The New York Jets fell to the New Orleans Saints by a final score of 31-19 in a game that was close but never truly felt attainable. After losing their seventh of their last nine games, which players are to blame for the team’s latest defeat in the Big Easy?
Sunday’s game could very well have been a blowout. Fresh off an embarrassing loss in a must-win game against the hapless Denver Broncos, an injury to their overachieving veteran quarterback, and an off-the-field debacle surrounding the team’s highest-paid player, the New York Jets were prime candidates to be blown out when they traveled to New Orleans to play the Saints on the road, something they had struggled mightily with this year.
While they still lost and were officially eliminated from postseason contention for the seventh straight year, the team played hard and for the most part remained competitive throughout the duration of the game.
The running game showed signs of improvement and the defense was able to force some timely turnovers to keep the game within reach but ultimately the play of new starting quarterback Bryce Petty held the team back as they failed to capitalize on the majority of their opportunities.
In other news, Elijah McGuire led the team in receiving, JoJo Natson had the Jets longest run, and Leonard Williams recorded the defense’s only interception of the day. That’s about what everyone expected out of a Week 15 matchup back in the beginning of the year, right?
With that, it’s time to get pessimistic as we break down the five players that most contributed to this week’s Jets loss.
Next: 5. Wesley Johnson
5. Center Wesley Johnson
Looking forward to 2018, the Jets need to make some major improvements along the offensive line and that starts with the very middle of the unit in center Wesley Johnson.
Johnson’s first year as a full-time starter has been subpar, to say the least, and Sunday’s game was just another example of his play bringing down the offense as a whole. On one play, the 26-year-old was beaten in pass protection and allowed pressure on Petty who predictably threw a bad incomplete pass over the middle of the field.
When starting an inexperienced quarterback such as Petty, it’s imperative that his offensive line gives him the time to make accurate reads and step up and execute throws. Johnson did Petty no favors in Sunday’s loss to the Saints.
On another play, Johnson’s snap sailed high and Petty had to reach up and grab it. The former Baylor quarterback bobbled the ball which threw off the timing on a planned wide receiver screen to wideout Chad Hansen. Both quarterback and receiver had their rhythm thrown out of sync and the pass resulted in a loss of yards all due to the bad snap from Johnson.
This isn’t an isolated incident either. Johnson has played poorly all season long and he ranks third in penalties amongst Jets offensive players to boot. The Jets struggles with the offensive line and in particular, the running game could be placed on Johnson as well.
The center controls the blocking scheme on an offensive line and is responsible for calling out certain assignments at times. It seems as if there’s been a number of miscommunications in blocking along the offensive line this year, often times involving Johnson. Moreover, the team has frequently failed to run consistently between the tackles and the lack of an interior push is partly on Johnson.
Each week it seems more and more likely that Johnson will not return as the Jets starting center in 2018. And with that, the search for Nick Mangold’s successor continues.
Next: 4. Brandon Shell
4. Right Tackle Brandon Shell
You know it’s a slow week if the first two entries are individual offensive linemen.
In all seriousness, however, Brandon Shell had his work cut out for him Sunday when he was tasked with blocking the perennial Pro Bowl talent of defensive end Cameron Jordan. It’s a tall task for any tackle to block someone as talented as Jordan but this wasn’t Shell’s first test against an elite pass rusher this year.
Shell had previously held his own against players such as Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake this year and has overall had a pretty solid season. His performance against the Saints though was a different story.
While Jordan didn’t account for the majority of the pressure on Petty, he did manage to break up a number of passes with his hands as four balls in total were swatted away by the large hands of big number 94.
At some point during the game Shell needed to make an adjustment to curtail what Jordan was doing. The veteran defensive end would read Petty’s eyes and jump up when the time was right to make a play on the ball. Instead of attempting to engage in a block or try and take out Jordan’s legs, Shell simply allowed Jordan to get his hands up and continuously deflect passes.
While this isn’t the most concerning issue, it speaks to Shell’s inexperience and is certainly something he could work on going forward. Cameron Jordan is an excellent player who happens to be very intelligent as well. He took advantage of the young Shell in this game which is why the latter lands on this unflattering list.
Despite this poor showing, Shell should still hopefully be a solid piece of the Jets offensive line for the future. Games like this are just a part of the learning process and they shouldn’t be a concern as long as Shell corrects his mistakes.
But for now, Shell finds himself an early entry on the Jets Week 15 naughty list.
Next: 3. Darron Lee
3. Linebacker Darron Lee
After a rough start to the season, Darron Lee seemed to finally turn a corner and had been more good than bad for the most part this season. Sunday’s game was a simple reminder of the inconsistent player that Lee could be.
He made a couple of nice, exciting plays, particularly in run defense that could very well end up on his end of the year highlight reel. Still, the second-year pro lacks discipline in gap assignments and remains a liability in coverage. While it’s no easy task to cover either New Orleans running back, Lee, along with the rest of the Jets defense, struggled all day containing the dynamic duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The pair accounted for 11 of Drew Brees‘ 26 completions with the latter beating Lee for a 10-yard TD reception early in the second quarter.
The Jets drafted Lee in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft because of his raw speed and athletic ability which would hopefully translate well and allow him to cover opposing tight ends and running backs in the pros. Having a fast, athletic linebacker is so valuable in the NFL today for that very reason. Lee’s lack of development in that area has left many frustrated and the cries of “bust” have been aplenty.
Regardless, Lee has shown a decent amount of growth in his run stopping ability as he has, for the most part, cut down on his overpursuing tackle attempts and has become more disciplined when filling his assigned gaps.
This growth did not show on Sunday as Lee was back to his old ways of getting blown off the ball by opposing linemen and taking horrible angles allowing huge holes for Saints running backs to waltz right through.
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It is crucial that Lee finishes the season out strong and heads into his third professional campaign with a bit of momentum on his side. Working on his pass coverage and run discipline should be priorities number one and two for Lee this offseason as they are the two biggest weaknesses in his game.
However, if Lee is unable to improve in those areas, the cries of “bust” will only grow louder and it won’t be long before the front office starts to join in on said cries.
Next: 2. Leonard Williams
Another week has passed by and the Jets still lack a pass rush. In other news, the sky is still blue, water is still wet, and the Browns still don’t have a win.
For the majority of Sunday’s game, the Jets were barely even able to lay a finger on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Sometimes the stat sheet can be a little misleading. This was not the case as this week the Jets totaled a whopping ZERO sacks against New Orleans en route to one of the poorest efforts by the team’s pass rush to date.
To put things in perspective, here’s a list of things that happened more times in Week 15 than sacks the Jets recorded. Former defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas had more rushing yards than Jets sacks. CURRENT defensive lineman Leonard Williams had more interceptions than the team had sacks. And finally, Christian Hackenberg has been active for more games this season than the Jets had sacks this game.
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This was the first game he was active for.
Point is, the Jets struggled at getting to the passer against the Saints and it ultimately hurt their chances at a victory. One of the only plays they were able to get pressure on Brees came when reserve defensive lineman Xavier Cooper was able to get to the veteran quarterback who forced a throw directly into the hands of the aforementioned Williams who picked the ball off for his first career interception. That play is proof that good things happen when you get after the quarterback.
The Jets must address pass rusher in the offseason and give Williams some assistance at edge rusher to help with the interior pressure he provides. If not, one of the Jets youngest and most promising defensive stars will continue to get double-teamed and be a non-factor in most games.
And the Jets can ill-afford to go another season with this sort of pass rushing effort.
Next: 1. Bryce Petty
1. Quarterback Bryce Petty
All things considered, Bryce Petty’s first start of the season went perhaps a little better than many had expected. Petty was able to keep the Jets in the game for the majority of the contest and most importantly took care of the football, despite what the final stat sheet might show.
That being said, it’s clear that Petty is not, and never will be, a capable NFL starting quarterback. The sooner the fans and this organization realize that the sooner we can all move on and figure out the future of this position for the Jets.
If fans thought that Josh McCown was the king of check-downs, it appears that the king may have just been dethroned as Petty threw almost exclusively to his check-down options in the flats and over the middle. The third-year signal caller seldom took shots downfield and whether that was by design or not, it speaks to Petty’s ability as a passer and the coaching staff’s faith in him.
While he made a couple of nice throws, specifically to running back Elijah McGuire and wide receiver Chad Hansen, both along the sideline, Petty’s struggles with accuracy continued as he missed open targets on multiple occasions and even some of his completions were misplaced and saved by his receivers. The former Baylor Bear needs to string his good throws together if he’s going to be successful at the professional level.
Petty also struggled with his reads and is often slow to make decisions. The former 4th round pick hit tight end Neal Sterling late on a spot route in the third quarter which led to the pass being tipped up into the air and intercepted by the Saints. Petty needs to make that decision quicker and be more decisive in his throwing choices.
Ultimately, the Jets would have had a much better chance at winning this game if McCown had been the starter and that’s effectively what makes Petty wind up at number one on this list.
It’s safe to say at this point that we know what Petty is as a quarterback. He will, and should never be, a starting quarterback in this league. Can he be a backup? Potentially.
To this point, Petty has shown enough to at least be in the consideration for the backup quarterback position for the Jets next year. But as the team plays out its final two games of the season, one could only hope that those will be the last two games Petty starts in green and white.