Florham Park, NJ – The Jets were a bad football team a year ago.
Like inventing a new word for bad, bad.
Football Outsiders ranked the Jets 27th in total DVOA and they missed the playoffs for the second straight time in the Rex Ryan era.
But that was last season, and like a decaying zombie corpse that just won’t die (no matter how many times you beat it over the head with a shovel), the Jets are finding out that the stench of the buttfumble will be hard to outrun.
“A lot has been said about this football team,” Ryan said before the season started. “There are a lot of non-believers out there.”
And there still are. But after a surprising 2-1 start, it’s time to entertain the possibility that the Jets are, well, a decent football team.
On Thursday, Ryan was confronted with that possibility when asked why he hasn’t chosen to revel in the team’s recent success.
“We’ll see,” he said with a smirk and a nod of his head, the old defiant Rex bubbling up to the surface. “There’s a long season ahead. I think I know what it’s going to look like but we’ll see.”
Yes, it’s a small sample size and, yes, one of those wins came on a last minute penalty and the other in spite of a team-record 20 penalties, but the Jets look vastly improved in several key areas, most notably on the defensive line and at quarterback.
A season ago, nose tackle Sione Pouha struggled with a back injury and the run defense suffered along with him – not so this season. In three games, the Jets defensive line is second best in all of football according to Football Outsiders, allowing an average of 79 rushing yards per game, which includes a 59-yard run by Bills running back Fred Jackson on a missed tackle.
Otherwise, the Jets have been dominate against the run, with undrafted nose tackle Damon Harrison being an impressive surprise amongst first round talent in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson.
Despite his one solo tackle against the Bills, “Snacks” was moving blockers all over the place, grading out as one of the top defensive tackles in the league by Pro Football Focus.
Then there’s Eugene Smith, who despite seven rookie-type turnovers, has done just enough to get the Jets offense off the ground.
Last season, Mark Sanchez was the worst quarterback in the league. And not like the hyperbolic, talk radio, Skip Bayless kind of “worst.” Literally, he was the worst quarterback in the league, ranking 36th in total QBR behind the likes of Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel.
Think about that. Worse than Brandon Weeden.
Sure, Geno has benefited from the return of Santonio Holmes, an improved offensive line and Marty Mornhinweg’s system, but his QBR through three games is almost double that of Sanchez’s and is currently better than Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning and Sam Bradford.
It’s clear now, Smith is a big upgrade over Sanchez. He has the ability to extend plays and take shots downfield. The 331 pass yards he hurled against the Bills didn’t seem like a fluke and if he continues to improve the offense could be miles better than a year ago – let’s face it, it already is.
The Jets know what’s been said about them, from circus-talk to 32nd in the power rankings and dreams of Jadeveon Clowney.
“We knew that people weren’t going to give us much of a chance,” said Leger Douzable, another surprising member of that improved defensive front. “We want for people to continue to not give us a chance because we love proving people wrong.”
Well, the Jets might not be sneaking up on people for much longer. Football Outsiders has their current mean win total at 8.7 after 50,000 simulations, meaning the Jets are shockingly projected to be in the 8-9 win range – within playoff striking distance.
Currently, Football Outsiders has the Jets playoff probability at 35 percent (which is up 14.7 percent from last week) and while that may not be realistic, it’s clear now, and for the foreseeable future, that the Jets are no longer a laughing stock.
“People are starting to talk about us,” said Douzable. “But we don’t want to listen to that we just want to get better.”
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