The embarrassing and humbling loss to the Cleveland Browns has left Jets fans befuddled andsearching for answers.I will try and suggest some solutions that could help the Jets in the future. I will also bring to light some troubling philosophical aspects of this team and the brain trust as a whole.
Some things to keep in mind...
Sam Darnold is 21 years old and played the third game of his career on a national stage on Thursday night. This is the same Sam Darnold who won his first professional game and followed that up by becoming the youngest QB to throw for over 300 yards in NFL history.
Many are wondering why he didn’t play better in his 3rd game compared to his 1st; he should be getting better shouldn’t he? The answer to that is the Jets had all off season to prepare for the Lions and then play the Dolphins 6 days later then 4 days later to play the Browns. That is 3 games in 11 days, he had little time to prepare (less for each game), he looked unsure and hesitant. He is a rookie who has never seen an NFL defense or the speed of the pro game; he should look unsure and hesitant.
He is also 21 years old, trying to lead a team, while learning a whole new offense and attempting to read NFL defenses on the fly. When I was 21 I was partying like a rock star, trying to learn the lyrics to Burnin’ for You by Blue Oyster Cult and reading Don Quixote by Cervantes; I didn’t finish the 3rd chapter. Lets give the kid a break, his brain is like a natatory octopus moving in 8 different directions. He’s a smart kid, and he will figure it out.
With that said...
Jeremy Bates must do a much better job as an offensive coordinator. The Lions game was an aberration because the Lions had no idea what kind of offense the Jets would run. The Jets have been playing against Matt Patricia defenses since 2009 and know his tendencies. Darnold still looked unsure of himself in the Detroit game. I brushed this off as first game nerves, but he seems to be getting more unsettled. His feet never stop. He takes tiny choppy steps when he sets to throw. This is a bad habit and needs to be worked on in practice immediately.
Darnold being fidgety shows he is thinking too much and not just calmly going through his progressions. He needs to relax and play more instinctively with less indecisiveness. He is trying not to make a mistake and execute the perfect play every time he throws the ball.
This is like when you played baseball as a kid. If you are afraid the ball is going to hit you when you are at bat or in the field, you will never be consistent as a hitter or fielder. When you accept the fact that you will get hit occasionally, you just play better.
How can Bates reverse this and make the offense better at the same time?
First I would script the first 15 plays and practice them ad nauseam until Darnold can see them in his sleep. This will keep him from thinking too much and give him confidence in the play. Make his first throw something easy, a rub route or slant that is going to be wide open and easy to hit.
When Joe Montana played for Bill Walsh, Walsh always wanted the first throw Montana made an easy one, a simple slant to John Taylor or a swing pass to Roger Craig. Walsh always wanted the QB to start off on a good footing. This was true even after Montana had won Super Bowls.
Bates can also institute a rhythm passing game, not as a staple but in certain situations. This way Darnold can take a snap from center, take a five step drop, stick his back foot in the ground and throw the ball (with authority) to an area on the field, knowing the receiver is there to make a play. It is fast, efficient, and very difficult for a defense to stop.
Again this was a Bill Walsh staple, and the Jets do run a version of the West Coast system he invented. I remember Steve Young didn’t believe it would work, and Walsh assured him that if he took the proper steps on his drops and threw the ball on time. Steve Young is also in the Hall of Fame and credits this version of the West Coast system as a key component to his ascent to Canton.
Bates also needs to design his play calling and offensive alignments to augment other parts of his scheme. An example of this is when the Jets run “10” personnel (1 RB and 4wr’s) with three receivers to one side and then throw that Enunwa bubble screen. That works very well. The next time he runs the same alignment he should fake the screen and throw the ball to the single receiver side or the running back out of the backfield. This keeps the defense honest and keeps the offense from being too predictable. It is also how you can script a big play from similar alignments.
I do like the fact that Bates uses the two running backs, Powell and Crowell, as interchangeable pieces. Both can run and both can catch the ball and make a big play out of it. By using both in the same fashion, the defense has no idea what play is called by the personnel on the field. It also keeps both players fresh and hungry. This should also be a larger part of the offensive scheme along with screen passes. Plays like these can be big plays but are also chain movers that keep drives going, they are also easy throws that give your quarterback confidence and players around him confidence in the rookie. They also make the defense compact toward the line of scrimmage and open up big plays downfield.
Defensively the Jets have played great, OK, and horrible for stretches in each game. I love the pressure the defense is getting on the quarterback early in games and the way it gets teams off the field after third down. Yet once it seems the Jets are in control theytend to coast and allow a big play, which gives the other team hope. The Jets seem to ebb when they should be steamrolling the other team. This team needs a killer instinct. That should come from the players, but be supplemented by the coach in his play calling. The pass coverage also seems to get worse as the game goes on. If you are playing man coverage as a professional, the coverage should be as great in the first minute as the last. The defensive backs as a unit need to be better and smarter. For God’s sake DON’T HOLD A RECEIVER. This has to be taught in practice. and I don’t care if you have to practice with boxing gloves on. I as a defensive Coordinator would not stand for any holding, period.
If Jamal Adam, who I really like, wants to be a great player he should work diligently on being a great player and stop thinking he already is. He has played OK so far this year, which a far cry from a Pro Bowl player he expects to be. This is not LSU or the SEC, this is the NFL. He must learn if he wants to be a great player (which I want him to be) he must elevate his game immensely to do so. If he plays around the line of scrimmage, he must make plays and occasionally game changing plays. He has talent but has too high an image of himself. It is best to think of yourself as average and strive for improvement, rather than think you are great when you are only mediocre.
There are some troubling philosophical issues with this team that should be addressed.
Mike Maccagnan’s inability after all these years to build an offensive line.
This is as simple as it gets. He either won’t (or worse he doesn’t) believe in using high draft picks on offensive linemen. I know Bill Parcells believed the same thing, but that was 30 years ago when Draft testing was poor at best. Offensive linemen (great ones) are getting harder and harder to find. If I was an NFL GM I would always make the offensive line a huge priority and draft one every year. they are like great defensive backs. They are indispensable. and you can never have enough. Injuries along the offensive line are so very prevalent that numerous players can be sidelined on game day. The team from Washington had an elite offensive line last year that was reduced to players coming in off the street to play because of injuries. If you should ever have too many, which will never happen, you could trade them for a great return.
I am also against signing high priced free agents from other teams (for the most part).
Maccagnan likes to spend money in free agency like a drunken Eagle owner at the blackjack table. This is something I really don’t believe in except in two distinct instances; and I will tell you why shortly. First I would sign a transcendent talent (like a Khalil Mack) in a heartbeat. Players like this are hard to find but they elevate the entire team, give leadership and make game changing plays. Second I would sign a great player (like a Larry Fitzgerald) with exemplary character who leads by example as well as on the field.
Mostly, I would like to draft well and sign those players to the big contracts. I think a great GM is one who develops his own talent and keeps them on the team. This builds a sustainable future while showing players on the team that they can be paid well for great performance and win with one organization. I think that type of philosophy builds teams and makes players want stay with that organization.
I really don’t like signing players from other organizations to big contracts because...
1). These players have not played in your system, and you are just guessing they can play well for you. Other teams can play the same system, but every team has a nuance or two distinct to themselves. Plus they play with other players who are used to them and know where they will be in certain situations. This chemistry takes years of development and does not transfer to the new team. Also you never know how players’ egos from different teams will react with players you currently have. Players are not interchangeable robots.
2). Players who are veterans and make big paydays from other teams have a sense of omnipotence when they get to the new team. It is just human nature when someone you don’t really know wants to pay you millions of dollars with much of it guaranteed. If the coach is mad at you, how does he discipline you? If you sit, you make money for nothing. He can’t cut you so he is stuck with you. If you re-sign your own players, there isless of a chance with this happening unless your name is Muhammad Wilkerson.
3). If the player was so good, why would his original team have let him walk in free agency? Every year there are lists of great players projected as possible free agents, and before the period begins almost all the best players get re-signed. If a team has a great player who they can’t sign because of salary cap reasons, they could trade him for picks instead of possible compensatory picks.
I also don’t like the way Maccagnan treated other Jet players like D’ Brickashaw Ferguson and dispensed them with little fanfare. The team still hasn’t replaced him. I think teams should honor their longtime players (Brick played ten years and missed one snap) and players who were loyal to the organization. Otherwise, you are basically spending a lot of money on players you barely know and deprecating players who have been key components to your franchise. I will never forgive Maccagnan for his treatment of Ferguson.
This falls right into coach Bowles’ lap and also Maccagnan for not instructing his coach on proper discipline protocols. I have no problem with stoic coaches and in fact I prefer them over a court jester like Rex Ryan. It is a problem is when it is third down, the pass is incomplete, and one of your high priced free agents does a selfish taunting thing like stick the ball in his opponent’s chest. You have to do something. Then when he makes another personal foul penalty on a bonehead play, you have to act. Bowles did nothing. A great team motivating tool is when a stoic coach erupts and gets in the face of a player. Everyone notices. and they naturally step up their game so as not to be the next guy called out.
Therein lies the problem with high priced free agents. You can’t cut him, and he plays like garbage (not covering anyone). He helps cost you the game. You need to sit his butt on the bench so everyone can see he is being punished, and you get the defensive backs coach to sit next to him and scream in his ear. No player wants that. It’s a motivator. When players see a high priced free agent getting his butt chewed out. they seem to straighten up and fly right. That would be better than Bowles just letting him continue to play as if nothing happened.
This is also a player you signed as a team leader (for that money he better be). and he is actually hurting the team with his selfishness and utter laissez-faire approach. He is also usurping the coach’s authority by being above discipline. You know the other players see this and remember it.
Veteran players who are well paid are the players who control the locker room. You can’t make players walk the straight and narrow line when the players they believe to be team leaders don’t walk it with them. Therein lies a huge problem with high priced free agents. Team leaders should take care of these problems internally, but it can’t be done if YOU (the team leader) are the problem. This is an occasion where the coach has to step in and lay the hammer down and not just stand there with a rye smile, watching the team throw a game away.
Bill Parcells was a master at understanding players and discipline. When he felt the team was getting a little lackadaisical in their attention to detail he would just scream at Phil Simms all practice like he could do nothing right/ Phil Simms was a Super Bowl MVP and other players would think, “If he treated a Super Bowl MVP like that then I better be perfect in my practice. or he might just cut me”. The players always prepared better after that. and it carried over to the next game day.
On the management team
All the Jets need is the right guy to bring in talent and a coach who can relate to the players and make them accountable for the BS they do. New England used to have a pack of veterans who would patrol the locker room and police the team/ It seemed to work.
Discipline is something that good teams have and bad teams don’t.
So how can we fix this? Well the honest answer is we really can’t. We have a 21 year old quarterback. He is going to look good at times, but he is also going to struggle and make mistakes. Can we make it better? Sure, but you have to curb your expectations a little. The next game is against Jacksonville and the offensive line might get destroyed. But I will go out on a limb right now and say Sam will look better in that game given the fact he has 10 days to prepare for it. I am sure the last 11 days have been a total whirlwind for him, and now that he gets a chance to catch his breath and relax (if only for a moment) It will do wonders for him.
Our only joy now is to watch him grow and become a great player and hopefully become a champion and a future Hall of Famer. Then you will be able to recall watching his development with glee and remembering how great it was to witness the transformation into greatness. I’m not saying this will happen, but it can happen.
I wish I could tell you that everything was going to be rosy and beautiful. but I can’t. I even wrote a Fan Post (long before the season) about how we should not worry about our team’s record this year and trade all our non building block players for draft picks. We don’t have a championship caliber team right now, and a championship is all I am looking for. Making the Playoffs is fool’s gold and only puts more money into the owner’s pockets. I want the Jets to win a championship and build our way to it. Look at Jacksonville,the Rams or the Eagles who were all garbage a few years ago.
The Jets can be the next team to make the big leap into relevance in a year or two. It will take shrewd team building with the right leadership. I don’t know whether we have those people now to do that, but it does remind me of a famous Thomas Jefferson quote/
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
Thomas Jefferson was a really smart dude.