You see the new helmets that recall Joe Namath, and the
spark-plug quarterback whom coach Bill Parcells wants so badly
to succeed, and the franchise receiver who hasn't yet been worth
the megabucks he's getting paid and the new franchise back whom
Parcells doesn't want to run into the hospital. You don't see
conservative-to-a-fault quarterback Neil O'Donnell. So naturally
the temptation is to think: The Jets are going to fling it
big-time in 1998.
Not so fast. Parcells did not take a liberal pill this
off-season. He had been hearing all the theories going around
about the rise of the West Coast offense--from, he grumbles,
"all those offensive coordinators who want to be head coaches so
bad"--and how the short-passing game was now the most important
element of a winning NFL offense. Parcells didn't see that, and
so he checked the numbers.
"In the last three years, passers who threw for 300 yards in a
game won 51 percent of the time," Parcells said one day at the
Jets' Long Island training camp. "In the last three years, teams
with a 100-yard rusher in the game won 70 percent of the time.
So I say, Parcells, what's the smartest way to play? I'm just a
phys-ed guy, but it seems pretty obvious to me."
In other words, welcome back to the future--back, in so many
ways, to Parcells' early teams with the Giants. In 1984 Giants
quarterback Phil Simms was coming off four injury-plagued years
during which he had yet to prove himself; in 1998 the Jets are
going with quarterback Glenn Foley, who has thrown just 244
passes in his four NFL seasons. In the mid-'80s the Giants won
with a smashmouth running game led by rising-star tailback Joe
Morris, crunching fullback play and a nameless but effective
offensive line; the 1998 Jets have $6 million-a-year free-agent
tailback Curtis Martin, 250-pound fullback Jerald Sowell and an
offensive line boosted by the free agency signing of ex-Seahawk
Kevin Mawae, now the highest-paid center in the league. True,
those Giants had a better defense than these Jets, and there is
no Lawrence Taylor in sight this time around. But in one year
Parcells and special teams coach Mike Sweatman have built a much
better special teams unit than the mid-'80s Giants had. Last
year the Jets excelled in two field-position categories vital to
Parcellsball, leading the AFC in average drive start and tying
for the lead in opponents' average drive start.
The major question for the Jets concerns Martin, the expatriate
Patriot. Twice in the last four years--as a senior at the
University of Pittsburgh in 1994 and as New England's featured
back last year--the 5'11", 203-pound Martin failed to finish a
season because of injury. If Martin plays all 16 games this
year, he'll be a 1,400-yard back, and the Jets will be a playoff
team; if he plays half the year or less, here comes 6-10.
Now that the Jets have their rushing identity, they'll need to
find one in the passing game. Foley has never quarterbacked a
complete-game victory. He has solid threats in wideouts Keyshawn
Johnson and Wayne Chrebet, and this may be the season Johnson
earns his high-priced keep. But Parcells has little faith that
tight end Kyle Brady, a 1995 first-round pick, will become his
new Mark Bavaro. Brady has complained about not getting enough
balls thrown his way in his first three years, and as he
mishandled a couple of passes in one practice early in camp,
Parcells yelled at him, "I keep reading about all those
opportunities you missed. There's two more you missed right
there!" Fred Baxter could replace Brady. Either way, as befits
this Giants look-alike club, tight end will be a power position.
The same was expected of the linebacking corps, but that was
before middle linebacker Marvin Jones suffered a season-ending
knee injury in training camp. The Jets then signed outspoken
free agent Bryan Cox, and though the seven-year veteran was
lining up on the outside during his first several days of camp,
he might compete with Dwayne Gordon and the rehabbing Pepper
Johnson for playing time in the middle. Yes, that's the same
Pepper Johnson who started on the Giants' second Super Bowl
"That Giants defense was the best I've ever played [against] in
all my years in this league," says 13-year veteran fullback
Keith Byars, who faced those Parcells teams for five seasons as
a member of the Eagles and who joined the Jets in the off-season
from New England as a free agent. "But we've got the nucleus to
have a very good defense. Offensively, we're not asking Foley to
win the games, just play a role. We're going to ride Curtis, not
kill him. And hopefully Brady or Baxter can be Bavaro. But it
does look pretty familiar around here."
It'll look even more familiar with Parcells bundled in a parka,
patrolling the Meadowlands sideline in January. --Peter King
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS THROWBACK TIME Foley takes over an offense that mirrors Parcells' teams of old, in a uniform that recalls Joe Willie's days. [Glenn Foley in game]
B/W PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON O'Dwyer [Matt O'Dwyer]
Sept. 6 at San Francisco
27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 4 MIAMI
11 at St. Louis
19 at New England (Mon.)
Nov. 1 at Kansas City
15 at Indianapolis
22 at Tennessee
Dec. 6 SEATTLE
13 at Miami
19 at Buffalo (Sat.)
27 NEW ENGLAND
1997 Record 9-7 (3rd in AFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 25/16/22; defense 21/19/24
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 20 (tie) Opponents' 1997
winning percentage: .482 Games against playoff teams: 6
Change for the Worse?
The Jets, who improved from 1-15 in 1996 to 9-7 last year,
jettisoned both their leading passer and their leading rusher in
the off-season. Since 1961, when the NFL expanded to a 14-game
schedule, only five teams with a winning record played the
subsequent season without their incumbent leaders in both
passing yards and rushing yards. All five won fewer games the
Next Next year's
Leading passer, year's leading passer,
Year W-L rusher W-L rusher
Jets 1997 9-7 Neil O'Donnell, ? ?
Saints 1992 12-4 Bobby Hebert, Wade Wilson,
Vaughn Dunbar 8-8 Derek Brown
Vikings 1992 11-5 Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon,
Terry Allen 9-7 Scottie Graham
Redskins 1987 11-4 Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams,
George Rogers 7-9 Kelvin Bryant
Steelers 1983 10-6 Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone,
Franco Harris 9-7 Frank Pollard
Cowboys 1968 12-2 Don Meredith, Craig Morton,
Don Perkins 11-2-1 Calvin Hill
Strong safety Victor Green's drop-off in tackles from a team-high
210 in '96 to 124 last year is a testament to the defense's
improvement. It means Green wasn't forced to make as many
crucial tackles in the secondary.... Over the past two years
guard Matt O'Dwyer has led Jets blockers in penalties committed
(18) and penalty yardage (171).... Leon Johnson had 619
punt-return yards, the third-highest total ever for an NFL
rookie. He brought back one punt and one kickoff for
touchdowns.... John Hall has perhaps the strongest leg in the
NFL. He had a league-high 29 touchbacks on kickoffs and
connected on 4 of 6 field goal attempts from 50-plus yards....
Look for another strong performance from Wayne Chrebet, who has
206 receptions in his first three seasons. Not only does he move
up to every-down receiver, but he also is in a contract year.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Bill Parcells
Second season with Jets (118-88-1 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Glenn Foley 177[PVR*] 97 att. 56 comp. 57.7%
705 yds. 3 TDs 1 int. 86.5 rtg.
RB Curtis Martin[N] 23[PVR*] 274 att. 1,160 yds.
4.2 avg. 41 rec. 296 yds. 7.2 avg. 5 TDs
FB Jerald Sowell 401[PVR*] 7 att. 35 yds. 5.0
avg. 1 rec. 8 yds. 8.0 avg. 0 TDs
RB Keith Byars[N] 210[PVR*] 11 att. 24 yds. 2.2
avg. 20 rec. 189 yds. 9.5 avg. 3 TDs.
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Keyshawn Johnson 63[PVR*] 70 rec. 963 yds. 5 TDs
WR Wayne Chrebet 183[PVR*] 58 rec. 799 yds. 3 TDs
WR Dedric Ward 257[PVR*] 18 rec. 212 yds. 1 TD
TE Kyle Brady 226[PVR*] 22 rec. 238 yds. 2 TDs
K John Hall 195[PVR*] 36/36 XPs 28/41 FGs 120 pts.
PR Leon Johnson 237[PVR*] 51 ret. 12.1 avg. 1 TD
KR Aaron Glenn 348[PVR*] 28 ret. 26.5 avg. 1 TD
LT Jumbo Elliott 6'7" 308 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
LG Todd Burger[N] 6'3" 303 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
C Kevin Mawae[N] 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Matt O'Dwyer 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Siupeli Malamala 6'5" 305 lbs. 10 games 5 starts
LE Rick Lyle 42 tackles 3 sacks
LT Jason Ferguson 32 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RT Ernie Logan 45 tackles 0 sacks
RE Anthony Pleasant[N] 10 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Mo Lewis 72 tackles 8 sacks
MLB Dwayne Gordon 64 tackles 0 sacks
OLB James Farrior 73 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
CB Otis Smith 70 tackles 6 int.
SS Victor Green 124 tackles 3 int.
FS Jerome Henderson 76 tackles 1 int.
CB Aaron Glenn 65 tackles 1 int.
P Brian Hansen 71 punts 43.2 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)