This game exposed so many systematic problems with this team that I am going to forego the normal recap where I divide individual performances into “The Good” and “The Bad.” I think this game requires a bigger discussion of the structural issues we saw.
A deficit of talent
I think there are issues with the coaching on this team, and we will get to them later in this recap. I think any honest assessment of this game, however, must acknowledge that today’s result was based on the talent gap between the two teams.
The Jets aren’t even close in talent to the Jaguars. That was particularly true when the New York offense took the field against the Jacksonville defense. The Jaguars might have the most talented defense in the NFL. The Jets have only a handful of players who would see regular playing time if they played for one of the league’s top offensive units.
When the schedule came out, any reasonable observer would have penciled this game in as a loss. Sure, anything can happen. That’s why they play the games. But this was not a game anybody could have expected the Jets to win purely based on talent.
That was the primary reason the Jets lost this game.
It’s one thing for an untalented Jets offense with a rookie quarterback to look hopeless against a fearsome Jacksonville defense.
Far more troublesome is how inept the Jets pass defense looked. At one point in this game, the FOX announcers noted that Blake Bortles was red hot, completing 15 of his first 16 passes. I did a double take. I struggled to come up with a difficult tight window throw he made.
On his completions, it seemed like there was seldom a Jets defender within the same zip code of one of his receivers. Until we get the all 22 film, it will be impossible to fully diagnose the problems, but the replay angles showed zone defenders not getting enough depth, not communicating, and outright busting their assignments.
This team has made enormous investments on the defensive side of the ball. The Jets have allocated the second most cap space in the league to the cornerback position and two recent early Draft picks. It isn’t just that this defense is supposed to be based on its ability to cover. Things just aren’t going to work for this team unless the defense plays great football. There isn’t enough talent on offense to play the game in catch up mode. The team’s offensive line struggles enough when the Jets don’t have to telegraph the pass and allow the opposition’s pass rushers to pin back their ears and get up field.
You can point to turnovers all you want, but they lose much of their relevance when the Jets are already hopelessly behind in the game. This defense can’t allow the opposition to score on all of its first half possessions. Few teams are going to win games when their defense stakes the opponent to a 16-0 lead. That goes double for a team like the Jets which is supposed to be built on a stout defense.
The Jets are supposed to be built on their coverage, but this team cannot seem to execute basic coverages right now. This didn’t start against the Jaguars either. There were frequent busts last week in Cleveland. The Browns would have put up over 30 points had Tyrod Taylor not thrown wildly inaccurately to wide open receivers. The Jets also had a coverage bust on a critical third down play against Miami two weeks ago.
If this team covers like this, it’s going to be a rough season.
Discussion of any young quarterback’s struggles frequently becomes a false battle of themes that are not mutually exclusive.
There’s no way around the fact this was a second consecutive ghastly performance by Sam Darnold. He completed half of his attempts and averaged under 5 yards per attempts. I counted four open deep receivers he missed. Based on the quality of his decision-making and throws, he easily could have had 5 interceptions. It is frankly a miracle that he ended the game with zero.
Somebody looking at this from a glass half full perspective would probably note that overcoming this type of adversity can make Darnold stronger. Almost every quarterback, no matter how great, has at least one rough stretch in his career where it feels like he can’t do much right. For some of them, it comes years into their career. Others experience it early.
There was a school of thought that the Jets should keep Darnold on the bench early because of how daunting the schedule looked. I was skeptical of the idea for the reason I mentioned above. You can’t protect a quarterback from adversity for his entire career. In many ways the difference between the guys who make it from those who don’t is their ability to cope with and overcome adversity. If failure in his first four games destroys Sam Darnold mentally for the rest of his career, I have news for you. He was never going to make it anyway.
One debate will rage on. Does Sam Darnold need to play better, or have the Jets failed to adequately support him? That brings us back to the false battle of themes that aren’t mutually exclusive. It is not an either/or proposition. Both are true.
The Jets can’t win with Darnold sailing deep throws and making bad decisions. With that said, it is pretty clear that the Jets have put too much of the playmaking load on a 21 year old rookie. I counted four successful passing plays that were the result of Darnold doing something special. Maybe you can expect a few more of them out of a rookie, but you can’t have your entire offense’s success based on the rookie making special plays all game long.
Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa are the only semi-consistent playmakers who can make plays for this team on offense that don’t require Darnold to navigate a crumbling pocket, scan the field, and throw an accurate tight window pass.
And schematically I haven’t seen many designs that give Darnold an easy path to a chunk of yards within a play. Nor have I seen much of an attempt to create favorable mismatches to the limited extent the Jets can since Week 1.
Are people being fair when they say coaching is the biggest problem on this team? I don’t think so.
Did Todd Bowles cost the Jets the game when he kicked a field goal down 22 in the fourth quarter or punted with around 5:00 left down 13? No, the game was long lost at those points.
Are these decisions major marks against Bowles? You bet they are. These decisions might not have been the difference between victory and defeat in this game, but in future tight games Bowles will have to make similar decisions that will carry great importance.
In neglecting to go for it on those two fourth down plays, Bowles reduced whatever slim chance his team had of a miracle that could have been sparked by a touchdown. The numbers show that the correct play is generally to be aggressive on fourth down. Down multiple scores in the fourth quarter, it should be a no brainer. Bowles’ decisions showed that he either is unaware of the best practices of game management or simply doesn’t care about them. It also shows a lack of growth since he made similarly poor choices during losses in each of the last two seasons.
The team’s tendency to take undisciplined and boneheaded penalties also continued. Quincy Enunwa took a delay of game after spiking a football after the catch with the Jets trailing by 22 points. Yes, the player is at blame, but at some point it reflects on the coaching when the team keeps committing such stupid penalties.
One talking point I am expecting to hear incessantly with Darnold struggling is that the Jets made a mistake trading Teddy Bridgewater. It has gotten to the point where part of me wishes the Jets hadn’t traded Bridgewater just so people would see the extent to which he would struggle within such a shabby infrastructure.
These seems to be a disconnect between the point where Bridgewater actually is in his career versus the point some people believe Bridgewater is in his career.
Teddy Bridgewater, like Sam Darnold, is a player with some impressive tools who might one day become a franchise quarterback. He is not currently an elite franchise quarterback in the mold of Aaron Rodgers.
The last time he started a full season, he was at the helm of a Vikings offense that had almost all of the same structural problems the Jets have right now. There was one difference. He was bolstered by the last great Adrian Peterson season. Bridgewater’s efficiency numbers were middling. If you think Bridgewater would be more productive with many of the same problems, no Peterson, and two years of rust to shake off, we will need to agree to disagree.
Lest you blame Todd Bowles for all of the Jets’ problems...
...just consider that Mike Maccagnan’s two biggest free agent additions this year were supposed to stabilize important units on the team. They were Trumaine Johnson and Spencer Long. Not only are the cornerbacks and offensive line struggling, Johnson and Long are playing poor football, well below the value they are being paid.
The Jets can at least escape Long’s deal easily after the season if things don’t turn around. The Jets are stuck with Johnson for the a bare minimum of two years and even then would experience a lot of salary cap pain from exiting that deal early.
By the way...Powell and Enunwa...those two semi-consistent playmakers the Jets have...both brought to the Jets before Mike Maccagnan arrived.