Week 4 was a winnable game for the New York Jets. They did not lay an egg, and their shocking 23-20 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars means that Gang Green are NFL laughing-stocks no more.
The New York Jets had plenty to contend with going into this game. A home win over Jacksonville meant a 2-2 start. You look at an NFL season in terms of quarter-marks, and going into Cleveland with a .500 record is a tremendous sign of progress. But this win was no mirage. Even legendary center Kevin Mawae, the 18th former Jet enshrined into the Ring of Honor, left impressed.
The Jaguars’ were coming off the high of a 44-7 thrashing of the Baltimore Ravens in London, thanks to the greatest game in Blake Bortle’s history. And you know that the Jacksonville front office wanted blood in the Meadowlands, between team president Tom Coughlin (forced-retired by his Giants), spurned Jets head coaching candidate Doug Marrone and ex-GM John Idzik.
The details of Marrone’s botched hiring as “HC of the NYJ” were revealed this week. We’d always heard that the imposing Bronx-bred baller opted out of his Buffalo coaching deal after just one season (getting the most of a barren 2014 Bills roster that went 9-7) for his dream job in Jersey, but that he interviewed terribly. Now it seems Woody Johnson read a damning Manish Mehta feature (with unnamed Bills sources calling Marrone a dangerous control freak) and got cold feet.
In the strange-but-true department, also revealed was a long-standing close friendship between Marrone and Mike Maccagnan, dating back to their days with the NFL Europe London Monarchs and the Canadian Football League Ottawa Rough Riders. No one is hailing Marrone the second coming of Tom Landry. But it makes sense that he and Trader Mike would’ve made for a smoother organizational arrangement than the shotgun-wedding between the GM and Todd Bowles.
Maybe it was asking too much of a Bowles defense to show up big-time two weeks in a row. On one hand, his forces definitely did not flop like the first two games. They bent but did not break against the behemoth rushing tandem of Leonard Fournette (24 carries for 78 yards) and ex-Jet Chris Ivory (9-42). But on the other hand, a very average Jaguars offensive line pushed around Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. Other than a few nice plays (including an athletic pass deflection/interception) by game-ball-winning newcomer Kony Ealy, there was relatively little defensive line pressure.
Going into Cleveland next week against the winless Browns is just what the doctor ordered for the Green and White. Let’s just hope they don’t overlook this game before the following week’s battle against New England. Here are five insights about this 2017 team, after four games played.
Next: 5. High Voltage
5. High Voltage
The “worst offense in NFL history” has proven to be anything but. There are bright points worthy of mention.
Jets fans will rave all week about the electric runs by Bilal Powell (21 carries for 163 yards, including a strange 75 yard TD; the second-longest run from scrimmage in team history after a Bruce Harper 78-yarder against the Falcons in 1983) and Elijah McGuire (10-93, including his dazzling 69-yard TD sprint, and scatback receptions of 23 and 33 yards). But it was the offensive line blowing open those big holes.
One positive sign was Brent Qvale stepping in at right tackle for rising star Brandon Shell. But on the left side, pricy free agent Kelvin Beachum displayed why the Jags cut him in the offseason —as he let former Maryland Terrapin Yannick Ngakoue nearly destroy Josh McCown twice in the first half alone.
There were still way too many penalties. Sure, some of that had to do with Gang Green’s 38-year-old QB’s wily veteran signal-calling cadence, which can just as easily draw his own team offside. But the stats don’t lie: 10 penalties for 70 yards. This team is not good enough to compete with the league’s big guns with such drive-killing sloppiness.
Has defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas already become the greatest Jets fullback since Tony Richardson or Richie Anderson? True, he may not have much competition, but the defensive lineman’s pancake block was what opened the floodgates for Bilal Powell’s highlight-reel TD run.
Offensive coordinator John Morton knew the deal going into this game. Jacksonville has one of the best cornerback duos in the league between Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and a defensive front led by rising star Dante Fowler, Jr. and 6’8″ ten-year veteran Calais Campbell. Like the Jets, the Jags’ glaring weakness is in covering tight ends over the middle. So you expected Austin Seferian-Jenkins to see a lot of short passes over the middle and/or in the red zone. But that’s not exactly how things played out.
McCown’s strengths and weaknesses were both on display this week. His on-field strengths are his abilities to play a very smart offense and to not make costly mistakes. But then in the second half, we saw the downside of opening the playbook for him. He’s not familiar with these receivers, which contributes to his holding the ball too long, and that leads to costly sacks. And while he did not implode in overtime, the 15-year vet made a few rookie-like fourth-quarter mistakes, between Myles Jack‘s 81-yard fumble return and Bouye’s interception — both in the last ten minutes with a win firmly in hand. Simply put, the shorter McCown holds onto the ball, the better he plays.
The Jets were lucky to win this game, and they know it. An offensive identity is slowly emerging, with weapons to build around McCown and Powell, such as Elijah McGuire, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson (and the injured Quincy Enunwa).
Next: 4. Surrender
The defense played well enough to win. The big questions going into this game were: Could the Jets rushing defense shut down a Doug Marrone offense predicated on moving the pile? And would there be a second straight week of no major secondary breakdowns? The answer to both questions was a resounding “yes.”
The defense had a simple game plan. Try to contain Fournette and Ivory, and put enough pressure on Bortles so as not be able to deliver the ball to his receiving “A-Team” of Allen Hurns and Arrelious Benn, or star tight end, Marcedes Lewis. The Jets’ “D” certainly delivered in that regard. The defensive line deserves credit for staying in their gaps and absorbing the blows and letting the linebackers and safeties make the plays.
There are a few ways to look at Muhammad Wilkerson coming clean about his shoulder injury suffered Week 2 in Oakland. Maybe the $86 Million Man wanted to speak forthrightly to the same NFL media he boycotted last season. Perhaps he simply felt a need to throw his head coach under the bus, less than one hour after Bowles declared Big Mo good-to-go. Or most likely he’s putting out the chatter of a “Grade 1 AC Joint sprain” as cover for a second consecutive under-performing season (zero sacks or QB hurries in four games). At this point, if this team is truly committed to a 3-4 front, Kony Ealy is a more complete and more motivated player that Mo-Wilk.
David Bass got the start at OLB and delivered big time, with professional tackling and a big first-half sack. Dylan Donahue had his first NFL sack and applied pressure throughout his snaps. But he also bit badly on that swing pass to Fournette that resulted in the game’s first scoring. Then the rookie fifth-round OLB got hurt in overtime. So between the injuries to he and Josh Martin and the disappointing Lorenzo Mauldin on IR, that’s a positional problem to watch out for.
Inside linebackers Darron Lee and Demario Davis came crashing back to earth after standout games against the Dolphins. In fact, the unit looked best after Lee rolled his ankle and Julian Stanford stepped in to shut ’em down over the middle.
The Jets haven’t tackled well since the early Rex Ryan era. And the best tacklers on this current team are Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Darryl Roberts, Ealy, Martin, Davis, Stanford, and Bass. That point illustrates how far this defense has come, and how far it still needs to go.
Next: 3. Kick It Out
3. Kick It Out
This game, better than most, illustrates the importance of a strong special teams game. Great special teams win games, and weak special teams cost games.
Weak punting leads to scoring. Aussie booter Lach Edwards’ first-quarter 32-yard dud resulted in great field position for Jacksonville, as they put the first points on the board. There was a bad positional punt with seven minutes remaining that should’ve pinned J-ville deep but instead drifted into the end zone. Another one that went out-of-bounds at midfield that could’ve cost the game. Luckily, the opposing quarterback was Bortles.
The game’s stat sheet read a solid 43.7 yard average for Edwards. That’s because, in overtime, the 2016 sixth-rounder out of Sam Houston State had the kick of the game, a 70 yarder that Marqise Lee whiffed on. The ensuing three-and-out plus end zone punt resulted in the late overtime field position that McCown maneuvered into Chandler Catanzaro‘s game winning 41-yard field goal.
FWIW, when was the last year this team pulled out a fake kick? The answer would be in this game, just before halftime, with Edwards’ surprise 31-yard toss to a wide-open Marcus Williams. But the opportunity got squandered after a silly five-yard delay of game penalty — as Catanzaro’s chance for two FGs in less than two minutes went wide left, just feet short of its intended target.
It was yet another Bowles staff on-field coaching gaffe, not having the kicking team ready to go onto the field after an exciting trick play got them in scoring possession. It wasn’t as bad as punting the ball down two scores with five minutes to go like he did against Buffalo. But that five-yard penalty pushed back the kick from 40 to 45 yards, and that kick was missed by inches.
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By the end of the game, Travaris Cadet was sharing kick returns with rookie ArDarius Stewart. Expect the move to take pressure off the third-round draft pick (who, to get more playing time, needs to work on his blocking). Jeremy Kerley is solid on punt returns and doesn’t drop the ball. So, the return game is coming to form, the kickers are doing much better than expected, and no one has thought twice about long-snapper Tanner Purdum since they traded in the late preseason for young gun Thomas Hennessy. That’s what you call building a strong third phase of the game.
Next: 2. The Road Crew
2. The Road Crew
The Jets roster seems to be rounding into shape. Every week, Maccagnan has enhanced this team with instant contributors, be it Jermaine Kearse, Ealy or Bass. (The latter two played like men possessed against the Jaguars). The stench of last season’s locker room is dissipating — for which both the front office and coaching staff deserve credit.
Last week’s addition of running back Travaris Cadet to this team makes sense for a few reasons. Maccagnan tried in the offseason to sign the ex Appalachian State RB, and new OC Morton worked closely with him in New Orleans. Last year, Cadet caught 40 Drew Brees passes for four TDs; and the only reason the Saints moved on last month was the emergence of Alvin Kamara and the signing of Adrian Peterson. Travaris is also a legit kick return threat, which can only help energize a very un-special Gang Green return game. So just like that, the Jets’ roster is a little better this week than it was against Miami.
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Last post this writer expressed concern over the turf toe injury to Matt Forte. His absence will be a Gang Green sore point, for a few reasons. Between those 32-year-old bones and MetLife’s unforgiving turf, don’t expect a quick bounce-back from the one-time Pro Bowler.
And now there’s no late-season trade value for this team’s elder backfield option, as was the grand plan. But boy, did sixth-round Ragin’ Cajun RB Elijah McGuire enthrall in his MetLife coming out party!
Also, a few words in defense of Maccagnan. Two years ago, he gave a chance to linebacker Erin Henderson, who’d been thrown into the scrap heap by Minnesota after violating the NFL’s substance abuse protocol. Last season, Henderson got into some fight with Brandon Marshall, and then he went MIA in the middle of the season — and thus was rightfully placed on the non-football Reserve list. Henderson has returned the favor by suing the team for $3.3 million for Wrongful Termination and disability discrimination. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
Great defenses stop the pass and hold the line in the red zone. Decent offenses don’t make dumb mistakes. That sounds like a winning formula for this franchise moving forward.
Next: 1. Cleveland Rocks
1. Cleveland Rocks
The Jets have one more winnable game on their early schedule, next week in Cleveland. Rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer had been playing better week by week until this past week’s 31-7 debacle loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Dennis Manoloff of The Plain Dealer said the team “disgraced themselves” both as players and as an organization. All this took place a few days after an emergency meeting regarding a reported volatile franchise fissure between team ownership, the front office, and the coaching staff. You think our team’s got issues?
The Browns defense hasn’t allowed less than 21 points in any of their four losses. It hasn’t helped that this past draft’s No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett has yet to take the field. As luck would have it, he’ll debut this Sunday against the visiting Gang Green. But will it even matter? Or will the Jets play down to their competition?
Charone Peake‘s move to the Injured Reserve list that enabled Cadet’s arrival, has made the decision easier for this week’s return of Jalin Marshall. One should expect big things from the second-year UDFA as the season goes on. Between his underperformance on the field (after a stellar 2016 training camp) and four game P.E.D. suspension, Jalin owes this franchise, big time.
Looking realistically at the remainder of the 2017 schedule, the Jets have winnable road games in Cleveland, Miami, and Tampa Bay, and at MetLife against the Bills, Panthers and the LA Chargers. They might even pick off a contender or two. The truth is, this team now has a better chance of finishing the season .500 than of “tanking” for a shot at Sam Darnold. It’s all starting to feel so down-right Jet-like.
This organization would be best served by winning a few nice games this season to build on, and forego a shot at any of the highly touted QBs out of USC, UCLA, Wyoming, or Louisville. The right guy for this team just might be Oklahoma gunslinger Baker Mayfield, a cocky leader of men, who has been called the best player in college football. He’s not only 4-0 this year flaunting Heisman-worthy crazy stats, but he’s made news for rejecting Mia Khalifa and planting his team flag smack in the middle of the Ohio State field after crushing the Buckeyes in Columbus. The dude is downright Namath-esque.
Enjoy this ride, Gang Green fans. The 2-2 Jets are currently tied with the New England Patriots for second place in the AFC East. For now, they’re the best team in New York. There’s nowhere to go but up!