New York Jets 2013 Team Review: A Surprising Campaign
"If you expect nothing from anybody, you'll never be disappointed." - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The Jets entered 2013 with the lowest of low expectations. Projected by most to be bottom-feeders, they finished with a respectable 8-8 record, and seemingly lame duck Head Coach Rex Ryan was kept on the payroll for at least another season as a result.
The fact is, based on the preseason expectations, regardless of how you might feel about Ryan's competency as a head coach or as a human being, Ryan deserved to be extended. This is a team with really no skilled position player talent at all, and to get to .500 with that roster is quite the accomplishment.
Of course, not all is bright in Jet Land - they still have massive holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball. But things are not as bleak as most fans thought a year ago.
The Jets are built around their defense. Over the last four years, they've used five first-round picks on defensive players. And it showed in their play in 2013.
Though the Jets lost the key cog in their secondary to trade prior to the 2013 season, the defense performed admirably. The pass defense was pretty average, ranking 17th in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), but the Sheldon Richardson-anchored run defense finished fifth in the league behind only Denver, Detroit, Arizona, and Carolina. In fact, Richardson performed so well that he was awarded the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Defense is Ryan's bread and butter, and the Jets' ability to stop the run while playing serviceable passing defense was critical this past year in securing the Jets' .500 record.
The good didn't stop there for the Jets, as Nick Folk - yes, a kicker - became one of the league's most reliable legs. Three of the Jets wins came by a field goal or less, and No Joke Folk was a huge part in the Jets being able to win those games. Folk finished tied for seventh in NEP per kick amongst all kickers, making a career-high percentage (91.7%) of his field goals this season. For a guy that was cut by Dallas not that long ago for being bad at kicking, Folk was as reliable as they came last year for the Jets. Though kickers are often made out to be no more than a passing joke, having one that you can rely on to make kicks makes your offense a bit better, even if only slightly.
I mentioned this in the intro, but the Jets have a dearth of talent at the offensive skill positions, and the numbers bore that out. Some felt the Jets' rushing attack would be bolstered by the acquisition of Chris Ivory, but that didn't come to pass for Jets fans. Of the 31 players with at least 160 carries (10 carries/per game), Ivory finished 22nd in rushing Success Rate (percentage of rushes that contribute positively towards a team's NEP).
Things were only made worse by his backfield pal Bilal Powell, who became somewhat of a fantasy darling this year due to his opportunity. Powell finished 23rd in Success Rate and 26th in Rushing NEP per attempt among those 31 players, ahead of only Maurice Jones-Drew, Lamar Miller, Rashard Mendenhall, Trent Richardson, and Ray Rice in the latter category. For posterity's sake, Ivory finished 12th of 31 in that same category.
The Jets were also a horrific passing team this year, ranking 29th in the league in Adjusted Passing NEP. In fact, that Jets had exactly zero players with 48 or more receptions (at least three receptions per game). And only one player, Jeremy Kerley, finished the year 40 or more receptions.
To be fair, on a per target basis Kerley was actually pretty good - of the 110 players with at least 40 receptions, Kerley ranked 24th in Reception NEP per target, and 45th in Success Rate. All in all, Kerley was a slightly above average receiver, but when he's your team's best receiver, that just simply isn't enough to get you over that .500 hump and into the playoff hunt.
With the lack of receiver success, you would guess that the quarterback play was bad. But you would be wrong. The quarterback play wasn't bad: it was awful.
Newly-minted starter Geno Smith was the worst quarterback with at least 400 drop backs (25 per game over 16 games) according to our metrics. In terms of NEP per pass, Geno Smith finished dead last at -.14 NEP per play. The next worst quarterbacks were Eli Manning and Chad Henne at -.07, meaning Smith was twice as bad efficiency-wise as them.
In that same group of quarterbacks, Smith also finished with the worst Success Rate (40.82%). That said, there is at least a glimmer of hope for Smith-ites - the much maligned Mark Sanchez had an even worse year during his rookie year. Though he had only 389 drop backs, Sanchez finished with a -.18 NEP per play and a Success Rate of 39.59%. Sanchez bounced back his sophomore season with a .01 NEP per drop back and a 43.07% Success Rate, but that's as good as it got for him, as he followed that up with bottom-of-the-barrel seasons. Ironically, Sanchez's disgustingly bad 2012 looks a whole heck of a lot like Smith's 2013.
What Should They Do?
Expectations could not have been much lower for the Jets, and the good news is they exceeded those expectations. The rushing defense in New York is elite, and if they can develop a secondary without Revis in the fold, the Jets could field one of the league's best defenses.
However, they still need a whole lot of help on the offensive end at basically all of the skill positions. From Ivory and Powell in the backfield, to a receiving corp boasting only one slightly above average player, to last year's worst quarterback - it could not get much worse offensively for the Jets. All of that being said, the record is what matters and the Jets finished 8-8. With even a slightly above average offense, this team could do a ton of damage and find themselves in the AFC title picture sooner than we might think.