There were no guarantees from head coach Rex Ryan this year. He has made an attempt to keep the media away from him for the most part. However, if you think Rex would be happy with anything short of a Super Bowl victory, you are mistaken.
Rex Ryan believes this is the best team he has coached yet, saying:
Overall, in my opinion, I think this has a chance to be the best team that I’ve had since I’ve been the coach here. And I say that because I think we understand complementary football.
That is how the new, soft spoken Rex says, "We're going to win the Super Bowl!" Yet he touches on a crucial point. The Jets' blueprint for winning the Super Bowl is based on complementary football.
Play Complementary Football
The NFL has become more of a passing league in recent years. However, this does not simply change the way you run passing plays. It also changes the way you run the ball, and it changes the way you play defense, too.
The Jets have one of the only defenses left in the NFL that can reliably shut down Hall of Fame quarterbacks. They demonstrated this in dramatic fashion in the 2010 NFL playoffs by defeating quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in back-to-back weeks.
The three big pickups for the Jets this offseason:
- Defensive end Quinton Coples
- Safety Yeremiah Bell
- Safety LaRon Landry
What does Rex want to do again this year? He wants to shut down quarterbacks. The Jets' starting 11 on defense is terrifying to opposing offenses at this point. Unlike last year, there are no holes.
The Jets have arguably the best defense in the league. However, that does not guarantee that they will have statistically the best defense in the league.
When defenses are ranked, it usually comes down to points and yards. These statistics have almost as much to do with the offense as they do defense. The Jets had the strongest pass defense in the NFL in 2011 and yet came fifth in passing yards against.
When the offense gives up turnovers and leaves the defense on the field too much, points are given up. The offense and defense constantly affect each other. The defense cannot be the best in the NFL without a little help from the offense.
Hold onto the Ball
Complementary football demands that possession be held. The first way to do this is to not turn the ball over. The best example of this is the Week 4 game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. While the Jets lost 34-17—a relatively high score—their defense played nearly a perfect game.
Turnovers set up scores. Turnovers also lead to points directly via returns. While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco put up appalling numbers (10-of-31 with an interception), the Jets committed four turnovers (one interception, three fumbles). Without the turnovers, this would have been a defensive battle and a likely Jets' victory.
Hold onto the Ball for More Than Three Plays
The other important part of holding onto the ball is not getting three-and-outs. Three-and-outs give your defense no rest and set them up with bad field position. Repeated three-and-outs were one of the biggest problems for the Jets in 2011.
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano hopes to fix this exact problem with his "chunk play" offense. The idea of the chunk play offense is to get the ball to faster players out in the open, with the hope of picking up 15- to 30-yard gains. The idea is that chunk plays are more reliable than long bombs and more effective than short runs.
While fans may think simply "ground-and-pound" when they think Jets, a more accurate image would involve a mixture of runs, Wildcat and moderate-length passes. In the chunk offense, play action passes and screen passes are of crucial importance. These are two types of plays that can get playmakers like running back Joe McKnight and wide receiver Santonio Holmes out in space and picking up first downs.
Picking up first downs—even without points—does a great deal for field position and for resting a defense. A great example of what happens to a defense with no time to rest would be the final drive of the Jets vs. Broncos game in 2011. In that game, the dominant Jets defense gave up a touchdown at the end of the game when they failed to stop the rushing attack they had controlled for 58 minutes.
Make Quarterback Mark Sanchez Comfortable
With the goal of complementary play, a big part of the Jets' blueprint is to keep the offense reasonable. We all know they will not look like the Green Bay Packers. However, in the modern NFL, it is impossible to win without at least some offensive production.
This brings us back to the running game and play action. In order for franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez to be comfortable and effective, he needs to run the play action. While Sanchez has improved statistically all three years of his career so far, his third year did not quite live up to expectations. Tony Sparano will try to help him to return to a simpler offense and to make use of play-action passes.
A big part of keeping Sanchez comfortable in the pocket will be right tackle Austin Howard. The 25-year-old—who has started only one game so far in his NFL career—has been thrust into the spotlight by earning the starting tackle job.
Howard is fortunate to be playing with a quality offensive line, including star center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. He can become a well-known and popular face in New York if he can play well. However, he could also end up with the Wayne Hunter treatment if he fails.
Hit the Quarterback—Force Mistakes
Assuming the offense can move the ball and get the defense its much-needed rest, the blueprint for the defense is simple. The plan for the Super Bowl can be summed up as "pedestrian offense, scary defense." That may not sound like much, but it is how the Super Bowl was won in 2001, 2006 and 2008.
The key is to hit the quarterback often while maintaining tight man coverage on the receivers. This forces the opposing quarterback to react too quickly and throw interceptions.
The first rule most opposing quarterbacks obey is to avoid cornerback Darrelle Revis at all costs. Through the first half of the 2011 season, opposing quarterbacks had a 2.9 quarterback rating when throwing against Revis. For comparison, an incomplete pass is worth a 39.6 rating.
Revis outplays his one-on-one matchups so dominantly most of the time that throwing the ball out of bounds is almost always better than throwing the ball his way. However, with enough time in the pocket, quarterbacks can survey all the options on the field and find the weakest point in the secondary.
In 2011, rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was still developing. Though effective for the most part, he only registered three sacks. The Jets' front three often failed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This year—with the partial shift to the 4-3 and the development of the defensive line—the story is likely to be different.
The plan for the Jets defense is to have Wilkerson on the line, along with Kenrick Ellis, Sione Pouha and rookie sensation Quinton Coples. That line by itself needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If they can do that, then the Jets can have seven men back in coverage, which puts the opposing quarterback in a very tough situation.
Don't Be Afraid of the Road
The Jets' blueprint for winning a Super Bowl this year does not necessarily involve winning the AFC East. The Jets do not and should not fear going on the road in the playoffs.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez already tied the all-time record for road playoff wins by a quarterback in his second year. The Jets reached the AFC Championship game twice in a row (2009, 2010) without winning the AFC East.
Moreover, the wild-card position is not one of huge disadvantage in the modern NFL. The last two Super Bowls were won by wild-card teams.
The New England Patriots consistently put up tremendous regular season records. However, in the past six years—since they have become more of an offense-oriented team—they have been less successful in the playoffs than they were in the past.
The Jets should not have any fear of going into Foxboro for a road playoff game if it comes to it. A playoff win at New England as a wild-card team could very well be part of the Jets' Super Bowl path, as it nearly was in the 2011 playoffs.
Keep It Cool
While some in the media have portrayed the Jets' offseason as a circus, there has not yet been any real drama out of Jets camp. Rex Ryan's players love him, and he should not have trouble keeping the team in a good mental state.
Nevertheless, it will be important for him to do just that in the early parts of the season. The Jets begin their season with a truly vicious schedule and end it with a cakewalk. I have predicted that the Jets will be a measly 3-4 after seven weeks of the season.
Spending a few weeks under the spotlight of media criticism can be hard for a team. The Jets as an organization will need to keep their mind on the light at the end of the tunnel, which in their case is the very easy second half of their schedule.
Their offensive coordinator should be a big part of keeping it cool. As the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Tony Sparano kept his team playing hard after an 0-7 start. Sparano always had respect in his locker room, and many Dolphins players were sad to see him go.
Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano are two of the best coaches in the league at commanding respect from their own players. It is likely that this was a big part of the Sparano hiring in the first place.
The Big Picture
At the end of the day, the Jets want to hold up the Lombard Trophy in February of 2013. Some fans would be happy with less, but rest assured that Rex Ryan would not.
The Jets need to protect Mark Sanchez and get him running a comfortable offense. With moderate success on offense, the Jets can set up their fearsome defense. Complementary football is the name of the game, and when employed correctly it can defeat high-powered passing offenses.
The Jets will need to survive their early schedule and stay positive. A record of 10-6 or 11-5 should be enough to snag a wild-card spot and begin the third playoff run of the Rex Ryan era. A division title would be a bonus but is not a vital part of the equation.
This is the Jets' blueprint for winning now, and you can safely bet that winning now is exactly what they intend to do.