The New York Jets 21-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills played out as expected. There were so many troubling signs in this very winnable game, it’s hard to know where to begin.
As explained last week, if the New York Jets held Tyrod Taylor and company to two touchdowns or less, Josh McCown had a real chance to steal a win on the road. But the defense didn’t, and the quarterback couldn’t.
In the first drive of the game, the Bills unleashed a LeSean McCoy at his most ferocious. The defense bent but did not break, thanks to a crucial Juston Burris goal line interception. Over the course of the contest, the grind of too much time on the field determined the final outcome.
That’s a polite way of putting it.
Former Cowboy Morris Claiborne got his first taste of Jets culture and seemed unimpressed. He noted in his post-game comments, that the defense was coached all last week with one goal in mind — shutting down “Shady.” They basically only had to focus on the veteran back and to set the edge. But McCoy shredded this team’s supposedly dominant defense for over 190 total yards.
Then there was head coach Todd Bowles‘ mind-boggling decision to punt from their own 45, down two scores with four minutes remaining. If the whole point of a coaching program is to build a winner’s mentality, then just what kind of signal does that decision send? To be fair, Bowles was clearly stating that his offense wasn’t good enough to convert and that his team might have a better chance of making something happen with the ball kicked in the air.
If this defense was so ineffective against the one-dimensional Bills, how will they fare on the road in Oakland against the powerhouse Raiders in their home opener? There is much to address here, At any rate, here are the top five issues revealed after this Week 1 loss from a winnable football game.
Next: 5. Season of the Witch
5. Season of the Witch
Alright, so the head coach ain’t exactly Vince Lombardi. But Bowles’ supposed strengths have turned out to be his most glaring weaknesses.
Look no further than the secondary, where the former Arizona Cardinals defensive coaching whiz and Super Bowl-winning Redskins star safety oversees a defense that gives up way too many big plays — eight 20-plus yards in Buffalo, to be exact.
Much of that blown coverage, of course, has to do with the coach’s over-emphasis on blitz packages. But can’t he compensate in some way to design active schemes with less than Cardinals-like talent depth?
This game really felt 2016 all over again. And that was against a very iffy Tyrod Taylor. How badly will they lose to some of these upper-tier teams with axes to grind?
The rookie safeties will be fine — but it was hard to tell because of some of the same ol’ secondary meltdowns. The loss obscured Jamal Adams‘ impressive first game, proving himself to be both a great tackler and relentless in man-to-man coverage.
There are additional questions about this head coach with no real previous head coaching experience. His acumen as a field-general, and particularly his in-game adjustments, should be analyzed going into Season Three. Having said that, Bowles does deserve a pass for his derided, failed two-point conversion, down 14-12 on the road. At least he was trying to make something happen.
The Bills gave the Jets coach every opportunity to win this game. Bowles’ brigade seized defeat from the jaws of victory.
Next: 4. Defenders of the Faith
4. Defenders of the Faith
The defensive line is supposedly this franchise’s strong point. But Leonard Williams got pancaked by a clearly dominant Bills offensive line (a few double-teamed not withstanding). Ex Panther/Patriot Kony Ealy was in on every play, and was easily the game’s most dominating lineman, despite what Pro Football Focus rated. Defensive end Claude Pelon and nose tackle Mike Pennel look like beasts with real upside.
Muhammad Wilkerson is on thin ice. This team is so frustrated, they are finally ready to move on from Rex Ryan’s former game-changing lineman after the season. Certain players lose their hunger after receiving that huge contract. With 15 more performances like this one, the Linden, NJ product will write his ticket out of Florham Park after the 2017 season.
Wilkerson has developed a bad reputation for being a pass rusher that takes plays off. Against Buffalo, he had a few nice moments, with two physical tackles and a batted-down Taylor toss. But on the final two or three plays of that back-breaking third-quarter touchdown drive that put the Bills ahead for good — the former No. 1 pick whiffed on tackles and did not exactly hustle in pursuit. He seemed most animated when mucking around with various Bills, between plays or after the final whistle.
Second-year cornerback Juston Burris had the game of his life, punctuated by that thrilling first quarter interception return — called back by a sloppy Darron Lee penalty. Burris shut down Jordan Matthews all day long. Until that moment when defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers sat the corner, and former Philly mauler Matthews torched tiny Buster Skrine on a game-changing 47-yard catch-and-run. If this season is indeed all about the rebuild, then why is Skrine still here — other than to compete at his natural nickel cover spot, which they rarely play him at?
The linebackers still can’t cover. It’s time to see something/anything out of Lee. Last season’s No. 1 pick was regarded for his abilities to cover tight ends over the middle. But all we saw on Sunday was the back of his #58 jersey and Demario Davis‘ #56 jersey in pursuit. At least Davis wraps up his tackles. On the outside, Columbia product Josh Martin was the team’s best linebacker and was probably the best Jets defender. Dylan Donahue played big minutes in his first pro game but didn’t exactly sparkle.
The defense is this head coach’s forte, and Kacy Rodgers’ job is to run his HC’s playbook. Are you happy with what you are seeing in this young team going into Season Three?
Next: 3. Run to the Hills
3. Run to the Hills
The Jets offense may turn out to be completely offensive. But in Week 1, they did not look like an all-time worst offense. In fact, they were the least of the team’s problems in this opening loss, which is not a good sign moving forward.
Rookie offensive coordinator John Morton ran a vanilla West Coast offense, employing running backs in short swing-passes. Maybe Morton did not employ the expected run-heavy game plan because he comprehended the dearth of offensive line surge. Regardless, the running backs had just 11 rushing yards at halftime.
Matt Forte is a shell of his former Bears greatness. The legendary receiving back had two stone-fisted drops that stalled decisive first quarter drives. He did have one or two nice runs from scrimmage, and looked sharp, dressed up for his post-game interviews. A Bilal Powell drop similarly put an end to a key early third quarter drive.
So, let’s get this straight. The Jets are in the middle of this tear-it-down rebuilding. Yet the team’s strength is at running back, with a 32-year-old Forte, and a seven-year vet Powell who gets nicked up a lot. Last week we discussed how Gang Green passed on Alvin Kamara and even this writer previewed Kareem Hunt as a perfect Florham Park prospect. So what does that say about sixth-rounder Elijah McGuire‘s lack of field time?
Morton excelled in his use of McCown. He understood that when you spread ’em out and keep things moving, Josh still has some serious skills. McCown’s solid first-half (12-14 for 76 yards at halftime) would’ve been perfect were it not for those two Forte drops. Of the quarterback’s two second half interceptions, one was Robby Anderson‘s failed wrestling match on a reception. The other was thrown into triple-coverage, down two scores with less than a two minutes remaining. The 38-year-old’s fourth-and-goal running touchdown displayed true grit.
Recent edition Jermaine Kearse is that veteran presence perfect for the team’s raw receiving crew. He is already the offense’s top skill position player. Rookie ArDarius Stewart showed his ability to fly like a Jet, on a terrific touchdown soar. Ex-Giant Will Tye, straight out of Stony Brook, had an impressive Green-and-White debut. He will pair up nicely at tight end, next to the potential of the currently suspended Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Next: 2. The Boot Boys
2. The Boot Boys
The Jets have not had a solid special teams game since the days of Mike Westhoff. In Week 1, few would’ve predicted that the special teams would be the team’s strengths in the game.
Former Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro didn’t exactly shine in the preseason. Many predict that he will not last the 2017 season. But when the chips were down — under very tricky wind conditions in Orchard Park — he nailed two clutch first-half field goals.
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Lach Edwards netted some big yardage boots. The league’s lowest-rated punter of 2016 laid down a few 50-plus yard beauties, most notably a 57-yarder that landed inside the Bills’ four-yard-line.
Edwards netted a solid 49.5 yards on six kicks. His average would have been far higher were it not for a late-third-quarter 19-yard return by Brandon Tate.
Kalif Raymond had an electric 25-yard punt return that this franchise hasn’t witnessed in eons. The Holy Cross product also seemed like he was about to drop every punt kicked his way. If this is a rebuild, Raymond should get the job. But expect human fair catch machine Jeremy Kerley to eventually re-inherit his old position.
But one cannot have much confidence when the Jets special teams turn out to be the primary positives after a gimme loss to a vastly more-talented tanking Bills. There’s really nothing special about that.
Next: 1. Into the Void
1. Into the Void
The facts on the field in Buffalo spoke loud and clear. This franchise displays few attributes to feel good about in 2017 and beyond.
The Bills were ripe for the taking, but the Jets could not beat them. Buffalo ran the ball straight up the gut of this Gang Green defense and should have scored at least 30 points. It was disturbing to watch the defense get crushed, as the moribund offense and special teams units tried to keep their team in the game. Kony Ealy, Josh Martin, Jamal Adams, Josh McCown, Jermaine Kearse and Will Tye were the best players on the field for New York on Sunday. Is there any good reason for this beleaguered fan base to keep the faith?
It’s up to Bowles to keep this locker room together because Week 2 in Oakland is just the kind of monster mismatch that can lose a locker-room and destroy team chemistry. Last season’s Jets fell apart after a Week 4 blowout in Kansas City, and there’s nothing to prove this coach’s ability to keep a team together. If there’s no improvement in Bowles’ alignments, the Raiders could easily score 50 points — in a game where Derek Carr feels he has something to prove to his gnarly silver-and-black loyalists.
This 2017 season is about more than just tanking for a possible franchise quarterback. These 16 games will be a referendum on the Mike Maccagnan-Todd Bowles regime. The fact that this franchise continues to sit Bryce Petty — their only young quarterback to show flashes — while propping up Christian Hackenberg who’s shown zilch, is a terrible sign, both in terms of talent evaluation and CYA management style.
Platitudes like “things can only get better” do not apply here. There are no viable quarterbacks, offensive linemen, or inside linebackers. Only two players remain on the current roster from this GM’s 2015 NFL Draft, and of the seven still standing from 2016, none flash all-star potential. Where are all that talent evaluation and player development?
We all know that a blown first-round pick can set back an NFL organization two or three years. Over the past decade, this franchise has gotten it right on only two first-rounders; defensive linemen Williams and Wilkerson. That means this franchise is at least a quarter-century behind schedule — which seems about right at this point.