By Steve Silverman
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If you listen to the experts and read the preseason magazines, the Jets have a great chance to supplant the Cleveland Browns as the worst team in the NFL in 2017.
Gang Green and head coach Todd Bowles clearly have major issues, and general manager Mike Maccagnan does not appear to have done Bowles any favors with his personnel moves since the end of last season. However, all may not be lost, and the Jets don’t have to be the worst team in the league this season.
While a playoff berth and even a .500 record appear to be out of reach, here’s how the Jets can exceed the woeful expectations that have been expressed.
1. Josh McCown Stays Healthy
The Jets have brought in a veteran quarterback who has seen it all throughout his career, and McCown will have the calm demeanor needed to keep the team from falling into a state of panic throughout the summer and the early stages of the season.
McCown performed quite well with the Chicago Bears in 2013, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 and the Browns in 2015, and those teams all had major issues and were underdogs on a regular basis. McCown did not panic, and he completed 61.5 percent of his passes over those three seasons.
A quarterback who can avoid major mistakes and take what the defense gives him can help his team stay close into the fourth quarter. If the Jets are not getting blown out, they may have a chance to win games that they are expected to lose.
McCown is smart and confident, and he needs to stay in the lineup for the Jets to reach some level of respectability.
2. New Offensive Coordinator John Morton Has A Positive Impact
The Jets ranked 26th in yards gained last year and their passing game was 27th. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took most of the blame, as he threw 17 interceptions — six of them in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Fitzpatrick was not the only reason the Jets were simply awful last year. The offense lacked efficiency and creativity under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who has since retired. Morton comes to the Jets after a successful run as wide receivers coach with the New Orleans Saints, and he has worked with solid offensive minds such as Sean Payton, Jim Harbaugh and Jon Gruden throughout his career.
Morton is likely to make the Jets offense more creative, and if players cooperate by improving their overall execution, the offense could be somewhat better than it was a year ago.
3. Defensive Line Dominates Consistently
The Jets’ defensive line could give them an advantage on an weekly basis. Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams both can impact the game plan from their defensive end positions in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme.
Williams went to the Pro Bowl last year because he is an outstanding athlete with good footwork and balance. He had seven sacks last year and could reach double figures this season.
Wilkerson (4½ sacks in 2016) got off to a poor start, but he played much better in the second half. If he returns to that form and Sheldon Richardson gives them productive depth at the position, the Jets are going to have a strong defensive line that will cause problems for opposing offenses.
4. Secondary Shows Major Improvement
The defensive backs were awful last year, as the Jets ranked 24th in passing yards allowed per play and were 29th in interception rate.
Part of the problem was the poor play of the defensive line, which struggled to get to the quarterback and gave receivers the time they needed to break free. New cornerback Morris Claiborne should be an upgrade because of his quickness and ability to run with speed receivers.
However, if the Jets are going to improve in this area, they will need rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to step in and contribute right away.
While it’s unlikely for rookies to come through right away, both players have the talent to help this unit exceed expectations.
5. Improvement In The Locker Room
The Jets were troubled by off-the-field distractions last year, and the biggest of those issues was wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He is now the Giants’ problem, and the Jets are breathing a sigh of relief that he has traded his Jets’ green for Giants’ blue.
Marshall’s inability to control his mouth made things quite uncomfortable, and his tendency to let loose as a commentator on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” was a regular source of embarrassment.
Fitizpatrick’s shaky play on the field also resulted in locker room issues, and his departure should help the team stay on task in 2017.
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