Training camp is finally upon us, with the first practice set for Thursday. As always, the offseason was filled with news of players coming and going, signing and not signing. But just as important as the individuals are the team and its subunits that Todd Bowles and his staff have been coaching up the past four months.
"Our goal," Bowles said after the penultimate practice of the June minicamp, "is to get better at third down and red zone, not turning the ball over, stopping them in the red zone, stopping them in two-minute as well as converting in two-minute, and adding more poise to finish ballgames. That's what we're trying to get accomplished."
Lofty goals that every team would like to achieve every year. Yet there is no denying that Bowles' guidance as a rookie head coach last year produced impressive improvements in almost all of those situations. We'll see soon if the Jets are up to taking them all to new levels. Meanwhile, here is an overview of how the Green & White fared in those key categories in 2015.
As Muhammad Wilkerson said last week, "the sky's the limit" for the Jets' defense, and that includes the third-down "D," which was third in the NFL last season with an opponents' conversion rate of 33.2% — the team's best since they were No. 1 at 31.5% in 2009. A big part of last year's success: third-and-1, where they allowed only 10 of 23 conversions, a 43.5% rate that was the best in franchise history. (The Patriots alone were 0-for-3 in Week 16.)
The third-down offense has room to grow. Last year's 40.6% conversion rate was the Jets' best in seven seasons, yet it was 12th in the NFL. RB Matt Forte's receiving skills should be helpful in this area.
The offense had some nice production in the final two minutes of halves, scoring six first-half touchdowns (two vs. Miami) and the game-tying TD in regulation vs. the Giants. For both halves, the "O" produced 64 two-minute points on 12 scores, its best totals since 2011.
The defense wasn't bad but still was touched for TDs by New England (twice), Jacksonville and Dallas (plus Miami's late score at home) in giving up 52 two-minute points. This could really be a point of emphasis in training camp.
The RZ gains were highly impressive. Defensively, the Jets' 35.0% TD rate allowed last season was No. 1 in the league and the best mark in franchise history. The 3.55 points allowed on each of the opponents' 40 red zone drives was second-best in franchise history behind the '82 team's 3.26. And the goal-to-go "D" was just as sharp with a 43.5% TD rate and five takeaways, tied for the most in a season since six TAs in 1990.
The offense was almost as impressive as the defense inside the 20, leading the NFL most of the season before settling in at No. 3 with a 66.0% touchdown rate, the Jets' best RZ performance since 1971 (67.9%). The goal-to-go offense's 84.6% TD rate was second-best in franchise history and it scored on every drive (22 TDs, 4 FGs) for the first time since 2001.
The Green & White nightmare of 28 takeaways and 56 points off TAs in 2013-14 combined appears to have been banished with last year's 30 takeaways and 91 points. Offensive fumbles and fumbles lost continued at a good low rate, but with 16 interceptions thrown, the Jets have averaged 1.1 INTs a game for the last 10 years. That's a decade-long trend that needs to be reduced, especially against the strong defenses the team will be facing in the first half of 2016.
Closely aligned with second-half two-minute offense, the Jets pulled out a bunch of games with poise (Giants, Cowboys, Patriots) but also lost close calls to the Pats, Bills (twice), Eagles and Texans. Five of their six losses were by seven points or fewer, tied for the most in a season since '07. Finishing will be a big theme in '16.