By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts H! A! C! K! Hack! Hack! Hack!!
The New York Jets have packed more excitement into the last two seasons than they did in the previous four decades.
When Rex Ryan took over in 2009, the Jets only had six playoff wins in the 40 years after the Namath team won it all in 1968. Since, they've won four playoff games, and have been a great fourth quarter away from the Super Bowl two years running.
Not bad for a team that started over with a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback – neither of whom was immune from serious ups and downs.
NEW YORK JETS
The 2010 Storyline: The Jets looked like easy pickings for anyone they'd face in the playoffs. They had a sub-par passing game, needed a lot of late heroics just to beat bad teams, and the defense didn't look near as good as it did in 2009. The result? Another trip to the AFC title game. Expect the unexpected.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 11-5 (22.9 PPG – 19.0 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 43-37 (.538)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Quarterback Rating (3rd)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Offensive Passer Rating (24th)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 4th
Quarterback Rating: 14th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 3rd
Relativity Index: 8th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Jets' point differential went from +112 in 2009 to +63 in 2010, and they played (according to pro-football-reference.com and USA Today's Jeff Sagarin) a more challenging schedule as well. The result? An 11-5 record, up from 9-7.
Best game of 2010
28-21 win at New England (divisional playoffs). Although the win over Indianapolis in the wild-card round was as impressive, the win in New England will stand as one of the most memorable of the decade. The Jets took advantage of what they were given and got the win – fitting for a team that only had two dominant wins all year, both over Buffalo. The fact that they beat the Patriots just a few weeks after being humiliated by them on the same field was one of the more amazing turnarounds in memory.
Worst game of 2010
45-3 loss at New England (Week 13). No other choice here – not only did the Jets lose the game and every statistical category you could imagine, but they looked really bad doing it. They dropped passes, played out of position on defense and looked shell-shocked on the sidelines. Good thing they had short memories.
Guts. Hogs. There really wasn't much about this team to suggest that they had an AFC title game run in them. Their defense took a step back from 2009 (236 PA in 2009; 304 PA in 2010), Mark Sanchez was still well below average as a passer, and they were just 2-4 against Quality Opponents.
But you don't win four playoff road games in two years – with a green QB – without some type of special ability. Is it head coach Rex Ryan? Is it linebacker Bart Scott? Is it center Nick Mangold? Is it cover god Darrelle Revis?
None of them play the usual glamour positions (and in Ryan's case, don't play at all), but their blue-collar, All-Pro efforts and character added up to this team being more than the sum of its parts.
The Jets do win in an unglamorous way, by dominating the trenches. With the No. 4 Defensive Hogs and the No. 6 Offensive Hogs, the Jets had the best combined collection of Hogs in the NFL last year. They were one of just two teams that ranked in the Top 10 on both sides of the ball. The other was the Giants: No. 9 on the Offensive Hog Index and No. 3 on the Defensive Hog Index. So fans in the New Meadowlands witnessed plenty of great line play last year.
Quarterback. Sanchez had his moments in 2010, and his passer rating of 75.3 was a nice step forward from a rough rookie season. It was also 27th in the league, behind guys like Alex Smith and Chad Henne.
Considering that Sanchez had a top-10 offensive line and two arguable No. 1 receivers in Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, that's a problem. The fact that winning is the end goal, and Sanchez has done more than his share of it, continues to obscure the fact that this team's biggest weakness is at the biggest position.
One statistical positive about Sanchez? The Jets as a team were 24th in Offensive Passer Rating ... but 14th in our new indicator, Real Quarterback Rating, which takes into account sacks, rushing yards and fumbles, in addition to passing stats. The improvement between Passer Rating and Real Quarterback Rating tells us that Sanchez is better than most at avoiding sacks and fumbles and making plays with his feet when needed (three rush TD, for example).
If Sanchez makes another step forward and gets his rating into the 80s in his third year, this team could be scary. If not, well, they're already getting to the AFC title game with him, so we're not going to be surprised by anything this team does.
General off-season strategy/overview
The Jets and GM Mike Tannenbaum have done a good job of convincing veterans to play in green for less. The results have been a bit so-so – Jason Taylor was pretty weak last year, and LaDainian Tomlinson faded badly:
First six games: 92 carries, 490 yards, 5.3 YPA and 5 TD
Final nine games: 127 carries, 424 yards, 3.3 YPA and 1 TD
But the Tannenbaum theory is strong. They'll need to get bargains, with a lot of veteran salaries in play for 2011 and a lot of their contributors scheduled to hit the market.
No team stands to lose more good players than New York – Shaun Ellis, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie and Brad Smith will all be on the market, and all five of those guys made an impact in 2011.
Their 2010 draft class was invisible last year, and it could be that they'll shine with more opportunity in 2011. Considering they had only three picks in 2009 (all of whom started, Matt Slauson, Shonn Greene and Sanchez), and with the salary cap situation likely to be sticky, and that's a lot of pressure on the Jets to have a great draft next week.
What do they need? The Jets are probably deep enough to go best athlete available, although a home-run hitter at wide receiver or pass rusher is probably their biggest concern.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The Jets have something special going under Ryan, and anything less than the playoffs this year will be a disappointment and a surprise. If Sanchez's career path can follow Eli Manning's – i.e., a slow, steady growth toward being a solid pro – the Jets are going to be in good shape with so much strength in the trenches and on the sidelines. If he's the next Rick Mirer or Craig Erickson, not so much.
Here's guessing Sanchez continues to grow, the Jets do another good job in the front office, and the Patriots get another run for their money in the AFC East.