After five games, the New York Jets are in a three-way tie for first place and are above .500 for the first time since the 2015 season. Enjoy the ride, Gang Green fans!
The New York Jets continue to play down to their competition. This was an ugly game; easily Gang Green’s worst performance of 2017, across the board. But developing a winning culture requires beating the lesser teams on your schedule. You gotta kick ’em when they’re down — and that’s exactly what the Jets did. Todd Bowles and his team were glad to squeak out-of-town with their first road win of the season.
Cleveland made so many mistakes — between penalties, interceptions and missed field goals — that they statistically dominated in every category, except scoring, losing 17-14. They advanced the ball inside the Jets four-yard line three times yet scored zero points. Somebody, please give Browns coach Hue Jackson a game ball!
These Browns are again flirting with going 0-16. Their promising No. 6-ranked defense has been held back by injuries that would’ve made little difference in the first four losses. Against the Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland knew they needed to score 20-ish points to pull off a shocker. But that, of course, did not happen.
Despite all the young talent, there’s little to feel good about in Cleveland. The Browns’ application of Moneyball analytics to NFL personnel has not panned out under “sabermetrics” maestro Paul DePodesta. Of the 53-man roster, 33 are rookies or second-year pros. But the team’s top players are veterans; from before the rebuild. How can they construct a winning culture when their young stars only know losing?
The Jets game plan was to rattle rookie QB DeShone Kizer. The Toledo-bred 21-year-old endured a tough day against a hungry Jets “D.” Kizer (8-17, 87 yards) flashes potential but cannot develop if he’s trying to remain physically upright and mentally unscarred around his porous offensive line, dormant rushing attack and sub-NFL receiving set. But it was difficult to watch his backup Kevin Hogan (16-19, 194 yards) school Gang Green in the second half.
It would not be wrong to point out that Gang Green’s only wins have come against the stinking Dolphins, the lousy Jaguars, and the brutal Browns. So let’s not get carried away — they’ve only won three of five games, with 11 to go. Here are five Jets observations — named for songs by the band Boston — as the Jets ready themselves in East Rutherford for an underperforming New England Patriots team.
Next: 5. More Than A Feeling
5. More Than A Feeling
The Jets defense was aggressive because they knew Cleveland would succumb to missteps and self-inflicted wounds. They also felt a need to prove themselves, after defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers challenged his run defense as “not up to our standards.” But did the players listen?
The Jets won, despite many problems on defense. Muhammad Wilkerson leads this franchise in foolish penalties, not ferocious stops. Versus Cleveland, the multi-millionaire had more brain-locked personal fouls than sacks or tackles, and he seems to be doing his very best to get cut in the offseason.
Jamal Adams deserves early votes for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and last week against Jacksonville, the free safety shut down star tight end Marcedes Lewis. But this week, Miami Hurricane rookie David Njoku destroyed the No. 1 pick all afternoon. Darron Lee made a few impressive plays, but he’s definitely lined up out of position, as a smallish weak-side linebacker that gets blown off the ball trying to stuff the middle.
Before and after this game, Morris Claiborne was not shy in admitting that these Jets have been fueled by all the criticism. To his credit, the primary reason you don’t often hear the former Cowboy’s name called is because he’s played dang-near shutdown cornerback. His critical INT of a Hogan heave had a lot to do with a ferocious pass rush by impressive overachiever Demario Davis.
This game — as well as this season — has proven the value of former Patriots cornerback Darryl Roberts across from Claiborne. Roberts’ tackling acumen was sorely missed in Cleveland due to his hamstring injury, and Buster Skrine again displayed that he’s most effective in limited packages. Anointed starting CB Juston Burris has taken a giant step backwards this year, and both he and Marcus Williams need to step up if they plan to be part of this team’s future.
The Jets’ strangest formation was a four safety look with Week 3 Defensive Player of the Week Terrence Brooks along with fan fave Rontez Miles, in his first snaps since a gruesome gash to his orbital bone. Browns receivers had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
As mentioned last post, outside linebacker is now a position of concern. Dylan Donahue was limited in practices before the Jags game, and then got helped off the field after an attempted punt block. So the fifth-rounder’s promising rookie year has come to a screeching halt with elbow surgery, joining fellow OLB Lorenzo Mauldin on injured reserve.
High-motor signing David Bass started once again and excelled. Moving forward, it will be interesting to watch this week’s addition, Obum Gwacham, a 6’5, 250 lb. converted receiver from Nigeria via Oregon State, who’s spent his first three seasons on practice squads or IR, before now getting his chance to contribute for Gang Green. Gwacham and Bass share a recent history with the Seahawks, and perhaps you’ll notice in Obum a similar totally driven mindset.
Next: 4. Feelin' Satisfied
4. Feelin’ Satisfied
Five games into 2017, the Jets have to consider bringing back journeyman QB Josh McCown, if for no other reason than as a de facto player/coach for whoever the heck is under center for Gang Green for 2018. To think that Ryan Fitzpatrick felt “insulted” to play a similar role.
The Jets would not have won this game without McCown; and the Browns most definitely would have won if they still had him. The 38-year-old delivered with big plays when needed. He showed true leadership by going a perfect 6-for-6 on that fourth-quarter 97-yard-drive that sealed the deal. That fact is even more incredible when you consider that this wide receiving unit probably runs the worst pass routes in Jets recent history — which is really saying something.
Running back Elijah McGuire is a special player, growing week by week — until this game (11 carries for 18 yards). Give Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams credit for shutting down the Jets’ run game. With Matt Forte gone for the foreseeable future, the Jets should be worried about Bilal Powell‘s second quarter calf injury, from which the seventh-year pro did not return.
The Jets’ running game was non-existent (34 total yards) also because the O-line was getting stuffed at the point of attack. Offensive coordinator John Morton knew that Cleveland would be featuring Myles Garrett, the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, in his first regular season game. So the rookie’s ferocious sack — as well as the Browns’ drive-decimating three sacks — were almost unforgivable. As for the penalties, the song remains the same — a dreadful nine for 80 yards.
Is tight end Eric Tomlinson this team’s best blocker? The Texas-El Paso grad certainly prevented Garrett from dominating the contest. And Austin Seferian-Jenkins had another big game, not just blocking but with his third-quarter two-yard-TD pass that put Gang Green ahead for good.
This supposedly anemic Jets offense had enough to defeat the directionless Browns. One fact that bodes well for Gang Green’s next game is that Cleveland is statistically far superior in Total Defense to the No. 32-ranked Patriots.
Next: 3. Peace of Mind
3. Peace of Mind
Bowles and Mike Maccagnan have received nothing but criticism over the past year or two. Now, give the men credit. At this point, the franchise is not in a terrible place, and this season has taken a delightful turn. The team shows character, and the fans are having fun. When was the last time the Patriots weren’t running away with the AFC East in mid-October?
Bowles/Maccagnan might be the right tandem to succeed here. This organization craves stability, and there’s reason to believe that both men are just now coming into their own as leaders.
Bowles is proving folks wrong, and he is growing on the job. He still makes too many questionable on-field decisions. But he has this team believing in themselves, and they’re playing their tails off for him. Coach also seems far more relaxed. He certainly did lose his locker room last season. But this year’s turnaround gives credence to the belief that perhaps the Jets “veteran leadership” of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson was so toxic that Rikers prison guards couldn’t have kept the peace. Hungry new players have yielded very different results.
The GM may not light up a room, but he is a nuts-and-bolts football man who understands how to build a franchise. He was allowed to make over this team, and results have exceeded expectations. Look at this roster and all the contributors, and you see his imprimatur all over it.
Going into this contest were memories of former Jet Calvin Pryor decimating former Brown Josh McCown in the 2015 season opener. Not to rub it in, but Maccagnan’s preseason trade shipping of “The Louisville Slugger” to Cleveland for middle linebacker Demario Davis is the gift that keeps on giving. Demario’s return was a mighty statement, and he continues to lead this team by example.
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Maccagnan taking a flyer on the fourth year Alabama pile-pusher Ed Stinson (a rising Cardinals D-lineman designated waived/injured after missing 19 of 48 games due to injuries) indicates that Lawrence Thomas is the team’s new fullback and that the defensive front needs more than just injured edge rusher Kony Ealy behind Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams. Waiving tight ends Will Tye (of Stony Brook) and Neal Sterling (Mommouth) likely opened the door for fifth round draft pick Jordan Leggett‘s return from injury and 2016 UDFA Jalin Marshall‘s from a four-game P.E.D. suspension. So with every move, Trader Mike enhances this squad for the future.
You can’t play professional sports trying to tank for Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen — or even for this writer’s preference, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. What kind of message would that send to your players, who are all fighting for their NFL lives?
Next: 2. The Launch
2. The Launch
A few days ago, Cleveland’s coaching staff somberly announced a season-ending knee injury to special teams ace Dominique Alexander. That placed, even more, pressure on Jabrill Peppers, their former Paramus Catholic star rookie return man, who the Jets discussed in reverent tones before Sunday’s match-up. In the end, Peppers failed to add spice to the Browns return game, and Alexander’s departure could not have helped Zane Gonzalez‘s woeful kicking performance.
It’s hard to interpret special teams stats. But ESPN ranks the Jets No. 13 in Gross Punting Yards (46.1 yards per punt), 21st in Kickoff Return Yards (24.8 yards per return), and 8th in Field Goals Made (82%). But these stats provide an indication of the Jets’ special teams moving forward.
Chandler Catanzaro misses his share of field goals, and many of his attempts look wobbly and barely clear the uprights. But yet he’s doing enough to get the job done, as with his impressive 57-yarder to take the lead into halftime. Catanzaro’s predecessor Nick Folk missed three field goals Thursday night, as the Buccaneers gift-wrapped a victory for New England that Brady and crew did not deserve. Folk is another example of addition by subtraction for this front office.
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Lach Edwards (51.1 yard average on six punts) is another under-the-radar Maccagnan late-round pick finally reaping rewards for this franchise. The second-year Aussie booter ranked dead-last and looked lost in his rookie season. But you can watch the Sam Houston State grad improve game-by-game — to the point where the former rugby star is the 13th ranked punter in the league.
Jeremy Kerley was unappreciated his first time through town as a punt returner. But after years of the likes of Nick Marshall, Jeremy Ross, and Kalif Raymond, Gang Green fans must like “the human fair catch machine,” as someone who knows when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.
Due to league rule changes, those concussion-inducing kick returns are of decreasing value. Most place-kickers knock their boots out of the end zone, and most coaches prefer to down catchable kicks and take the ball out on the 25-yard-line. But if anyone might break one long before the end of this season, it could be recent addition Travaris Cadet. Not sure why we saw David Bass and ArDarius Stewart back there instead.
After Charone Peake went on Injured Reserve, special teams coach Brant Boyer felt he’d lost his top “four-core” player, referring to the WR’s multi-faceted skills as a gunner, tackler and defender on punts, kicks, punt returns and kick returns. If Peake returns in ’18, it’ll be due to his ST acumen.
Next: 1. Don't Look Back
1. Don’t Look Back
Going into this season, people were saying the Super Bowl favorite Patriots would finish 16-0 or 15-1. This Sunday, they try to shrug off their ugly kid stepbrothers from NYC and avoid falling to the third place or even the divisional cellar. Let’s not mince words here: the Pats and Jets are neck and neck going into this MetLife showdown because New England’s 2017 defense gets shredded on a weekly basis. They’re lucky to have won as many games as they have this season.
Boston fans love to blame “goat” athletes. This year, they’re attacking $65 million free agent CB Stephon Gilmore, even though he’s dealing with groin and ankle issues. But the former Bill is just this tip of the iceberg. Opposing teams completed 69 percent of their passes and 44 percent of their third downs. In other words, their secondary’s worse than ours. Expect McCown to exploit said weaknesses.
The Pats are top-ranked in Total Offense (419 YPG) and Passing Offense (320 YPG), yet dead last in Total Defense (447 YPG) and Passing Defense (323 YPG). So there is a clear path to an upset win in the Meadowlands. But then there’s that little historical detail of Tom Brady eviscerating NFL secondaries. Incredibly, this team relies more than ever on 40-year-old Mr. Gisele Bündchen.
The side story going into next week may be whether Jets castoff David Harris can merit enough field time to outdo his season total of seven snaps and one assisted tackle. Harris is not part of the Pats’ problem, nor is he part of their solution. And Bill Belichick certainly must have second thoughts about jettisoning Kony Ealy (after ceding a second rounder for him in March)? A pre-deadline trade to return the banished Jamie Collins from Cleveland makes sense for all parties.
The Jets have a 30-40 percent chance of stealing a home win over New England this Sunday. Who’d’ve thunk of such a possibility three weeks ago? This is a fun season, Jets fans. Relish it for what it is.