The Jets have a lot of work to do.
Coming off a 5-11 season, they enter 2017 with more questions than answers.
GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles need a monster offseason, in the draft and free agency, to fix a broken product. Because if they don’t fix it, they could both be looking for work in 2018.
And they have a lot to fix. Not only did the Jets go 5-11, but they got blown out in six of those losses, which is a telltale sign of a roster that needs a major infusion of new talent.
A big reason for many of these lopsided losses was horrific pass defense. When you play as poorly against the pass as the 2016 Jets did, in a passing league, you are going to get destroyed by elite quarterbacks. Late in the season, Tom Brady’s Patriots and Andrew Luck’s Colts both put up 41 points on the Jets.
The Jets' secondary struggled mightily in 2016, and what makes this particularly painful for the team's brass, is that in 2015, they went on a $150 million spending spree, signing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine, along with safety Marcus Gilchrist. It turned out to be profligate spending. The Jets' secondary was average in 2015, and below average in 2016 (against a much tougher schedule than 2015).
The Revis signing has turned into an unmitigated disaster for Gang Green. He was a great player with the Jets his first stint with the team from 2007-2012. In 2015, Revis signed a five-year, $70 million ($39 million guaranteed), but played more like a guy making the league minimum. In the Jets' loss to Cincinnati in Week One of 2016, he gave up a long TD to A.J. Green, and that was a harbinger of things to come. He’s lost a step and receivers were consistently. pulling away from him throughout the 2016 campaign. And too often he wouldn't "play the sticks" on third down, giving up first down completions too easily.
Revis was like a ball-and-chain around Bowles ankle. The Jets head coach and de-facto defensive coordinator couldn’t blitz as much as he likes because he had to give Revis a lot of double-team help. You don't pay cornerbacks this kind of coin who need safety help.
The team’s other starting corner, Buster Skrine, who has great speed, often didn’t play to that timed speed due to suspect route recognition and diagnostic skills. He gave up way too many big chunk plays. Safety Calvin Pryor had the same problem. Skrine and Pryor were too often a tick late reacting to combo routes.
Not helping the Jets' secondary was very little edge pass rush from the outside linebackers, a big problem in a 3-4 front. So the deep patrol often had to cover too long.
But it wasn’t just the defensive backs; the linebacker coverage wasn’t much better. The Jets picked speedy Ohio State inside linebacker Darron Lee in the 2016 first round to improve their tight end and running back coverage, but he didn’t have much of an impact in Year One. While he does run 4.5, he was thinking more than reacting in this first year, and this neutralized his great speed. The team’s other inside linebacker David Harris, 33, doesn’t run like he did in the past, and often got exposed in space.
So while it’s easy to blame quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Jets 2016 season, that would be shortsighted.
Fitzpatrick didn’t have a great season, but the pass defense was so bad it often created big deficits that made the Jets too pass-happy, and took the veteran QB out of his wheelhouse as a game manager.
Fitzpatrick likely won’t be back with the Jets in 2017, but whoever their quarterback is, perhaps a free agent like Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum or Mike Glennon (QB of the future Christian Hackenberg likely won’t be ready), the Jets better fix their pass defense.
Because unless you have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, the big numbers their pass defense was allowing, would be hard for most quarterbacks to keep up with.