Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

KhanSha1.jpg

» Futures: My Expansion Franchise

You've just been awarded an NFL expansion team and must build your personnel department. How would you do it? Matt Waldman takes on the exercise.

14 Feb 2007

Four Downs: AFC East

by Bill Barnwell

Buffalo Bills

We've Got To Keep Running

The Bills were the definition of mediocrity in 2006. Finishing 16th in the league in team efficiency, their usually-excellent special teams helped mitigate the difficulties and lumps taken by their young skill position players. While Lee Evans broke out and had a season worthy of being the Bills' #1 receiver, and J.P. Losman showed signs of becoming a competent NFL quarterback, Willis McGahee suffered an injury in midseason and struggled to be the dominant back the Bills hoped he would become when drafting him out of Miami.

McGahee's performance this season was pretty typical of his career so far: his DPAR and DVOA are mediocre, but he had decent traditional numbers because he gets the ball at a pace of about 300 times a season. McGahee was the NFL rushing leader after four weeks, but very few people pointed out that his early success had something to do with his 99 carries, which also led the league. McGahee proceeded to have exactly 99 carries over the next ten weeks, which begs the question of whether a nearly 400-carry pace was too much for him.

The freely available player database at pro-football-reference.com has game-by-game statistics from 1996-2005. The most strenuous four week stretches for a running back over that timeframe would make even Herman Edwards blush. The top ten independent streaks all had 118 carries or more -- Eddie George, who had the most strenuous four-week stretch, had a whopping 128 carries. That's a pace that would put him at 512 carries for the season. And people wonder what happened to him...

Here's the top 10:

  • George, Weeks 4-7, 2000: He had a single carry in Week 8, then 12 in Week 10, but then returned to his starting role for the remainder of the season. George was given the ball 30 or more times on four more occasions in 2000, but he averaged 3.99 yards per carry in Weeks 1-7 and 3.55 afterwards. He had three more 300-carry seasons in him, but none of them were particularly effective. Was this the stretch that broke the camel's back? It's an arguable point.
  • Nick Goings, Weeks 13-16, 2004: Yes, Nick Goings! This was after Carolina had gone through approximately eighteen other running backs and was in the midst of a failed season. The closest comp is a team down on its luck signing Rick Helling or Steve Sparks and giving them 200 innings to munch. Goings returned to his role as a fullback the next season and has 48 carries since the run.
  • Larry Johnson, Weeks 10-13, 2005: Johnson's Week 14 also included a heavy workload, so he'd be #1 if the evaluated period were five weeks instead of four. This one can't even be blamed on Herm! Johnson's workload decreased slightly but he was still the same player over the rest of the season, and everyone reading this knows what he did in 2006. No effects. Yet.

    As for 2006, by the way, Johnson's worst stretch were his 116 carries in Weeks 11-14; that would put him just off this list's radar.

  • Jerome Bettis, Weeks 9-12, 2004: Hey, if you're going to bring down a running back, might as well pick one who'll be retiring soon. Bettis only had 13 carries over the next two weeks, but then saw his workload return in Weeks 15 and 16. Nothing long-lasting, then.
  • Jerome Bettis, Weeks 6-9, 1997: Oh. Umm ... you again? Bettis saw no ill effects from this workload and continued on his massive season, finishing with 1665 yards on the campaign.
  • Terrell Davis, Weeks 5-9, 1997: Davis had a bye mixed in here. The Week 9 game is also dramatic as Davis was given the ball 42 times. 42! Mike Shanahan eased the reins a little bit the rest of the way, as Davis went from averaging 27 attempts per game up to the Week 9 tilt down to 22 the rest of the way. His 2000-yard season was in 1998, so the 1997 workload didn't seem to hurt too much.
  • Curtis Martin, Weeks 5-9, 1998. A bye week for Martin in here as well. No effect on Martin's performance whatsoever. If Eric Dickerson is known as the guy who could handle any workload, Curtis Martin is his apprentice.
  • Jamal Anderson, Weeks 10-13 and 13-16, 1998: Anderson put up 118 carries in each of the two periods. How did this work out for him? Something named Ken Oxendine led the Falcons in rushing in 1999. Oxendine later won a (theoretical) XFL Championship Ring with the Los Angeles Xtreme in 2001 and was the wide receivers coach at Georgia Southern in 2004. Anderson's Wikipedia page, meanwhile, notes that he "is currently trying his hand at sports broadcasting, skydiving and winetasting." Isn't "winetasting" supposed to be two words?
  • Curtis Martin, Weeks 6-10, 1999: Martin put up the same 118 carries in Weeks 7-11, too. What a beast. He went down to 25 total carries over Weeks 12 and 13, but jumped back up to his normal workload the rest of the way.
  • Ricky Williams, Weeks 6-9, 2000: Williams got hurt in Week 11 and missed the rest of the season. This led to the return of storied Fantasy Hall of Famer Terry Allen and the drafting of Deuce McAllister.

It's hard to say that the data points above are any sort of conclusive evidence that running backs do suffer from a four-week period of stress; after all, many of these backs were also ridden over the course of the other twelve weeks, as well, which would put them in the 370-carry danger zone that Kenny Loggins spoke of so awfully.

That's My J.P.

There seemed to be a point during the season at which the common analysis of J.P. Losman went from pity and mockery to hope and expectation. It shouldn't be said that this was something that happened independent of Football Outsiders, since the point in question occurred shortly after Aaron and Mike T. returned from their trip to Mount Jaws. Now that the season's over, we can take Losman's full season statistics and use the similarity scores technique to try and find those quarterbacks who were most similar to Losman at this point of his career.

Based upon one-year similarity scores to Losman's 2006, the five closest matches offer up a mix of hope and disgust, like the pretty girl at the bar talking to an ugly guy. Tim Couch, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Tony Eason represent a rather large disparity between the Hall of Fame and ... whatever it is Tony Eason does these days. Wake up in a cold sweat thinking about the Bears, maybe.

Losman has the wildman quarterback skill set; if there was physically or visually a closest quarterback to him, it would be Aaron Brooks. He obviously isn't as explosive as Brooks when he runs with the ball, but he has an absolute howitzer of an arm, scrambles way too often at the first sign of pressure, and will occasionally make terrible forced throws into coverage. He does certainly have better mechanics than Vick. It's easy to imagine that these mistakes are easier to correct than the problems of a quarterback like, say, Charlie Frye.

What can the Bills do to help Losman? Well, make sure they hold onto Lee Evans, for one. Evans was third in DVOA and eighth in DPAR this past season, which featured a terrifying six-catch, 205-yard quarter against the Texans. By not getting much performance out of any of their other targets, though, Buffalo enters 2007 one receiver away from having an offense that can strike fear into the secondaries of the AFC East.

Who Could Leave?

The Bills have three key free agents to worry about: Nate Clements, Chris Kelsay, and London Fletcher-Baker. Fletcher-Baker is attracting interest from around the league and likely to leave, while Clements may choose to go following the protracted contract squabbles of last off-season. The Bills will have the cap space to re-sign Clements, but if he doesn't want to stay, he'll have plenty of suitors. Washington, for one, beckons. Kelsay fits the Bills' mold of small, faster defensive linemen and will probably stay with the club.

Whom Should They Sign?
(Projected Cap Space: $39.7 million*)

The Bills' cap space could be put to good use in replacing any of the players who leave on the defensive side along with improving their offensive line; unfortunately, linebacker and offensive line are two of the shallower pools in this free agent market. With this much cap space, though, the Bills could try and make a run at the big tickets of Lance Briggs and/or Adalius Thomas. On the offensive side, Damion McIntosh is someone the Bills have seen on a regular basis and who has experience at both tackle and guard; he would be a solid replacement if the Bills don't re-sign Mike Gandy. One of the many wide receivers on the market would also work while Roscoe Parrish develops -- someone like Ashley Lelie would be good in opening space up for Lee Evans to work.

Miami Dolphins

Bad Girls Are Always Bad Girls

The Dolphins never seemed to get off the ground in 2006. Daunte Culpepper was expected to provide the Dolphins with a boost and increased skill behind center, but his knee injury limited him to only four games on the season. The Dolphins were 1-3 with Culpepper in the lineup. While the team enjoyed victories over Chicago (ending their undefeated streak in resounding fashion) and New England, and enjoyed a stellar season from Defensive MVP Jason Taylor, their skill position players also struggled. Ronnie Brown was injured and missed a chunk of the season, and Chris Chambers' performance was the worst in the NFL by a drastic margin as per Football Outsiders' DPAR statistics.

Chambers' name has come up a lot at FO over the past 12 months. Why? He's a fascinating player with the skill set to match, and because the gap between his perceived value and his actual value is so high. Even when his repeated struggles are pointed out, many Dolphins fans will offer him excuses about this year's model of Dolphins quarterback, even after the starting quarterback count throwing to Chambers touched about 35 this season. It's worth noting that Chambers had a hand in 74 incompletions this year! That's 18 and a half drives! That's two games worth of nothing but incompletions to Chris Chambers on offense.

One of the talking points about Chambers, especially earlier this season, is that he's a second-half player and would break out in the second half of 2006. He developed this rep after 2005, when he parlayed a big second half into a Pro Bowl berth. If you look at Chambers' career, he has consistently done better in the second half of the season; he's caught more passes in Weeks 9-17 than he has in Weeks 1-8 every one of his six campaigns, averaging 10.83 catches more per season. The average NFL player, meanwhile, averages slightly over 2.7 catches more in Weeks 9-17 than they do in Weeks 1-8, which has much to do with the extra week contained within 9-17. NFL players average about 2.07 catches per week.

Do the defenders of Chambers have a point? Do second half players really exist? There's an easy way to find out -- get out the pro-football-reference database again, and do another mini-study.

Testing the theory took separating the performance of all wide receivers from 1996 through 2005 into Weeks 1-8 and 9-17, taking out players who played fewer than 14 games (since a player performing better or worse in a half of the season due to injury in the other half isn't the argument). 18 guys qualified for the study and had 21 or more receptions in the second half of the season than they did in the first. That year's performance is Split1; the same split in the year after is Split2.

Name Year Split1 Split2
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 2004 29 10
Tai Streets 2002 29 -1
Chris Chambers 2005 26 3
Koren Robinson 2002 25 11
Muhsin Muhammad 2004 24 -6
Mike Pritchard 1998 24 -2
Ricky Proehl 1998 24 4
Keyshawn Johnson 1998 23 8
Keenan McCardell 2001 23 3
Jimmy Smith 1999 23 -7
Rod Smith 1999 23 -6
Lee Evans 2004 22 12
Bill Schroeder 2000 22 17
Reggie Brown 2005 21 -6
Eddie Kennison 2004 21 4
Johnnie Morton 1999 21 -1
Muhsin Muhammad 2003 21 24
Marcus Robinson 2003 21 -3
Split2 Average 2.89

When you remember that the NFL average improvement in Weeks 9-17 for a given year is 2.71, and notice that the only player who appears twice on this list is Muhsin Muhammad, it seems that this idea is a bit of a myth.

Who Could Leave?

Many of Miami's elderly defensive linemen are unrestricted free agents: Jeff Zgonina, Keith Traylor, Vonnie Holliday, and David Bowens are all free to leave Miami if they so desire. Expect one or two of them, notably Holliday, to stay. Starting outside linebacker Donnie Spragan is also unrestricted, but his mediocre play isn't begging for a new contract. Offensive lineman Kendyl Jacox is also a free agent, with Hudson Houck probably getting to make the final say on whether he's worth re-signing.

Whom Could They Sign?
(Projected Cap Space: $17.8 million)

The Dolphins can't bring in another quarterback, can they? The Daunte Culpepper move looks like a mess at this point, while Joey Harrington's unceremonious benching against the Jets on Christmas Night doesn't bode well for his future, either. This is another potential spot for Damon Huard, who started his career in Miami and could compete with a hopefully-healthy Culpepper for the starting job.

New England Patriots

Hold Your Mistake Up

It's an interesting question: Was this Patriots season a success?

It's hard to say, really. On one hand, the team was a second half collapse away from the Super Bowl, where it's hard to imagine them losing to Rex Grossman and the Bears that showed up in Miami. On the other, the team known for their clutch play and veteran presence collapsed in the second half of the AFC Championship Game. Some of the blame can be apportioned around the Patriots team and organization as a whole, but a lot of it has to go down to one of the other stories of the Patriots' season; simply put, the steps that Patriots linebackers lost might be enough for a marathon.

Anyone who watched the Patriots-Colts AFC Championship Game saw the struggles the Patriots had in covering Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher. If Ben Utecht hadn't gone down hurt after each catch he made during the playoffs, the Patriots would have struggled covering him, too. On the other hand, Joseph Addai was held to two catches for four yards. What that doesn't note, though, is that Addai dropped a first quarter pass where he ran right by Tedy Bruschi and would have had about a 30-yard gain had he had caught it. But we'll get back to that in a minute.

That's all somewhat surprising considering that in 2006 the Patriots were fourth in the league while covering tight ends and fourth against other wide receivers, but only 22nd against running backs. The spot where the Patriots struggled was in defending other team's #2 wide receivers, where they were 29th. While the Patriots pass defense was terrible across the board in 2005, the previous seasons show similar patterns -- in 2004, they were 29th against #2 wide receivers, and 28th against running backs, but fifth against tight ends; in 2003, 23rd against running backs and second against tight ends.

Now, the Colts offensive scheme (in particular, its use of Clark) is so drastically different and special that it does tend to present itself differently than any other in football, but Clark did only have two catches for 42 yards in the first game. Could Clark's huge game and potentially beneficial matchup against the Patriots defense have been expected? The simplest way to figure that out might be to take a look at who succeeded against the Patriots in 2006.

The best performance against the Patriots in 2006 was by a Colt; it just wasn't Dallas Clark. Marvin Harrison's eight catch, 145-yard game with two touchdowns left a strong impression on Bill Belichick and Dean Pees, whose defense shifted shape to limit Harrison's big-play propensity. Number two (according to standard fantasy points) was Javon Walker, who had 130 yards and two touchdowns, but only three catches.

The rest of the big games aren't really from huge names. Number three was Mike Furrey -- he had nine catches for 123 yards and a score just from going underneath the Patriots linebackers all day and then running past them, in much the same way that Clark did. Also in the top ten was a similar player, Miami's Wes Welker -- yes, beyond the fact that they are both white, they both run similar patterns and work in the middle of the field out of the slot frequently, much like Dallas Clark.

The player who consistently played big against the Patriots was the Jets' Jerricho Cotchery. In three games, he had 16 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Cotchery isn't a burner and even if he was, he wouldn't have the option with Chad Pennington at quarterback. Most of his and Laveranues Coles' work occurs in the middle of the field on slants and curls; Pennington throws the occasional out to keep the defense honest, but his arm simply doesn't allow for it.

The Colts were very smart in how they employed Clark during the playoff game -- they saw the success that Furrey, Welker, Cotchery, and Coles enjoyed and accounted for the fact that a Patriots secondary wounded by Harrison in their first matchup would shift their coverage toward him.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, their linebackers have reached the end of their life cycle. Week after week, it was hard to avoid noticing that Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau were struggling both with coverage and plugging the gaps for run plays. Bruschi was slightly more effective than the other two, and Seau got slightly better as the year went along, but Vrabel's play was a frightening drop down from where he was previously. He was often late getting to gaps and would try and cheat his way to a hole by not taking on offensive linemen or using his superior intuition and experience to guess where a play was going to go, which too often led to overpursuit and Vrabel being out-of-position. It's scary to say for Patriots fans, but their linebackers have gone from being the dynasty's defensive core to a net liability.

Who Could Leave?

The two free agents whose potential absence looms largest are Daniel Graham and Asante Samuel. It's difficult to see Graham returning to the Patriots, who value him but drafted two tight ends in 2006 and already have Ben Watson. Samuel, on the other hand, showed his value to the Patriots in a blistering series of performances in the postseason. Franchising him with a view to a long-term contract seems to be an eminently reasonable proposition at this point.

Whom Could They Sign?
(Projected Cap Space: $26.98 million)

While the Patriots have also clearly emphasized how fungible they think wide receivers are, the lack of impact Chad Jackson made in his rookie season may worry them about his usefulness for the upcoming campaign. With Troy Brown a free agent and perhaps retiring, the Patriots might reach out and sign someone like Drew Bennett. The Patriots would be well-served to bring in as many as three new linebackers to replace a potentially retiring Bruschi and Seau, plus the out-of-favor Tully Banta-Cain, who will probably not return and may end up in New York under Eric Mangini. They also need to figure out how to get Vrabel back to the outside, where his decline in pass coverage is less of an issue.

New York Jets

A Year of Seconds

The Jets season has to be seen as a major success. Expected to finish last in the AFC East by most observers, an intelligent draft, the coaching of Eric Mangini, the return to health of Chad Pennington, and a weak schedule brought the Jets all the way back to ten wins and a playoff berth. With all those things as positives, there was one very negative aspect of the Jets season, a problem that may haunt them for years to come.

The Jets run defense in 2006 was not exactly one for the faint of heart. To say that, though, is a slight understatement. The Jets run defense offended pornographers, made voyeurs turn away, and repulsed the entire cast of Jackass. It was so awful that even the hipsters in Williamsburg thought the irony was a little strong. It was diabolical enough to make Jimmy Hoffa wriggle around in the end zone. It qualified for disaster relief, placed on the IMDB Bottom 100, and deserved its own Anna Nicole Smith-style reality show dedicated to its utter ineptitude. This week: DeWayne Robertson tries to shed his first lineman! Hilarity ensues!)

The point is, it sucked.

Since the off-season brings hope to every team, let's look back at the DVOA era and see what's happened to the other 32nd-ranked rush defenses in football. Keep in mind when other teams' rushing defense DVOA are quoted that the Jets' rush DVOA was a glorious 16.0%.

  • 1997 Philadelphia Eagles, 9.3%: The Jets rush defense was not remotely close to this Eagles team. The 1998 Eagles added Hugh Douglas and actually got worse at defending the run, but went up to 27th; by 1999, Jeremiah Trotter's rookie season, they were all the way to -11.2% and 11th in the league.
  • 1998 Cincinnati Bengals, 17.2%: The Bengals, on the other hand, were actually worse than the Jets. Studs like Michael Bankston, Jevon Langford, and Reinard Wilson were the culprits here. Cincinnati's run defense went back up to 16th the next season and stabilized from there on out, with linebackers Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes (who was 21 and a starter in '98) leading the way.
  • 1999 Cleveland Browns, 14.7%: It's hard to be too hard on the expansion Browns, but they didn't do themselves any favors in the expansion draft. Second pick Hurvin McCormack had no impact and played a single season with the team. The Browns would later infamously spend several picks intending to improve their defensive line, but these would generally work out solely for the Broncos. Even when Cleveland had the third best defense in the league in 2001, their pass defense was #1 and their rush defense was 20th. The current incarnation of the Browns has never ranked higher than 14th in run defense, and has only ranked higher than 20th once.
  • 2000 Arizona Cardinals, 24.1%: Yeesh. The Jets were actually worse than this after the first six or seven weeks of the season, but they did improve as the year went on. This team gave up 4.51 yards per carry. That is astoundingly bad. Blame? You can put some on Simeon Rice, who may have tutored Dwight Freeney on how to pass rush toward the sideline. You can put some on Andre Wadsworth, who was never healthy enough to fulfill his potential in the middle of the line. Wadsworth is actually working out with the Buccaneers and floating a comeback at 32. Well, he owes the Cardinals some money. Starting DT Brad Ottis also didn't contribute and wasn't invited back to the NFL the next year as a show of appreciation. As I'll get to, this rush defense continued to flail wildly and did not have an above-average year until 2006. This is a terrifying scenario for the Jets.
  • 2001 Indianapolis Colts, 13.4%: Hey! The Colts were 31st this year, too. While their rush defense got up to mid-table mediocrity in '04 and '05, it was back down in the dumps this season. Of course, their offense was so great that they won a Super Bowl, anyway, so what do we know?
  • 2002 Arizona Cardinals, 13.5%: At least their DVOA improved on the 2000 team. The 2002 Cardinals defense shared two starters with the 2000 abomination, Kwamie Lassiter and Russell Davis, but the new guys would've fit in real well with the old ones. Mystery men like Barron Tanner and Ray Thompson frolic amongst real NFL players like Adrian Wilson and ... Adrian Wilson! This isn't meant to disparage our Cardinals-loving readers, but there is no team whose players are more obscure than the Cardinals. How many people reading this have ever heard of Barron Tanner before? He sounds like he'd be a rejected pseudonym on the same list that someone would choose "Patton Oswalt" from if that was actually a pseudonym.
  • 2003 New York Jets, 13.7%: Oh boy. This was a different team from a different time, but fourth overall pick Robertson has been on two worst-ranked defenses in four years. While he's not a Jonathan Sullivan-level bust, it's hard to justify him as being effective at this point. While this Jets defense struggled with injuries, they had Jason Ferguson, Shaun Ellis, Robertson, Chester McGlockton, Sam Cowart, and half a season of John Abraham and Josh Evans each to work with. The Jets were fifth in 2004 in stopping the run, but then back down to 28th in 2005, and you already know about 2006. Which one's the fluke?
  • 2004 Minnesota Vikings, 16.2%: Aha! The best rush defense of 2006, by a large margin even, was the worst in football only two years prior! How do you pull that trick? Well, Kevin Williams matures a bit, you sign Pat Williams for 2005, and you spend two first round picks on defensive ends. And most important, you hit on both. The Vikings path would be the Jets dream plan.
  • 2005 Atlanta Falcons, 18.6%: While it's been easy to make fun of the Falcons run defense in the past, it was better than expected this year, even without Ed Hartwell's consistent service. Atlanta's rush defense went back to being mediocre, which is fine if you do everything else well or better. Unfortunately, Atlanta forgot about that part. The signing of John Abraham could get some credit for this, but he's never profiled as an excellent run-stopping end.

So, whither the Jets? It looks like most teams don't recover and become excellent run defenses overnight after being the worst in football, with the lone exception being the flukish '04 Jets rush D. The solutions were also varied: some teams drafted linemen in the first round, while others revamped their entire defense and found it to be no better. The Jets apparently think that Bryan Thomas had a good enough year in the 3-4 to earn a contract extension, which is fine. Robertson, though, is simply not playing to the level that a top-five draft pick should be at this point of his career. While it's hard being a lineman in the 3-4, Robertson neither occupies blockers nor gets penetration on anything amounting to a consistent basis. This causes Jonathan Vilma, the Jets' best player, to get blocked by an offensive lineman directly and renders him impotent to make plays. It was unclear before the year whether the 3-4 was a good fit for the Jets, and it still doesn't really seem to be the case. Eric Mangini's job this off-season will be to alleviate that, one way or another.

Who Could Leave?

The Jets have no notable free agents to speak of and look set to retain the same roster for the 2007 season. Kevan Barlow is someone who might be considered to be a potential salary cap casualty, but since the Jets aren't paying any of his signing bonus, they aren't on the hook for a whole lot to begin with. Justin McCareins, who showed up for camp in poor condition and lost his starting job to Jerricho Cotchery, might also see the unemployment line at some point.

Whom Could They Sign?
(Projected Cap Space: $28.45 million)

Mangini simply needs to find players who fit his defensive scheme better than the current Jets do. Right now, he has half a defense: Kerry Rhodes and Erik Coleman are a fine set of safeties, Andre Dyson and Justin Miller can hold the fort at corner, Vilma's a world-class linebacker, and Thomas and Shaun Ellis are at least solid pass-rushing ends. That leaves a tackle or two and a pair of linebackers to take care of. Getting a run-stuffer to at least alternate with Robertson is imperative, which is why someone like Ian Scott could find his way to New York. The outside linebacker crop are mostly 4-3 players, which could potentially mean -- don't shoot the messenger, Jets fans -- Cato June in the Green and White in 2007. Sorry.

Next: NFC South by Mike Tanier.

*All projected cap numbers courtesy of www.askthecommish.com. These numbers are "ballpark" and are subject to change. The intention is to give an approximate idea of each team's available resources before free agency and the draft begin.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 14 Feb 2007

77 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2007, 11:33pm by Josh

Comments

1
by Snoop (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 4:43pm

Why is Banta-Cain out of favour? He seems to fill a role...

2
by Lou in Cincy (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 4:55pm

"Isn’t “winetasting� supposed to be two words?"

That depends on whether you do it whilst skydiving on TV....

3
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 4:58pm

Funny, I haven't run numbers or anything, but I watched a lot of Patriots this season and my subjective impression was that it was Bruschi, not Vrabel, that had lost more of a step. Especially when Seau was still healthy and Vrabel was playing outside. I wouldn't class him as a pro-bowler, but I would class him as "adequate", whereas Bruschi looked old and slow.

If the Pats can answer their problems on the inside LB position, Vrable and Colvin on the outside will probably be OK for next season, especially if they can pick up a youngster with some talent to rotate in and spell Vrabel from time to time. I'm more worried about ILB--Bruschi should retire, Seau won't be amazing even if he comes back, and behind them...no one.

4
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:02pm

Re: Banta Cain

Who knows? All we know is that in the AFC CG he was mysteriously benched in favor of practice squad warrior Eric Alexander. If it was a meaningless game, you could attribute it to trying out a young player to see if he's an adequate replacement for a potential offseason loss (Banta-Cain is a free agent), but in the AFC Championship game? Belichick must have seen something that made him think that Alexander would be better against the Colts than Banta-Cain. Banta-Cain is a decent rusher but has been iffy in his tackling of RB's all season when he's been in, so maybe it was specifically supposed to counter Addai? Anyway, it was an odd move, and that's the source of the Banta-Cain being out of favor rumors.

5
by ABW (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:04pm

Re: 1

Yeah, the role of mediocre pass-rusher who can't hold up against the run. I would be somewhat surprised to see him leave though - it's not like he has a lot of value to other teams and he is a pretty good special teamer. I could see him sticking around on the Patriots for a while a la Dom Davis or Larry Izzo.

He simply can't be in on rushing downs though. He's very one-dimensional. I'd like to see the Patriots replace him with someone better, but if I had a choice between a) replacing TBC with a better OLB and having to leave Vrabel inside or b) getting a decent ILB and moving Vrabel back to the outside, it would be b in a heartbeat.

6
by billvv (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:05pm

All Jets fans want to thank you for your Valentine's Day sentiments.

7
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:06pm

Nice article, but isn't Thomas a OLB? I thought that the problem in New York was that Robertson is a 3-technique tackle, not suitable for the nose and that Vilma is too small to play in a 3-4 without a mammoth NT (which Robertson isn't) in front of him. Donnie Edwards can play in San Diego because of Jamal Williams. If the Jets found this big guy for the middle then they could move Robertson to end (or trade him) where he wouldn't get pushed around so much.

8
by ABW (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:07pm

Re: 4

I'm pretty sure that the reason Eric Alexander was in the CCG was that he is the best coverage linebacker amongst the Patriots' linebackers, although that's pretty much damning with faint praise. Bruschi used to be able to cover, but he's slowed down a lot.

9
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:27pm

#6 - Love you too. I wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but it's not my fault this team's rush defense is so bad.

#7 - Thomas is supposed to be a hybrid but he lines up at DL a majority of the time.

10
by mb (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 5:50pm

where are the Jets going to find a quality, mammoth 3-4 NT? Those guys are awfully rare it seems, almost as difficult to find as shutdown cornerbacks. Right now there's Jamal Williams, Hampton, and Wilfork and that's about it. Haloti Ngata had a good rookie season. I could envision Pat Williams as a 3-4 run stuffer. The point is those guys don't just fall off trees. The only candidate in this year's draft is Alan Branch and I don't think he'll be available to the Jets. Ian Scott is an interesting name but I don't know if he's big enough or will be able to make the kind of impact the Jets need.

11
by Snoop (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 7:07pm

#4 - Didn't Banta Cain take a questionable roughing the Passer penalty in the AFC CG?

12
by Sisyphus (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 8:14pm

This has been a division that has historically featured their defenses more than their offenses. I know that the Miami offense got a lot of the focus here but their defense also is in need of some serious reworking.

13
by Spoilt Victorian Child (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 9:09pm

Right now there’s Jamal Williams, Hampton, and Wilfork and that’s about it. Haloti Ngata had a good rookie season. I could envision Pat Williams as a 3-4 run stuffer. The point is those guys don’t just fall off trees.
Yeah that would be a disaster.

14
by Buzzsaw (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 9:16pm

Hard to take this seriously when the article kills Robertson (who played well), praises Vilma (who was disappointing) and doesn't even mention Kimo von Oelhoffen (our worst player by a landslide).

" Kerry Rhodes and Erik Coleman are a fine set of safeties, Andre Dyson and Justin Miller can hold the fort at corner"

Coleman is a depth player, I'd be very surprised if he starts next season over Eric Smith. He gets caught out of position to often and Mangini will not tolerate his mental mistakes. Justin Miller hasn't shown anything that would lead me to believe he can ever be an effective starting CB. He just doesn't have any ball awareness.

Stop by jetsinsider.com, you'll learn a lot.

15
by bartleby (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 9:18pm

A topic for the blog or an article:

Is there a negative workhorse effect for receivers (or QBs for that matter) like there is for running backs?

16
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 9:39pm

#12 -

Their defense was 5th in the league, though. They're incredibly old, sure, but they were good. They may be the subject of a blog entry next week.

#14 -

Robertson did not play well. Once. He got no penetration all season (not an exaggeration - I mean - he may not have ever been on the other side of the LOS once all season during a play) and wasn't keeping guys off of the inside linebackers. That's what 3-4 tackles need to do.

Coleman had a very solid rookie season and regressed a little this season while he learned a new system. That doesn't mean he's going to lose his job.

As for Miller's ball awareness, of course he could get better. He has the physical tools to be a good corner. There's reason to think that Mangini, an excellent defensive coach, might be able to make him a better one. I didn't say he'd be great, but hold the fort would be fine if the Jets were solid elsewhere.

I appreciate the shill and I do make my rounds of different websites for the AFC East on a regular basis. I respectfully disagree with your points.

#15 - If it is, it's nowhere near as pronounced as RBs. I did a piece earlier this year on the aging of running QBs versus pocket QBs and found that they aged slightly better than the plodding QBs.

17
by Buzzsaw (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 10:03pm

DEFENSE: DT DEWAYNE ROBERTSON, NEW YORK JETS
"Making an impact in the middle of the Jets defense, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson racked up six tackles, including a sack, for a 17-14 divisional victory at New England. All but one of Robertson's six tackles were made within one yard of the line of scrimmage with his furthest from the line coming three yards downfield. With Robertson's pressure helping lead the way, the Jets limited New England to 3-for-12 (25 percent) on third-down conversion tries. New York's victory dealt the Patriots their second loss in as many games, halting New England's streak of 57 games in a row without back-to-back losses. Only the San Francisco 49ers' run of 60 games (Nov. 12, 1995, to Oct. 17, 1999) was longer. Robertson's sack came early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-17 play from the Jets' 39-yard line. The 4-yard loss pushed New England back four yards and forced a punt, enabling the Jets to maintain a 10-6 lead. With the victory, the Jets (5-4) now trail New England (6-3) by one game for first place in the AFC East. "

Dr. Z said Robertson's game was the finest game for any defensive linemen in the NFL the entire season. That's high praise. And aside from that one game, he was solid all year, moreso towards the 2nd half of the season. Which is to be expected for someone who's never played 3-4 NT.

Erik Coleman is in year 3. He was outstanding in 2004 and has been subpar the past two seasons.

18
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 10:14pm

Dr. Z isn't always right. New England averaged nearly 6 yards a carry that game -- granted, 50 of those yards were on one play, but it's not as if the run game was shut down and a lot of that falls on Robertson's shoulders.

I also fail to see what Robertson's tackles being near the line of scrimmage say about him. I would venture to say that almost all nose tackles make their plays within one yard of the LOS. It's not as if they're running ten yards downfield to make tackles.

As for Robertson's 3rd and 17 sack, I don't remember the play in question, but to say it forced a punt is a little ridiculous. An incomplete pass on 3rd and 17 from the 39 would have resulted in a punt. Was the sack a good play? Of course. Was the sack a great play by Robertson or a coverage sack, though?

See -- that's the thing. He wasn't solid all year. Did he get better as the year went on? Yep. The Jets rush defense did get better as the year went on. Was it anything better than mediocre? No. Going from awful to mediocre is an improvement, but it's not exactly high praise.

My bad about Coleman being in his third year instead of his second. Do you think that he got better during the season and was also adjusting to the new scheme? I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt if I'm going to give Robertson the same.

19
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 10:34pm

Re: most of the last posts (but quite a lot to Bill (but it's great to see one of the writers getting involved!))

If Thomas was lining up at DE then they can't have been lining up in a 3-4, he's tiny for an end (he's OLB sized). I'm sure that the Jets would love to have him at OLB all the time.

My personal feeling of Robertson is that he's a good 3-technique, one gap penetrator (if you look at the Lindys report of him they say he's great at that but suspect against the run) that simply doesn't fit a 3-4. Warren Sapp was an awful 3-4 lineman but is a HOF type player at undertackle. The same might be true of Robertson but we'll never know if he is always asked to play as a two gap lineman.

One of the main reasons the NFL moved away from 3-4 to the 4-3 in the 90s was the lack of the huge 340+ lbs nose tackles. If they were common then there would be more 3-4s. Though as Mike Nolan says there is more to playomg NT than size, there is a level of toughness that goes with the position. Look at guys like Kelly Gregg and Jason Ferguson (and arguably Casey Hampton) that have done the job well despite being below the 'required' weight limit.

20
by Vince (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 10:39pm

Minor footnote to a minor footnote: The improvement of the Falcons run defense in 2006 had little to do with John Abraham (who missed about half the year, though he was great when healthy) and a lot to do with DT Grady Jackson and S Lawyer Milloy.

21
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 11:24pm

15: I'm guessing no workhorse effect for WRs.

Marvin Harrison had the largest workload ever for a WR in 2002, catching 143 balls, and he just kept on chugging as one of the game's best well into his thirties. Herman Moore had a monster season with 123 catches, and he followed that up with two more 100+ catch years. Cris Carter caught 122 balls in back-to-back years, and had a pile of 1000 yard season following that.

In fact, every WR with 112+ catches had a 1000 yard season the following year. So receivers with lots of catches tend to remain good, rather than struggling with injuries. I do expect, though, that the receivers who play more physically, like Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, and TO are more likely to get injured.

As for quarterbacks, most of the high attempt seasons come from Drew Bledsoe's early years with New England. He improved over that stretch. Warren Moon had 655 attempts one year, and he made the pro bowl the next four years. Marino had a few 600+ attempt seasons, and he remained good. Rich Gannon had a 618 attempt season, and he broke down the next year, but that probably had a lot more to do with him being 38 than with his workload.

22
by are-tee (not verified) :: Wed, 02/14/2007 - 11:40pm

Sorry Bill, as someone who watched every play of every Jet game this year, I have to agree with everything that Buzzsaw said. I must also add that Eric Barton and Victor Hobson had decent years. If the Jets are going to add linebackers, it will probably be for depth. A starting corner opposite Dyson is a more pressing need.

The easiest way for the Jets to improve their run defense would be to trade for McGahee - not to use him, just to avoid playing against him twice a year. In 2005-2006, he's had over 530 rushing yards against the Jets.

23
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:01am

#22 -

It's of course fine to disagree with me. I'm certainly not infallible by any means.

That being said, I also watched every Jets play this year (since I am writing the Jets chapter in the book). And I really have to disagree. The Jets linebackers were okay in pass coverage, but they were mediocre in rush defense and the DL was worse. Hobson making a play eight yards off the line does not make a good player.

As for McGahee, there's a reason he has these big games against the Jets as opposed to having them against other teams. There's also a reason Reuben Droughns had a big game against the Jets. It's not the running backs. It's the Jets.

24
by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:34am

So, as I said at the beginning of the season, why on earth did the Jets switch to a 3-4 when their personnel seem so unsuited to it?

25
by Sean (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 2:48am

Buzzsaw,

I agree with every one of your points. Robertson was far and away the best of the defensive linemen. He struggled along with everyone else in the early going, but over the second half of the season he was regularly getting penetration off the snap. I can think of a ton of times where he beat his man off the snap, only to see the play going away from him. He also was stouter at the point than any of the other interior linemen save Ellis, and he stopped giving up the cutback lane from about week eight on. I'm sure the team would love to shift Robertson over to end, but the catch is that I'm not sure he would agree to play the position. He'll get paid a lot more as a 3-technique DT, and I guarantee there would be a trade market for him. But I would love to see him man that end spot with a true runstuffer in the middle.

Vilma was frankly terrible this year, notwithstanding his good tackle numbers. He was so ineffective that by the end of the year the team was basically using him as a safety, dropping him into deep coverage while Kerry Rhodes came up to play in the box. I understand that his skill set requires having a DL that can keep him clean, but he should at least be able to use his speed and athleticism to compensate. It didn't happen. Hobson and Barton showed an ability to at least come up and plug a hole, while Vilma would just get blown up when a guard got hands on him. I'm sure he did a good job of getting the defense aligned, and he's a smart enough player that the team will probably keep him around and try to help him stay clean, but still...last year's performance was just not acceptable.

Eric Smith is very likely to take Coleman's starting gig next season. The Jets spent a lot of time playing with three safeties last year, but it might as well have been two for all the times Coleman made an impact. Smith was very solid, and was getting more and more playing time as the season went along.

Justin Miller was a disaster. He was soundly beaten out first by Drew Coleman and then by Hank Poteat, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of his progress. I've never seen a player do such a terrible job of diagnosing plays. Teams would eat him alive on WR screens where he would turn his back to the play even when he was playing the short zone. Teams tried to test Coleman with the same stuff and he read it and blew the play up. Miller is a terrific athlete, and he's already earned his spot with the quality of his return game, but I see no reason to expect him to get anything more than spot duty against small, quick receivers.

26
by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 2:54am

#12
Serious reworking sounds a little too strong. Like Bill pointed out, they were a very good 5th in points allowed. That was with a suspect secondary which should get better with a healthy Travis Daniels and Jason Allen actually getting some playing time. And a halfway decent offense would help the cause as well. The offense was in the top 10 in pass attempts with backup QBs for most of the time. With some run support and more points on the board, the defense should be good again.

27
by Rick (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 3:38am

Ok, ok, very funny guys.

Now seriously, When is the real Jets content for this piece going up? And who's actually doing the Jets chapter for the book?

28
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 4:32am

Sean (and Buzzsaw),

I do definitely appreciate y'all's viewpoints. Maybe I'm seeing things differently when I watch games.

I agree with you in that Robertson got better as the season along but would you really say that he was regularly getting penetration off the snap? I can't agree with that or see him getting penetration by anyone's definition of regularly. The one game I have charted and on this computer is the Jets-Fins Christmas Day game and the Jets didn't get penetration on the Dolphins until the third quarter. Granted, it was a slippery field, but it's slippery for the OL and the DL. This was not the only game where this was the case, even in the second half of the season.

As for not giving up the cutback lane, that makes sense as something a 3-4 tackle would improve at as he learns more about the system. He probably felt the need to overpursue because guys were getting so much at the edges of the Jets defensive line. We'd have to go to game film to see if it were really the case.

With that being said, this was still the worst run defense in football. The middle was relatively stouter than the ends, but even the middle wasn't anything above mediocre at best. I still believe in what I wrote about Robertson. He's not playing up to the caliber of a top 5 DT.

I think you're misreading the Jets usage of Vilma. I don't think the Jets pushed him further back because he was terrible. Instead, they pushed him back because they wanted to create space for him to make plays in, and he was getting swarmed by the OL playing a normal depth because of the DL's inability to occupy blockers. To say that Vilma's skill set requires blockers occupied isn't really fair to Vilma, either -- any middle linebacker in the 3-4 requires blockers to be occupied in order for them to make plays. Vilma's skill set, in that regard, is no different than any other. I don't place much of the blame on Vilma for the poor run defense.

If Hobson and Barton were actually filling holes and/or making plays, the Jets ALY numbers on runs to the end and tackle would be lower. Outside linebackers don't make as many plays in the 3-4 by design. Watch the blocking schemes against the Jets and see how teams block Vilma versus how they block Hobson and Barton.

I'm gonna have to watch some more tape and really play close attention to Coleman. I didn't think he played great but I didn't think he was THAT bad.

Justin Miller started Weeks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Drew Coleman started weeks 6 and 10. Poteat took over the rest of the way. I fail to see how Miller was soundly beaten out by Coleman. Is starting everything? No, but if Miller was that much worse, Coleman would be on the field to start the game.

As for Poteat, I figure that Mangini had a guy who knew his system and realized he had a shot at the playoffs and went for it, figuring he'd work on Miller next year. Like I said, some of the blame for Miller's lack of development should go to Mangini. Was Miller good? Not really. A disaster? A little harsh. There were worse defensive backs on the Giants, without question, in 2006.

29
by BadRick (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 8:21am

Why is Banta-Cain out of favor?

He was god-awful in the Chargers game. The Chargers targeted him repeatedly, yet he somehow finished the game without a single tackle. A more common result was to have him on his back looking at the sky while Tomlinson was 10+ yards downfield.

It was a truly atrocious performance. For the Colts game, Belichick figured rather than having very weak play at OLB combined with Vrabel playing out of position, it was better to have Vrabel playing back at OLB, where he is better, and to stick Alexander in the middle. It worked for a while, until the D tired and the Colts ran over them in the second half.

I have no idea if Banta-Cain can redeem himiself. The Pats are so think at LB they might want to give him another chance, but they really need help in the form of young, fresh legs.

30
by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 8:25am

If the Jets want to upgrade at NT short-term, Keith Traylor is a FA. I know he's 106, but he should be good for another season.

31
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:07am

Maybe Robertson is the best lineman on the Jets' roster. But that dubious distinction says more about the Jets than it says about him. It's kind of like saying that Gilbert Gardner is the best tackler of the Colts' linebackers.

He's not playing like a top five pick. Bill is right. Several people have mentioned that Vilma was disappointing this year. Look at the linemen. That's why.

32
by Alex Kidd (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:07am

#13 are you a Fall fan ah?

33
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:43am

Keep in mind the Vrabel played at least the last quarter (if not last half) of the season with what was reported to be an excruciatingly painful back injury. So that may have been a factor in his bad pass coverage.

34
by Bassett (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 11:50am

Re: #7

Thomas is the DE/OLB for the jets, like a Jason Taylor or Willie McGinest, he is lined up in 2 or 3 point stances, depending on what is required.

Re; Robertson
From watching most of the games this season, Robertson became more comfortable with the nose as the year went on. I still don't think he's the long-term answer for the Jets, and with one year left on his contract, the end of the tunnel is in sight.
In my opinion, it would be wiser to get Kimo Von Oelhoffen out of the lineup, who was a huge disapppointment and the cause of problems up front during the season. Moving Dewayne to the end is in theory interesting, but I think that he isn't as tall a guy as you would like in a 3-4 end.

35
by Dennis (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 11:55am

Another Jets fan who saw every play of every game. I agree with Bill about Vilma - he wasn't getting any help from the line. I thought Hobson and Barton were decent. The line was terrible. Robertson improved as the season went on, but he is not suited to be a nose tackle. An Miller was terrible. He does have the physical skills and maybe he can improve, but he a long way to go.

Bill, I appreciate you getting involved in this discussion. It's always nice to see one of the writers mix it up with the readers.

36
by billvv (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:15pm

Why was it that the only diatribe in all the articles on the East was for the 10 and 6 Jets. Certainly the description of the third and fourth placed teams was direct and to the point. Informative and well-meant. Was this entire article written by the same person, or by four? Giving up yardage versus giving up games is a big difference. By the time the Jets became familiar with their defense, say, half way, the defense performed much better. Where is this accomplishment described? The defense was acquired for the 4-3 and you'd have to allow for playing out of position in the 3-4, something you don't do in your rant. I think you're playing the "same ol' Jets" tapes for what you think is an appreciative audience. I'm happy to read the rebuttals, they're more level-headed to say the least.

37
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:16pm

#19 Isn't Thomas like 270 pounds? That's a freaking nose tackle for the Colts. I've never heard him described as "undersized."

38
by Dennis (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:24pm

Re 36: The run defense was still pretty bad at the end of the season. In the Miami game, Brown averaged over 6 yards a carry. Fortunately Saban gave us the game by insisting on passing with Cleo Lemon on third and short. And even the Raiders, with their totally inept offense, averaged 4.5 yards a carry in the last game.

39
by James Brady (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:36pm

IE: Patriots. Swept under the rug has been the flu epidemic that was rushing through the Pats' locker room on AFC Championship day (got in the way of the Manning coronation story line). Basing an assessment of Pats linebacker coverage skills on that one game is ludicrous. Several of them were getting IV liquids or just plain barfing up their guts during the 4th quarter.
That's not to say that LB isn't a main area of concern. But, consider: almost every draft projection (it's early, I know) has the top LB draft prospects lurking in the low end of the 1st round where the Pats have picks 24 and 28 (thank you Deion). #1 ranked MLB Patrick Willis (Miss.) and #1 or 2 ranked OLB Posluzny (PSU) plus Zac DeOssie (Brown, don't laugh, I've seen him play often) in the later rounds -- how does the linebacking core look now, especially with Willis under Brueski/ Seau' wing and Posluzney (3.8 GPA) under Vrabel's? DeOssie? NFL bloodline and the last time I checked, Brown still isn't graduating any dumbells. OK, it's my fantasy world, but I'm having a wonderful time living in it. PS. Samuel leaves for money, we move Eugene Wilson to CB, the position he was originally drafted for, 2 rounds ahead of Asante.

40
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:55pm

Couple of more quick replies.

#33 - He wasn't that great in the beginning of the season, either. Injury didn't help, of course.

#36 - Only diatribe? My friend, maybe you didn't read the Patriots section or the Dolphins section. Giving up yardage versus giving up games IS a big difference. The thing is, the yardage that the Jets gave up led to points. It wasn't meaningless yardage at the end of games when they were up by a large margin, it was big chunks most times the offense tried to run the ball. DVOA takes note of that, which is why the Jets defense rates as worse than the Colts at stopping the run.

#39 - I was basing my Patriots linebackers coverage skills on watching them for an entire season. The Championship Game was when it was in front of a national audience and abused most famously in 2006-07.

I also don't know about the correlation between GPA and success at the linebacker position, even under the tutelage of Bruschi and Seau. Most of the FO staff went to Brown and had very nice GPAs. I don't think Tedy Bruschi could make them a starting Patriots linebacker.

41
by Rick (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:16pm

"Giving up yardage versus giving up games IS a big difference. The thing is, the yardage that the Jets gave up led to points."

And where did the Jets defense rank in points allowed, exactly?

42
by Spoilt Victorian Child (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:26pm

Alex: naturally.

43
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:26pm

I'll save myself the effort of writing this up myself. Enter Aaron from the end of season DVOA rankings:

"It seems odd — if the Jets finished sixth in the league in points allowed, why does DVOA rank them 25th on defense? Here are a few reasons:
1) The Jets faced the fifth-easiest schedule of opposing offenses in the league.
2) The Jets played at a slow pace on offense, and the opposition played at a slow pace as well because the Jets were so easy to run on. Jets games featured only 346 drives, less than any team except Houston and Indianapolis. Fewer drives means fewer points.
3) Only one defensive touchdown was scored against the Jets offense. Remember, that shows up in points allowed.
4) Hidden special teams: Jets opponents had poor field-goal percentage and poor average kickoff distance, and the Jets were responsible for neither.
5) The Jets recovered 75 percent of fumbles caused on defense, and recovering fumbles is essentially random. And recovery of a fumble, of course, was a very important play in New York's previous victory over their next opponent."

That's why.

44
by Rick (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:34pm

That's why the yardage the Jets run defense gave up led to points?

45
by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:36pm

Right now there’s Jamal Williams, Hampton, and Wilfork and that’s about it. Haloti Ngata had a good rookie season. I could envision Pat Williams as a 3-4 run stuffer. The point is those guys don’t just fall off trees.

Yeah that would be a disaster.

I'm trying to picture a tree with Jamal Williams, Hampton, Wilfork, and Pat Williams all up in it. That's one hefty tree! OK, that image is just silly.

I also don’t know about the correlation between GPA and success at the linebacker position, even under the tutelage of Bruschi and Seau. Most of the FO staff went to Brown and had very nice GPAs. I don’t think Tedy Bruschi could make them a starting Patriots linebacker.

But could Bruschi teach them how to play a starting LB in Madden?

Again, I'm enjoying imagining Aaron and Ned and Mike (or me, for that matter, I had a pretty good GPA) all donning pads and lining up opposite Jonathan Ogden and Lorenzo Neal... that's almost as amusing as a bunch of nose tackles climbing a tree!

OK, time for morning coffee...

46
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:40pm

That's why the Jets points are so low despite the yardage the Jets were giving up leading to points, yes.

Again, I’m enjoying imagining Aaron and Ned and Mike (or me, for that matter, I had a pretty good GPA) all donning pads and lining up opposite Jonathan Ogden and Lorenzo Neal…

It would be a fun Audibles...

47
by Rick (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 1:46pm

Good grief, Bill.

48
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 2:13pm

Sorry to disappoint you, Rick.

I like to think I am cornering The Fall fans market on FO.

49
by Blair (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 2:20pm

The Patriots should totally draft Stephen Hawking and Ben Bernanke to fill their holes at linebacker.

50
by Noah of Arkadia (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 3:07pm

In other words, the Jets were lucky last year, and they shouldn't expect to be again next year. Which, I think, is pretty much the point.

51
by James Brady (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 3:23pm

My point about GPA was in reference to just Vrable and Posluzny. Vrable was an outstanding student at OSU and is generally considered one of the more cerebral linebackers in the league. Pozlusny is a great linebacker (unlike you Brown nerds) who might find a strong affinity with Vrabel and be able to quickly absorb some great football smarts. I wasn't associating GPA with the MLBs but do think Seau and Bruesci would be great mentors for a stud like Willis.

52
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 3:33pm

Are the Fall fans here talking about the english indie band fronted by Mark E Smith? Or is there some other Fall I've never heard of? It's just that I was unaware that they had any international following at all. They were pretty awful when I saw them, Mark E Smith was a wreck of a man, shuffling and mumbling about the stage.

53
by Spoilt Victorian Child (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 3:36pm

That's the one, Karl.

54
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 4:35pm

re 33, 39: yes, the Patriots may have had illnesses or injuries that caused them to perform below peak efficiency. But years of reading this website have given me the slight impression that Pats fans who post here are awfully quick to fall back on that type of excuse. Let's face it, injuries and illnesses happen to every team. Indeed, the Patriots have been exceptionally skilled at overcoming the negative effects of these misfortunes over the last few years. I would go so far as to attribute a meaningful portion of their success to that very ability. Don't cheapen the success of other teams by so quickly reverting to excuses when the Pats fall short. I'm sure fans of other teams do the same thing and I just notice it from Patriots' fans because there is quite a bit of Pats discussion here, but I do notice it.

55
by Mike J (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 6:24pm

Actually, Rick, all of Bill's quoted points are very good. All of those things take points off the board in situations where points would usually be scored. Most teams give up an extra 30+ points over what the Jets did on returns against the offense/special teams alone, and if you added 30 points to the Jets PA, they would drop drastically in their rating in that area.

Similarly with the fumble recoveries, meaning several long drives that would at least turn into FGs instead turned into Jets possessions in their own territory, and the drives thing is, by far, the most pertinent. The average NFL team has something around 10-12 more drives against in a season than the Jets did - that's basically a game's worth of points they didn't give up due to the pace their games were played in.

By this point, we've easily accounted for 60 points shaved off the Jets Points Allowed that are essentially either A: not repeatable skills for the defense or B: not related to play by the defense AT ALL (Ie offense/special teams permitting few return TDs, playing slow and limiting possessions, etc).

Anyone who visits FO should know that most official NFL stats are skewed by this kind of thing and totally unreliable, which is exactly why this website -exists-.

A good example of this is the Wilfork 'fumble return' when he picked up Pennington's backward pass in the playoff game. That turnover and subsequent return yardage in no way reflect on the skill of the Patriots Defense. That was just Pennington messing up. No one should judge the Pats D as being better or Wilfork as a 'turnover creator' because of that play - Pennington was stupid, the Pats were in no way responsible.

56
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 7:00pm

#51: Yeah, but Poz'll end up on the Patriots. How do I know? Last name, folks, last name.

Whereas other teams have linebackers like Brackett, June, Gardner, Trotter, Jones, McCoy, Burns, and Gold, the Patriots are (once again) leading the way in bizarre nigh-unpronounceable and unspellable linebacker last names: Bruschi, Vrabel, Banta-Cain, Seau. Clearly, Alexander will be cut for Posluszny.

57
by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 7:14pm

Re 56:

And don't forget McGinest and Biesl, or however it is that you spell it.

(Only problem with your argument is that Barry Gardner was a Patriot, albeit briefly).

Yeah, I guess now that you point it out, Ted Johnson's sudden retirement should have been easy to see coming...

Hmmm, put that way, maybe they should try moving Stephen Goskowski to LB...

58
by Are-Tee (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 7:24pm

"That was just Pennington messing up. No one should judge the Pats D as being better or Wilfork as a ‘turnover creator’ because of that play - Pennington was stupid, the Pats were in no way responsible."

I think you mean that Ferguson messed up. It was he who had the ball land at his feet and failed to fall on it because he thought it was an incomplete pass.

Unless you mean that having a defensive lineman bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage is a stupid play by the quarterback. It actually was a very skillful play by the defense to penetrate that quickly and knock down the pass.

59
by mb (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 7:32pm

I love the "bend not break" argument about the Jets. There's always a team or two whose essentially bad defenses are somewhat masked by a combination of a potent and/or clock control offense, ST play and luck. For anyone who reads FreeDarko the Jets were definitely an FD team this season, as likely to pull off some kind of wacky Brad Smith trick play as they were to let Reuben Droughns run for a million yards but all with a kind of loopy, unique style largely missing from the NFL. Their defense was bad but at least it was interesting and the team was awfully fun to watch.

This thread has all kinds of weird, interesting stuff actually. Crazy theories about cerebral white LBs and their GPAs, other theories about LBs with indecipherable names, Fall references. The whole shebang. Clearly the off-season has arrived.

As far as the Fall, Karl Cuba, when did you see them play? They've been around since 1980 or so; they're from the same era that produced Joy Division, Magazine, Gang of Four and other bands of that nature. Given that Mark E Smith and Co are probably in their 50s now I'm unsurprised that you saw them put on a less than amazing show but they were great in their heyday. And Bill, no, you haven't cornered the market on FO postpunk fandom. Hey, the guys from Gang of Four are pretty freaking smart; maybe the Pats should sign them.

60
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 8:56pm

I saw them in a big tent at the Reading Festival in 1999. Half the crowd of about 1500 were clearly massive Fall fans and seemed to be loving it. The rest (me included) stared at the stage in utter bewilderment as the band laid down some riff laden indie rock and the lead singer wandered about as if entirely unaware of the bands' physical or acoustic presence. I can understand why the Fall's fans could have been enjoying it though. As a Stone Roses fan I can watch an Ian Brown concert and not mind one bit that Brown looks and sounds like a demented, elderly simian. To me he'll always be the Monkey King of Mancheser.

61
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 9:45pm

59
"the team was awfully fun to watch".

I only saw two Jets regular season games
@ Jacksonville
@ Miami.

Neither was rivetting.

62
by Fat Tony (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:02pm

If you were a fan of the team, they gave you a completely unexpected 10 win playoff season. Is there anything more fun in sports than watching a team come from nowhere to contend?

63
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 10:34pm

Don’t cheapen the success of other teams by so quickly reverting to excuses when the Pats fall short. I’m sure fans of other teams do the same thing and I just notice it from Patriots’ fans because there is quite a bit of Pats discussion here, but I do notice it.

young curmudgeon, I think you're being far to sensitive of it in this context.

The point is to decide how important the AFCCG performance is in determining the Pats LBs performance for the future. In that context, assessing their health that game is completely valid. You think the Pats coaching staff won't take it into account?

Having said that, I agree with Bill that there was a problem with the LBs in coverage all season long, especially over the middle. But I think health was a factor in the AFCCG and ignoring any information about it won't lead to an accurate assessment.

curmudgeonly yours,

64
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 02/15/2007 - 11:56pm

Re 63: always good to hear from another curmudgeonly type. You're right, of course, in the context of evaluating the individuals, their health is a pertinent point. At least part of my over sensitive reaction stems from a regular season game a few years ago when the Steelers beat the Patriots. (I think it ended a winning streak, too lazy to look for details.) Some of the Patriots' key players were injured. Some Pats fans on FO seemed to want to totally disregard the result. If they had stopped with asserting that it wasn't truly predictive of future Pittsburgh-New England games, such as occurred in the playoffs, I wouldn't have minded--and events bore them out. However, some of them went way overboard, almost treating the Steelers victory as if it hadn't really counted. My point is that, just like "every play counts," "every game counts," too. If some of your players are hurt or sick or incarcerated, you still have to play and accept the result--not as predictive, but as a real event. Just because I think the Steelers would have won more than 8 games this year if Roethlisberger had been driving a Volvo instead of riding a crotch rocket doesn't mean that I can pretend those 8 losses didn't take place.

65
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 12:04am

I love the “bend not break� argument about the Jets. There’s always a team or two whose essentially bad defenses are somewhat masked by a combination of a potent and/or clock control offense, ST play and luck.

Yup. There are two kinds of "bend but don't break" defenses.

1) The real kind - the ones with a red zone defense much higher than the rest of their defense. They're not really "bend but don't break" defenses. They're "incredibly flawed in one area (DL/LB/DBs), but good in the other two". The weakness gets hidden in the red zone, and poof! Bend but don't break. MIN, NE, ARI, DEN, NO, and PHI are all models this year.

2) The 'fake' kind. People call these "bend but don't break" defenses, but they're not really. The opposing team just never gets to the red zone because of a combination of short games and poor field position. The Jets are the model this year. Atlanta was one a few years back as well.

It's really fairly amazing how well DVOA picks out teams like that.

66
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 12:50am

The Vikings are an interesting kind of true "bend, don't break" defense, in that they were truly horrible in only one subset of a subset of a subset of their defense; pass rushing by defensive ends. The defensive end who took the most snaps, Udeze, didn't have a single sack! I know sacks aren't everything, but zero!? They were truly horrible at getting any pressure off the edge of the line, and quarterbacks just love it when they don't even have to consider stepping up into the pocket. As do guards and centers. I hate watching the Cowboys and the Chargers sometimes, and thinking how Ware and Merriman were available to the Vikings.

Regarding the improvement of the Vikings run defense, yes signing Pat Williams was huge (pun intended), and Udeze, one of the ends drafted that Bill mentions (the other, James, as injured most of 2006), does play the run well. Don't overlook, however, the departure of defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell for the league office, where the his potential for teaching linebackers to line up wrong was circumscribed, and his replacement by Mike Tomlin, who was so obviously terrific that the Rooneys (as opposed to Al Davis) made him the youngest head coach in the league.

I keep hearing Cottrell being rumoured to be in line for the Chargers' dc job. If this comes to pass, it'll be akin to getting the infamous former captain of the Exxon Valdez to command a U.S. Navy supercarrier.

67
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 1:12am

I hate the term "bend but don't break" - especially for the real kind. I prefer a different motto. Here's the model, for Philly. Philly has an "our linebackers !*$(ing suck" defense.

68
by Charlie (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 10:02am

Weird to see so much discussion of the Fall when the article is full of Pavement references...

69
by bengt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 11:30am

#52:
Of course The Fall have a large international following! Consider 'Perverted by Mark E.' (link below), which was compiled in my hometown.

70
by billvv (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 12:22pm

The 4 and 12 Jets of 2005 had nine players on IR. From the draft they plugged in five rookies. Of that they got two serviceable Olinemen that kept the QB upright. Brian Schottenheimer gave the offense plenty of flexibility in his FIRST year of play calling. Now, I know you're supposed to take a critical look at the team, but they can't fix everything at once, and the net effect of what they did fix is a 10 and 6 season.

Specifically, what I object to is the use of language like: "The Jets run defense offended pornographers, made voyeurs turn away, and repulsed the entire cast of Jackass."

That is uncalled for.

71
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 1:27pm

I was wondering that myself Charlie. The first few Scrambles I wrote were FULL of references to the Fall (see: any time I talked about the Cowboys) and no one said anything. Now, I work in Pavement and suddenly everyone picks up on the Fall. Oh well.

72
by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 3:24pm

I'm really hoping the Dolphins trade Chambers prior to the draft. He seems like the perfect tradable player. I persons whos value is considerably less than his reputation. At this point losing him for any value is addition by subtraction.

73
by coldbikemessenger (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 3:40pm

I think Stephen Yang would trasde for him.
Not sure who else?

74
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 9:16pm

Pats franchise Samuel.

75
by Goathead (not verified) :: Mon, 02/19/2007 - 6:57pm

BOSTON - Actress Bridget Moynahan, former girlfriend of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is pregnant and Brady is the father, Moynahan's publicist said Monday.

76
by Esteban (not verified) :: Tue, 02/20/2007 - 1:38pm

GREAT discussion.... What I think is completely missed on the Jets stuff when people like to type how "Lucky" they were is the fact that in the 1st year of a new Head Coach with a new System in place, I think you generally let them play and analyze what you got in year 1.. There;s aonly so much you can do personel wise in year 1...Year 2 is when the changes are made and you can really evaluate what they have.....

People act as if the Jets don't know Robertson and Vilma's problems in the system.

For year 1 - That was a damn good display and a unit that improved as it learned it's roles....

And yeah, the Kimo spot at DE is where they have the biggest hole... Add a Solid DE, some more depth along the DL and CB spots and lets see what they can do adding to what they accomplished already.

77
by Josh (not verified) :: Sat, 02/24/2007 - 11:33pm

Run defense: the 2001 Browns were 20th? and 5th overall in the NFL? They were only 7-9 that year.

I think they were 14th in 2002 against the run.