As we head into the final three games of the season, the media chatter around the Jets will be predictable. Will Rex Ryan be around next year? Maybe, and a lot depends on how competitive the Jets are in their final games, especially on defense. Can they sneak into the playoffs like in 2009? No. That was then, this is now. It’s not happening. Nobody is going to rest their starters like in 2009. Everyone on the Jets remaining schedule will be playing to win: Panthers, Browns, Dolphins.
Is Geno Smith the future? I don’t know, but we will know a lot more on that based on how he performs against Carolina. Even if he is spectacular the rest of the way I’d still draft a quarterback. The financial penalties of guessing wrong are much less severe now than with the old CBA. I’d also pick up a free agent back-up QB that could actually play. I love David Garrard, but it is a waste of a roster spot to have him on the depth chart at QB. He should have been hired as an assistant QB coach, which is the role he actually performs. The Jets are so thin on personnel anyway what with all the injuries. What if that spot was open? Maybe there is a surprise hidden gem lurking on the practice squad that could have been given a chance.
But I digress.
I predict the Jets are going to lose in Carolina. Maybe not in a blowout, but I still can’t see them winning. First of all, the Panthers are coming off an embarrassing loss on the national stage to the New Orleans Saints. There is zero chance the Panthers are going to lose to a Ryan family defense two weeks in a row. They’re at home, they’ll be prepared and I think Ron Rivera will have them in the right state of mind. After the loss, Rivera reflected that perhaps this might refocus his team to not take anything for granted. Maybe they were getting just a little too big for their britches. I like this Carolina team and I like the development of Cam Newton. And the not taking anything for granted or overlooking any opponent is a very important lesson for every team to learn.
All of which brings me to “Collision Low Crossers”, Nicholas Dawidoff’s new book about the 2011 Jets season. If you are a Jets fan this is required reading. Pick up a copy or ask Santa for one. There’s still time!
I’m half way through and I can’t put it down. Basically Dawidoff was granted all access for the 2011 season from the off season all the way to the brutal end. He picks up where Hard Knocks and the Jets thrilling 2010 season ends, but he had a different kind of access than Hard Knocks. He got to sit through the draft and the lockout and see the off season part of the calendar which is just as fraught as in season but for different reasons. Reading through the lines of Dawidoff’s reporting and opinion, we see how the seeds were sown early for the disastrous 2011 campaign and gain insight into how and why the Jets fell apart. I’ve speculated about this before, but Davidoff reveals what was happening. I maintained from the get go that the Jets took for granted the 2011 regular season was just a formality on the way to another deep playoff run. Rex Ryan was a media darling and Mike Tannenbaum his happy co-conspirator (remember the CSI cameo anyone?).
All the fissures started to appear: declining offensive line depth, Ryan’s disinterest in the offense and especially in developing his young quarterback, failing to account for the fact that the Jets now had a target on their back and other teams planned accordingly. This is the kind of thing that happens when you take success for granted.
Davidoff also gets into the coaching dynamics. He spends the first half of the book delving deeply into that. One especially fascinating situation was the drafting in the 7th round of Scotty McKnight. Most of the coaches didn’t think McKnight was worth a draft pick reasoning that they could easily pick him up as a undrafted free agent and thereby use the draft choice on someone they had rated higher on their board. But apparently Ryan pulled rank and they drafted McKnight, in large part because he was Mark Sanchez’s childhood best friend.
The consternation this caused had ripple effects. Mike Pettine was reportedly irate about it. I wonder if it also added to the growing reputation of “coddling” the media constantly invoked of the Jets’ handling of Sanchez. I always hated that descriptor. But knowing about this draft situation, I wonder if favoritism wouldn’t be a more accurate word. I could see how that would breed resentment against Sanchez.
The whole episode gets to the heart of both the good and bad of Rex Ryan. On the good side, you really get a sense of what an enthusiastic leader and coach he is and how much he genuinely loved his players and felt great loyalty to them. That comes across loud and clear. I believe those traits are one reason why he has not lost the support of his players this year. However, that loyalty is also the root of a huge blind spot he has. Sometimes player personnel decisions have to be ruthless especially when production is falling off or someone needs to hit the bench so they can reassess. This is where Ryan could desperately use a bad cop. Ryan himself is terrific as the good cop. Having a bad cop would be a great dynamic because it would allow Ryan to preserve one of his greatest qualities – his loyalty to and support of his players, while letting someone else make the brutal and often unpopular personnel decisions that have to be made constantly in order to stay competitive. Mike Tannenbaum was not that guy. He was more Ryan’s enabler; his partner in crime. We don’t know if new GM John Idzik can be that guy because no one seems to know yet what he really thinks of Ryan long term. But to my eye, the flaw in Idzik being the bad cop if Ryan stays is I am not enamored of Idzik’s personnel evaluation skills.
I would have never taken Geno Smith at quarterback, second round or no. And I especially would not have let Ryan have so many high defensive picks when there was such a crying need for offense.
The second half of the book follows the actual games and I can’t wait to read about what I maintain was the season turning point, the awful Thursday Night Football loss to Denver at the hands of Tim Tebow.
Meanwhile, we shall all have to wait and see what happens in the next chapter of this season: The Jets visit Carolina and try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. This is a huge test for Smith. The next three weeks are his audition to keep the starter role for next season. If he doesn’t show very solid quarterback play (translation: minimize the turnovers and show some mastery of eye discipline when going through his progressions), the Jets will either be on the clock come draft time for his competition/replacement or mulling their free agent options. Keep an eye on Washington DC the next three weeks. If Kirk Cousins plays well, he’ll likely become a hot commodity.
The results will be in the books by early evening Sunday. The controversy around this team and its future will be here for a while.