The lights shine on Broadway, but the Big Apple's most intense glow will be focused on Brian Schottenheimer this fall.
The 35-year-old offensive coordinator oversees an offense dealing with uncertainty at key positions while carrying the weight of the team's playoff prospects on its shoulders.
The Jets finished as the league's ninth-highest scoring offense (25.3) last season, and rolled up an average of 331.7 yards per game (16th). In addition, the Jets fielded the AFC's fourth-best rushing attack (125.2) while averaging a whopping 4.7 yards per carry on only 26.4 attempts a game. Led by Brett Favre, the team amassed 22 passing touchdowns (11th) and ranked fifth in the league in completion percentage (65.6) a season ago.
While the Jets' potent offensive attack led the team to an 8-3 start, its futility down the stretch contributed greatly to the team's inability to make the playoffs after such a hot streak. With that dismal memory fresh in their minds and Brett Favre gone, it's no wonder that pessimism abounds.
However, the situation isn't as bleak as it appears on paper as Schottenheimer has traditionally excelled when the Jets have been shorthanded. As a masterful schemer, he uses a diverse offensive system that features multiple pre-snap shifts and motions to confuse defenders. Moreover, he employs some empty formations and no-huddle concepts to dictate the rhythm and tempo of the game. Though Schottenheimer's passing game doesn't feature a lot of vertical throws, his preference for a horizontal passing game stretches the defense across the field, which allows the team to function as a ball-control unit. Coupled with a downhill rush attack, the combination is formidable and gives the Jets a balanced offense that is problematic for foes.
In 2006, Schottenheimer transformed a lightly regarded unit devoid of a true rushing threat into a playoff contender. Utilizing a quick, rhythm passing game with an assortment of short routes, the Chad Pennington-led Jets compiled a 10-6 record and befuddled defenses with their deceptive pre-snap tactics. Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 173 receptions in the potent aerial attack, and acted as interchangeable lead receivers in the ball-controlled passing game. This was especially significant considering Cotchery entered the season as an unknown commodity before tallying 82 catches.
Whereas that Jets' team was challenged in the running game, Schottenheimer has the luxury of relying on one of the league's best rush attacks this season.
Thomas Jones headlines a dynamic crew that features two Pro Bowlers and an impressive rookie rusher. Jones, who tallied an AFC-best 1,312 rushing yards, returns after racking up five 100-yard games a season ago. The nine-year veteran gives Schottenheimer a hard-nosed workhorse to pound between the tackles. Though Jones is considered a dinosaur at the position at age 30, his skills still rate at an all-star level and he is capable of carrying the team's offense on his back.
Washington serves as the "do-it-all" back in Schottenheimer's offense and should receive a high number of touches as a runner/receiver in the system. The three-year veteran averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry while flashing big-play ability with three runs of more than 40 yards in only 76 attempts. Furthermore, Washington's 47 receptions ranked fourth on the team, and added a dimension to the Jets' passing game. With the team reportedly flirting with some Wildcat-like formations, Washington could be a prominent player in the club's retooled offense.
Although the Jets' dynamic set of rushers are a great reason to pound the ball relentlessly, it is the team's outstanding offensive line that should make the running game the foundation of its game plan in 2009. The grizzled frontline features three Pro Bowlers (Nick Mangold, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody), and a pair of solid road graders (Brandon Moore and D'Brickashaw Ferguson) at the point of attack. The quintet excels at moving defenders off the ball, and the Jets' proficiency running the ball last season can be attributed to the unit's remarkable ability to control the line of scrimmage. Though the group is also adept at blocking in pass protection, the Jets are at their best when they allow their massive front to lean on defenders in the running game. That will come in handy with the team having numerous question marks in its aerial attack.
Brett Favre's departure puts the quarterback position in the crosshairs as the Jets enter the season with two inexperienced candidates at the position. Fourth-year pro Kellen Clemens is engaged in a heated duel with rookie Mark Sanchez for the right to lead the offense.
Clemens, who has eight career starts, was drafted by the previous regime as the future face of the franchise, but the third-year veteran failed to seize the opportunity when granted the chance during the 2007 season. He completed only 52.0 percent of his passes and tossed 10 interceptions with only five touchdown passes. Clemens finished with a dismal passer rating of 60.9 and opened the door for the team to explore its options at the position.
Given Clemens' documented struggles as a starter, it is very likely the Jets will turn to Sanchez as their starter on opening day. The fifth overall pick was drafted to become the new face of the franchise, and his five-year, $60 million deal ensures that he will get that opportunity in the near future.
As a player, Sanchez is a mobile thrower with outstanding arm strength, accuracy and touch. Though he logged only 16 starts during his collegiate career, he has flashed big-time potential as a playmaker in the pocket. He excelled on the big stage at Southern California, and his outstanding performance at the 2009 Rose Bowl showcased his promise. Throw in his charismatic leadership style, and it's fairly obvious who should run out with the first team on opening day.
Regardless, the prospect of an inexperienced thrower hinders a passing game with several question marks at the receiver position.
While Jerricho Cotchery is clearly the team's top option, the Jets must find a reliable complementary receiver on the opposite side. Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney and Brad Smith are slated to compete for time at the position, and each bring a unique set of skills to the table. Stuckey, the club's seventh-round pick in 2007, hauled in 32 receptions as a slot receiver last season. The third-year veteran added three touchdowns, and displayed some craftiness while working over the middle of the field.
Smith, a fourth-year pro with 53 career receptions, has served as a starter occasionally throughout his career, but has failed to put up noteworthy production as a receiver. He has only three receptions over 20 yards in his career, and his career average of 8.5 yards per catch doesn't strike fear in defenders. The former college quarterback does give the team a dangerous weapon as a "Wildcat" triggerman, but he has not developed into an explosive weapon as a receiver.
The lightly regarded Clowney may emerge as the team's best option at the position due to explosive speed and quickness. The former practice squad member displayed outstanding playmaking potential during the 2008 preseason before an injury sidelined him for most of the year. He returned in Week 15 and immediately made his presence felt with a 26-yard gain on his first reception. If he continues to develop throughout training camp, he may be the dynamic vertical weapon the Jets desperately need in the passing game.
While Schottenheimer is waiting on the development of a few unproven players at receiver, the savvy playcaller may have a budding star in Dustin Keller at tight end. The second-year pro burst onto the scene as a rookie with 48 receptions for 535 yards and three touchdowns in six starts. The first-round pick flashed the potential to anchor the team's passing game when he tallied 27 receptions for 313 yards during a four-game stretch in November. As an explosive athlete with rare speed for the position, Keller is a potential matchup nightmare who could function as a quasi-receiver in the team's spread formations. Given Schottenheimer's penchant for smoke-and-mirror pre-snap tactics, Keller could function as a complement to Cotchery in the passing game.
Rex Ryan and a swaggering defense have raised the expectations in New York, but a reconstructed offense orchestrated by a creative playcaller will have to excel to keep those hopes afloat.