Jets head coach Herman Edwards is not on the hot seat, but Jets fans expect this team back in the playoff hunt immediately. Edwards is a tough coach, but he has the credibility of being an ex-player and his players relate to and play hard for him.
Edwards was unhappy with the performance of his defense, which finished 28th against the run and 21st overall. After the season he cleaned house, letting go defensive coordinator Ted Cotrell and three assistants, looking to move to a more aggressive style of defense rather than the 3-4 gap-control scheme that Cotrell employed.
The Jets also said goodbye to a fan favorite, when veteran QB Vinny Testaverde was released following the June 1st cuts. With Testaverde gone to the Cowboys, the Jets are finally QB Chad Pennington’s team.
Offense: The Jet offense in 2003 was erratic and displaced. They finished 19th in overall offense at 309.4 yards per game and tied for 23rd at 17.7 points per game. This offense must get better because the defense is young and the secondary lacks playmakers.
Pennington finally has the reigns of this offense, and as he goes, so goes the Jet offense. During the preseason in 2003 he broke and dislocated his left wrist and it wasn’t until week 8 of the season before he saw the field.
While he was rusty coming off the injury, he took over and had a solid season. He led to team to a 4-5 record in games he started. On the season he completed 63.6% of his passes for 2139 yards, with 13 TD’s and 12 INT’s. He is very accurate, mobile enough to avoid the rush, and he makes great decisions. At times he tried to force things in 2003, but look for him to revert to his 2002 form when he threw 22 touchdown passes and only 6 INT’s.
RB Curtis Martin had a solid year, rushing for 1,308 yards and 2 TD’s. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and his blocking, when the Jets want to pass, makes him an asset in obvious passing situations. With Pennington back at 100% and the passing game clicking, teams will not be able to focus primarily on Martin. While he still has some tread left, he is now 31 and on the downside of his career. Four-year veteran Lamont Jordan is the short-yardage back, who ran for 190 yards and 4 TD’s in relief of Martin.
FB Jerald Sowell is used primarily as a receiver out of the backfield. He finished third on the team with 47 receptions for 436 yards and 1 TD. He is an above-average blocker who gets the job done leading way for Martin
The WRs for the Jets have been on the small side since the trade of Keyshawn Johnson in 2000. A trade for former Titan WR Justin McCareins changed that trend and he will combine with three-year veteran Santana Moss to make a dangerous starting WR tandem. In 2003, Moss was able to stay injury free and he established himself as the big-play threat the Jets were hoping for when they drafted him in the first round in 2001. Moss averaged 14.9 yards on 74 receptions for 1105 yards and 10 TD’s. He is stronger than his 5’10”, 185 lbs. frame would indicate and he is lethal when he gets the ball in space.
McCareins uses his big body to shield CB’s from the ball and he has the speed to get separation from defenders. He caught 47 passes for 813 yards (a 17.3 yard average) and 7 TD’s. Third wideout Wayne Chrebet was injured in week 9 and was lost for the remainder of the season with post concussion syndrome. Chrebet is expected to be at 100% by fall camp and his toughness and clutch route-running are both needed in this offense.
Anthony Becht is a solid target at TE for the Jets. His 40 catches placed him fourth on the team and his size (6’5”, 275 lbs.) makes him a good target in the red-zone (4 TD’s). Becht is a superb run-blocker who excels at sealing off the defensive end on sweeps and drive blocking against LB’s.
The offensive line surrendered 31 sacks in 2003, but a lot of that came from Pennington being too aggressive and holding the ball waiting for things to happen. C Kevin Mawae is a perennial Pro Bowler who makes all of the line adjustments for the crew. He is nasty and at his best when run-blocking. Fourth-year RT Kareem McKenzie came into his own last season, but with 2004 being a contract year he is expected to improve even more in his technique and strength. The other spots along the line are manned by LT Jason Fabini, LG Brandon Moore, and RG Brent Smith. Smith was re-signed in the offseason and he is solid and experienced.
Defense: As stated before, this unit will undergo changes in philosophy and in talent.
Seven-year vet Sam Cowart was the leader in tackles from his MLB spot. He had 140 tackles, 2 sacks, and one forced fumble. In April, the Jets selected Jonathan Vilma, who was brought in to add youth and speed to the unit. While he is undersized, his ability to track down runners all over the field, ability to diagnose plays, and his speed should allow him to start from the get-go in 2004.
Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis were both allowed to leave during free-agency and while each player was a leader on the field, they had lost too much to make them valuable in the Jets’ new attacking scheme.
Second-year player Victor Hobson will man one of the outside spots, most likely the strong-side, while Eric Barton was brought over from Oakland to play the weakside spot. Barton is super-quick for a man his size, and he led the Raiders in tackles with 133 last season. Hobson is solid against the run and while he has some pass-rush ability he will be used mainly to hold up against the run.
Along the defensive line the Jets have spent several first-round selections, and it is time for those players to step-up and make plays.
Shaun Ellis and John Abraham, two fifth-year players, man the DE spots and each is solid at rushing the passer. Ellis led the Jets with 12.5 sacks and Abraham finished with 6. Abraham is super-strong, and while he is small for a DE, he has a plethora of pass-rush moves that allowed him to register 13 sacks in 2001 and 10 in 2002. Ellis had a stellar year in 2003 and Jets coaches hope that it wasn’t and aberration.
Jason Ferguson is the NT and he is very good against the run. He registered 75 tackles, while being double-teamed on almost every play, and also managed to get 4.5 sacks from his inside spot. 2003 first-rounder, DT Dewayne Robertson, came in and started every game as a rookie. He only registered 1.5 sacks and 43 tackles. New defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson will use Robertson in different ways, allowing him to attack instead of control a gap before rushing the passer. Robertson should have a breakout 2004 season and the success of the defense will rest on the front-four’s success.
One acquisition that was relatively unheralded during the offseason was the pickup of UFA David Barrett from the Arizona Cardinals. He provides solid cover ability and good run-support from his CB spot. He will solidify one side of the field, while veterans Donnie Abraham and Ray Mickens battle it out during camp for the other spot.
During the draft, the Jets picked up some solid depth in former Oklahoma Sooner CB Derrick Strait. Strait started for four years in Norman and has solid cover skills and good quickness. While he lacks top recovery speed, look for him to play the slot receivers in the nickel and dime packages.
At the safety spots, veteran SS Reggie Tongue was signed in free agency to help lead the deep third. He is strong in run-support and while he has some cover skills, his lack of good speed limits him in coverage. Jon McGraw is penciled in as the starter at FS, but he could be pushed by rookie S Erik Coleman. Coleman packs a punch and may move to SS eventually, but look for him to backup McGraw at least at the start of the season.
Special Teams: The Jets signed P Toby Gowin away from the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason and he is an upgrade from last season’s punter Dan Stryzinski. K Doug Brien had a solid season in 2003, connecting on 27 of 32 kicks and all 24 of his extra points. What he lacks in leg strength (0 for 4 from outside of 50 yards) he makes up for in accuracy (84.4%). He also connected on 7 of 8 between 40 and 49 yards.
The last time the Seahawks and Jets met: It was the final game of the regular season in 1999, and the Seahawks traveled to the Big Apple to face off against the surging Jets.
The season had gotten off to a solid start for new Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren and his troops, when the team started the year 7-3 after ten games. The team followed that start by losing 4 out of the next five games and if the Hawks didn’t win in New York they would need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
Seahawks QB Jon Kitna had a horrible game, throwing two costly INT’s and completing only 21 of 45 passes. The Jet D also stymied what had been a good Seahawks running game, holding the Hawks to only 33 yards rushing.
Jet RB Curtis Martin ran wild on the Seahawk defense, gaining 158 yards on 34 carries while running for the game’s only touchdown in the second quarter.
QB Ray Lucas gave the Seahawks several opportunities to get back into the game, with two INT’s of his own, but the Seahawks could only manage three Todd Peterson field goals.
The Seahawks lost the game 19-9, but still made the playoffs (for the first time in 10 years), when the Oakland Raiders beat the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime on a 33 yard Joe Nedney FG.
The Seahawks lead the series 8-7, but they have lost 7 of the last 8.
2004 Projection: Some teams add players in free agency and overpay. Some don’t add players at all. The Jets seemed to follow division rival New England’s lead by signing second-tier free agents who can still fight for starting spots.
Barrett, Tongue, and Barton are solid pickups who fit with the Jets’ new aggressive philosophy on defense. The youngsters in the front-seven (Abraham, Ellis, Robertson, and Vilma) are playmakers who will be expected to play up to their level of talent. The defense will be aggressive and get after teams.
The offense has a great leader in Pennington, a likely Hall-of-Famer at RB in Martin and explosive players on the outside, in Moss and McCareins. The line is solid and the west coast offense fits their personnel perfectly.
Look for the Jets to push the Patriots for the division title and to make the playoffs even though they play in the tough AFC East. The chants of “J-E-T-S…JETS JETS JETS!!!” should be heard loud and clear throughout the NFL.
.NET Reporter Scott
Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.