Here we are Jets fans, week one is upon us. We begin 2008 with a very different Jets team than we saw at the end of 2007, a lot of changes including the big one. The legend has arrived. The biggest thing to arrive in Gang Green land since Joe Namath. The myth, the legend, Brett Favre. There were several key changes along both the offense and defense, and whether or not they all gel together will be the key to the Jets season. Let's break it down:
Most of the key losses by the team were to be expected, based on the moves they made. Once Brett Favre arrived, Chad Pennington was the odd man out. Evidenced by the fact that a QB was drafted by this regime the first season lends us to believe they have wanted Chad out since day one, but that is for another discussion. Favre and Pennington together made far too much money against the salary cap to keep them both. Pennington had a very good career for the Jets, leading them to the playoffs on three occasions. The team felt they couldn't go any farther with Chad at the helm, so Brett was brought in.
Another major, but expected loss, was LB Jonathan Vilma. Vilma was a very talented player for the Jets, was the defensive rookie of the year and made a Pro Bowl appearance for the team. His performance fell off significantly with the arrival of the Mangini regime, he did not fit in with the 3-4 scheme, so he was traded to the New Orleans Saints where he will fit in much better. The emergence of David Harris made the move of Vilma much easier.
Justin McCareins was in a steady decline for the Jets in the four years he spent with the team. He was brought in from the Titans as the deep threat they were looking for, but never really panned out, his best year being his first, 2004, where he amassed 770 yards and 4 TDs. He quickly became a non-factor in the Schottenheimer offense and has now returned to the Tennessee Titans.
First and foremost we have Brett Favre. 10,000 plus showed up at Hofstra University to see his first practice in a Jets uniform, and for good reason. We all know the resume that this guy has, Super Bowl champ, 3 time NFL MVP, leader in many categories. If you watch the offense in the preseason, he brings an air of confidence to the squad that hasn't been there in quite some time. He is a guy, whether you wanted him or not Jets fans, that makes everyone around him better.
The other major splash was OG Alan Faneca, long time Pittsburgh Steeler, and perennial Pro-Bowler. He hopes to bring a veteran presence and a stability to an offensive line that was near the bottom or at the bottom of many offensive categories. He brings experience that will benefit the guys surrounding him, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
Damien Woody brings flexibility to the offensive line, which is a hallmark of the Mangini-Tannenbaum regime. They love guys who can play multiple positions, and Woody does just that, with the ability to play tackle, guard or center. Also don't forget about the addition of FB Tony Richardson. Every great running back has a great lead blocker, and Richardson has been that and then some many times before. Priest Holmes credited Richardson with much of his success, and he was the lead blocker for the great year Adrien Peterson had as well.
The defensive has seen a major face lift as well, with the signings of Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace, and the draft of Vernon Gholston. The two major areas the defense needed to improve were at rushing the QB and stopping the run, and these guys should be able to make it happen. Pace had a couple of sacks in the preseason, showing his ability to get up the field. Jenkins is the large influence in the middle that is vital to the 3-4 defense that allows the linebackers to play and make plays.
This is the new look of the Jets in 2008, but where do we go from here?
Which Brett Will We See?
This is not the first time that a hall of fame level QB has changed teams after spending many years with one team, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Joe Montana is the example of a guy who had success on a new team, leading the Chiefs to the AFC championship game. Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas are two examples of the other side of the spectrum, never even approaching the success that they enjoyed on their original teams.
Which Brett Favre will show up this year? The Jets will enjoy much sucess if it is the 2007 Brett Favre, who passed for over 4,000 yards, 28 TDs and only 15 INTs. However, he was on a major downswing in the years before that, in 2005 passing for 3,800 yards 20 TD and 29 INTs, and in 2006, 18 TDs and 18 INTs.
The strong year last year leads us to believe that he does have something left. However, the 2 years prior to this, and the fact that the Packers let him go so easily might make us think otherwise. Think about it, there has to be a reason why the Pack was quick to not want him back. If he is truly at the end, we won't achieve the success we are expecting with Favre at the helm.
Running Game, Anyone?
The Jets had one of the most pathetic running games in the league, there was no doubt about it. The fact that Thomas Jones rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2007 is up there amongst the greatest miracles in football, running behind the Swiss Cheese that the Jets called in offensive line last season.
The key will be, for both Brett and the running game, the chemistry of the revamped offensive line. Bringing in Woody and Faneca will not mean a thing if they don't gel with their mates. All evidence is there for a better season than last, but you never know with the offensive line, one of the great variables in this game.
Jay Co, Pro Bowl?
Brett Favre if you look through the years, locks onto a main target that becomes his go-to guy. Look through the years, Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, and there are others. The evidence is there. He looks for a guy with some size, that has good hands, and can make something happen in open space. The Jets have a guy like that in Jerricho Cotchery, or "Jay Co", as Favre calls him. He is big like those guys, and can make plays like those guys, and they are similar. Here is a statistical comparsion of Cotchery, Freeman, Driver, and Sharpe with their size, and their stats in their first year of over 1,000 yards receiving :
Jerricho Cotchery, 6'0" 207 lbs: 82 rec, 1130 yards, 2 TDs Antonio Freeman, 6'1" 198 lbs : 81 rec, 1243 yards 12 TDs Sterling Sharpe, 6'0" 207 lbs :108 rec, 1461 yards 13 TDs Donald Driver, 6'0" 190 lbs : 70 rec, 1064 yards 9 TDs
All of the Green Bay players stats were better, but keep in mind who their quarterback was. Cotchery had his numbers without Favre throwing to him. Favre in the fold should only allow him to get better.
We talked earlier about the new look defense for the Jets in 2008. Jenkins, Pace, and others were brought in because of their experience in the 3-4 defense. Other changes include Dwight Lowery, who after a terrific camp, earned the starting CB job across from Reavis. The key will be whether they can gel together and perform better. This was a defense that played at the bottom of many categories all last year. They will need to step it up.
There are a lot of what if's on this team. What if Brett Favre plays like an aging QB? What if the offensive line doesn't come together? What if it does? What if Jenkins can't stop the run? What if the Jets defense begins to dominate?
This team is set up to win now. That and keep in mind the fact that they are playing the schedule of a 4-12 team. They do have to play the Dolphins twice, and they have the Cardinals, and 49ers on their schedule. My prediction for this team based on how far they have come is:
10-6, plus a win in a Wild Card game in Giants Stadium.
We will see soon enough............