The last four seasons in the Meadowlands have seen continued diminishing returns for Gang Green.
Rex Ryan's arrival in New York was lauded by NFL fans and pundits alike, and it seemed as if the Jets were at long last, going to catch the Patriots in the AFC East on their way to New York's first Super Bowl appearance since Joe Namath led the team there following the 1968 season.
Yet a funny thing happened to the Jets on the way to their date with destiny, and after back to back AFC conference game appearances (and losses), the New York has receded back to the soft underbelly of the NFL, forced to slug it out with the Buffaloes and Oaklands, as opposed to locked in an epic struggle with the juggernauts of the NFL for league supremacy.
Much of the blame has fallen upon beleaguered quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom the Jets selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Sanchez came out of USC highly-touted, despite only starting one season, and his own coach saying that he was not ready for the NFL. Despite these red flags, the Jets mortgaged the future on "The Sanchize".
Sanchez was not asked to carry much of an offensive burden his first season, as the team was strong defensively, and featured a one-two punch of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene in their backfield. The duo combined for 1,942 yards and 16 rushing TDs that year, as the Jets played ground and pound through the regular season and playoffs before ultimately falling to Indianapolis in the Conference championship.
The Jets' quarterback of the future only passed for 2,380 yards his rookie year, completing just 53.8 percent of his passes. The biggest story offensively for New York was Jones, who had 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns, the pinnacle of his three seasons with the Jets. In the offseason Jones was released, and Ladainian Tomlinson was brought in to platoon with the up and coming Greene.
The 2010 season saw a drop in the Jets' rushing attack, from 2,756 yards the previous year to 2,374. Tomlinson led the team with 914 yards, and Greene chipped in 766 of his own, but it was clear by the end of that season which way the pendulum was beginning to swing.
Sanchez did improve over his rookie season, passing for 3,242 yards, and saw his attempts increase by nearly 150 from the season before. Despite the increased emphasis on the pass, Sanchez completed only 54.8 percent of his passes, and his leading receiver, tight end Dustin Keller, finished the season with only 55 receptions for 687 yards.
Nevertheless, New York again made an appearance in the AFC Championship game, vanquishing the hated Patriots in Foxboro on their way. Finishing the regualr season 11-5, it appeared that the torch had been passed in the AFC East.
Age and expectations have a funny way of catching up to people and in 2011 they caught up to New York. Tomlinson had a career worst year rushing for only 280 yards, and though battery mate Shonn Greene managed to rack up 1,054 yards on the ground, as a team New York managed a paltry 1,692 rushing yards.
A declining running game in the modern NFL isn't necessarily a cause for alarm, especially with a third year franchise quarterback. And 2011 was to this point the high water mark of Sanchez's career, as he set career highs in attempts (543), completions (308), yards (3,297) and touchdowns (26).
The Southern Cal product seemed to be on his way, if he could only raise his completion percentage a little higher. Despite it also being a career high, 2011 saw Sanchez only complete 56.7 percent of his passes. Far below what is considered acceptable for a capable starting quarterback in today's NFL.
As the New York ground attack continued to wear down into 2012, little was done to improve the offensive talent around Sanchez. Greene was again the leading rusher with 1,063 yards, and while newcomer Bilal Powell improved over LT's contribution the previous season, he still only managed 437 rushing yards.
Salary cap issues forced the revamp of the Jets' receiving corps, with Santonio Holmes the only remaining established wide receiver on the roster.
When the Jets lost him to a LisFranc injury early in the season, opposing defenses were able to lock up the Jets' inexperienced receivers and stack against the run.
The ground and pound attack of the Jets that had seemed so fearsome just two seasons before was a nothing more than shadows, cardboard mock-ups used to feign the opposition.
In 2012 the Jets had only one receiver, Jeremy Kerley, catch more that 30 passes. The Texas Christian product who was taken in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft led the team with 56 receptions for 827 yards.
The combination of injuries, age, and Sanchez's inability to get out of his own way (butt fumble) were disastrous for the quarterback and the team, as the Jets fell to 6-10. Sanchez threw 13 scores versus 18 picks last year, and despite 90 fewer pass attempts, his completion rate fell to 54.3 percent.
So now that the numbers have been examined, and yes it is clear that the Jets' offense is in total disarray, its time to address the problem, right?
Well not if you are John Idzik and Rex Ryan. They were apparently playing golf with the Bills' front office on the day that the rest of the league got the memo about building from the line up.
And2013 featured a record number of offensive lineman selected in the first round, and the Jets had multiple opportunities to bolster the protection around Sanchez (who they are financially strapped to fro at elast another season), or bring in a true road grading interior lineman to open up holes for Powell and the newly-acquired Chris Ivory.
At the very least, it was thought the Jets would get some help on offense with one of their first round picks. But Idzik's New York and Co. opted to go another route, and drafted a pair of defensive players in the first round before selecting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to really leave Sanchez twisting in the wind.
No matter which of the FIVE quarterbacks currently on the Jets' roster ends up getting the start opening day, it will be difficult for anyone to find success with the dearth of truly talented skill players around them.
The drafting of Smith reeks of the need for a "splash" move. "Don't worry folks, if Sanchez continues to suck, we have THIS GUY!"
What happens next year when New York continues to struggle and a potential coaching change is made? Surely Idzik has considered that the next man up will want to get "his guy", so why not spend the draft this year laying the foundation for a quarterback yet to come, instead of plugging pieces wherever they fit, much like the little dutch boy trying to repair the dyke.
Sometimes the only way to truly repair something is to start over from scratch, which is where New york will continually find themselves until the franchise lays a solid offensive framework. While Sanchez has yet to have a season that warrants "elite" conversations status, he has proven himself serviceable when surrounded by the right system.
Start with a solid running game, set up the play-action, and don't ask too much from the guy and you can be right there...but he can't do it himself.