As is usually the case with the head coach of a team that is not winning, Todd Bowles has received his fair share of criticism as the Jets have slipped to a 10-22 record over the past two seasons - fourth worst in the NFL.
Bowles is far from a perfect coach, but I support a lot of the things he has done since taking over and think he deserves a chance to prove what he can build over the long term with legitimate talent on his roster. I decided to combat the doubters and compile a list of positive developments that occurred under Bowles in 2017.
Of course, we never know who is truly most worthy of attribution when discussing these matters, but Bowles is the head honcho after all. He deserves at least some ascription for everything that occurs on the field. Here are some of my favorite positive developments under Bowles in the 2017 season.
- Fast starts. In the first half of games last year, the Jets ranked 19th in scoring and 16th in scoring defense. This was a major improvement over the previous season, in which the Jets ranked 28th in scoring and 30th in scoring defense in the first half.
He must have the Jets finish better, though. The team fell to 25th in scoring and 31st in scoring defense in the second half.
- Competing against quality opponents. The Jets won three games against playoff teams last year in the Bills, Chiefs, and Jaguars. They were also very close to beating the Patriots, Panthers, and Falcons - while adding a surprisingly competitive road bout against the Saints in New Orleans under the incompetent Bryce Petty. The Jets laid a lot of eggs on the road - another consistent issue under Bowles, but they found themselves playing up to the competition quite often last season.
- Robby Anderson. The undrafted free agent made himself a borderline top-ten receiver last year after a pedestrian rookie year. Anderson was on pace for 1,094 yards and averaged 9.6 yards per target in games started by Josh McCown - both numbers would be top ten at the wide receiver position in 2017 if averaged over the full season.
- The decency of the cornerback position. The Jets’ top corners were not as awful as they could’ve been last year. Morris Claiborne was very strong prior to his injury. Buster Skrine bounced back and had a handful of very good games, at times surviving and playing well when asked to play outside. Darryl Roberts was decent when thrown into action.
Outside of the haplessness of reserves like Juston Burris, Rashard Robinson, and Marcus Williams, the Jets’ biggest struggles in coverage came at the hands of Jamal Adams, Darron Lee, and at times, Marcus Maye. All three are still early in their careers and have flashed high potential, and one of Bowles’ biggest tasks will be getting that young defensive core to continue trending upward towards becoming consistently solid in coverage and tightening up with their backs against the wall. Those three combined to allow 12 touchdowns last year.
The Jets ranked decently against the pass, ranking 17th in yards per attempt allowed and 19th in passer rating allowed - all with little edge rush. With another year of experience for the aforementioned three Jets draft picks, and the addition of Trumaine Johnson, the Jets are well positioned to make that 7-10+ spot leap towards a potential top-ten pass defense. Bowles can silence a lot of doubtors if he can lead this unit on a huge upward jump next year.
- Being fair between veterans and young players. When a team doesn’t figure to compete, many fans clamor for teams to just toss veterans aside and throw in as many young players as possible. However, that is a fantastic way to crush team morale and split the roster as you anger players who feel they aren’t getting a fair chance. You have to be fair and play the players who prove they deserve to play regardless of how they were acquired.
Bowles gave Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg every chance to prove themselves last year. Josh McCown played one preseason series. Neither young passer proved they deserved the starting job, and Bowles played the quarterback who proved he did. That turned out to be the right choice, as under McCown, the Jets were highly competitive and began forging the positive, high-morale culture they sport today. That wouldn’t happen if Bowles just threw Hackenberg out there “to see what he’s got.”
- Many veterans turned their careers around last year. Josh McCown. Jermaine Kearse. Kelvin Beachum. Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Demario Davis. The previously discussed Claiborne. All of these players made themselves a lot of money and changed a lot of minds with what they did in their first years (or in Davis’ case, his return) playing under Bowles. This was also true for many players on the team back in 2015.
- Bouncing off of the last bullet, young players still got their shot. The team selected rookie safeties in the first two rounds and started both of them all year. Darryl Roberts and Juston Burris got a lot of burn at cornerback - unfortunately Burris struggled mightily. Brandon Shell started all season when healthy at right tackle. Elijah McGuire saw over 100 touches as a Day 3 pick.
- Overcoming bad quarterback play. Bowles entered 2015 with his starting quarterback literally knocked out and replaced by a journeyman who had never won more than 6 games in a season and sported a career win percentage of .376. Under Bowles, Fitzpatrick destroyed career highs across the board and won 10 games.
The following season, Fitzpatrick had a free fall about as large as imaginably possible. He put up only 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and a 69.6 quarterback rating. Relative to league average, Fitz’ 2016 passer rating ranked 679th of 682 non-rookie seasons all-time with at least 400 passing attempts. He was replaced by Bryce Petty, who managed to play even worse.
In 2017, Bowles was forced to turn to Josh McCown after the Jets’ young quarterbacks failed to show up. McCown had never won more than 6 games in a season and had 7 wins total over the past 8 years, with a career win percentage of .300. Like Fitzpatrick, McCown also had a no-doubt career year under Bowles. McCown was doing things as a Jet he was never remotely capable of before. He threw a league-high 10 deep right touchdowns last year - he had six in the previous 15 years combined.
This is not to make an excuse for Bowles, but the bottom line is that he could not have been dealt a worse hand at the game’s most important position, yet he still had the Jets on the brink of the playoffs in one year and vastly ahead of schedule in another. It’s hard to judge a coach dealing with such ineptitude under center. How many coaches would have accrued more than Bowles’ 20 wins in the same situation?
- The culture. The mood around this team is different. It’s dissimilar to the unbridled cockiness of the Rex Ryan days. It’s a disciplined, motivated confidence, forged from a core that includes a healthy blend of alphas (Jamal Adams, Darron Lee), quiet self-motivated competitors (Robby Anderson, Marcus Maye), leaders by example (Sam Darnold, Leonard Williams), and veterans (Josh McCown, Steve McLendon, Jermaine Kearse). It’s a product of a few years of cutting ties with big egos and quickly taking care of bad situations. Bowles took a team that was a circus and has drowned out the off-field drama drastically. You would think that this team has been more successful given the positivity that they gleam every day. It’s a culture that breeds success and is attractive to prospective players and coaches - and it’s all a product of the demeanor Bowles has brought to the table.
Do you approve of the job Todd Bowles has done so far?
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