With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror for all but two teams, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of each team's past season and spin it forward.
2011 in a Nutshell: This was a middle of the road ballclub, nothing more, nothing less. Don't be fooled by Super Bowl aspirations, a head coach's overconfidence or defensive reputation. The New York Jets were a .500 team from stem to stern.
What Went Right: On the surface, not a lot. But considering how much the defense was ravaged by injury and put behind the eight ball by a stagnant offense, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit often kept the club in games. Overall, the Jets' defense ranked fifth in the league. The group allowed a lot of points, but many came after the offense turned the ball over, or when Mark Sanchez giftwrapped a touchdown for the other guys (See: the Ravens game). The Jets' offense turned the ball over a whopping 34 times, one of the highest figures in the league. Pettine's defense was routinely asked to stop the bleeding, and more often than not, they came though ... without Bryan Thomas, without the departed Shaun Ellis and without Jim Leonhard at the most important time of the season.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis was the queen on the chessboard, per the usual. Surprisingly, opposing quarterbacks threw at him 89 times, but were only successful 36 times. He also led the AFC with 21 pass breakups. For all the criticism of Antonio Cromartie, the lanky corner only allowed 37 completions, despite also being thrown at 89 times. Every team in the league would give anything to get secondary play like that.
Offensively, Shonn Greene was a lot better than advertised. Yes, he had trouble getting going in games, but much of that was due to a right side of the line that struggled immensely. Labeled a "power" back lacking explosion, Greene averaged 4.2 yards per shot on 253 carries. Not bad. For all of the offense's giveaways, it should be noted Greene turned the ball over exactly zero times in 283 touches.
What Went Not So Right: Unfortunately, the passing game gave the running game no help. Why load up on the run when both the quarterback you're playing and the wideouts ... well ... suck?
There's a famous NFL Films clip when Gale Sayers says, "Just give me 18 inches of daylight ... that's all I need." Well, 18 inches of daylight is about all the separation the receivers gave Sanchez to fit the ball into. After the season, criticism for wide receiver Santonio Holmes' attitude poured in like late Florida votes. Also, reports surfaced that Sanchez wasn't exactly carrying the eye of the tiger into games. A 56.7 completion percentage, 18 picks and a 78.2 passer rating supported this notion.
Meanwhile, the defense that tried to hold down the fort often hurt its own cause by only getting to the quarterback 35 times. With corners that cover as well as Revis and Cromartie, that's not good enough. New York still lacks that one guy in the front seven who creates protection problems for opposing offenses.
Offseason Crystal Ball: Oh boy -- you had to ask didn't you? Could this team make a move for Peyton Manning? Not if Rob Lowe's sources are right ... Seriously, it's quite doubtful. The Colts' options are pretty much to release him or keep him, not trade him to the Jets after paying a megamillion dollar bonus. And I don't think Peyton would voluntarily join the Jets circus if he were to hit free agency. The Jets need to either get Sanchez's butt in gear or move on.
Otherwise, this offseason has to be focused on implementing new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's scheme, which will probably involve a lot of Greene (and presumably Joe McKnight). Still, Sparano must get more from the outside threats than did predecessor Brian Schottenheimer.
Speaking of which, will Holmes be back? If the Jets release him, they'll do it quickly so they can avoid paying him $7.5 million. Truth be told, he'll probably be playing for the Jets next season. No matter what, somebody has to support Dustin Keller, provided he's back. Keller, whose name has been tossed around in some trade rumors, had a nice campaign with 65 catches for 815 yards.
As far as releasing players, I wouldn't count on linebacker Bart Scott's departure. His salary is guaranteed. Right tackle Wayne Hunter will probably be looking for work.
Team Needs and Draft: In my initial mock draft, I have the Jets taking safety Mark Barron of Alabama. It might be a hair high for the kid, but this is a need area for the Jets. Eric Smith has the stormtrooper effect. (He misfires a lot.)
Pass-rush help, as well as offensive line (right tackle and guard) must be on the docket. Take the best guy on the board in these areas, Jets brass. That's the way to go here. Depending on what they do at quarterback, the Jets could look to get a wideout through free agency or a trade. But they may be a little gun shy, considering how this team fared obtaining Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL