New York Jets: What has led to the offensive line’s recent improvements?
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets’ offensive line has vastly improved over the last three weeks after a horrid start to the season. What has been the cause of their recent success?
The New York Jets have experienced an offensive revival in recent weeks led by a surging Sam Darnold and a much-improved gameplan from head coach Adam Gase. But quietly, the offensive line has been just as much a part of the team’s success.
Few could have predicted just how poorly the Jets offensive line would fare over the first half of the season. While certainly not a strength of the team in 2018, the offensive line was considered a question mark, but not a major concern heading into 2018.
After all, the Jets ranked around league average in pass protection last season with their biggest flaw coming courtesy of the line’s run blocking. But there was optimism with numerous offseason additions of former Pro Bowl-caliber players.
Unfortunately, the key word in that statement turned out to be “former.”
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The Jets traded for standout guard Kelechi Osemele and coerced center Ryan Kalil out of retirement with the hope that the duo could help cement an improved offensive line.
And yet, 12 weeks into the season and only one of the original starting five remains intact.
Osemele struggled early on before an injury dispute led to his departure from the team. And Kalil was perhaps the worst of all five starters and recently landed on injured reserve after being benched in favor of Jonotthan Harrison.
Meanwhile, starting right guard Brian Winters battled through a shoulder injury before landing on the injured reserve as well while left tackle Kelvin Beachum — the sole survivor of the starting five — has dealt with two separate sprained ankles.
And through the first half of the season, the constant shuffling and injuries clearly took its toll on the line. No team in NFL history had allowed more sacks and rushed for fewer yards through the first eight games of a season.
They were quite literally, the worst offensive line in NFL history.
But much like Darnold’s rebound and Gase’s improvements, something seemed to change. An offensive line that was once the Jets’ biggest weakness had suddenly transformed into a capable starting unit.
How has this happened?
In reality, it’s a combination of factors. But the most obvious and easiest to spot is the level of play of the team’s replacements.
Harrison has far and away outperformed Kalil. Alex Lewis — while struggling as of late — has no doubt been an improvement over Osemele. And Tom Compton has stepped in and played better than Winters had all season.
The Jets backups have outplayed their starters and they were only given a chance to start because of injuries, to begin with. However, perhaps the biggest key to the offensive line has been Beachum.
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The eight-year veteran has allowed just three pressures in his four games since returning from injury and is yet to allow a QB hit or sack. And perhaps the more telling stat, the Jets have been 4-0 during that stretch and 0-3 over the three games he missed.
After receiving the brunt of criticism earlier in the season, Beachum has become the stabilizer of a beat-up offensive line despite playing on two bum ankles.
But the offensive line’s improvements extend beyond a simple step up in performance. As with most things, much of it comes back to coaching as well.
The Jets have called plays designed to get the ball out of Darnold’s hands quickly and it’s paying dividends. Darnold has grown much more comfortable with Gase’s offense in recent weeks and it’s allowed him to make quicker decisions.
That, in turn, has also made the protection seem even more improved.
The Jets have finally been able to get into a rhythm on offense and the offensive line deserves just as much credit as Darnold and Gase do.
And as long as the starting five — whichever iteration the team is forced to start each week — keeps it up, the Jets offense will continue to flourish.