The Jets are just days away from starting a season in which expectations haven’t been this big for them in a long, lone time. And with only a handful of days to go before the Jets take the field against the Ravens to kick off Monday Night Football, the season finale of Hard Knocks airs on Wednesday night.
This has been the best season of Hard Knocks in my mind, and not only because it has followed a local team. Between Rex Ryan’s mouth (both swearing and eating), the constant Darrelle Revis contract negotiations, the awkward moments when the annoying Mike Tannenbaum cuts players and the practical jokes played, the season has exceeded expectations.
With the season of Hard Knocks coming to an end and the regular season about to begin, Jets columnist Jeff Capellini, a.k.a “The Green Lantern” on CBSNewYork.com, joined me to talk Hard Knocks and preview the 2010 season.
Keefe: Hard Knocks has done the impossible; it has made the Jets a likable and unlikable team at the same time. For me, disliking the Jets has always been about disliking the players, their coach and their fans. But now, they have a coach that isn’t Eric Mangini and a coach that I wish Tom Coughlin was more like. There are plenty of players on the team with rich personalities and intriguing background stories that are worth rooting for. But I could do without so much Mike Tannenbaum.
After the first episode of the show, I wrote about how the Jets had started to rise drastically in the New York football landscape, as a team moving closer to what the Giants had become in previous years, while the Giants have gradually declined over the last two years.
Do you think that Hard Knocks has been good or bad for the 2010 Jets, and how has it affected you as a Jets fan?
Capellini: I’m one of those fans who has been sitting outside the candy store with his nose pushed up against the glass for years. So, believe me when I say any time the Jets can seize the spotlight for themselves in a supposedly positive way, I’m all for it. I think the show was too much Hollywood in the first three episodes, but got things just right in Episode 4 with the way it focused less on the garbage and more on the tension that was building toward cuts.
I think the show has been a positive for the Jets, even though we must all remember so much of it is scripted and produced for dramatic effect. The Jets have been second-class citizens for so long in this town and a running joke across the NFL, it is nice to see them be the center of attention for once.
Keefe: HBO couldn’t have asked for a better setup with the Darrelle Revis contract talks, and now that Revis is once again a Jet, who is guaranteed $32 million, it makes me wonder if he should have held out longer?
Obviously not playing is never a good choice, but given the Jets’ opponents in Weeks 1 and 2, if they had gotten off to an 0-2 start, Revis could have gained some serious leverage with Jets fans threatening the livelihood of Woody and Tannenbaum.
I guess on the flip side, if the Jets won both games it would have hurt his negotiations, and no one wants to not be getting paid the year before there might not be football, but I really don’t think the Jets can beat the Ravens and Patriots without him.
Capellini: I was firmly in Revis’ corner when the holdout started because regardless of what his current contract had stipulated there was really no way after the type of 2009 season he had that he could come back as the team’s seventh- or eighth-highest paid defensive back.
I would like to believe Revis caved by accepting the four-year deal. I had hoped he would have been signed for longer, and in the end it just feels like the numbers for his deal are too low – years and total compensation. That makes me believe also that this guy wants to play. The almighty dollar is important, but he obviously came to realize what “within reason” means.
As for whether the Jets could have beaten the Ravens and Patriots without him, I don’t think he ultimately would have made the difference. Mark Sanchez would have and probably still does or still will make the difference either way.
Keefe: Mark Sanchez seems to still be in that territory of “Hey, just don’t lose the game for us.” Rex made it clear last week that the Jets are still going to be the same team they came within one game of the Super Bowl last season, in which they ran the ball the majority of the time and played exceptional defense, and obviously it’s a formula that works.
With the way the offense has been playing during preseason, it’s hard to believe that Sanchez will be given the chance to consistently attempt big plays on offense, and the idea of holding him back got them to the AFC Championship last season, but I think that it is, and that he is, the one difference in the Jets being contenders or actual champions.
Capellini: I think regardless of what Sanchez has shown in the preseason, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must allow him to air the ball out from time to time, because the Jets will be predictably a run-first team. However, they can’t be known as a team that just goes student body left and right.
Sanchez must be allowed to bring balance to the force through use of play-action and the abilities of his talented receivers. The second this guy throws an interception and Schotty stops allowing him to chuck the rock is the day the Jets’ season ends. For the Jets, being a balanced offense is the key to everything because you know the defense will bring its “A” game week in and week out. By showing a balanced hand on offense, the Jets will keep opponents off-balance.
Keefe: The Jets brought in two aging mercenaries, looking to win a Super Bowl as their careers wind down in LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor.
Both players were the best at their position at one point in their career, but now they are more of just big names rather than big players. However, I will admit that Tomlinson has looked better and rejuvenated in preseason. Then again it’s preseason.
Which of these two do you expect the most from this season and which do you think will be the bigger contributor?
Capellini: I’m a huge Tomlinson guy. I was one of the few on sites like Twitter screaming the Jets sign him in the offseason. A lot of people were understandably in love with Thomas Jones, but Jones’ numbers, primarily yards-per-carry diminished considerably as the season wound down. Now, some can say Tomlinson is an injury waiting to happen or whatever, but the truth is, if healthy, he will still be very productive, especially if the Jets use him properly – something like 10-15 touches per game. He showed his trademark explosiveness in the preseason and certainly has something to prove.
While most everyone just assumed he’s “lost” it after a career-low 700-yard rushing season in 2009, what really happened was the Chargers went away from the run and bulked up the pass protecting to showcase Phillip Rivers’ abilities. And look where that got them?
I’m not in love with Jason Taylor and it really has nothing to do with the fact that he’s insulted the Jets and their fans in the past. I just think this guy is 36 and how many pass rushers still have the goods at 36? Not many, if any. And it appears, now with Calvin Pace’s injury, at least initially, Taylor is going to have to play every down. I don’t see him being anywhere near as successful as an every-down player as he would be fresh in passing situations.
So, in a nutshell, I expect a comeback-player-of-the-year type of effort from LT and not a whole heck of a lot from Taylor.
Keefe: During the offseason, it seemed like the jets were making a roster strictly for the purpose of Hard Knocks. They signed Tomlinson and Taylor and traded for Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie.
The problem with Tomlinson and Taylor might be that they are old, but the problems with Holmes and Cromartie come away from the field.
There isn’t a doubt that when Cromartie and Holmes are on the field that they make the Jets a much better team, but with Holmes missing four games due to suspension, do you think it will cause him to start slow when he comes back in Week 5. And how excited are you for a secondary that includes Cromartie and Revis?
Capellini: It’s hard not to like either player. Holmes can be spectacular, has great hands and runs routes better than maybe any receiver in the NFL. The potential problem, as you stated, could be his rustiness after staying away from the team for a month. I’d also worry about his rapport with Sanchez. How long will it take to develop? Ultimately, when Holmes is on he should make Sanchez better because he gets open better than anyone on the roster.
Cromartie brings unadulterated ability to a secondary that, not counting Revis, sorely lacked athleticism at certain spots last year. He will gamble. He will at times get burned, but I’d rather have an overly aggressive corner than one who sluffs off and allows teams to keep the chains moving. My one concern about Cromartie is his tackling. The Jets dumped Kerry Rhodes because, among other things, he wasn’t very physical. I watched Cromartie attempt to tackle Shonn Greene on that 53-yard TD scamper in last year’s divisional round and I can understand why some of the Chargers took issue with Cromartie. He better hit people and wrap up. That’s all I’m saying.
Keefe: You voiced your opinion about the Jets cutting Tony Richardson on Twitter and you were unhappy about it and rightfully so. But now that Richardson is a Jet again after just a brief hiatus, I’m guessing you’re happy once again.
After Rex made it clear that Richardson would be on the final roster, it was a shock to see him get cut, considering his leadership role on the team. Were there any other cuts made that surprised you during preseason? And were there any cuts not made that you thought should have been made?
Capellini: I did get upset about T-Rich getting cut because I hate seeing bad things happen to good people. The initial cut bugged me because Rex screamed about leadership on Hard Knocks and then cut one of his only true leaders. Now, of course, I don’t think the Jets brought Richardson back because the fans screamed about it. They probably said, “If we can cut Tony to save some money, sign Darrelle and then bring Tony back we win on every level.”
The one cut that really bothered me was Chauncey Washington. I mean, this guy could easily have stepped in and spelled Shonn Greene a few carries per game if the Jets didn’t want to burn LT out as a featured back. He’s a horse. It’s an absolute shame that a guy who worked as hard and showed as much as Washington did was waived and later replaced by two nobodies off someone else’s scrap heap. Odd indeed. If nothing else, Washington could have made the Jets’ special teams that much better because he brings quite a wallop.
I will not get overly upset about Danny Woodhead making the team. I just think he was a better story last year and if he gets some time and does nothing this season I think it’s safe to say the novelty has worn off.
Keefe: I believe Rex Ryan is right when he says that the Jets can beat any team in the league when they play their best, and if everything goes right for them this season, they could easily find themselves in the same place they were last season: playing for a trip to the Super Bowl.
There are still questions with this team, as there are with every team, and the biggest question mark with the Jets remains the offense. But with probably the best defense in the league, I expect the Jets to be in contention all season long.
I guess the most important question is: What are your expectations for the Jets this season?
Capellini: Wow. I’ve avoided discussing this like the plague. The NFL is such an odd league. One year you’re 10-6 and the next – with largely the same personnel – you’re 7-9 or 6-10. I think if Sanchez is more like a 50-50 TD-to-INT guy, as opposed to the 12-TD, 20-INT QB he was as a rookie, and can get to 3,000 yards, excuse the pun but the sky should be the limit for this team. The defense, barring injury, figures to be pretty amazing and the coaching is beyond reproach.
I think the Jets should win a minimum of 11 games. They should win the division. If they can get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs I really think they will get to the Super Bowl.
But then again, that’s 30-plus years of fan frustration talking right there.
Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe
Follow Jeff on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GreenLanternJet