The dust has settled on Week 1 of the NFL so we can look back to see how the Jets match up with the rest of the league. With no offseason program and no preseason games there were bound to be problems.
My thoughts on the Jets compared to the rest of the NFL
Joe Douglas did a yeoman’s work this offseason on a roster that had been sinfully misaligned by the previous regime. Make no mistake. This job was made much more difficult because of the pandemic. The Jets were a team in serious need of talent, more than most teams in the NFL. The Jets needed to replace an entire offensive line and add to numerous important positions.
Add to that the impact of the pandemic on free agency which did not allow for face to face contact, working players out, quick physicals or just the ability to sit with a player to gauge his enthusiasm for joining a team that has been a doormat for years.
As for the Draft, once the Combine ended the entire live scouting of players ended shortly after that. This made for a tremendously difficult evaluation process; a process which again was vital because the Jets were in many cases looking for starters and not just backups.
By having so many new faces at starting positions it would have been tremendously difficult under normal circumstances to get every player on the same page. When OTAs and minicamps were done by Zoom calls the situation became more difficult. Just getting an offensive team lined up to call a play with all 11 players knowing what to do was a challenge. You had numerous players coming in from different teams (with different language in their playbook) along with a few rookies sprinkled in.
If you look around the NFL you see Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette and Gronk joined a Bucs team who had an offense that ranked 3rd in the NFL in 2019 scoring 28.6 points and gained 398 yards a game. Their team looked disjointed with Brady throwing an INT on a cross up in routes with Mike Evans. The Bucs scored a meaningless TD late in the game to lose 34-23 while managing only 310 yards.
The Dallas Cowboys went on the road to an empty new SoFi stadium with a new coach and a supposedly new system. Yet the defense allowed 422 yards (152 rushing yards) to lose to the Rams while scoring 3 total points in the 2nd half. This is a cautionary tale for the Jets fans who (like me) would like Adam Gase to be replaced. While Mike McCarthy stood silently on the sideline (just as Jason Garrett used to) the Cowboys offense and defense seemed to be the exact system they ran the year before. The key to replacing a coach is to find a leader with the ability to hire quality assistants who can run each side of the ball. The Cowboys were using the same language and offensive coordinator from the previous season. They were hampered by a depleted offensive line because of injury. This was the determining factor, not the new coach. Ultimately how did the new coach help, though?
Teams like the Ravens, Rams, Saints, Titans and Seahawks all won with stable systems that were unchanged from the year before along with the same players at key positions. Consistency combined with talent at vital positions was the deciding factor in many of the wins Week 1. Whereas change along with roster upheaval were the downfalls of many teams in rebuilding mode.
So what about the Jets?
1) The Offensive Line
Roster upheaval was quite apparent on a new offensive line whose players didn’t play a single snap together until the opening kickoff of game one. Against a Bills team that fields a quality defensive unit it was a predictable disaster on the offense for the Jets with Sam Darnold under constant pressure.
The offensive line situation is concerning, but it should improve over time. Each snap the line gets in real game action is a chance for the squad to gel. For an offensive line, cohesion is ultimately more important than elite talent. If you have effective players who play together it is better than elite players who are not on the same page. Look for improved line play in a few games. The San Francisco game will be a challenge again as the 49ers field a quality young defensive unit. The ghastly play of the line in the first game might be recreated in the home opener, but look for improvement in weeks to come.
It is very hard to evaluate a coaching staff after a single game, but the prior season it gives a dim view on the offensive side of the ball when combined with Week 1. The offense game plan was poor as was the play. The Jets had the ball for a pitiful 18 minutes and 42 seconds while the Bills held the ball for over 41 minutes. The Jets gained a total of 254 yards, but some of that was done when the game was out of hand.
There were some troubling aspects of Sam Darnolds play (more on that later) which points directly back the Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains. The development of Sam Darnold should be priorities #1, 2 and 3 for this organization. If Darnold cannot successfully develop into a high quality NFL QB by year’s end the Jets just might be in the QB market.
The defense has had better days as they time and again were unable to get the Buffalo offense off the field. The Bills were 7-14 on 3rd down, and if not for two gift turnovers by Josh Allen the score could have been worse. They still allowed Josh Allen (whose accuracy has been poor in the past) to complete 72% of his passes for over 300 yards. They did limit Buffalo runners (not named Josh Allen) to 41 yards on 18 carries (2.28 yards per rush) while allowing only 3 TDs on 8 red zone opportunities.
Like the offense there was a complete change of starters in the defensive secondary which is tough to do without a full training camp. It was noticed that Pierre Desir was benched for poor play. We will have to see how that situation develops. The defense also should improve with time as players get used to playing alongside one another, but allowing over 400 yards of offense and 81 plays to the Bills offensive unit is unacceptable.
Injuries happen to all teams. It is the nature of football. Yet the number of soft tissue injuries that have bitten the Jets is unnerving. Denzel Mims had a hamstring injury before another hamstring injury to the opposite leg put him on IR. Le’Veon Bell is now on IR with a hamstring injury, and Jamison Crowder was ruled out of the 49ers game with the same hamstring problem. Also listed on the injury report with hamstring injuries are Avery Williamson, Kalen Ballage and Daniel Brown. Blake Cashman has a groin injury and Jabari Zuniga has a pulled quad muscle.
I have never before advocated the replacement of a strength and conditioning coach, but the Jets may need to do so I don’t know how Justus Galac (the strength coach) stretches out the players before practice or games, but it obviously is not giving the desired effect.
4) Sam Darnold
Like I mentioned before the play of Sam Darnold is everything to the Jets this year. If Sam was to develop into a quality NFL QB, and the Jets lost every game this year; I would count that as a successful year. It is that important. Sam is under contract until next year and has a team option in 2022 which is tied to the new CBA.
The fifth year option is no longer based on draft position but the player’s performance. It will also be fully guaranteed going forward. This means if Sam does well he is in line to get a nice paycheck as a fifth year player.
The Jets need Darnold to develop and for Gase to actually coach this kid to success. That was the entire reason he was hired in the first place. Last year I spotlighted several instances that I called “teaching moments” when Darnold made some bone head decisions that needed to be corrected. That either didn’t happen, or Darnold is not learning what has been taught.
When I scouted Sam Darnold it was apparent that he has had poor coaching his entire career. He needs a instructor who understands the way a QB plays in the NFL. He needs to understand the entirety of the offense better and make quality choices. He also needs to read a defense better with greater awareness of where he is on the field.
Here is a situation that may be a small but it emphasizes the point of keeping your head in the game. This is a first and 10 situation when Darnold is flushed from the pocket.
When Sam broke the pocket to the outside he should have instinctively known he was outside the tackle box and free to throw the ball out of bounds as long as he threw it passed the line of scrimmage. Instead he took a hit he didn’t need to take and lost 5 yards on a pivotal drive that could have turned the game in the Jets favor. When he saw Tyrel Dodson coming up to hit him me should have thrown the ball away. If he got hit it may draw a penalty, and now the Jets would be across the 50 marching toward a score.
It didn’t help that the play had no short route only a RB in the flat who was completely covered because he has no ability to run an effective route. Sam had nowhere to go with the ball so when he escaped the pocket he needed to either find a receiver or dump the ball into the sideline. Yet he does the worst thing. He takes a hit and a sack which turned the second down from a second and 10 to a second and 15, a huge difference.
An NFL QB has to have all this going through his head as the play progresses. Coach Adam Gase should be showing him these things in practice and in film sessions. These are teaching points that Sam should already know. He has played enough games in the NFL and college. Something like this should be second nature to him. The fact that they are not is quite upsetting to me, and it should also be to Joe Douglas.
This next play is equally disturbing.
This play is disturbing for a number of reasons. t is a ball thrown off his back foot, fading away, a lob pass over the middle to a receiver who is 5’ 9” surrounded by defenders. There is an unwritten rule for NFL QBs to never throw the ball late over the middle, especially when you are fading away. He was outside the pocket so he could have thrown the ball away or pulled up to make the defender in front of him stop his feet which would have allowed him to just race by him for the first down.
These are horrible decisions that cannot be made by an NFL QB. I mentioned earlier that I highlight plays last year that were poor decisions to point them out to you. Here is one that Sam got away with but was still a poor choice.
It is in slow motion so you can see the play is similar (except no defender charging at him) to the play in the Buffalo game. This is a back foot, off balance lob that miraculously makes it to Robby Anderson. The point is this play was a teaching point of how not to play QB in the NFL. Either Gase didn’t make that teaching point, or it was ignored by Darnold I don’t know which is true. Either way it is a situation that needs to be addressed by the coaching staff or by Joe Douglas when he shows Gase or Gase and Darnold the door.
It is very early in the year, but Joe Douglas must keep his options open to all possibilities. If the Jets continue to lose with Trevor Lawrence almost certain to come out this year the Jets could move on from both.
A possibility (in my head alone) is the Jets will have cap space that most teams will not have with the cap assuming to drop next year. Joe could trade for Jimmy Garoppolo and his huge salary (with little dead money left for 2021 & 2022) then draft Trevor Lawrence where he could learn for a year behind his new coach. The Jets could send Darnold to San Francisco for Garoppolo and a 1st round pick. That would give the Jets a bridge QB along with two additional 1st round picks after taking Lawrence.
This last part are just subjective rantings on my part, but it would be foolish for the Jets to not start working up scenarios where the Jets look to start fresh. It is a massive leap of faith to continue with a QB who has not become significantly better in three years hoping that he will ultimately see the light.
I don’t mean to be negative this early in the season, and I look forward to a better performance at home against the 49ers. I hope for nothing but great things for the Jets and Sam Darnold. We need a spark. Hopefully it comes this week.
That is what I think.
What do you think?
And GO JETS!