When Rex Ryan came to New York in 2009, he brought with him a football mindset honed during his stint with the Baltimore Ravens. It was an exciting time as Ryan blew into town bringing along his swashbuckling, smashmouth style, determined to put his own stamp on a moribund Jets franchise.
And so it came to pass that the Jets under the early Rex Ryan regime in many ways resembled the Ravens circa the early 2000s. Both were defense oriented ball clubs with conservative offenses. And both found a fair degree of success with that formula. The Ravens won the 2000 Super Bowl and the Jets almost made it there in both 2009 and 2010.
When Ryan came over to the Jets from Baltimore, he imported personnel from that team who shared his philosophy. Mike Pettine and Dennis Thurman came along on the defensive coaching side. Bart Scott and Jim Leonard came along too. They helped Ryan establish his brash, physical style of defense in New York. With that and the other solid pieces on defense the Jets already had (see: Revis, Darrelle) The Jets were able to field a team in 2009 and 2010 that had a remarkable number of similarities to the successful teams Ryan had been a part of in Baltimore. In New York, that ended up being a ground and pound run first offense, aggressive defense and smart special teams. It was pretty successful for a while.
And then the wheels came off in 2011. I’ve written extensively about what happened back then, but it basically boils down to this: Rex tuned out the offense, Brian Schottenheimer seized control and tried to turn Mark Sanchez into Drew Brees 2.0. There was a new crew of wide receivers that Sanchez didn’t have a ton of off season to work with (lockout year) and the offensive line deterioration meant that the passing game didn’t have the kind of protection that would allow a pass heavy game plan to be successful. The locker room imploded and the whole season culminated in an embarrassing loss in Miami with an onfield meltdown in the offensive huddle and Santonio Holmes getting benched. The worst part was Ryan had no idea what was going on, giving credence to my year long speculation that he was barely involved in the offense of his own football team. He admitted just that in his post season press conference.
The twin storyline is Mike Tannebaum progressively letting the cupboard get more and more bare talent-wise. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. So when injury struck hard in 2012, the Jets weren’t in a position to weather the storm very well.
That’s how you end up with a 6-10 season.
So what did the Ravens do differently? Well, for one thing, they adapted better to the changing landscape of the NFL. Ozzie Newsome did a terrific job adding new talent over the years (Terrell Suggs, Torrey Smith, Bernard Pierce) so that the Ravens had a nice balance of veterans and young players giving them smarts and speed. It paid off handsomely. Perhaps most importantly, two things: They hired a head coach, John Harbaugh, who does not disdain offense. And they stuck with Joe Flacco. Those two things are not unrelated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It takes a while for young quarterbacks to grow into their roles. Sure, I love the Russell Wilsons and Robert Griffin IIIs as much as anybody else. And yes, they are changing the league. But you’d best have a quality back up when you start one of those types of player because the risk of injury when that is your style of play is extremely high. Ask Tim Tebow who was injured with the Broncos and couldn’t even make it out of this year with the Jets without another rib injury. Or Mike Vick.
So the Jets, and in particular new GM John Idzik, have their work cut out for them this year. So far, I am not impressed. Idzik has to seize message control of this organization. Any team where there is a leak that they might have had preliminary discussions with JaMarcus Russell’s people is an organization that needs to have a long talk with its scouting department about who will leak to the media and who will not.
This is not an auspicious start. No sooner does that blow over than Adam Schefter reports that the Jets do not plan to cut Tim Tebow before the start of the new league year and instead are holding out for potential trades. That makes Idzik look like a laughing stock. So let me help out the new GM: There is no trade value for Tebow. Are you unfamiliar with the circus that was the NY Jets last year? Look up espn beat reporters for the Jets Rich Cimini and James Walker’s archives. Heck, look up mine.
Tebow’s skills as a player are disproportionate to the huge media distraction he brings. It was an enormous weight on the team all season long, especially on Sanchez (who is under-recognized for his grace in handling that horribly awkward situation). Say whatever else you want about Sanchez (and I have plenty of criticism) you cannot discount his class in handling the Tebow debacle.
So back to Tebow’s trade value. I’m withholding judgment on Idzik for now. The draft will be what I judge this new GM on. However, thinking that you can get any solid trade value for Tebow is a joke. Put yourself in the position of any other GM in the league. What do you know about this player? If you bring in Tebow, you bring in the non-stop media circus (Hi ESPN!) starting with OTAs and never letting up. You either repeat with your own QB what Sanchez just had to endure, or you retool your entire offense to suit his skills as Denver did.
But if you’re a GM and do want him, why pay anything? You take a pretty good gamble the Jets will ultimately release him when they can’t find a trading partner. (If Idzik plans to keep his job, then he has to get rid of him. Otherwise, 2013 will just be a repeat of 2012 from the media circus standpoint.) Any outside GM that has interest could then pick him up for cents on the dollar with the added leverage that you can negotiate with him to play other positions if QB doesn’t pan out. No one in their right mind is giving up a draft pick for Tim Tebow. Not happening.
In order to follow the blueprint laid out by the Ravens, the Jets need a well balanced football team. That means they need to acquire some pieces. Especially on offense. I’m not worried about the defense even if they lose Revis.
I’m a huge Revis fan, but I think he should be traded. I love his loyalty in wanting to be a Jet. He is truly one of the good guys. But the Jets can’t pay the price tag he has clearly earned (assuming full recovery from the knee injury). There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about Alex Smith coming to the Jets to compete with Sanchez for the starting job. But he’s likely out of the Jets price range. A Jets-Niners trade (as floated by espn reporter James Walker) is very interesting….Alex Smith for Revis with the right amount of money and/or draft picks could be very interesting. As sad as I would be to see Revis go, he needs to go to an immediate contender and take his shot at Super Bowl glory. The Jets won’t even sniff the playoffs next year. On this one thing Idzik was right. Very poorly handled from a PR standpoint for both the fans and especially Revis who is a very proud and loyal guy. (Did Idzik not watch Hard Knocks?) But the Jets have too many glaring needs and Revis is one of their few bargaining chips with real value.
If I was Smith, of course, I’d want no part of such a trade unless the Jets prove that they have upgraded their o-line. Remember Greg McElroy only made it through one game before sustaining a concussion behind the terrible o-line protection. Smith is already vulnerable having been concussed last season.
I have confidence that Rex Ryan can coach up whomever ends up on the squad defensively. He’s a terrific schemer and teacher. But Ryan must be involved in the offense. If he doesn’t feel comfortable drawing up plays or dictating scheme, that’s fine. But he must demand accountability. And that does not mean occasionally dropping into offensive meetings or the quarterbacks room.
It really boils down to two things: limiting turnovers and putting up enough points to win games. Those are clear and easy to understand goals. Ryan should further dictate that playing time will be directly correlated to achieving those goals. If Ryan wants to give new OC Marty Mornhinweg free reign – fine. But the results better be there. The same goes for Sanchez if he is indeed the starter when the season opens.
The Ravens won because they had a smart plan and stuck to it. They drafted well and acquired personnel building blocks that made sense. They stuck with their quarterback and put him in a position to succeed. He rewarded them by becoming better every year and finally making the triumphant leap to Super Bowl MVP. And most of all, they have a head coach that holds every aspect of his football team accountable.
When everybody is pulling together like that you can become pretty unstoppable. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel Jets. The Ravens just showed you how it’s done. That’s still not a bad example to follow.