Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Midseason Review: Grading Each Position

Wow, the Buffalo win really puts a different twist on this season so far. Big divisional road wins like that are not easy, and that certainly helped wash out the bitter taste of the previous three weeks. 4-4 and a week away from heading into New England and Tennessee back to back would not look so good. Now, Jets fans have to feel like they have a fighter's chance to split those games (and beat the Rams on Sunday). These grades also would not look so good if it weren't for that win.

Quarterback: B
How can you grade Brett? In his short time here, he's made Jets fans forget and then yearn for Chad Pennington. He's broken personal records, and has given fans thrills and heart attacks so far. On the whole, he's played well enough to win 5 games, and for a guy who had only been in camp for a month before the season starts, he gets a bit of a pass. Now the pressure is on.

Runningbacks: A-
Thomas Jones is 4th in the AFC in rushing while Leon Washington has been a spark plug all over the field, making big plays. The two have clearly benefited from improved run blocking, but they have also been able to find the holes and make plays. I don't know how you could ask for much more from them so far, but they will be tested in upcoming weeks to prove if they are for real, but so far, so good. Tony Richardson has also made several key blocks, playing steadily at fullback.

Wide Receivers: B-
Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery make a nice starting tandem, but Coles has dropped a few too many balls this season, and Cotchery has been inconsistent in performance. Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith have chipped in with nice plays from time to time, but there is room for improvement from this crew. Part of the problem has been the newness of Favre, but the receivers need to step up.

Tight Ends: C+
With Chris Baker and Bubba Franks limited by injuries, Dustin Keller has had to step in and play early. He's dropped a few passes, but he's also made a few plays. Mangini hasn't had him block too much so far, but he says he's gained more trust in the rookie's blocking. This group should also improve in the 2nd half.

Offensive Line: B+
What a difference a year and a boatload of money can make! The worst offensive line in football has helped turn a pedestrian running game into one of the better attacks in the NFL. Favre has also normally had time to throw, though the pass blocking has lapsed at times. Still, after last year's disaster, anything is an improvement.

Defensive Line: A+
What can I say about Kris Jenkins that hasn't been said already? He's getting publicity all over the media for his performance so far, not an easy feat for a nose tackle. His presence has been a huge part of the improvement of the run defense. Shaun Ellis has also had a resurgence, with 6.5 sacks already from a position that typically does not carry high sack totals. Opposite the underappreciated Ellis has been Kenyon Coleman, who is a key run-stopper. The backups have also stepped in and done a fine job, though when Jenkins is out of the game, the whole defense takes a step back.

Linebackers: A
Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace have been all over the field making plays, while Eric Barton has quietly led the team in total tackles. David Harris hasn't been as flashy as he was as a rookie, but he also hasn't needed to be. The linebackers have been so good as a whole that Harris doesn't need to make all the plays. Just think, the number 6 pick in the draft barely gets off the field. Of course, that might have as much to do with Gholston being a bust (so far) as it does the play of Thomas and Pace, but that's a story for another day.

Secondary: B-
The secondary has been victimized by the short pass, but they've done pretty well forcing teams to make big plays to beat them. Darrelle Revis is one of the best cornerbacks in football. He did a fantastic job guarding Lee Evans last week, barely letting Trent Edwards get the ball to his number one target. When teams have tried to throw at him, he's made four interceptions. Kerry Rhodes hasn't been the player we're used to seeing so far, but we were wondering the same thing at this point last year, and he turned it around in the second half. Dwight Lowery has been a surprise for a rookie, but he, Drew Coleman, and others have struggled at times. Eric Smith and Abram Elam have both started games at safety opposite Rhodes, but until Elam's interception for a touchdown last week, neither had really distinguished himself from the other.

Special teams: B
There are two ways to look at the Jets' special teams this year: the kicking game and the returning game. On one hand, Leon Washington averages 27 yards per kick return and 13 per punt return, providing one of the more dynamic return games in football. On the other hand, the Jets have gone through two kickers and two punters and are still searching. Mike Nugent is getting closer to coming back, so that should eliminate Feely, who is just 5-8 from 30-39 yards out. Ben Graham struggled this season, but his replacement Reggie Hodges promptly got injured as well. Hodges is healthy now and kicking well, but time will tell if he is the longterm answer.

Coaching: C-
I've been a fan of Mangini since he got here, but he and his staff have been very disappointing. Brian Schottenheimer's offensive gameplans have been incomprehensible at times. It's not that he's been too aggressive or too conservative, it's that many of the play calls seem to defy logic. The entire NFL was running all over the Chiefs, yet he had Favre throwing all the time. I've had less of a problem with the playcalling on defense, but at some point, the Jets need to stop letting teams slow-kill them down the field with short passes. By that, I mean, don't let Wes Welker have 12 receptions next Thursday.

At times, every part of the team has been up to the task. Favre's six touchdown game, Jones's 100-yard games, Jenkins and co. stopping the run, and Darrelle Revis's four interceptions have all been indicators that the pieces are all there. It's up to the coaching staff to get consistent balance in the offense and to get the pass rush and pass defense up to the same level as the run defense.

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