The New York Jets fell to the Houston Texans on Saturday by a final score of 29-22 but it was the play of Sam Darnold that stole the headlines? How does each unit positional unit grade out following this tightly-contested loss?
The NFL record books will indicate that the New York Jets came out of their Week 15 showdown against the Houston Texans with yet another loss added to their discouraging 2018 season. But make no mistake about it, the Jets were anything but losers on Saturday.
In reality, they were victors in their own right.
Not victors of the individual game nor victors of a successful 2018 campaign. Rather, the Jets emerged victorious due to the performance from one man. A man that this franchise is banking on as the future and as someone who will lead this team to eventual success out of the bottomless depths of obscurity.
That man is rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
Darnold shined under the national spotlight on Saturday looking the part and playing the part en route to his best game as a professional.
The Jets may have found another way to lose with late-game defensive stutters and special teams breakdowns, but one thing is certain with this team. And that is that the future looks bright at the quarterback position.
Still, it can be helpful to analyze the entire team and determine how much more growth still needs to be accomplished. With that, let’s go through each unit and see how they performed in the Jets hard-fought loss to the Texans.
The Jets offense revolved around the play of Sam Darnold on Saturday as the rookie made sure all eyes were on him from the get-go. Darnold flashed in front of the home crowd in East Rutherford showing confidence and poise as he looked the best he has so far this season.
The rookie finished the day throwing 24-of-38 for 253 yards and two touchdowns but the numbers never tell the whole story, even in spite of how good they may look. Darnold was accurate with his ball placement giving his receivers an opportunity to make a play even when they didn’t. With more accomplished offensive weapons in this game, Darnold’s numbers would likely look even better.
The USC product showed off his ability to extend plays and make throws when the scripted play had broken down on a number of occasions. Darnold’s success scrambling was on full display as well as he was able to avoid would-be tacklers with his mobility all while keeping his eyes down the field.
This was evident on the Jets first touchdown drive where Darnold scrambled away from a rush and approached the line of scrimmage only to pull back at the last moment and find Robby Anderson for the five-yard touchdown. It was a huge touchdown at a critical point in the game that could have been the catalyst for a Texans blowout had the Jets not scored.
This was also one of the highlights of a very good game from Anderson who hauled in a season-high seven catches for 96 yards and the touchdown. Anderson was asked to run more hitch and out routes to take advantage of the soft coverage and the strategy worked to perfection.
It is definitely concerning that it took the team until Week 15 to figure out more ways to get Anderson involved in the passing game and expand his route tree but at the very least it’s nice that they finally did. And to his credit, Anderson ran very crisp routes and did his part to look every bit of the complete receiver the Jets hope he could develop into.
Lastly, the offensive line did their part in keeping Darnold upright for much of the game against a stout Texans pass rush. While the rookie’s mobility likely played a factor in some of that, the unit certainly deserves some credit for giving him enough time to work from the pocket more often than not, even if the run game was mostly held in check.
The Jets did, however, suffer a potentially devastating injury when starting right tackle Brandon Shell was carted off with an apparent knee injury in the third quarter. While the extent of the injury is still unknown, it is presumed that he will be out for the remainder of the season but the real concern is over whether he will miss any time next year.
Shell has been a bright spot on an inconsistent Jets offensive line and one of the few true young building blocks for a Jets offense void of many longterm pieces. Here’s to hoping Shell will make a full recovery and return at full strength for the start of next season.
Altogether, the Jets offense played exceedingly well on Saturday as the team was led by a game Sam Darnold and a solid showing from Robby Anderson.
Final Grade: B+
Next: Defensive Grades
The Jets defense did some things right on Saturday and some things wrong but it was their failures in crunch time that continue to define the unit. The Texans were able to score on their final three offensive possessions after the Jets had done a good job containing them to that point.
After a long 15-play, 73-yard drive that took over seven minutes capped off by a two-yard Elijah McGuire touchdown run, the Jets defense took the field and proceeded to allow the Texans to retake the lead following a 75-yard touchdown drive that took under three minutes. It was backbreaking, to say the least, and emphasized a major weakness with the unit this year.
When the team really needs them to come through with a major stop, the defense tends to fold under the pressure. Be it with penalties or simply getting beat, it’s clear that the defense isn’t at their best when it matters the most.
The Jets did an awful job containing the Texans passing game with star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins running wild hauling in 10 passes for a season-high 170 yards and two touchdowns. Now, Hopkins is a special player, maybe even the best wide receiver in football, so the team should be graded on a curve.
Still, with the Jets paying Trumaine Johnson as much money as they are, it would make sense to have him shadow Hopkins for the entirety of the game, especially given how well Johnson had been playing the last few weeks. Yet, Morris Claiborne was left to get abused by the former Clemson receiver more often than not and it ultimately hurt the Jets.
Claiborne was exposed with holding penalties and blown assignments while Johnson didn’t fare too much better covering either Hopkins or fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas. All in all, it was a rough day for the Jets secondary especially given Darryl Roberts misstep on Hopkins first touchdown.
Conversely, the Jets run defense proved effective as the Texans were only able to manage 47 yards on the ground. Part of this was due to the absence of starting running back Lamar Miller who left the game early with an ankle injury, but the real story is how they were able to contain quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The Jets were able to get pressure all day coming up with a season-high six sacks making it very difficult for Watson to find much success scrambling. Defensive end Henry Anderson came away with three sacks of his own en route to a career day for the former Indianapolis lineman.
Anderson has arguably been the team’s best and most consistent defensive lineman this year (here’s looking at you Leonard Williams) and it’s safe to say the draft day trade that brought him over from the Colts for a seventh-round pick has paid off. The Jets would be wise to keep him around on the starting unit going into 2019.
Overall, the defense had its moments with their success against the run game and with their pass rush but ultimately the unit failed when the team needed them the most. Also, any defense that gives up 10 catches and 170 yards to a player can’t receive too high of a grade.
Final Grade: C+
Next: Special Teams Grades
Special Teams Grades
All throughout 2018, the Jets special teams unit has been one of the best units in the league with their consistent performance and potential for big plays at any given moment. This was, unfortunately, not the case this week as the unit came crumbling down.
Much of this was due to kicker Jason Myers who missed two extra points in moments that proved costly for the team. Myers has been one of the most reliable members of the team this year and his great season has met many with surprise given his sketchy track record.
Prior to the 2018 season, Myers had missed the most extra points out of anyone in the NFL since he entered the league back in 2015. On top of that, his field goal percentage had decreased each of the last three seasons leaving little room for optimism for the upcoming season.
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Still, Myers proved everyone wrong and put together one of the best kicking seasons in Jets history regularly nailing 50+ yard field goals and proving very consistent with his kicking. That simply was not the case on Saturday.
Perhaps it was simply an off game and Myers will return back to his normal 2018 form next week when the team takes on the Green Bay Packers. But the thought still remains in the back of fans’ minds, what if this was just Myers coming back down to Earth?
Elsewhere, the return game didn’t prove to be much of a factor as Andre Roberts was held to 93 yards on five total returns, kick, and punt. He did, however, haul in a touchdown reception, his first since 2016 as a member of the Detroit Lions.
Punter Lachlan Edwards did manage to put together a pretty solid evening punting four times for 197 yards and pinning the Texans back inside the 20-yard line twice. Edwards was the lone bright spot in a sloppy game for the Jets special teams unit.
Ultimately, Edwards solid punting performance is not enough to save the Jets special teams from a poor grade as Myers’ missed extra points constitute a subpar day from the unit.
Final Grade: D+
Next: Coaching Grades
From a decision standpoint, there was nothing particularly memorable that happened in this game. Head coach Todd Bowles wasn’t tasked with any major decisions to make nor were there any major time management blunders to speak of.
But from a gameplan standpoint, we could analyze what his defense did right and did wrong. Bowles’ defense did a good job containing Deshaun Watson, something they had struggled with in previous weeks with running quarterbacks. They also brought multiple blitz packages to make Watson uneasy in the pocket including multiple variations of the nickel blitz with cornerback Buster Skrine coming off the edge.
At the same time, it’s questionable nonetheless to trust a combination of Morris Claiborne and Trumaine Johnson to cover DeAndre Hopkins. Not only is the team paying Johnson $72.5 million to be a lockdown No. 1 cornerback, but he also has an extra three inches of height on Claiborne which could have helped against the physically-dominant Hopkins.
Even after Claiborne’s early struggles against Johnson, the team still stuck to their original gameplan and left Hopkins shadowless. This type of stubbornness has been a major flaw in Bowles time as head coach with the Jets and it came back to bite him again in this game.
Aside from Bowles, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates called himself a pretty good game allowing Sam Darnold to air it out more than in the past and utilizing receiver Robby Anderson in more ways than in previous weeks.
Still, Darnold too often found himself in third-and-long situations after failed, low-percentage plays on first and second down. That is an issue that needs to be corrected if Bates wants to have any success as a play caller in the future.
Altogether, the team played hard under Bowles for a third consecutive week and while the game planning could have been better in many areas, there weren’t any egregious mistakes to speak of.