Football Outsiders has become a must-see site for any hardcore football fan. It's wide range of new statistical analysis takes fans further inside the game than we ever could have dreamed years ago. They are out with a new book, the 2009 Football Outsiders Almanac, an incredible preview of everything you'd want to know about football this coming season. Sean McCormick, the author who did the chapter on the Jets took five questions from GGN.
I'm not sure people realized how weak the level of competition was for AFC East teams last year. Miami went 11-5 and won the division, but according to our numbers, there were three 8-8 teams, one 9-7 team and one 6-10 team that played better football over the course of the season. People remember the Arizona Cardinals as the team who pushed the Steelers to the limit in the Super Bowl, but in the regular season they only scored one more point than they allowed despite playing in the NFC West, the worst division in football. The wins over Buffalo looked good because the Bills raced off to a 5-1 start, but that hot start was itself mostly a schedule-induced mirage. People might look at the Jets schedule and point out that they actually lost when playing bottom dwellers like Seattle and San Francisco while beating good teams like Miami and Buffalo, but those "good teams" only looked good because they inflated their records by fattening up on cupcake opponents. The other tell was that when you looked at the Jets DVOA game-by-game, there was a lot of variance. The Jets either played very well, as they did against St. Louis, Tennessee and Arizona, or they played very poorly, as they did against Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego. There wasn't a lot of middle ground.
The depth at tight end and wide receiver is almost non-existent, and it's hard to see how the Jets could recover from losing either Dustin Keller or Jerricho Cotchery for any substantial length of time. That said, the area I would be most concerned about is the offensive line. The Jets starting five went all sixteen games together, and they were one of the most dominant units in the league. If the Jets are serious about starting Mark Sanchez, they want to give him as much protection as possible, and they want to maintain their ground game to take the pressure off. Injuries to the offensive line and you could see a repeat of 2007, when Kellen Clemens was beaten into the ground (quite literally, as Richard Seymour ended his season by planting Clemens into the Gilette Stadium turf) and never seemed to recover.
I'm not sure I agree with you; I think a lot of Jets fans look at the Pro Bowl selections from last year and think that Ryan is going to come in and have the defense playing at a top five level, especially considering the offseason additions of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. Anyway, I think the Jets personnel should fit pretty well into Ryan's scheme. They have terrific size and athleticism in the front seven, they have a shutdown corner in Darrelle Revis, and they seem to have improved their depth and playmaking in the secondary with the additions of Jim Leonhard, Lito Sheppard and Donald Stickland and the maturation of Dwight Lowery. The question is whether they can avoid injuries along the defensive line, particularly at nose tackle, where Kris Jenkins is both injury-prone and irreplacable (which is never a good combination).
People think of Eric Mangini and instantly assume that the Jets spent all year rushing three and dropping eight into coverage, and to a certain extent, that's true--the Jets rushed three on 24.1% of their defensive snaps, most in the league by a healthy margin. But Mangini rushed five more often than he rushed three. He didn't rush six or seven all that often, but that was a change from 2007, when he was much more aggressive, more aggressive in fact than Rex Ryan. In 2007, the Jets blitzed six or more on 13.7% of their snaps. Ryan only blitzed six or more roughly 8.5% of the time in each of the past two seasons. The difference is that in 2007 the Jets had to send the house to stop the run, while in 2008 they were able to rely on Kris Jenkins to clog up the middle and allow the outside linebackers to overplay the outside and shut down stretch and off tackle plays. So the idea that Mangini and Bob Sutton were adverse to blitzing is, I think, misguided. The problem is that the Jets didn't blitz very effectively. Whether that was primarily a function of personnel or of scheme remains to be seen, though I tend to think it was a little more of the latter. Sutton's blitzes didn't seem to have much imagination to them. Ryan, in contrast, will make a point of overloading one side, often while threatening to blitz from the other side with pre-snap motion. Will it fit the Jets better? I think that depends on how well the secondary holds up. The Patriots really exposed the Jets' Achilles Heel in their second game when they forced the Jets into nickel and dime packages and threw the ball wherever Darrelle Revis wasn't. The Jets tried to upgrade the quality of their second, third and fourth corners, but we'll have to wait until the season starts before we know if they've succeeded. If the Jets are as vulnerbale in coverage as they were last year, the blitzes won't really matter, because teams will simply spread the field and take advantage of the matchups.
Thanks to Sean, and be sure to buy this book. I can not encourage you to read it enough.