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Silverman: 3 Critical Areas Will Decide Jets' Fate In 2014

By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

It's always football season.

That's why it's not premature to contemplate the New York Jets and realize that the 2014 season has a chance to be much better and much more exciting than their 8-8 season in 2013.

That's exactly what will happen if the Jets see substantial improvement from quarterback Geno Smith, get full cooperation from new running back Chris Johnson and the secondary holds its own and doesn't get burned to a crisp.

Now, let's take off the rose-colored glasses and take a deeper look to see if any of those possibilities are realistic. If they are not, the Jets are going to be in deep trouble, and not just on the field.

If the Jets are not a playoff team this year, you have to ask why Rex Ryan is still on the sidelines. When you have to ask that question, you are really asking general manager John Idzik why he has been asleep at the switch.

He had his full opportunity to learn everything he could about Ryan and figure out if he was a capable NFL head coach or not. Idzik obviously came to the conclusion that Ryan is the right man for the team and that he's capable of leading his team to the heights. That's not a conclusion that is shared by a lot of NFL people, and if Idzik is wrong, the Jets will pay the price once again.

The Jets are happy to point out that Smith finished the season on a positive note. He threw for 976 yards over the last four games and he had a 7-2 TD-interception ratio in that time frame. It's dangerous to come to the conclusion that Smith turned the corner in those games, because three of those opponents – the Raiders, Browns and Dolphins – were sputtering when the Jets played them.

Prior to that end-of-season showing, the Jets saw an inconsistent rookie quarterback. He was a confused and erratic rookie who threw eight TDs and 19 interceptions. It's not that Smith was plainly awful, it was up-and-down play that was so difficult to absorb. He would make one stellar throw that would leave observers thinking he was ready to assert himself, but he would follow that up with two or three huge mistakes.

At least the Jets have a competent backup in Michael Vick. If Smith gets injured or stumbles, Vick could get the job done for two or three games. Asking more from Vick could be a problem, because he has grown increasingly brittle over the years.

Johnson has a chance to give the Jets one of the most dazzling running attacks in the league. The ground game was good without him because Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell were a pair of solid backs who combined for more than 1,500 yards last year. Johnson is still one of the fastest players in the league. Johnson is not capable of carrying the ball 20-25 times a game any longer, but he could thrive with about 15 touches per game.

Johnson has been a me-first guy at times in his career, but he is likely to be on his best behavior in his first year with a new team. Ryan has many faults as a head coach, but he does understand what makes his players tick. If he makes a connection with Johnson in the early days of training camp and the running back shows he can still be explosive, Johnson could have a huge impact on the team's record.

Not only will the Jets have one of the best running games in the league, that aspect will take pressure off of Smith and the Jets' secondary.

That area was a big problem last year, and while the Jets attempted to strengthen this area in the draft by selecting safety Calvin Pryor in the first round and cornerback Dexter McDougle in the third, the secondary has much to prove.

The Jets gave up 246.7 yards per game through the air, which ranked 22nd in the league. Dee Milliner struggled much of the year, but he had a strong December. Was that showing real or just a mirage? Dimitri Patterson is a plug-and-play defender who will likely start until McDougle shows he is ready for NFL competition.

Remember, the Jets' secondary does not have to be dominant. If it can be average or slightly better, that should be enough because the defensive line is so good. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson have an excellent chance to be Pro Bowl starters this year. The defensive front should dominate.

If the Jets get decent play from their quarterback and secondary, and Johnson still shows off his ability to break big plays, the Jets may just find themselves in the playoffs at the end of the season.

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