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NY Jets: The First Quarter

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No more getting nickel and dimed

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we're a quarter of the way through the season, I'd like to take a look at how the team is doing position by position. As a frame of reference, I'll be using my preseason expectations for each unit and see how they did comparatively. After week 9, I'll see how they stack up again. I'm not a talent scout and I've had limited time to watch the games, so forgive me if you don't agree completely. Some positions are fluid (H-back Quincy Enunwa will be graded with the tight ends, for example), so naturally I lumped them in wherever I felt like it. Let's get to it:

Grading Scale:

A - Top 3 unit

B - Above average to great

C - Around league average

D - Below average to poor

F - Holding the team back

Quarterbacks

Preseason Expectations: C-

First Quarter Grade: D-

After a tumultuous offseason, Geno Smith found his way to the bench without taking a single snap in a game. Honestly, my expectations for Fitzpatrick were probably too high coming into this season. I didn't expect Geno or Fitz to light the world on fire, but I thought we had a solid shot of avoiding a bottom 10 quarterback this year. Now I can't speak towards Geno, but Fitzpatrick has been a disappointment on the field. While he has done enough to not lose, Fitz is clearly holding the team back. I never thought he would be a game manager, but I didn't realize how awkward a gunslinger without arm strength would look. His weak arm and tendency to lock on to one read didn't show quite as much in preseason, but they're painfully obvious in games. Still, Geno Smith isn't exactly a top 10 (20, 25, 30?) QB in waiting, and Bryce Petty starting would be a nightmare. Through 4 games, it's clear that this will have to be a team that carries its quarterback and not the other way around. Still, I really like Fitz off the field and he seems to command respect from his teammates. Hopefully he can be our Trent Dilfer.

Running Backs

Preseason Expectations: C+

First Quarter Grade: B-

Recency bias really makes me want to give this group a high grade. Chris Ivory was simply unstoppable against the Dolphins, but the Jets runners haven't been particularly dominant in other games. Jets running backs have 457 yards in 4 games, averaging about 114 yards per game. The running game is entirely reliant on Ivory, who is averaging 5 yards per carry and over 100 yards per game. Meanwhile, Powell (who has done some nice things as a receiver, to be fair) is averaging 3.9 yards per carry while Stacy has averaged just 1.4 yards per carry and Bohannon has 2 attempts for 2 yards and no first downs. Without Ivory, the running game collapsed against the Eagles, producing only 47 rushing yards on only 16 attempts (with the highest YPA being Fitzpatrick.) Ivory is an absolute beast with the ball in his hands. When it's not (aka he is blocking or receiving), he is one of the worst backs in the league. When he's not healthy, the Jets have one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. So how does that reflect on the unit as a whole? Solid between the tackles when Ivory is healthy, but poor at everything else and miserable if Ivory goes down. Side note: I hope Bohannon's blocking keeps improving. He might even be worth a roster spot. But probably not.

Wide Receiver

Preseason Expectations: B-

First Quarter Grade: B+

While this grade may seem high to some, keep in mind how much the receivers done with so little. Fitzpatrick is hardly an elite quarterback and both starting receivers are playing with him for the first time. Brandon Marshall has caught 30 of 43 targets for 400 yards and 3 TDs. Decker has caught 14 of 19 targets for almost 200 yards and 3 TDs in 3 games. While Marshall did have a boneheaded fumble, he also had a game changing forced fumble. They have also forced 4 penalties while committing none. Meanwhile, the Jets don't have much to offer from the tight ends and running backs in terms of receiving, meaning that their receivers have to carry the load. Simply put, Marshall and Decker have been dominant. Both Kerley and Owusu were effective in limited usage, though Smith has been pretty disappointing in his limited action. This is to be expected of a rookie who misses training camp with an injury, though. If not for injuries, this group could probably have managed an A grade and I'm hoping they prove themselves worthy in the near future.

Tight Ends

Preseason Expectations: D+

First Quarter Grade: F

Jets fans had a lot of expectations for Jace Amaro coming into the season. After being stashed down on the depth chart, Bowles revealed that he wasn't going to be used as an inline tight end, but that he'd still have a large role receiving. A season-ending injury later, and the Jets best options at tight end are Jeff Cumberland and converted receiver Quincy Enunwa. And then Cumberland gets hurt. All in all, the Jets tight ends have been poor blockers and almost nonexistent in the passing game. Enunwa may be the worst receiving H-back in the NFL despite taking 86 receiving snaps against just 2 pass blocking snaps. Through 4 games, Enunwa is the only player in the NFL with fewer than 10 "catchable" targets with 3 or more drops. Meanwhile, the combination of Cumberland, Davis, and Saxton have essentially no positive impact when compared to teams with legitimate threats at tight end. Davis and Cumberland have done better than expected as blockers at time, but that's really the only positive that I can find from this group. At best, the Jets appear to have a bottom 5 TE group. At worst...well, it gets self explanatory there.

Offensive Line

Preseason Expectations: C-

First Quarter Grade: C+

I'll admit that I'm not really all that qualified to judge offensive line play. I've never personally played in the trenches and offensive line play is arguably the most difficult to judge. Coming into the season, I had very low expectations for our offensive line. Through 4 games, however, PFF hasn't credited a single lineman with a sack allowed. In fact, Fitzpatrick has only been sacked twice on the season. Still, both tackles have struggled and been beaten badly at times. Mangold has been good, but hasn't had the kind of incredible impact that he did in 2014. The guards have actually been much better than I expected, with Carpenter being an especially nice surprise. There have been too many hurries and QB hits, but honestly, the pass blocking has been a lot better than expected (though the Jets have not gone up against especially good pass rushing teams.) The run blocking hasn't been all that impressive, however, whatever the box score may say. Without Ivory running for absurd yardage after contact, the Jets running game would likely be mediocre to poor. Still, the line has been a lot better than I expected it would be just a couple months ago.

Defensive Line

Preseason Expectations: A

First Quarter Grade: B+

Immediately after the draft, the Jets had a legitimate claim to the NFL's best defensive line. Sheldon Richardson's suspension may not have ruined the Jets' D line, but it did hurt its production. The Jets' run defense dropped from 5th in yards per game to 12th. Meanwhile, the sack production decreased pretty dramatically with defensive lineman only producing 4 sacks combined through 4 games while the team is averaging fewer than 2 sacks per game (on pace for 17 fewer than last season despite a vastly improved secondary.) With all that said, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams have dominated. Wilkerson has been making a strong case for a lucrative contract, totaling 3.5 sacks, 21 tackles, and a forced fumble. Williams hasn't shown up much in the stats sheet, but he's been a disruptive force nonetheless, at times living in the offense's backfield. In fact, they've been so dominant that they rank 2 and 6 respectively on PFF's 3-4 DE list (as per usual, Watt is #1.) Damon Harrison hasn't had a great contract season, on the other hand, but he's done enough. The unit as a whole struggled against a strong Browns offensive line in week 1, but played well against 3 very poor offensive lines in the following weeks. The depth players have been solid if not spectacular, but the 2 Ws have really been in a league of their own. A lack of sack production and average run defense production drop this unit from a top 3 group to a top 5-10 one. One can only imagine that the return of Sheldon Richardson will put this unit over the top and into the A range.

Linebackers

Preseason Expectations: D+

First Quarter Grade: C

This is a tough group to grade because there has been a lot of mediocre to poor play. On the other hand, David Harris has been an absolute monster. Not only is Harris the Jets' leading tackler, he also has more sacks than the entire team combined excluding Wilkerson. And to top it off, he leads the team in forced fumbles with 2 in just 4 games. Harris has been the biggest surprise of the season and is making a great case for an All Pro mention. Meanwhile, fellow inside linebacker Demario Davis has been hard to watch at times. Davis has been burned badly in coverage and has repeatedly making costly mistakes, earning the only Anti-Game Ball of the year. Outside linebackers have been more or less invisible, while Coples has seen his snaps diminish. There's been some pressure, but outside linebackers have contributed exactly 1 total sack (a coverage sack by Trevor Reilly.) The pass rush has mostly leaned on the defensive line while the linebackers have been victimized in coverage. All in all, it hasn't been pretty. But Harris' incredible resurgence buoys this unit into mediocrity.

Cornerbacks

Preseason Expectations: A-

First Quarter Grade: A

The Jets' defense as a whole has been simply smothering. A large part of this is due to the secondary, which was more or less entirely purchased in free agency. While the corners have certainly made mistakes, the Jets are leading the NFL in points allowed per game by a ridiculous 3.4 points. The most points given up in a single game came at the hands of the Eagles, who scored only 17 points on offense. The Jets lead the NFL in passer rating of opposing QBs, rank 1st in completion percentage allowed, 2nd in yards allowed (behind by 1 yard in 4 games), and 3rd in interceptions. Revis is playing at an All Pro level and Skrine has shown why Maccagnan gave him such a large contract. Cromartie has struggled at times, but the unit as a whole is easily a top 3 group, if not the best in football right now. Marcus Williams has also been extremely impressive in limited snaps, recording 2 clutch interceptions despite his minimal playing time. Revis may not be 2009 Revis and Cromartie may get beat badly now and then, but the Jets CBs have smothered opponents and earned a near perfect rating.

Safeties

Preseason Expectations: D+

First Quarter Grade: B-

The position group that has impressed me the most as a whole is definitely the safeties. I came into the season expecting nothing from Pryor and very little from Gilchrist. Yet the safeties have actually played well above projections through 4 games. While Calvin Pryor has blown the occasional assignment, he also had a gamechanging forced fumble in which he demolished Josh McCown in week 1. Pryor is also third on the team in tackles and has shown a lot more than most fans could reasonably have expected of him. Gilchrist worried me in preseason, but he's made a few nice plays here and there and hasn't given up a lot over the top. Both starters have recorded an interception and rank top 5 on the team in tackles. The backups haven't seen all that much action, and that's a good thing. Midseason addition Dion Bailey deserves a shoutout for his impressive play in game 4 under trying circumstances, though.

Kickers

Preseason Expectations: B

First Quarter Grade: C

I'm not going to talk about kickers all that much, but the units haven't been great. Quigley has done a decent job with distance and hang time, but he's been outkicking the awful punt coverage and his drop in net yardage represents that. Nick Folk has been disappointing thus far, having missed 2 of his 8 attempts already. The Jets aren't dealing with missed extra points and game losing missed field goals, but the kicking hasn't lived up to last season either. Overall, the unit is pretty meh.

Special Teams

Preseason Expectations: C+

First Quarter Grade: D-

I'll keep this brief; the special teams groups have been very bad. Offensively, the Jets are 27th in kickoff return average and 15th in punt return average (tied for 7th in fair catches, however.) On defense, the Jets are second to last in average punt return yardage and have already given up a touchdown in which half the team missed a tackle on Darren Sproles. The coverage teams have been terrible and the Jets are so desperate for a kickoff returner that Zac Stacy has been returning kicks. Kerley has shown a lot more life as a punt returner than in the past, but no one is afraid when he's waiting on the ball. I'm not the kind of person who puts huge emphasis on special teams, but when your special teams units are hurting so badly, the entire team is going to suffer for it. The Jets have given up 442 yards and 7 points to kicks and returns while the defense has given up 1121 yards and 55 points despite a bevy of turnovers. If the special teams units were improved upon, the Jets defense might be the unquestioned #1 defense in the NFL right now.

Summary

The sum of the parts has been enough to produce a 3-1 record and #6 rating in net points. The team has looked playoff caliber thus far, though it's important to remember that their opponents have all struggled mightily thus far. Only the Colts have more than 1 win, and they've only beaten the teams in their division (who are all terrible) and by tiny margins. Not a single team beaten by the Jets has a positive net points margin, with the Eagles being the closest while sitting at 1-3 (-8.) The QB position is a glaring weakness and injuries at RB and WR could cripple the team. But with all that pessimism out of the way, this is easily the best start to a season that the Jets have had since 2010. The Jets defense has allowed 48 points in 4 games (excluding the punt return), which averages fewer than 2 points per game more than the all time NFL record setting 2000 Baltimore defense. The Jets are 15th in yards per game and 16th in points per game on offense, numbers that seem unstoppable when compared to recent years. If the Jets can continue to play at this level, this is a playoff team without question. Add Sheldon Richardson to the mix, and fans have a lot to be excited about this year.