Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Much Will Favre Help the Jets?

Recently, Mike Lupica made comments that echo the sentiments of several football pundits when he stated that "The Jets became a viable franchise [by signing Favre], made you finally notice and talk about them and care about them." Las Vegas took notice of the Favre deal as well when the odds of the Jets winning the Super Bowl jumped from 75-1 in January to 15-1 in August after the Favre acquisition. Yes, much has been made about the Jets and their new QB, and while their offense looks solid on paper, one must ask...How much will Brett Favre help a team that went 4-12 last year? To say that Favre will automatically turn this team into a playoff team is to say the QB position was the sole reason they finished with the 6th worst record in the league. Assuming that would ignore a poor defensive showing in 2007 along with a non-existent running game.

Besides Favre the Jets also made plenty of other off-season acquisitions; linemen Damien Woody and Alan Faneca; OLB Calvin Pace; DL Kris Jenkins; FB Tony Richardson; TE Bubba Franks; CB Andre Woolfolk; along with rookies Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller. The changes on offense were in hopes of upgrading a unit that finished 26th in total offense while the defensive changes are part of the Jets' swtich from a 4-3 to 3-4--Dewayne Robertson and Jonathan Vilma were shipped out of town as part of that switch. The defense did not perform as poorly as most think (18th in total defense) and the lack of offense put too much pressure on this unit. However, the switch in formation, personell and philosophy will cause several problems the Jets will have to overcome. Further, the offense has its own challenges.

First, the man everyone is talking about....Brett Favre. Favre had an unbelievable season last year in Green Bay, leading the Pack to a 13-3 record and an NFC Championship game appearance thanks in large part to his 4,155 passing yards and 28 TD. While Favre and the Pack certainly looked outstanding, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of what Favre can do for the Jets.

The Packers played a rather weak schedule in 2007. They played only 4 teams with a winning record. While they did go 3-1 against playoff teams, two of those wins came at the beginning of the season when their opponents (Giants and Chargers) were struggling to find an identity and started a combined 3-5 over the first four weeks of the season while the third team, the Redskins, finished 9-7 and lost their first playoff game. It is hard to gage whether the Packers' 2007 success as a result of much improved play or a softer schedule given that the Packers went a combined 12-20 over the two previous seasons and their weak schedule. One also has to be somewhat skeptical of Favre's success last season. As impressive as he was, this is a QB that had 38 TD to 47 INT in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. A new system implemented made Favre more of a rhythm passer and did not allow him to sit in the pocket for more than a few seconds---thus eliminating situations Favre had become prone to forcing balls---but when the going gets tough, as it will in New York, and that young and new defense gives up points, will Favre return to his old ways and try to win? The Packers were 11th in the NFL in total defense and rarely did Favre and the offense have to overcome large second half deficits.

Favre is also a notorious gunslinger, a mentality that can be both supremely beneficial and hurtful to an offense. On one hand, his ability to hit the open receive on a busted play is invaluable. On the other Favre has had a tendency to force balls into tight windows and, rather than throw the ball away, take the sack or take the few yards that are there, will turn the ball over way too often. Last season we saw a Brett Favre we had not seen before, in part because of the change in offensive philosophy by the Packers, where he was less turnover prone and willing to take the yards available. He benefited from McCarthy's wanting to get Favre in more 3 step drops, timing throws and allowing the receivers to make plays. In New York, Favre is not only learning a new system but also new receivers. With Cotchery and Coles, Favre has as much talent as he had in Green Bay. The wild card could be the rebuilt offensive line and the play calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Favre succeeded, in part, last year because the 3 and 5 step drops did not give the opposing pass rush enough time to get to Favre and put him into those situations where he was notorious for trying to make a play when they best throw to make would be one that flutters over the bench. Another factor that helped Favre was the success of the Packers' running game last year...something the Jets struggled with in 2007 as they finished 26th in the NFL in that area.

Thomas Jones had a terrible season averaging a meager 3.6 yards per game and reaching the end zone just once. Coupled this with the a passing attack that ranked just 25th (no to mention a QB position that was not stable) and it is easy to see how the Jets managed to score just 16.8 points per game. To help the running game and protect their QB (53 sacks allowed ranked 29th in the league) the Jets went out and opened their wallet for Alan Faneca and Damien Woody; both former Pro-Bowlers. However, Woody's motivation has been question since he left New England for a big contract with the Lions in 2004, has battled weight issues since he came out of Boston College and has started just 13 games in the past two seasons for a Lions team that did field too many superstars on the offensive line. Meanwhile, one has to wonder whether Faneca, whom had been squabbling about a new contract in Pittsburgh over the past few years, will not go the way of Woody and become complacent after earning the big pay check. It should also be noted that both Woody (30) and Faneca (31) are getting on in years and we have seen in previous years offensive lines be unable to gel with new faces. Tony Richardson, a great blocking fullback, was also signed in hopes of improving the offense and has made 4 Pro-Bowls since 2003....but at 36 years old how much can he be relied on to be an every down back and if he was so instrumental to the running success of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor last season in Minny (big reason why he made the Pro-Bowl last year and why the Jets signed him), why was he not re-signed? In short, if the NYJ running game cannot get going, it is going to be tough for Favre and the offense to get a passing attack situated in the face of attacking defenses ignoring the running game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Jets have several new faces as well and had their share of problems last season surrendering 22 points and 331 yards a game. Calvin Pace was brought in to be a pass rushing specialist from Arizona. However, how does an OLB with just 14 sacks in 67 career games receive $42 million over 6 seasons with $22 million guaranteed? Perhaps Pace will fit in with Mangini's new system, but with Vernon Gholston looking like the starter at the other OLB (though some have Bryan Thomas slated to start in that spot), the Jets have some huge question marks as to whether they can generate a pass rush. No doubt that Gholston is a talent who looks to be a promising player should fit in with the Jets new lok 3-4, but he is a rookie who, if Pace fails to contribute, will be keyed in on by opposing teams.

Kris Jenkins was brought in from the Carolina Panthers to hopefully be that block eating NT to play over the ball in their new 3-4. Just one problem, Jenkins played primarily in a 4-3 while in Carolina. At 350, Jenkins certainly has the bulk to play in the middle of the 3-4, but it is a different scheme and one that can cause problems for defensive lineman. Jenkins, like Woody, has also had issues with weight as he tipped the scales at near 400 pounds last year. If he too becomes complacent after his huge contract, the Jets could be in trouble as the success of the teams that use the 3-4 is predicated on the linemen occupying blockers and allowing the linebackers some space to operate. FInally, while in Carolina, Jenkins also benefited from playing along side solid line mates such as Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker and Brentson Buckner, and Jenkins will not have that kind of talent around him and playing in NY could expose Jenkins as a player who benefited more from playing with is teammates than his teammates benefited from playing with him. DE Shaun Ellis' production has fallen since his totaled 23.5 sacks in 2003 and 2004 while Kenyon Coleman should start at the other DE spot.

The influence that Favre will have on the defense will be whether he returns to this INT ways and forces this defense to spend more time on the field and on their side of the field or if he can control the ball and keep the D on the sideline. The D is both young and new, and needs the offense, like most defenses need, to control the ball and put points on the board early. On the flip side, the defense could put Favre and the offense in bad situations if they have to play from behind in the second half of games and shy away from the running game. Even if Favre turns the offense around there still is the question of the defense as only two teams made the playoffs while surrendering 20 plus points a game (Cowboys and Giants).

Another factor facing the Jets is the fact they play in a division with a team that is coming off of an 18-1 season and a team, the Bills, that is also improved and finished 3 games ahead of the Jets. One thing that will help the Jets is that they only play 3 playoff teams (Pats, Seahawks and Chargers) a total of 4 games this season and benefit, as the Pats do, from facing the AFC and NFC Wests.

While the Jets will be improved with Brett Favre at QB over Clemons and Pennington, how many games will Favre give them? Most prognosticators think he is worth 2 games....meaning if you think the Jets are a 10 win team, which they were in 2006, then with Pennington they are an 8 win team. This is not a team with a top 5 defense or with a myriad of weapons on offense (Jones, Cotchery and Coles are solid, just not elite at their positions) and has a slew of new faces. 8-10 wins is not unthinkable, but it is a stretch for a team that was 4-12 last year and has failed to make the playoffs in 3 of the last 5 seasons.



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