Last week’s 31-13 loss the New York Jets suffered in Pittsburgh is sure to make fans question their belief that there encouraging signs after 2015’s 10-win season. Unfortunately, there are major concerns about this team just five games in.
Oct 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of their game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
One can blame last week’s Heinz Field fiasco on the anemic offense, the disappointing defense, the very un-special special teams, or the mind-boggling decisions of head coach Todd Bowles. By any gauge, one would be correct.
In their last two games against the NFL’s elite in the Seahawks and Steelers, the Jets have proven themselves to be at least one step short of the finish line. That’s somewhat acceptable, given the depths of the Jets’ well-chronicled deficiencies.
But this 1-4 start is downright nightmarish. And there’s no end in sight — talk about darkness at the edge of town!
Diehard Jets fans should be concerned because they’ve seen this film before — and they do not at all like the ending. The shock of it is that no one expected to see this re-run in 2016.
With 11 games to go, here are the top five reasons for serious concern.
Next: 5. Malfunction
Oct 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles on the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of their game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won, 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Bowles’ coaching acumen is officially under scrutiny. While it’s too soon to speak of his dismissal, one should have legitimate questions.
Where is a sense of creative coaching? Where is the game plan versatility? There are no second half adjustments — something Bowles seemed to do masterfully during 2015’s five-game late-season winning streak. But all too often, his teams come out flat, which is just unacceptable coming from a supposed master-motivator.
Bowles’ brain locked punt call — down 11 points at midfield with 7:30 to go — may go down in Jets notoriety with Dan Marino‘s Fake Spike and Mark Sanchez‘s Buttfumble. What exactly did the “HC of the NYJ” see on the field last Sunday to make him believe that his team could stop the Steelers?
The confusion of on-field sets with 10 and then 12 men on the field speaks to coaching and preparedness.
Then there was that head-scratching timeout call with 1:15 to go after the Jets went out-of-bounds. Bowles seems to need a bench coach, like a baseball manager — which is what they (correctly) said about Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Rex Ryan.
Incredibly, Bowles has proven to be even less hands-on with the offense than Ryan — who coached the game as if there was only one side of the football. This troubling fact means that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has full reign to run amok on game day.
A few thoughts on Gailey’s second season. It’s as if on every 3rd and short, they take Bilal Powell off the field when he’s got the hot hand, and instead go 5-wide for Ryan Fitzpatrick — a formation which only really works with elite quarterbacks. For instance, in the Kansas City game, New York never ran the ball inside the red zone.
Winning teams run the ball well, and the Jets display that ability on occasion — the forced snap counts on an increasingly less productive Matt Forte notwithstanding. But at a time of struggle with no legitimate answer at tight end and now no Eric Decker, the Jets will have to bash the ball inside.
Makes one pine for the good ol’ days of Sexy Rexy.
Next: 4. Hard Times
Oct 2, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) catches the ball during pre game against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
4. Hard Times
Brandon Marshall continues to perform up to his resumé; a day late and a dollar short of an elite receiver. He can stand there all day long in front of his locker and claim that he’s satisfied with his performance — which, in fairness, included a damn impressive second quarter touchdown catch.
But one has to seriously wonder how much longer the 11-year veteran can unify a locker room after his three game-defining drops. No one wants to address the subject, but maybe he’s mentally half-checked out, too focused on his high-profile mid-week TV gig that will define his post-NFL career.
In such hardly surprising news, Eric Decker finally got placed on Injured Reserve. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher had been trying to get on the field with a torn rotator cuff, but was unable to raise his hands above his head. This is a roster loss that cannot be minimized.
Sure, it’s time for the rookie receivers like the recently reactivated Jalin Marshall or Robby Anderson to contribute.
Last season, Fitzpatrick excelled as a controlled game manager. With the way things have gone with the erratic gunslinger over the first five games, perhaps now the play-calling will more properly match the quarterback’s current skill set.
In other words, the Jets would benefit greatly by dragging the bearded one back to the basics of quarterbacking — in what the spirit of how the Cowboys deal with Dak Prescott or the Broncos with Trevor Siemian.
Next: 3. Searching for the Truth
New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) New York Jets strong safety Calvin Pryor (25) New York Jets free safety Marcus Gilchrist (21) huddle during pregame with the rest of the secondary at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
3. Searching for the Truth
Why is this team, game after soul-crushing game, so terrible in the second half of ballgames? In the last three contests, Gang Green got outscored 37-7 with eight turnovers.
What became of the vaunted defensive line? Bowles rightfully expected a monster pass rush to aid and abet the shaky pass coverage. But the stunning lack of line penetration has created a cavalcade of issues for the team’s already leaky defensive backfield. In Week 5 at Heinz Field, the pass rush left quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger so comfortable, he could’ve gone camping back there.
New York’s offense played relatively well in the first half and seemed destined to go into a halftime with a 13-7 lead. But the defense allowed Pittsburgh to march down the field at will to take the lead — effectively erasing all hope for a Gang Green victory.
The big question mark remains Muhammad Wilkerson — now that he’s received his monster contract. Sure, it is justified to question why the dominating inside tackle is playing outside as a defensive end in 4-3 sets. But he just hasn’t adjusted to the double-teams and the changing offensive blocking schemes. Most troubling in Pittsburgh was his late-game domination by a third-string right tackle in his NFL first start named Chris Hubbard.
Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson mustered one measly quarterback pressure last game in Heinz Field. The most obvious problem is that Wilkerson and Richardson are playing out of position — as they and Leonard Williams all basically play the same inside tackle positions.
As for linebackers, if second-year outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin is indeed NFL starting material, why is Richardson dropping back into coverage?
It all makes one reconsider general manager Mike Maccagnan’s 2015 NFL Draft. Rookie third-rounder Jordan Jenkins on the other side has been overmatched ever since his preseason calf injury, and at best he rates a work in progress. Defensive stalwart David Harris‘ alarming decline of skills and athleticism, and his sore hamstring will remain of big concern. No. 1 choice Darron Lee suffers from all the breakdowns in the secondary.
In terms of the Jets’ beleaguered secondary, there are no lockdown corners, and the safeties are a head-cracking pack of man-to-man defenders miscast in a zone defense. Careless missed tackles and dropped interceptions continue to plague this unit. Marcus Williams‘ muffed Big Ben toss could’ve been a game-changer, as there was nothing but daylight in front of him. Of paramount concern is the nagging hamstring of one Darrelle Revis. As we all know, hamstrings can be tricky, and re-injury can ruin a season.
True to form for a team with no defensive touchdowns since 2013!
Next: 2. Face the Facts
Oct 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates (14) catches a pass for a touchdown as New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams (20) pursues during the first quarter at Heinz Field against the New York Jets. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
2. Face the Facts
Jets fans can’t be happy about the whispers getting louder out of Florham Park insiders. Namely, the growing rift between the defensive players and their coaching staff, the declining offensive confidence in Fitzpatrick, and the general lack of effort from overpaid players unafraid of losing their starting jobs.
Over the past few seasons, the Jets escaped the injury bug. In Pittsburgh, Gang Green’s thin offensive line got stretched to its limits with injuries to Nick Mangold (knee) and Brian Winters (concussion protocol). Add Revis, Harris, and Decker to that list, and one has to expect some diminishing returns in the upcoming weeks.
Everyone involved expected a vast improvement in special teams under fiery new coordinator Brant Boyer.
But Jalin Marshall was hardly a spectacular kick returner prior to his injury. Plus Jalin’s pre-season competition Jeremy Ross didn’t show enough in Pittsburgh to last more than one game in his absence. In terms of return formations and downfield coverage, these guys never make a play — one more issue that goes back to focus, effort, and coaching. Where’s another great special teams coach like Mike Westhoff when they really need him?
How did this all happen? How in the world did things go wrong so quickly? More importantly, how do the Jets turn things around, and fast?
Next: 1. We Gotta Know
Oct 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell (23) pushes New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) out of bounds during the first half of their game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
1. We Gotta Know
To put it politely, the Jets are a mediocre football team with questionable leadership. Last season, there were clear talent concerns; now there are palpable character issues. It’s all starting to feel like a rudderless ghost ship, with not enough class-acts dedicated to picking up the slack.
For whatever reasons, this cursed franchise has never dealt well with prosperity. Some of that lingers from being perennial “second citizens” to the New York Giants in East Rutherford. But the bottom line is, there has not been that winning combination of great coach and dynamic superstar since January 1969, when Weeb Ewbank and Joe Namath won Super Bowl III.
Chances are, things will get worse before they get better. The unproductive veterans need to not let that screen door hit hem on the way out of Jet-land. The young bucks need to prove they belong in the NFL. The coaches and front office suddenly have a lot more to answer for.
We will learn a lot in the upcoming weeks when the schedule eases a bit. We will know if the Jets are bottom-dwellers — as bad as the Dolphins or Chargers, destined to secure a 2017 Top 10 draft choice — or if they’ll achieve that 7-9/8-8 mark that most NFL insiders predicted.
A very doable 6-5 finish would achieve such prognostications.
Anything less would be a tremendous disappointment. But to win 10 games and vie for the playoffs would require winning nine of their final 11. That’s pure fantasy.
Expect the Fitzpatrick-Marshall man-crush tag-team to again miss the playoffs. That’s 23 years of combined NFL service with nothing really to show for it. Sometimes, the truth hurts.