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Jets vs Bills this weekend... Is this an easy game yet?
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Why Jets Can Make The Playoffs - Espn Insider

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Posted 27 September 2013 - 08:47 PM

http://insider.espn....s-make-playoffs

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Why Jets can make the playoffs

New York Jets fans have a long history of being jaded when it comes to good starts by their team. This is a natural side effect of seeing campaigns like the 1986 season (started 10-1, didn't win division, lost in AFC divisional playoffs), 2000 season (started 6-1, missed playoffs) and 2008 season (began 8-3 and arguably looked like the best team in the NFL, missed playoffs).

That kind of track record is part of why Gang Green fans may be only cautiously optimistic about the team's 2-1 start in 2013. A rookie quarterback and a dismal recent history may be other reasons. But fans actually should be excited for their team's prospects. A detailed tape and metrics analysis indicates this team is building the foundation for a club that could be a postseason contender -- not just in the near future, but right now.

This support starts with a defense that leads the league in yards per play (4.1) and has some incredible numbers against the run and the pass.

There are many contenders for New York's most impressive defensive aerial stat -- the 6.0 overall yards per attempt, 7.2 vertical YPA (productivity on passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and 6.4 stretch vertical YPA (production on attempts 20 or more yards downfield) being among the best of the bunch. For perspective, consider that these figures are appreciably better than the topflight numbers New York posted in these categories last year (6.5 overall YPA, ranked sixth; 8.7 VYPA, ranked second; 9.0 SVYPA, ranked third).

As great as those numbers are, there are two important areas where the Jets pass defense can, and almost certainly will, get better at as the season progresses.

First is Antonio Cromartie's coverage metrics. His 7.5 YPA allowed is a solid number but is appreciably higher than his 5.9 YPA in 2012 that ranked tied for ninth in the league. Cromartie still has shutdown cornerback capabilities and should be able to bring this metric back to its former level.

Second is New York's 0.9 percent in the bad decision rate metric, which gauges how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the defense. Rex Ryan doesn't build his game plan entirely around generating a high BDR the way Dom Capers does, but his defenses historically have been in the 2-2.5 percent mark at season's end. If this platoon's BDR moves up toward that level through the rest of the season and keeps its various YPA marks at or near their current levels, the Jets will be a strong contender for the best pass defense in the NFL.

Their run defense is nearly as strong, as the Jets rank sixth in rushing yards allowed (79.7 per game) and third in rush yards per attempt (3.2). Two key factors are their marks in the good blocking rate and good blocking yards per attempt metrics.

GBR measures how often an offense gives its ball carriers good blocking, which is roughly defined as not allowing the defense to do anything to disrupt a rush attempt. A 50 percent mark is a topflight total from an offensive perspective, a 45 percent mark is average, and anything below 40 percent is considered bad for an offense -- so the Jets defense's 37.6 percent GBR shows just how disruptive it is to opposing offensive lines. That's a nice feather in the defense's cap.

GBYPA gauges how productive a runner is on plays with good blocking. Anything below the 6.0-yard mark is quite an achievement for a defense, and the Jets can currently boast a 5.8-yard total.

These run defense showings are even more notable considering New York's first three games featured matchups against Doug Martin, Stevan Ridley and C.J. Spiller, three of the top running backs in the NFL today.

Meanwhile, the Jets have taken a lot of grief for how they have dealt with their offensive passing game personnel over the past few years, but there are multiple signs indicating the offense is trending in the right direction.

The first sign is the development of quarterback Geno Smith. His 331 passing yards last week were the second-most passing yards ever by a Jets rookie (Ken O'Brien with 351 in 1984).

Smith did this in large part by bringing back the vertical game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Smith has nine completions of at least 20 yards downfield in his last two games, completing at least four such passes in each. By contrast, former starter Mark Sanchez had one game with four completions of 20-plus yards downfield in his career.

The rookie quarterback has combined this downfield passing prowess with superb decision-making. His 1.8 percent BDR is a huge improvement over Sanchez's 3.1 percent BDR last season (ranked tied for 35th) and, if Smith kept it in that area, would project as a top-10 mark by season's end. To be fair, Smith's numbers are through only three games, but he posted a 1.8 percent BDR at West Virginia last year, so he has a history of effectively protecting the ball.

Wide receiver Stephen Hill has done a superb job of assisting Smith in the long pass department. Hill has notched a ridiculously high 20.4 VYPA on 10 targets and a 23.5 SVYPA on eight targets. This does not look to be an anomaly, since Hill posted excellent numbers in his senior collegiate season that led him to rank first in my analysis of the top 10 wide receivers in the 2012 NFL draft.

He finished first among that group in YPA, height and 40-yard dash time and finished second in VYPA, all of which led to the article's conclusion that "there is every reason to think that Hill could be just as explosive as Georgia Tech predecessor Demaryius Thomas has been." That wasn't the case with Sanchez under center, but it seems to be so with Smith.

Hill has had four vertical passes gain 30-plus yards this season, including one over each of New England's starting cornerbacks. The Jets' offensive issues dovetailed with letting their dominant vertical threat, Braylon Edwards, walk away a couple of seasons ago, but Hill could provide the same utility for this offense in the future.

With this caliber of offensive and defensive weaponry, the Jets have a chance to make the postseason. New York does have a difficult schedule with its share of tough road battles (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Miami) and hard home matchups (New England, New Orleans, Miami), but if it wins three of those seven and four of its other games (at Tennessee, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Oakland, at Carolina, vs. Cleveland), that would equal nine wins. That is a victory total that may be good enough to make it to the postseason.

Even if the Jets fall short of this year's playoffs, they seem to be building a foundation for playoff contention for the next few years.

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