New York Jets 2014 Season Review: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Entering the 2014 season, the Jets had hope. They had finished 8-8 the previous season, quarterback Geno Smith showed progression over the final four games of 2013, and they had brought in Eric Decker to give the passing game a boost.
That hope lasted all of about six quarters before the bottom fell out and the brown stuff hit the fan. Now, here we are talking about a team that finished 4-12, fired both its coach and general manager, and is completely lost at quarterback. What happened?
Let's take a look back at the 2014 Jets to see what went wrong (lots of options!), what went right (crickets) and what the outlook is for the future.
Ground and Pound's Return
We'll start off with the positives because I can't just thrust y'all into the fire right off the bat. We're just going to ease into the negatives later.
The Jets ground game was a plus this year for exactly two reasons. First, it was the only category between rushing and passing offense and rushing and passing defense in which the Jets were in the top half of the league. Second, every time the Jets ran the ball, it meant Geno and Michael Vick were not throwing it, and you can't get much more positive than that.
Gang Green finished the season 13th in Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. This tracks the expected points a team added per run play during the year relative to what they were expected. A five-yard run on third and four will jack this number up while a five-yard run on third and nine will do relatively nothing. It is then adjusted for the strength of the opponents a team faces.
A 13th-place finish means that, while the Jets were far from the most efficient running team in the league, they certainly didn't completely tank any hopes of victory by leaning so heavily upon it. Only four teams had a smaller pass-to-run ratio than the Jets, despite the negative game flow situation the Jets faced on a regular basis.
Despite this being a minor win for the Jets, it doesn't necessarily mean they have the personnel to be a top-tier running team anymore. Chris Ivory is a complete load, but among the 24 running backs that ran the ball between 150 and 250 times last year, Ivory ranked 13th in Rushing NEP per play. It's important that we limit the scope to backs with similar carry numbers because roles can drastically shift a player's Rushing NEP score (where a third-down back will appear to have more value than a guy used exclusively on first down).
Who ranked right behind Ivory in this group? That would be his teammate, Chris Johnson. Considering he's entering his age-30 season, don't expect him to contribute too heavily to this team next year.
Bilal Powell had slightly better metrics than both Ivory and Johnson but over just the span of 33 rushes. The Jets may need to invest in a fresh, young pup later in the draft if Chan Gailey plans on having an effective ground game, which he did have his final two years in Buffalo.
If we want to look at the positives on a more macro level, the Jets did show improvement toward the end of the season. After the snow-fiasco against Buffalo in Detroit where the Bills walloped the Jets 38-3, New York outscored its final five opponents, 106-98. Their largest loss was an overtime defeat against the Vikings. Granted, with Geno, we saw how problematic it is to limit the sample size to just the end of the season and think it's a positive. This is especially true when you consider that the Jets played just one playoff team over this span, falling to the Patriots, 17-16.
This is what went right for the Jets. Brace yourselves, ladies and gents, because the list of what went wrong can break the will of even the strongest individuals. Let's dive in.
No Passing? No Defense? No Happiness
Everybody assumed the Jets' offense would struggle in 2014 if Geno Smith didn't take a step forward. But that wasn't the only thing that ailed the Jets in 2014. The vaunted Rex Ryan defense came up short, as well.
Basically, if it could go wrong for the Jets' defense, it did. Dee Milliner missed the beginning of the year because of a high ankle sprain followed by a quad strain, then came back and promptly blew his Achilles. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle tore his ACL in training camp. Dimitri Patterson went AWOL. Even Muhammad Wilkerson missed some time at the end of the year. It's not a formula conducive to success.
As a result, the Jets limped to a 26th-place finish in Adjusted Defensive NEP per Play. By category, they were 21st against the pass and 20th against the run. With an offense as limited as theirs, that won't cut it.
Whether you can chalk it up to injuries or not, this was a significant set-back from years previous. They finished 17th and fifth in those two categories respectively in 2013, 14th and 17th in 2012, and finished third in both in 2011. It's clear that the time for change at the top had come.
That's the defense, which was bad. Then you get to the passing offense. Woof.
Upon first glance, the Jets' 23rd-place finish in Adjusted Passing NEP per play isn't going to make you toss the device upon which you are reading this out the window. However, if you exclude the final game where Miami went full Cutler-mode defensively, the Jets were 28th. Whom did they beat? Tennessee, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. This is the company you keep. You done messed up.
Geno Smith's rookie-season struggles leaked over into his sophomore campaign. As JJ Zachariason mentioned in his piece about how the Jets could get back to the Super Bowl, if not for that bonkers Miami game, Smith would have been one of six quarterbacks with a negative Passing NEP last year. He was better than he was in 2013, but still not nearly good enough to lead a team that wants to contend.
As far as the receivers go, this is another area in which the Jets could use some help. Among receivers with at least 70 targets, Eric Decker finished 17th in Reception NEP per target (which is the expected points a player adds on his receptions divided by the number of times he is targeted). That's not too shabby when you consider the offense in which he was playing.
The problem here is that none of the other Jets receivers were anywhere close to that ranking. Like, not at all.
Outside of Decker, the only Jets receivers that were targeted more than 70 times were Percy Harvin (if we count his Seattle targets) and Jeremy Kerley. Harvin ranked 65th of the 67 qualified receivers in Reception NEP per target. Kerley was at least better than that! However, it was only by one position, as he checked in with a 64th-place finish.
So, at receiver, the Jets had a solidly above-average receiver who can pass as a team's lead guy followed by a whole boatload of garbage. Obviously this is tied into quarterback performance, meaning you can't put all of the blame on the wideouts, but that's still sub-optimal.
The Long, Winding Road to Relevancy
When looking at the Jets, it's pretty obvious they're not going anywhere until they get a real quarterback. ESPN's Todd McShay has them selecting Oregon's Marcus Mariota in his latest mock draft. This could be advantageous for the Jets as Mariota was the top statistical quarterback in the nation last year and one of the top guys of the past 20.
Outside of that, the Jets have needs basically everywhere except for defensive line and tight end. Have fun, Todd Bowles!
Much of the defense's struggles originated with injuries, but it's not as if the Jets will magically become immortal in 2015. Although that would be dope. A new quarterback could do wonders for the entire offense, but he's not going to help stop Tom Brady twice a year. While the offense needs to be addressed, they can't just simply stand pat defensively and hope to contend.
At the end of the day, Bowles and new general manager Mike Maccagnan have a lot of work in front of them. With so many holes, this isn't a one-year fix. But that doesn't mean the team is beyond repair. They have enough quality pieces to right the ship, but they'll need patience to do so. Good thing such a virtue abounds in a city like New York!