Jets hope offensive plan comes to life

Strange thing, this pre-draft speculation. You listen to the chatter about the New York Jets, and it might lead you to believe they have the most dysfunctional defense this side of the Buffalo Bills. They need a safety. Need a pass-rusher. Need a big body to clog the middle.

Hello? The real issue -- the matter preventing the Jets from landing one of the top seeds in the playoffs -- is the offense. In four of their five losses in 2010, they failed to score a touchdown. Cause-and-effect explanations don't get more basic than that. With a little more punch, they would've been 12-4 or 13-3.

Offensively, the Jets have above-average talent, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Here's where it gets interesting: They're hoping to go into the 2011 season with pretty much the same parts as last year.

Barring the unexpected, the Jets aren't going to add any major pieces to the offense via the draft. And there won't be any blockbuster trades because veteran players can't be dealt until there's a new CBA.

To improve, the Jets are willing to bet on their last two drafts, which produced quarterback Mark Sanchez, tackle Vladimir Ducasse and running backs Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight and John Conner.

They're willing to bet on the front office's ability to re-sign wide receiver Santonio Holmes and, if possible, fellow free-agent wideout Braylon Edwards.

And they're willing to bet on coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who, in a possible make-or-break season, needs to galvanize the entire operation.

If the Jets' blueprint comes to life, they will have only two new starters -- Conner at fullback and Ducasse at right tackle. Maybe they will pick up some Holmes/Edwards insurance by taking a receiver in the third or fourth round, but you're probably not going to see them take a receiver with the 30th overall choice -- or any other skill-position player, for that matter.

They're prepared to lock in with virtually the same cast of characters that averaged an impressive 27.1 points per game versus non-playoff teams -- but only 16.0 against playoff teams. Yes, the Jets struggled against the big boys, balling up into the fetal position against the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers.

The Jets have the ability to improve from within, but it has to come from Sanchez. Despite a glittering résumé that includes four postseason victories in only two seasons, already the most for any quarterback in team history, he's still experiencing growing pains.

Sanchez ranked near the bottom of the league in most of the key statistical categories, including accuracy -- a 54.8 completion percentage. That simply isn't good enough, not with the league trending toward short, quick passing games to combat the increase in blitzes.

He also needs to develop more consistency from quarter to quarter, starting with the first. According to a rival scout, Sanchez struggled to get comfortable against defenses that unveiled new wrinkles. That explains why he had only one first-quarter touchdown pass and why the offense produced only two first-quarter touchdowns in 19 games.

Some of that falls on Schottenheimer, who was too reactionary instead of trying to dictate the tempo -- that, according to some of his own players.

The good news for the Jets is that Sanchez is determined to get better. If he doesn't get tripped up by the lockout, which is robbing him of important classroom time with his coaches, he should continue to improve.

Sanchez has a good stable of runners, a very good offensive line and a diverse receiving corps. What the Jets need is more team speed, especially in the backfield. Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson are capable of another 1,600-plus yards on the ground, but the offense needs more explosion plays, especially with the new kickoff rule. The number of touchbacks will increase, hurting field position.

Enter McKnight, the potential X factor. Even though there are some holes in his game, he has the ability to make plays in space -- and he will get a chance after a washout rookie year.

"I think he's earned more opportunities," Rex Ryan said recently. "He could play ahead of Shonn and LT in some things."

The Jets, too, could be looking to add some speed at receiver, as they're showing interest in Randall Cobb (Kentucky) and Edmond Gates (Abilene Christian). They can add a mid- or late-round player, but that isn't going to change the dynamics of the offense.

The pieces are in place, assuming the Jets don't let Holmes and Edwards get away. Now it's up to the S&S Boys -- Sanchez and Schottenheimer -- to make it work. If not, we might have to place an "O" between the S's.