October 16, 2013

Jets Still A Work In Progress

The New York Jets are not quite there yet, nor should we expect them to be. But, with the Jets a surprising 3-3, and the Giants at an embarrassing 0-6, expectations for Gang Green have rapidly increased. Last week showcased the best and the worst of the 2013 Jets. They flaunted their potential against the Falcons on Monday, but were exposed six days later against the Steelers. Yet, unlike their roommates at MetLife Stadium, the Jets are building something.

Quarterback Geno Smith has so far been high-risk and high-reward. Smith had two more interceptions against the Steelers, totaling ten on the season. But, Smith has shown glimpses of being very explosive. He led the Jets on a game winning drive against the Falcons and threw for three touchdowns.

Mark Sanchez never exhibited the high ceiling that Smith appears to possess. That's why the rookie will continue to be given a longer leash than Sanchez ever had. Also, Geno Smith doesn't have enough offensive weapons to produce a consistently powerful offense. General Manager John Idzik appears to have found his franchise quarterback, but offseason priority number one needs to be surrounding Smith with more playmakers.

Meantime, the defense appears to be reenergized with head coach Rex Ryan calling the plays. Everything starts up front with a menacing defensive line that is second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The line is anchored by third year pro Muhammad Wilkerson, who is quietly becoming one of the most dominant at his position.

Rookie Sheldon Richardson has proven to be a great first round pick by Idzik and Ryan. The Jets are also tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks with 16, but the passing defense has, at times, been vulnerable throughout the season. Any tweaks to the Jets defense would be needed in the back seven.

The leadership has been the biggest difference in this team from the last two seasons. Rex Ryan has completely reinvented his style as a head coach. Less than two months ago, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Ryan's only chance of being on the Jets sidelines in 2014 would be as a Tony Siragusa type sideline reporter. But, Ryan went back to his principles, calling the defensive plays, and allowed Marty Mornhinweg to own the offense.

More impressive for Ryan is how he has rebranded himself off the field. The bravado has been replaced by a semblance of humility. It's possible the about-face was caused by a man desperate to keep his job under a new regime. Either way, it's worked and is very refreshing.

Ryan may still be playing the macho-man card behind closed doors. That's fine, but he has stopped becoming a caricature of himself to the public with bold statements and bizarre predictions.

Despite the surprising optimism surrounding the Jets, expectations should still be tempered. This is not a legitimate playoff team. Granted, it's not nearly as far off as many thought it might be. But, it's best for Jets fans to view this season as a building block of big things to come. Asking, or expecting, those big things to arrive this season is simply too much, too soon.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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