Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:
1. The Re-X factor: The top storyline for the second half of the season, which begins Sunday, will be the future of head coach Rex Ryan. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have to make a decision: Extend his contract or fire him. Naturally, the No. 1 factor will be the team's record, but there's another factor that should (and will) loom large in the evaluation -- the development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
If Smith makes strides and finishes with his arrow pointing up, it would be a huge boost for Ryan and his coaching staff. It would mean he's developing under Marty Mornhinweg & Co., and what sense would it make to start over next year with a new staff? My sense is that a 7-9 record, with an ascending Smith, would be good enough to earn Ryan another year. Statistically, Smith's second quarter was slightly better than the first, but he'll need more than baby steps over the final eight games to nail down the job for 2014. If he regresses, it won't bode well for Ryan.
"If I put on my GM hat, I would tie Rex, Marty and Geno together," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of the smart people around football. "The Marty-Geno mix is really good, and I think Marty is good for Rex. The Jets' ceiling, if they acquire more talent, is higher because of Marty's aggressive approach. I wouldn't want to start over with a new guy next year. They should maintain continuity. They're wildly inconsistent, but it looks better and has a better feel than last year. It's a better product."
I agree. But Smith needs to keep going in the right direction.
2. Quarterbacking 101: Dilfer said Smith is operating an offensive system more complex than what the Jets used in Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In '09, they scaled it back to help Sanchez. It was heavy play-action and they moved the pocket, halving the field and cutting down his reads. With Smith, "It's pure dropback, with complex read progressions," Dilfer said. "Marty is throwing a lot of good stuff at him. It's baptism by fire. Talking to great coaches and great quarterbacks, and knowing my own experience, that's the best way to get the best out of a young quarterback. It speeds them up to the graduate level."
I get it, but I think there should be times when Mornhinweg dials it back a little to help Smith through rough patches.
3. Where the Hill is Stephen? Second-year WR Stephen Hill has become an afterthought in the Jets' offense, raising questions about him. Consider the last five games: 23 targets and only 10 receptions, including five when the team was in an obvious catch-up/passing mode. Save for two big games against the Buffalo Bills, Hill has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. In fact, one-third of his career yardage total (and three of his four TDs) has come in the two Buffalo games.
I asked Mornhinweg about Hill's lack of production, and all he said was, "That's my responsibility. I have to do a better job there." Meaning? "Get him the ball a little bit."
Here's the part that stings the Jets: They drafted Hill in the second round (43rd overall) after trading up, passing up WR Alshon Jeffery, who has become a solid receiver with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery has 57 catches, 928 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons; Hill has 44, 592 and four. The Jets knew Hill would be a project when they drafted him, but it has to be troubling that a receiver off the street -- David Nelson -- has produced better numbers over the past month.
4. Re-visiting Revis Island: Some in the media (including me) have fallen into the trap of trying to imagine the Jets' defense if they had kept CB Darrelle Revis, perhaps conveniently forgetting that he's coming back from major knee surgery. He's still not the Revis of old, and he admitted it the other day on his weekly radio spot in Tampa. Revis, explaining why the Buccaneers haven't used him in the press-man style that made him famous, said his surgically repaired knee has been the main factor.
“Earlier in the year, I didn’t have the explosion to play press; the receiver would just run the [vertical] 9-route on me and I didn’t have the stamina to do that play in and play out, especially playing press," Revis said.
If he were with the Jets, this would be a significant issue, considering their system is predicated on man-to-man coverage.
5. Ivory's payback: Chris Ivory downplayed Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, his former team, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to prove a point. Back in training camp, Ivory admitted to me that his three-year run in New Orleans was difficult at times because of their crowded backfield.
"I never felt lost, but I didn't like the situation at times," Ivory said. "At the same time, you have to understand there are phases you have to go through, being undrafted. They had guys they drafted, guys they had confidence in. Me, just coming in, I had to build their confidence and it took a little more time."
The Jets traded a fourth-round pick for Ivory, one of only six player trades last offseason involving a fourth-round pick or higher, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Jets had two of the six -- the Ivory and Revis trades.
6. Revolving door: Because of injuries, it has been difficult to build continuity on offense. In fact, the Jets have used 28 different players, tied with the Bucs for most in the league.
7. Go wide, young man: The Jets aren't known as a perimeter running team, but maybe they should think about it more often. When they run around left end, they average 6.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to NFL stats. When they go right end, it's 5.59 yards. Imagine if they had a real perimeter threat.
8. McElroy's intel: Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent a week with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who allowed behind-the-scenes access as he prepared for last week's game against the Jets. The story reveals that former Jets QB Greg McElroy, a member of the Bengals' practice squad, was a big help. McElroy typed up a tip sheet and gave it to QB Andy Dalton. Gruden also picked his brain on the Jets in a meeting.
"His insight is very helpful," Gruden told Pompei in the middle of the week. "He has a pulse on their defense, what hurts them."
I'd say the Bengals hurt them, all right.
9. Good news/bad news: The Jets are one of only 11 teams since 2001 to have a minus-12 turnover margin or worse through eight games. That's bad. Of those 11 teams, they're the only one to have a .500 record. That's good. It indicates what they could be if Smith stops giving it away.
10. Feeling old: The first time I saw Nick Toon was Nov. 27, 1992, the day his dad, Al, retired from the NFL at the too-young age of 29. Nick was only 4, but he was at the news conference, and I remember seeing him afterward in the parking lot at the Jets' old Hofstra training facility. He hopped into a mini-van, and the family drove off. It always struck me that Al's wife, Jane, was behind the wheel. Al, still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, wasn't fit to drive. Now, Nick is a grown-up wide receiver, and he'll be playing Sunday for the Saints at MetLife Stadium. I'll be in the press box, wondering how 21 years flew by in a minute.