2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Blogger

Offense

In years past, the Jets have relied on a ground-and-pound offense in which running backs like Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson gain tough yards on the ground and quarterback Mark Sanchez manages the game with as few mistakes as possible. Yet, the team, for whatever reason, went away from that idea in 2011. Perhaps the Jets mistakenly thought Sanchez could handle more of the passing game on his shoulders. But midway through the season, after the Jets were embarrassed by the Ravens on a Sunday night while recording only 38 rushing yards, coach Rex Ryan said, "We built this team to be able to run the football. ... We have to." After finishing first and fourth in the league in rushing in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and making the AFC title game both seasons, New York dropped to No. 22 last year.

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This year, with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano replacing Brian Schottenheimer, the team is set to return to that ground-and-pound mentality. Tomlinson has retired, which means most of the onus will fall on Greene (who struggled last season) and Joe McKnight. Not to mention the idea that Tim Tebow could play a significant amount of snaps in version 2.0 of the Wildcat offense. But Sanchez -- with the specter of Tebow looming overhead and behind him and everywhere else (let's just say Tebow is omniscient) -- had better play at a higher level than he ever has before. He has one legit No. 1 receiver in Santonio Holmes, who also could disrupt the entire locker room, and the Jets brought in Chaz Schilens from Oakland to go with tight end Dustin Keller (while saying goodbye to 45-catch, eight-touchdown Plaxico Burress). The personnel on offense hasn't changed much. The team will simply have to play better than last year.

Defense

Rex Ryan made his name employing tough defenses, and since he took over as Jets coach in 2009, his team has ranked first (2009), fifth (2010) and sixth (2011) in the league. If the Jets are going to get back to the AFC Championship Game, the defense most likely will be what leads them there. Despite the success of the past three years, Ryan -- who apparently is taking even more of an interest in the defense this season -- and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have discussed moving the 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme. With the versatility of 2011 first-round pick defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and 2012 first-round pick defensive end Quinton Coples, that move could pay big benefits, essentially freeing up linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott.

On the backside, you've got Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback in the league, who basically can take care of half the field by himself. That's clearly a great boon to the Jets, but right now, it's unclear if Revis is gearing up for another contract holdout. We saw what happened in 2010 after Revis missed time. He wasn't as sharp early in the season, and while famously getting torched by Randy Moss for a long one-handed touchdown catch, Revis injured his hamstring. Without Revis, the Jets secondary isn't nearly as good. Antonio Cromartie can be inconsistent, and 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson hasn't lived up to his billing. Getting safety LaRon Landry should boost the defense's physicality, but he has also been oft-injured, so it's unclear how much impact he'll have and for how long.

Key Changes

Roster Additions: S Yeremiah Bell, K Josh Brown, OT Stephon Heyer, S LaRon Landry, WR Chaz Schilens, QB Tim Tebow.

Roster Departures: S Gerald Alexander, QB Mark Brunell, WR Plaxico Burress, S Jim Leonhard, QB Kevin O'Connell, DE Ropati Pitoitua, S Brodney Pool, CB Donald Strickland, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, OT Robert Turner, OT Ray Willis.

Staff: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left for the same title with the Rams; former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano replaces him.

The addition of Sparano should pay dividends for the Jets. No matter what the Jets do with Tebow (and it sounds like Tebow could play a decent-sized role), Sparano should bring together an offense that had splintered under Schottenheimer (you'll recall the supposed near-mutiny that occurred under Schottenheimer last year). Although Ryan said he supported Schottenheimer all along, it was clear the Jets were ready for a change. Sparano has plenty of experience fielding solid running teams, and considering New York wants to get back to that style of play, he should be a good fit.

Schilens had some good moments with the Raiders, but ultimately, he couldn't make himself into a showcase receiver. It seems unlikely he'll replace Burress' production from last season, especially if he can't stay healthy. It'll be interesting to see what Schilens can do if Santonio Holmes, for whatever reason, isn't on the field. And considering Schilens -- who had a strong offseason -- hasn't caught more than 29 passes in a season during his four-year career, can the Jets count on second-round pick Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley to pick up the slack?

Bell is 34 years old, but he's a cheap free agent who could fill in if Landry gets hurt. Don't expect, however, Landry or Bell to help much in pass defense.

X-Factor: Tim Tebow

This is the obvious answer, but it doesn't make it any less true. So much of the attention in training camp and throughout the season will be on Tebow, even if his impact on the offense is minimal. Tebow will always be there, looking over Mark Sanchez's shoulder, and if Sanchez can't handle the pressure, Tebow has shown he's capable of leading a team to a division crown. Yes, the Broncos defense and running game played an enormous part of Denver's run to the AFC West title last year, but you can't forget that Tebow performed some miracles in a few fourth quarters.

Will he upend Sanchez for the starting job? Probably not. But could he be a helpful entity on offense, whether he's lining up as the quarterback, a running back or as a decoy? I think so. It remains to be seen how Tebow will perform on special teams as a punt protector, but if Sanchez struggles early in the season, there might be immense pressure to give Tebow a chance to replace him. That's probably one of the last things the Jets coaching staff would want, but Tebow has also shown if he's put in the right situation (in other words, running what's basically a college-style offense), he can succeed. It's not probable he would take over full time for Sanchez, but it's certainly possible.

Will Sanchez break through?

Even forgetting the Tebow angle for a moment, this is a crucial time for Sanchez as he heads into his fourth season. He's a former first-round draft pick who simply hasn't played like one (Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 37 out of 38 quarterbacks last season). He led the team to back-to-back AFC title games in his first two seasons and he looked good in the playoffs while doing so, but it's still unclear if Sanchez can play consistently like a top-10 quarterback. If Sanchez struggles again this season -- or if he (gasp!) loses his job to Tebow -- this has to be the last year of the Sanchez experiment. He should be the face of the organization -- and the Jets did give him a contract extension in the offseason -- but if he can't play any better than he has, the Jets need to go somewhere else.

Behave yourself

Receiver Santonio Holmes embarrassed himself and his team at the end of last season when he was such a menace that he was benched in the fourth quarter of the final game of the season against Miami. He signed a five-year, $45 million contract before the 2011 campaign, but he didn't have a great season. And he was an utter disaster as a team captain (the fact the Jets won't even have captains this year is an indictment of Holmes' reign). He alienated his teammates, revolted against Brian Schottenheimer and made life more miserable for Sanchez. He has vowed to be more mature this year and has begun making amends with Sanchez. But he also blew off the media for all three days of the team's minicamp. Not a big deal in the grand scheme, but that's also not the sign of a player who's looking to curry favor with his employer. It seems Holmes, who hasn't recorded a 100-yard receiving game in 25 contests, could go a long way toward determining Sanchez's fate, but if Holmes doesn't improve his on-field game and his attitude, he might not be long for New York.

More Darrelle drama

This wasn't what the Jets expected before the 2010 season when they signed Revis to a four-year, $46 million contract with $32.5 million guaranteed. When Revis was asked in June whether he would attend Jets training camp, he said, "I don't know. That's up to [general manager] Mike Tannenbaum. I really don't know." Apparently, Revis' non-committal caught the organization off guard, and not surprisingly, it sounds like it's not interested in revisiting Revis' contract (especially since his last deal was so front-loaded). The Jets, though, might need to make another concession to Revis. He's the best cornerback in the league, and without him in the lineup, the team's defense will suffer greatly.

Insider's Take

"The Jets are the wild card. They're not afraid of the Patriots, but with all the turmoil last year, there's still too much confusion. I don't know if they can turn it around. Say you're a parent, and you let the line get blurred with being an authority figure and being a friend. That's kind of what happened. They got so comfortable with their head coach, there wasn't a lot of respect. When you're a head coach and you don't know the faults of your locker room, that's a lack of discipline. If the coach doesn't know what's going on in the locker room, there's no respect. That's when it gets out of control. They had more bravado than production. I don't know how they can change that this year, especially with a distraction like Tim Tebow there. And they're so over-reactionary to everything. After what happened with [Santonio] Holmes last year as the team captain, now they're not going to have any team captains? What the hell are they talking about?"

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Jets' offense stalled last year after two trips to the AFC championship game. The run game that got them within one win of a Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010 disappeared as they fell from a top-five unit to No. 22.

Jets' Rivals: AFC East

2012 Preview • Schedule
Bills @ Jets: 9/9 (1 p.m. ET)
Jets @ Bills: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Dolphins @ Jets: 10/28 (1 p.m. ET)
Jets @ Dolphins: 9/23 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Patriots @ Jets: 11/22 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Jets @ Patriots: 10/21 (4:15 p.m. ET)

As soon as that happened, Mark Sanchez struggled. Now it's time to repair the damage. Look for the Jets to have two run games this year. Sanchez will operate a traditional 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) run game with old-fashioned angle blocking and double teams up front and a fullback leading through on a linebacker.

The other run package will be the spread wildcat operated by Tim Tebow. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has plenty of history with both packages and we could see him using both every week. It all sounds great, but what will the Jets be when they have to play catch-up? Gone are WR Plaxico Burress and RB LaDainian Tomlinson. They accounted for 87 receptions and 10 TD passes.

The receivers are going to struggle getting used to the two different quarterbacks. Sanchez is right-handed, throws on rhythm and is fairly accurate. Tebow is left-handed, scrambles to create time and tends to be less accurate. As for the offensive line, there is a real concern at right tackle, which is Tebow's blind side. Pass protection will be challenged by the two quarterbacks. Tebow loves to escape to his left which means D'Brickashaw Ferguson has to be aware when blocking speed rushers. Sanchez is at his best rolling out to the right. Lineman want to know the launch point for the QB and with the two different styles in the pocket, the linemen will be stressed.

The Jets' defense is labeled a 3-4 package but there will be the old Bear 46 sprinkled in and some hybrid looks to set up Rex Ryan's burning desire to blitz. Last year, the Jets made a pressure call on 62 percent of their third downs and weren't shy on first or second downs, either.

Gang Green has the man cover corners to run this scheme, but for all their pressure calls, they only had 35 sacks in 2011, and half of those came from payers other than defensive linemen or outside linebackers. When the Jets got one or no sacks, they had a 2-4 record.

The club is hoping first-round DE Quinton Coples can upgrade the pass rush. The Jets recognized a problem at safety and went out and signed LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, plus they drafted two safeties I think can play, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. Don't be surprised to see at least three of these safeties on the field together in a 'big nickel' when the Jets play teams like New England. Tom Brady threw for 650 yards and Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez caught 21 passes against the Jets in 2011.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

When Seattle snagged West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin one spot ahead of the Jets, sources told me the team then turned to North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. The 6-6, 284-pound Coples is certainly not going to be asked to make the transition to outside linebacker, but he does have the size and power to provide unusual pass rush production as a five-technique defensive end in the Jets' odd-man front.

Jets Draft Analysis

While I have real concerns about his motor, there is no questioning Coples' talent. He has shown the ability to take over games, has a natural skill set that some scouts have likened to former All-Pro Richard Seymour and was clearly the most dominant player on the field at the Senior Bowl.

Largely due to the fact that he played in the SBC (Sun Belt Conference) rather than the SEC (Southeastern Conference), third-round pick Demario Davis didn't generate a great deal of national attention prior to the draft. The 6-2, 235-pounder enjoyed a strong Senior Bowl week, then showed eye-popping athleticism at the combine, registering a 4.61-second 40-yard dash and pushing 31 bench reps of 225 pounds.

The rest of the Jets' picks:

1st Round - No. 16 overall - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
2nd Round - No. 43 overall - Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
3rd Round - No. 77 overall - Demario Davis, LB, Arkansas State
6th Round - No. 187 overall - Josh Bush, FS, Wake Forest
6th Round - No. 202 overall - Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor
6th Round - No. 203 overall - Robert T. Griffin, OG, Baylor
7th Round - No. 242 overall - Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
7th Round - No. 244 overall - Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan

 
 
 
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