Sam Darnold’s successful return provided New York Jets fans with a sense of hope they haven’t experienced in decades. However, that hope could be short-lived if the team doesn’t dramatically improve its offensive line over the offseason.
Take heart, New York Jets fans, you have successfully weathered yet another storm. And now you’re being rewarded for it.
After a soul-crushing start to the season characterized by four straight losses, a litany of injuries, and a mono-stricken quarterback, the Jets and their fans finally had something to celebrate this past Sunday.
Quarterback Sam Darnold returned and shredded the Dallas Cowboys defense, going 23-of-32 for 338 yards with two touchdowns and only one interception. As a result of his stellar play, the Jets pulled off an improbable 24-22 upset.
The Jets still sit at 1-4, and a playoff run remains unlikely. But Darnold’s return is about far more than whatever happens in 2019.
For the three games that Darnold was out, the Jets put up a pitiful 23 combined points. The team was an embarrassment, and the locker room was on the verge of fracturing. Some fans were already calling for head coach Adam Gase to be fired.
With Darnold back, all of those problems (at least temporarily) seemed fixed. He rallied the team, and the Jets fought hard on both sides of the ball on route to a big upset win.
The Jets still have plenty of injuries and issues, but as long as Darnold is on the field there is a sense that the team has a fighting chance.
As a Jets fan, this is a phrase I am terrified to use. I have waited too long, and have been disappointed too often. But I think the Jets have finally found their franchise quarterback.
Sensational win for the #Jets. Sam Darnold is the most talented quarterback they have had since Namath. Not sure what it means for this season, but the future finally looks bright.
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) October 13, 2019
If the Jets want their franchise quarterback to have a long and successful career, they need to surround him with a better supporting cast. In particular, it is paramount that they rebuild their patchwork offensive line as soon as possible.
The Jets have already allowed a whopping 25 sacks, tied for second-most in the NFL. Despite his mobility in the pocket, Darnold has been sacked six times over two games.
He is already wearing special enhanced padding in order to protect his spleen (which was enlarged as a result of mononucleosis). Going forward, the team has to do a better job protecting him.
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In the short term, Gase will continue to try to make adjustments on the offensive line. Long term, the franchise needs to completely overhaul the unit.
The current offensive line issues were a long time coming. Since 2010, the Jets have only used three total draft picks on offensive linemen. That number is tied for the lowest in the NFL.
If the Jets front office has any doubt about the importance of building a good offensive line around a franchise quarterback, they should consider what happened to the Colts and Andrew Luck. Luck took too many hits, suffered a litany of injuries, and opted to retire before he turned 30.
Historically, the Jets have not had much success finding franchise quarterbacks. Now that they’ve miraculously found one, they need to do everything in their power to avoid an Andrew Luck-esque tragedy.
Fortunately, the Jets’ new general manager Joe Douglas recognizes the importance of a stout offensive line. A former high school and college lineman, it is clear that he plans to rebuild the Jets with a focus on the trenches.
He had the following to say in a press conference at the beginning of the season.
“You have to be able to control the line of scrimmage. You have to be able to impose your will on another opponent, and do it for 60 minutes. It takes a certain level of mental and physical toughness to achieve that.”
Douglas will have a chance to really put his philosophy to the test during the NFL Draft next April. Multiple draft picks, including the first-round pick, should be used on offensive linemen. The Jets have many roster holes, but nothing else matters if the team cannot protect Darnold.
The Jets have neglected their offensive line for years. For the sake of their franchise quarterback, they cannot afford to do so any longer.