Jets vs Browns: In-Depth Analysis as Gang Green moves on to Cleveland

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Many decisions must be made as the Jets vs Browns game has Gang Green returning to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and maybe Muhammad Wilkerson returning from injury, as they face the winless Cleveland Browns.

new york jets
new york jets /

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets entered Week 7 with Ryan Fitzpatrick on the bench, no Muhammad Wilkerson or Darron Lee, no more Eric Decker, and suddenly no Erin Henderson; who may have played for the final time in green-and-white, with personal issues far bigger than football.  In the end, New York took care of business against the visiting Baltimore Ravens, 24-16. In Week 8, however, the Jets vs Browns game will be an interesting one, to say the least.

Related Story: Jets put on blast by Ryan Fitzpatrick despite win

There were rumblings all week about the availability of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco due to a shoulder injury.  The Jets certainly did not face Flacco at his finest — the Super Bowl XLVII MVP outta Delaware missed on too many easy passes and seemed to completely crumble every time he heard the encroaching foot-stomps of a re-energized Jets pass rush.

Baltimore recently hired former Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to ramp up the Ravens’ stagnant running game.  Yet Gang Green’s “D” held the upper-hand all afternoon, halting their foes in purple, black and gold from snapping the ball inside the Jets’ 25-yard-line.

The biggest news after Sunday’s win was Fitzgerald’s unprovoked post-game ripping of the entire organization.  Ryan’s a Harvard man who thinks through everything, so this was no slip of the tongue, and he really threw gasoline on the fire.  One thing is for sure in this Fitzpatrick saga: hard feelings remain from his offseason holdout for a richer multi-year pact.

Confidence is an athlete’s most important attribute, but Fitzpatrick is at best delusional, thinking of himself as a franchise quarterback.  And it is stunning that he would feel “abandoned” after his back-breaking, and league-worst, 11 INTs in the first six weeks.

If the bearded one wants to play with anger as his motivational tactic, that’s the best news this franchise has heard since the ex-Buffalo Bill imploded on the frigid shores of Lake Erie with three fourth-quarter interceptions that killed the Jets 2015 season.  But if he’s angling for a pricey job elsewhere, he better realize other general managers heard his classless comments loud and clear.

In tribute to Calvin Klein billboard model Henry Rollins’ recent sold-out show at New York’s Gramercy Theater, here are five Black Flag songs that best describe the emotional roller-coaster ride that comes with being a Jets fan.

Next: 5. The Process of Weeding Out

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Sep 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams (92) and linebacker Erin Henderson (58) react on the sideline during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 14-6. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Process of Weeding Out

Under-achieving Muhammad Wilkerson’s recent $86M deal has looked like an albatross.  But now it seems like the star defensive end was not fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery; those plates and screws not fully healed.  If there’s a shred of truth, it’s an organizational indictment.

But the Jets’ defensive line shined without Wilkerson.  Sheldon Richardson excelled back in his regular position.  It looked like the rotation excelled with increased snap counts by second-year nose tackle Deon Simon — at the expense of veteran free agents Steve McLendon and  Jarvis Jenkins.

The Jets’ D-front featured two defenders nicknamed “The Big Cat” who pounced on the reeling Ravens.  Leonard Williams displayed his All-Pro potential, while Long Island Chaminade high school legend Mike Catapano was a disruptive force in limited action at DE/OLB.

The return of David Harris proved bigger to the linebacking corp than even expected.  Gang Green had to endure number-one pick Darron Lee‘s ankle injury and the sad departure of starter Erin Henderson, whose feel-good NFL return after off-the-field issues seems to have ended with another visit to the league’s ominous Injured Reserve/Non-Injury List.

Wily vet ILB Bruce Carter stepped in strong for Henderson before getting hurt himself.  Carter stand-in, local product Julian Stanford from Wagner — who raised eyebrows in the preseason and on the practice squad — played with a presence.  Victor Ochi, an edge-rushing beast out of Stony Brook, in his NFL debut, deserves a further look.

Future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis did a nice job keeping the secondary together, a few scary Buster SkrineCalvin Pryor miscommunications not withstanding.  But Skrine and Pryor came up big in key situations, as did Marcus Williams, with one of his vintage-2015 INT return.  Skrine and free safety Marcus Gilchrist had their most complete games of the season.

Next: 4. Can't Decide

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Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) and running back Matt Forte (22) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4. Can’t Decide

The Ryan Fitzpatrick situation continues to be confusing at best. The Harvard man can moan all he wants about being “pissed off” that neither the owner, general manager or coaches still believe in him.  But his defiant holdout followed by disastrous on-field decision-making, prove that this quarterback may want to go back and take a long look in the mirror.

Even during this nice comeback win over Baltimore, Fitzpatrick flashed little evidence of being that $12M man.  He is a respected locker room leader, but he needs to back that up.  Supporters who believe the Fitz of early last season is back, should not forget that he nearly threw another brain-locked red zone interception, only the Ravens corner dropped a gimme.  That said, the quarterback definitely did enough to win.

The backstory behind the Geno Smith start and right knee injury at first had all the makings of a great conspiracy novel.  Joe Namath made Internet noise over Geno spending the second half in street clothes after a scary-looking right knee strain.  That gave credence to the realization that the decision to replace Fitz came from ownership, and head coach Todd Bowles used the incident to get his more-trusted quarterback on the field.  Unfortunately, Smith’s injury was frighteningly real, with a season-ending torn ACL.

The Jets offensive line, with Wesley Johnson in for an injured Nick Mangold, opened big holes that resulted in 155 yards rushing, over 100 by Matt Forte, who impressed with his blend of brute strength and agility.

Is it acceptable for Brandon Marshall to keep dropping two or three passes in game-changing fashion each and every week, with something in the order of 15 whiffs this season?  However, B-Marsh’s biggest play of the day — perhaps a season-saving move — was his incredibly savvy stripping, and then recovery, of a Ravens fumble recovery, after Forte lost the ball on the goal line, down 17-16.

Quincy Enunwa proved that he’s more than a powerful possession receiver with his speed and quickness, turning a five-yard button-hook curl pattern into a 69-yard TD sprint.  The former sixth-round draft pick of embattled ex-general manager John Idzik looks ready to take it to the next level.  His rising star will provide cover for rapidly emerging rookie receivers like Robby Anderson and Charone Peake.

Next: 3. Nothing Left Inside

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August 11, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles answers questions about Geno Smith (not pictured) after the New York Jets hold practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

3. Nothing Left Inside

It’s amazing how much better the coaches look when their team wins!

Bowles and Kacy Rodgers have gotten raked over the coals for their defensive schemes and decision-making.  But their defense took care of business against the reeling Ravens, with pressure on the quarterback, and effective blitzes.  Most significantly, they made nice second-half adjustments and did everything necessary to beat their opponent.  Nothing else matters.

The secondary problems are different and deeper.  But in a nutshell, the issue this season is that the Jets personnel is best suited to play a 3-4 defense.  But in order to get their best players on the field, they’ve been trying to play a 4-3.  Even the maligned Lorenzo Mauldin, a non-factor in his first six games, caused mayhem when returned to his proper edge-rusher role.

Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan must figure out how to fix another Jets season of messy special teams.  Never mind Nick Folk‘s blocked 51-yard field goal.  Rookie punter Lach Edwards let a punt snap go through his fingertips that put the Jets in a 7-0 hole.  Then he shanked a third quarter boot that somehow didn’t result in points for Baltimore.  Hopefully, this game will prove an aberration, as the Aussie sixth-rounder educated at Sam Houston State has displayed legitimate NFL talent with his booming kicks and precision placement.

Since Mike Westhoff’s retirement after the 2012 season, this franchise has burned through a new ST coach each season.  When was the last time this team ever got a long return?  That answer might be the last time Gang Green returned a kickoff for a TD:  Joe McKnight in 2012.

Next: 2. Annihilate This Week

2. Annihilate This Week

The Browns are a dangerous opponent at this point in the season. Sure they are a winless 0-7, but Hue Jackson is an excellent coach who has gotten maximum effort from his limited roster.  They compete and are not getting blown out.  On the offensive side of the ball, they have all the makings of an exciting team, so the Jets “D” better beware.

If impressive Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler is still unavailable due to concussion protocol, Bowles and crew should prepare for the run-and-gun of fellow rookie Kevin HoganAndrew Luck‘s replacement at Stanford — who rushed and passed for over 100 yards last week in his pro debut against the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Browns love Kessler and Hogan ’cause they’re big, smart, natural leaders with high football IQs, who in college ran pro-style offenses.  But there are rumors that competent journeyman Josh McCown may be finally ready to return.

If the Jets’ defensive line plays up to last week, they should be able to contain Cleveland’s impressive rusher Isaiah Crowell.  The game’s big battle will likely be “Terrelle vs. Darrelle” — between former Ohio State QB-turned-WR Terrelle Pryor and the legendary castaway from Revis Island — both trying to compete on the field despite hamstring injuries.

Luckily for Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, Cleveland are dreadful on defense.  Their new regime stripped the roster of all unproductive veterans, and are left with some nice young talents on the defensive front — with no clue how to deliver on a week-to-week basis.   It’s difficult to tell if Cleveland’s greatest defensive liability is the lowly rated secondary or the general lack of ability to make a tackle.

This is the type of game New York usually loses.  If things break bad, it is not beyond the realm that this could be Cleveland’s only victory of 2016.  So now’s the time, the time’s now: for some of those veteran stars of the Jets that are well-paid by owner Woody Johnson, to stand and deliver.

Next: 1. Rise Above

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new york jets /

Sep 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Fans listen to a message from President Barack Obama before a game between the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. Rise Above

What kind of team is this?  What are they really made of?  The next nine games will provide many answers.

Is a team of this caliber ready to go on a big winning streak?  It’s impossible to see this squad, even with a lull in their schedule, playing that well.  But at press time, with the win over Baltimore, and a litany of inter-Conference losses, the Jets are two games out of the NFL Playoffs.

The roster depth is getting severely tested.  Among Sunday’s snap count leaders included Ben Ijalana, Wesley Johnson, Robby Anderson and Julian Stanford.  Even rookie project tackle Brandon Shell, intended to spend the entire 2016 season on the bench watching, saw action.  The good news is, the reserves held their own.

What’s been most disconcerting for the organization — from players to ownership — is the amount of time that’s gone into catering to the emotional needs of the bearded one.  Instead of focusing on Sunday’s dominant play on the D-line or the offensive breakouts of Matt Forte and Quincy Enunwa, we needed to hear a thirty-something journeyman quarterback “express himself.”

You can’t rip your boss and get away with it.  Fitzpatrick did plenty to get benched for Smith.  And it wasn’t like Ryan dominated the Ravens — he did not lose the game.

But that’s exactly why the Jets acquired Fitz in the first place — to be a controlled game manager, and not make rookie mistakes.  “Fitz ’16 Mach Two” will only work if Chan Gailey significantly scales back his playbook.  No matter how well his beloved quarterback plays, the reins should remain tight because history proves one thing: Ryan Fitzpatrick has excelled at grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Must Read: Fantasy Football Start or Sit Week 8: WR Brandon Marshall

Never forget that the short list of modern-era Super Bowl winning quarterbacks include Brad Johnson, Mark Rypien, and Trent Dilfer.  Not to expect similar results in 2016, but food for thought for a thirsty and miserable fanbase…