Jets Should Be Taken Seriously as Playoff Contenders, as Rex Ryan Has Them Winning With Old School Style

Rex Ryan, Geno SmithBack in the middle of August, the Jets looked like they were going to be the laughingstock of the NFL this season. A circus-like end to 2012 and some apparent unrest in the locker room fueled that idea, and a major changeover in both the front office and on the roster during the offseason only exacerbated it.

Their best defensive player, Darrelle Revis, was gone. Their best offensive player, Santonio Holmes, was coming off season-ending foot surgery and unlikely to be fully healthy by the start of the season. Their quarterback situation was filled with the inept and the inexperienced. Their new starting running back, Mike Goodson, was arrested on gun and weapons charges. And Rex Ryan was merely counting down the days until the hot seat he was perched on turned into a full on three-alarm fire. As it turns out, all of those overwhelming offseason storylines were severely overblown, and these Jets actually have the look of a playoff team.

Following a 6-10 season in 2012, the Jets weren’t predicted to win half that by most analysts nevermind sitting halfway to double digits through nine weeks. Nine games into this season, the Jets are sitting comfortable at 5-4, having completely flipped the script on that circus narrative.

Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and others have lessened the blow of Revis’ departure. The emergence of Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill have masked the fact that Holmes can’t seem to stay on the field. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell have made people forget Goodson ever existed. And despite his turnover tendencies, Geno Smith has been even better than expected.

The Jets’ success has been a surprise to most, but it really shouldn’t. Ryan has built this Jets team on the same core principles as he did during his first few seasons in New York — a power running game and a staunch defense — and that same strategy continues to pay off for them.

Between Ivory, Powell and sometimes even Geno, the Jets boast the NFL’s 11th-ranked rushing attack, averaging 129 yards per game, They’re right around the league average in yards per attempt (4.2), but they’re also the third-most committed run team in the league (31 carries per game). Their commitment to the ground game and the efficiency of their backs have taken pressure off Geno and allowed for better clock management, keeping superior offenses like the Saints and Patriots — both who they’ve beaten — off the field.

As is a staple with any Ryan team, the Jets’ defense is also one of the best in the league. Their success is based around a strong front seven, including defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Sheldon Richardson as well as linebackers David Harris and a better than expected Calvin Pace. With such great play up front, the Jets rank very highly in most defensive categories, including seventh in total yards per game (325.7), eighth in sacks (27) and No. 1 against the run, allowing just over 73 rushing yards per game.

The Jets have used their old-school style to not just rip off wins in tight games with the Buccaneers and Bills, but they’ve also downed three of the NFL’s elite with wins over the Falcons — before key injuries decimated them, the Patriots and the Saints. With landmark wins already under their belts, the Jets are not only brimming with the confidence of a playoff contender, their schedule should help those aspirations as well.

The Jets play six teams over their final seven games  (Dolphins twice), whose combined records are 26-32 in 2013. Only one of those teams, the Carolina Panthers (5-3), is above .500 through Week 9. Meanwhile, the Dolphins (4-4) are the only team remaining on their schedule to boast at least a .500 record. They’ll also play the Buffalo Bills (3-6), the Oakland Raiders (3-5), the Cleveland Browns (4-5) and Baltimore Ravens (4-5) before the season is through. Even if they go just 3-4 during that home stretch, the Jets will finish the season at 8-8, which unbelievably could be enough to earn the final AFC’s final wild card spot this season — a position they currently hold.

Ryan isn’t off the hot seat just yet, and he might not be unless the Jets complete their miraculous turnaround season. He does have his team playing a brand of football worthy of the postseason, though, and if they keep it up they’ll be there come January.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here

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