Top 5 insights of the Jets at the midseason mark
By Steven Blush
We now know the truth about Gang Green after Week 8’s 25-20 loss to the flailing Falcons: the New York Jets (3-5) are not playoff caliber. Last year’s Jets lost; this year’s model beats itself.
After last week’s soul-crushing choke job, the young New York Jets players understood that they needed to come together and learn how to win the close games before this season spirals out of control. One encouraging sign following last week’s Dolphins debacle was Muhammad Wilkerson, after his finest performance of 2017, behaving like a true leader — his powerful voice reverberating from their Hard Rock Stadium visitors locker room — as he demanded accountability from all his teammates. Leonard Williams insisted this locker room won’t splinter after the unacceptable loss. So there was a lot on the line against the Falcons.
Atlanta has not recovered from their Super Bowl flop to New England. It was hard to fathom that their world-class offense led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, had lost three in a row coming into MetLife. Three of their four losses were to the Jets’ AFC East rivals. Falcons’ Jersey boy head coach Dan Quinn was on the defensive over new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The entire organization was angry, and everyone expected to knock the stuffing outta Gang Green.
The Jets did not match up well with the Falcons. The things Atlanta does well, New York doesn’t have good answers for. Giving Matt Ryan all day in the pocket was a recipe for disaster. Falcons pass rushing menace Vic Beasley against backup lineman Brent Qvale was another. But the lousy weather certainly favored Gang Green.
The Jets have lost three straight games they could’ve won. At this point, there are no more excuses, Gang Green are giving games away. They faced two Super Bowl teams and a playoff contender and beat themselves. So pin this loss on the players. You can see a lack of focus on the field. There were still miscues and penalties. They did not deliver that anticipated feisty fistfight, and they can’t finish off opponents. There’s no grit, no bounce-back, and no killer instinct. They are a lost cause at situational football.
Coach Bowles better figure this one fast. This is a short week, going into Thursday’s home game against a resurgent Bills. Here are five AC/DC-related insights into the Jets progress at midseason.
Next: 5. High Voltage
5. High Voltage
Ancient quarterback Josh McCown had a lot to answer for after literally throwing away the Miami game — turning his great day into a bad dream. But don’t blame the 38-year-old (119.3 QB rating) for this loss. McCown again propelled this offense to 20 points — which should’ve been enough to remain competitive — but Todd Bowles‘ vaunted defense allowed even more.
The offensive line — suffering from a depth standpoint — got manhandled, and did not exude the bully breed fury one expected. Another issue is that the Jets say they wanna play smash-mouth football, but their running backs (43 yards total) dance and juke, and don’t forcefully hit the holes. Matt Forte was furious afterward for his four total carries, and he is correct that the coaches strayed from the intended game plan.
McCown is by far the best QB on this roster. Sure, he holds onto the ball too long, and he could’ve helped his kicker by not getting sacked so often in field goal range. But one of the nice byproducts of this frustrating 2017 season has been Josh’s budding relationship with WR Robby Anderson. The burner out of Temple who really needs to improve his intermediate game got targeted six times, and made all six receptions, for 104 yards and a TD. That’s a positive sign moving forward.
In terms of the Jets’ quarterbacking future, their best route is to stay with McCown this season, until they lose eight or nine games, or until he gets KO’d, whichever comes first. Then next year, make a bold move for Alex Smith. Of all the draftable young guns, this writer loves Heisman-worthy Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. It’s okay to look beyond Christian Hackenberg, the current scout-team QB, his stark irrelevance measured by being listed as inactive for 22 of his 24 games.
Next: 4. Thunderstruck
The New York Jets’ defensive performance was offensive. The floundering Falcons amassed 386 yards, in typhoon conditions. There are plenty of issues that must be immediately addressed.
On a positive note, Demario Davis is growing into that Ray Lewis-ish leadership role envisioned when Rex Ryan made the Arkansas State Red Wolve the 77th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Davis displayed a veteran presence on the practice field this week, delivering his teammates a powerful message that resonated at the time. Most impacted by this pep talk was student of the game co-ILB Darron Lee, who improves week by week, and responded Sunday with his finest game in Green and White. Muhammad Wilkerson had his most impactful game of 2017, with four tackles and his first sack of the season.
Injuries are starting to take their toll on this Jets team. The defense is dealing with serious depth problems on the line, outside linebacker, and across the secondary. Morris Claiborne proved himself as a shutdown corner against Julio Jones, until his third quarter foot injury that changed the face of this game. Right after Claiborne stepped off the field, Jones torched Darryl Roberts for a 50-plus yard gain. Juston Burris, who has sat since his Week 2 obliteration at the hands of the Raiders receiving corps, played terribly standing in for Claiborne. Burris was so ineffective that Jets fans were never so excited to wish for the speedy recovery of Buster Skrine. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye did not play terribly, but they both got flat-out beat on more than one occasion.
Next: 3. Stiff Upper Lip
3. Stiff Upper Lip
Football is a basic game. You need to follow the game plan, not commit mistakes, and take advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. With that, the Jets are the NFL’s second-most penalized team. And of the league’s most penalized players, three of the top four wear Green and White — Morris Claiborne, Darron Lee and Buster Skrine. But it’s the type of penalties committed. Not just the usual offensive line infractions, but defensive holding, hands to the face, and personal fouls. This week was a tad batter, six penalties for 50 yards.
Todd Bowles says all the right things. But how does he plan to get his players to close out games in the fourth quarter, and cut the brutal penalties on both sides of the ball? Bowles gets justifiably criticized for his in-game decisions and clock management. But he shouldn’t for this week’s game.
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Here’s the crux of the issue for this defensive coaching staff. Playing Jamal Adams in the box works great against the run. But that affects other on-field aspects, namely leaving that second or third cornerback out on an island one-on-one against of those elite NFL receivers. Then there’s a unit-wide problem of poor tackling.
How far has 2016 fourth-rounder and projected starting CB Juston Burris fallen to not supplant the shorter, less physical, more beat-down, and now concussed Buster Skrine? So far that they called up practice squadder Robert Nelson, who as mentioned last post, had 20 tackles and an INT for the 2016 Texans. Nelson replaces promising UDFA Xavier Coleman now on IR with a torn labrum. Nelson and Burris teamed across from Darryl Roberts against Atlanta.
There are two ways to look at this long hard rebuild. Either the coach and GM are incompetent, or this franchise has fallen so far with past dreadful drafts and woeful personnel evaluation that it’s going to take a very long time to build a winning culture. Go with the latter.
Next: 2. Touch Too Much
2. Touch Too Much
This blogger has devoted considerable attention to the un-special state of the Jets special teams. Sunday’s loss to the Falcons can be attributed to painful errors in the kicking and return game.
The statistical difference between a win and a loss in this 25-20 contest was two rain-soaked missed field goals by Chandler Catanzaro of 46 and 48 yards (balanced by successes of 46 and 43). Those two misses were understandable in the torrential rain, but that’s no excuse. Atlanta’s aging 42-year-old booter Matt Bryant plays in an antiseptic dome, yet went 4-4 at drenched MetLife. Catanzaro proved his mettle after the game by owning up to his disastrous afternoon.
Missed field goals inspire the other side, as it lets them the know that they are back in the game. There were a few moments in this contest where palpable changes in momentum occurred right after Jets’ special team’s meltdowns. For instance, the play after Catanzaro’s 48-yard early fourth quarter whiff, Tevin Coleman darted 52 yards into the Jets red zone.
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Matthew Bosher‘s 55-yard punt resulted in Jeremy Kerley‘s devastating game-changing muff. In that turnover, the usually reliable PR did everything wrong, from not calling for a fair catch, to backing up on his heels, flailing for a ball in the rain. In terms of kickoffs, with ArDarius Stewart injured/inactive, Elijah McGuire returned kicks for the Green and White. His three returns averaged an unremarkable 22.3 per.
Lach Edwards had another solid day, averaging 52.4 yards on four punts, with three of the four downed inside the 20-yard line. Too bad no fans will remember this upside of such a negative all-around Gang Green performance.
Next: 1. It's A Long Way To The Top
1. It’s a Long Way to the Top
Life as a Jets fan ain’t easy. Author George R.R. Martin, whose book was the basis for Game of Thrones, recently described his lifelong Gang Green obsession as “an unending torment.”
Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are foundational players to build on, and Darron Lee and Kony Ealy have shown flashes. They along with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jermaine Kearse — and young bucks Robby Anderson and Brandon Shell — offer hope for the future.
If you want a handle on the improved situation in Florham Park, look at all the young talent. This year’s draft yielded the aforementioned future Pro Bowlers at safety, dynamic RB Elijah McGuire, promising WR projects ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, and currently injured reserved, 2018-ready ballers in OLB Dylan Donahue, TE Jordan Leggett, and CB Jeremy Clark.
Compare that crop to John Idzik‘s disastrous 2013 and 2014 drafts. Brian Winters is the only Jets starter from 2013, and all that remains on current active NFL rosters from “The Idzik 12” of 2014 are minor pro contributors: lineman Dakota Dozier, CB Dexter McDougle traded in August to the Eagles, and seventh-rounder Trevor Reilly, a special teamer just promoted from the Patriots practice squad.
There’s no next Vince Lombardi out there, and Bowles is beloved by his young players. He is certainly growing on the job and has displayed some depth as coach (though you wish he’d display more passion). GM Mike Maccagnan clearly has a plan. Together, they’re building a solid infrastructure.
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Despite the maudlin news, there’s no doubt things are pointing in the right direction. That next positive step could begin in earnest when the Jets lineup Thursday after a short week to face their Empire State rival Bills. Building a winning culture in Florham Park can’t come quickly enough!