The Jets can be thankful for the Oakland Raiders. Without its AFC compatriots, Rex Ryan’s bunch might be the unanimous favorite for the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. A Super Bowl berth at MetLife Stadium seems a long shot, but stranger things have happened than for a team like the current Jets to at least reach the postseason. The Rams endured nine consecutive losing seasons in the ’90s before ending the decade with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title in 1999. While these Jets aren’t those Rams, and neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith is Kurt Warner, it’s not completely out-of-the-question that this team could find success in 2013. Here are three things that must go right for that to happen.
IDENTIFY THE RIGHT QB
Ryan can’t play musical quarterbacks all season and hope to win even half of the Jets’ games. Sanchez’s injured shoulder should keep him out for at least a few games, so the job first will be Smith’s to lose. If the second-round pick shows enough to warrant starts when Sanchez is healthy, the team needs to stick with him. If not, the Jets must find out whether Sanchez gives them enough to merit keeping him around after the season. Either way, fans are likely to be more patient with the unknown entity (Smith) than they will be with the incumbent Sanchez, who is lustily booed at home after committing 49 turnovers over two seasons.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
With the quarterback position as shaky as it is, the team must find a way to replicate what carried the 2009 and 2010 Jets to the AFC Championship Game: a strong running game. The team was committed to running the ball last year (118.5 ypg, 12th in NFL), but that’s a far cry from ’09 (172.3, first) and ’10 (148.4, fourth). They’ve overhauled the running back position by bringing in Chris Ivory (career 5.1 ypc) and Mike Goodson (career 4.5 ypc), but Ivory missed preseason action, and Goodson is suspended for four games. They, along with 2012 holdover Bilal Powell (4.0 ypc last year), must lighten the burden on the QBs.
MOVE ON FROM REVIS
Although Darrelle Revis will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, he’ll be wearing a Buccaneers jersey. The Jets surprisingly led the AFC in interceptions (21) last year even without Revis for all but two games, so his offseason trade won’t necessarily set this unit back. In his stead, new top corner Antonio Cromartie stepped up as the leader of the defense last season, and the addition of first-round pick Dee Milliner gives the Jets’ secondary a face of the future. It will be up to Cromartie to continue to lead the defense with his Pro Bowl-caliber play on the field and make fans forget about Revis Island.
Jet to watch
It may come as a surprise that the Jets allowed the second-fewest passing yards last season, even without Darrelle Revis for most of the campaign. What shouldn’t surprise anyone is how poor they were against the run.
In an effort to improve a defensive front that surrendered the seventh-most yards per game on the ground in 2012, the Jets used one of their two first-round picks on defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
At 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, Richardson is a big, talented body. Although he played on the interior line in Missouri’s 4-3 set, he’s versatile enough to play nose tackle or on the outside in the Jets’ 3-4 defensive front.
The rookie has fared well during the preseason, logging 12 tackles in three games.
“I thought it was going to be a little bit more difficult learning the 3-4,” Richardson told The Star-Ledger last month.
Ideally, he would be playing in front of outside linebacker Quinton Coples — who spent his rookie season on the Jets defensive line — when the team’s 2012 sack leader returns from a fractured ankle, likely later this month.
If Richardson can keep blockers occupied, his presence should be a boon to the Jets’ pass rush, too.