As Painful As It Sounds, This Is Really A Season Of Evaluation And Avoiding Regression

By Jeff Capellini

Well, it didn’t take long for absolute panic to set in.

Thanks to a balky hamstring and general ineffectiveness, the Jets’ supposedly improved offense, a unit expected to do its part next to a defense that generally holds up its end of the bargain, has turned back into what it was last season.

One of the least talented and undependable units in the NFL.

And you seriously have to wonder how much of it is by design.

General manager John Idzik made some upgrades this past offseason. The signings of wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson were first steps on the road to making the Jets’ offense not just respectable, but for the first time in a long time capable of putting up enough points to take the pressure off a defense that has consistently been given very little margin for error throughout head coach Rex Ryan’s five-plus seasons.

The Jets moved the ball very well in their opener against the Oakland Raiders and for almost a half against the Green Bay Packers looked like they finally had a 21st century offense. But since the first 20 minutes ended at Lambeau Field, the Jets’ offense has been agonizing to watch. Monday night’s mistake-filled 27-19 loss to the Chicago Bears reeked of the old and busted.

And it just so happens that this window of dysfunction has coincided with Decker struggling with a hamstring injury and Johnson looking 38 instead of 28.

As a result, the Jets are now who we thought they were — a 1-2 football team failing to navigate a brutal early schedule that most of the experts said they would have a hard time handling given their roster makeup. Without their two supposed big ticket items contributing, the Jets’ offensive personnel, minus rookie tight end Jace Amaro, is a mirror image of the cast of characters that was among the least productive in the league last season. Despite how much the fans want to believe it is elite, the Jets’ defense is in reality a feast-or-famine operation that is not going to be this shutdown unit that strikes fear into the hearts of all opponents. The cornerback situation casts a shadow over everything.

Quarterback Geno Smith is back to his maddening ways, forcing throws, looking inept in the red zone, turning the ball over in terrible spots and along the way inventing new ways to drive the fan base to drink. I mean, what’s with the 40-yard jump pass?

Idzik is responsible for the roster, and even with a healthy Decker it’s nowhere near enough to be a playoff team.

But like I said earlier, a lot of it seems to be by design. And I don’t mean that in a criminal sort of way. It’s part of a bigger plan that this fan base seems in no way equipped to tolerate. But it is what it is.

Whether you want to accept it or not, the Jets are being built with eyes on 2015 and ’16. Right or wrong, this season is about adding to the core, developing some depth and not regressing. It’s also about evaluating Smith as “the guy.”

And while the talk of playoffs is nice, it’s hard to believe Idzik has issued any kind of mandate to Ryan to get there. Like I said Monday night on Twitter, how does a general manager “go for it” by being $21 million under the salary cap heading into Week 4 of the regular season? How does he not give a great defensive head coach — who needs cornerbacks to effectively run the scheme he wants to run — absolutely no cornerbacks worthy of playing in the scheme? How does he demand a second-year quarterback take the next step that all great quarterbacks take when he adds just one good receiver to a unit littered with guys who would be fortunate to avoid the practice squads of other organizations?

Jets have rookies and inexperienced veterans playing in key positions all over the place. Their return game is garbage. Their punter is about as average as there is, and I’m being nice when I say that.

Their kicker could be their most reliable player!

So, again, please tell me why you have these expectations.

All of this represents why I think any talk of Rex coaching for his job is nonsense, media-created garbage that still reeks of making the man pay for having the gall to say his team was going to win the Super Bowl many moons ago.

I don’t believe for a second it’s playoffs-or-bust for the Ryan era. I believe it’s more about maintaining the status quo while the roster is developed and any qualification for the postseason would be a big-time bonus. For Rex to really be in trouble he’d have to lose the locker room and crash out at 5-11 or worse, something I don’t think is possible. The Jets have always and will continue to play hard for this man and the odds are they will improve as the season progresses and the schedule affords more opportunities.

I think Idzik knows what he has with Ryan, the coach, and he’s now in a systematic process of building a roster the way the Seattle Seahawks built theirs, and it really has no timetable for completion. John Schneider and Pete Carroll didn’t create Super Bowl champions overnight. Before the Seahawks took that major step, an 11-5 regular season followed by a appearance in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2012, they went 7-9 in successive seasons. They didn’t move forward in the win column until they resolved the quarterback situation, and it took until 2012 for them to find Russell Wilson.

But along the way Schneider built a fearsome roster that simply needed a quarterback for anyone to notice.

Off 8-8 last season and probably something similar this season, the Jets are following their own version of that blueprint. They are attempting to stockpile talent while all the while evaluating Smith. One way or another we’re going to know if Geno is the man by the end of this season, and with the way Idzik is building the roster, quarterback could end up being the final piece, just as it was in Seattle with the discovery of Wilson.

So you can continue your delusional thinking that the Jets should somehow be better than what they’ve been so far through three games or you can accept that what you are seeing now is probably not what this team will look like if and when it is finally ready to contend for more than mediocrity.

The Jets are trying to build something in a league of parity, which often allows them to appear better than they really are. Just look at the AFC East. It’s by and large a joke from top to bottom. But the Jets being competitive by accident doesn’t mean they are any closer to being contenders for something truly tangible — a championship. They aren’t going to Forrest Gump their way to the Super Bowl just because the conference appears to have just one or two truly stellar teams and anything can happen in the playoffs.

The Jets have major work to do and the types of questions that won’t be answered right away. The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be for you to stomach what you see on the field every week.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet

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