in the NFL going into our second championship season, but if you watched the regular season that year, our top 4 finish could definitely be constituted as an over-achievement. So in the end, what is the x-factor? I think the real "weakness" of rosters is not so much the problem areas, although those are a big deal, but rather, figuring out how to play to your strengths and lessen the impact of your weaknesses. It's something that Idzik seems to understand well, that Tannenbaum was clearly clueless about and that Rex, hopefully, seems to be wising up to. We have plenty of strengths on this team, in spite of it all. Our running game has been wonderful in helping to open up the passing lanes for Geno to chuck it downfield, where he has been above-average. Our front 7 might be the best in my lifetime. And our kicking? Hey, I'll take what I can get!
We are at .500 and to be fair, that's pretty much what we deserve. We haven't played much better than a .500 team. But the difference between us and the Giants, who in my opinion absolutely do not have a "weaker" roster than ours? It's been our adjustments based on the reality of what we have, not what we wish we had. And that's how a team like ours will win in the future. It's not by plugging every hole with a superstar like Tannenbaum thought. It's about understanding how to adjust for your weaknesses and play up your strengths in the smartest ways possible. And I think this team has overachieved its talent because of exactly that reason.