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What’s Going On, Joe?

The Jets game plan for the season

Syndication: NorthJersey Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com

When a team has almost an entire new coaching staff then starts the season 1-4, the front office is the first place that gets the scrutiny. The GM is the guy who picked the head coach, then approved of the rest of the caching staff. So when the GM is also in charge of the entire roster, his door is the first that fans will want to be banging on to get some answers. Yet those answers never seem to come which creates animosity among diehard fans. Of course every idiot with a blog and a microphone will then revel in the misery of the Jets which angers the fans even more.

So what should the GM have done? What move would have made this team better now while also securing a future that is bright and sustainable. Since this hypothetical situation is really about Joe Douglas and the Jets let’s try to ascertain where we came from, where we are at, what was done to help the team, why we are where we are, and what the plan is going forward.

Where we came from

We will start from the time the Jets hired Joe Douglas as GM after the dismissal of Mike Maccagnan. The hiring of Joe Douglas in June of 2019 is key to understanding where the Jets are today.

The Jets had just spent $125 million in free agency plus already had a Draft class of 6 new players. With some bloated contracts leaving the Jets scant cap space Joe Douglas had little he could do as a GM to mold the Jets in his image in the beginning. The draft class was a typical Maccagnan draft with Quinnen Williams drafted #3 and Jachai Polite the next Jets pick in the third round; a player who could not make it out of his first taring camp without being cut. He is currently out of football in two years, not even on a practice squad which is sad for a 3rd round pick.

So before Joe Douglas could start building the Jets into his team he had to move players who he deemed were not going to be cornerstones of the Jets future. He got rid of bust signing Trumaine Johnson which cost the Jets $12 million in dead money. Johnson was signed by Mike Maccagnan for $72.5 million of which he played only 17 games in two years and was paid a whopping $34 million.

He also had to let go Le’Veon Bell (who many fans wanted the Jets to sign) who had signed a $52.5/4 year contract with $25 million guaranteed by the Jets. The Jets paid Bell a little over $28 million for 17 games worth of play in which he averaged 3.27 yards a carry.

Douglas tried his best but he made some mistakes like signing Ryan Kalil to an $8 million contract that he was not able to live up to.

The Kelechi Osemele injury problem showed Joe Douglas a need the Jets had. So Joe created the Sports Performance Department that ties into conditioning and nutrition. This is an all encompassing health, conditioning and medical department that can take care of all the Jets’ needs. Joe handled a problem then started a department to make sure that it never happened again.

Joe also fired Adam Gase who was the guy who recommended him for the job. The NFL stands for “Not For Long” when you are a losing coach.

Joe realized he was not going to allot a significant amount of capital on Leonard Williams so he made a smart deal with the Giants getting a 3rd and a 5th round pick in return for a player he wasn’t going to re-sign.

When it was obvious to all the Jets were going to draft a QB and move on from Sam Darnold Joe held tight until he got a 2021 6th and 2nd and 4th round picks in 2022. He traded a player who he was not going to tender at the salary he was supposed to make and got more in a trade for him than what the Falcons got in return for Julio Jones who is a possible future Hall of Fame player.

He also traded a great player who was becoming a distraction on the team in Jamal Adams. He received full value for Adams in securing two 1st round picks plus a 3rd round pick.

Joe also smartly added a nice young talent off of waivers from the Rams when he grabbed DE John Franklin-Myers.

Joe also signed a few offensive line players in an attempt to overhaul a poor performing unit. To be fair I didn’t particularly like most of the signings (Fant, McGovern, Van Roten, Lewis), but most of the contracts had 1-2 year outs where Joe could move on from the player if they didn’t work out. These were stopgap signings, and like most offensive linemen out as free agents, they are free agents for a reason. Teams always need as many quality o-Linemen they an get so a red flag should go up when a team decides they don’t want to spend the capital to resign those players.

So while Joe was building the Jets he actually did more dismantling. This is common for teams devoid of talent. You have to lose the dead wood before you can restock your team. The job was still in it’s infancy but much work was needed.

Where are we at?

After a much needed win at home the Jets are still in a relatively bad place which is to be expected for the most part. For the Jets to have a winning record at this point a lot of good fortune would have to have come their way. They would have had to stay healthy, have their offensive line gel, and the defense would have needed to carry the torch for the first part of the season. None of those things have happened. We saw some good signs of life like a 7 sack in a game against Tennessee plus the improved play of Zach Wilson in the one victory to date.

Yet that was be short lived as the Jets lost in London to Atlanta. When you have had the kind of misfortune the Jets have had so far this season it is tough to replace starters with practice squad or recently signed players. The misery will probably continue since the Jets currently have 17 players on the PUP, IR, reserve or retired lists plus more players missing time from injuries. That total is almost 36% of a team’s roster and and over 40% of a game day roster. Just to recap what type of talent we are missing from the team Joe D thought was going to be playing for the Jets this year, here are some of those players and the contributions the Jets expected from them for the entire season. Some of these players were the guys brought in to help the Jets through leadership as well as high profile playmakers; like...

Carl Lawson

Here is Carl Lawson beating Jason Peters for a sack while doing so impressively. Peters is a 9 time Pro Bowl player with 2 first team All-Pro seasons was well. When I scouted Lawson out of Auburn I thought he was a little raw with technique but had a lot of high end traits that could be refined to create a very solid edge player. He has great quickness/speed for his size, great length, uses his hands well, and can also slide down inside in passing situation to create a mismatch with an agility challenged guard.

The Jets thought Lawson was a difference maker and gave him $45 million/ 3 year contract with $30 million guaranteed. He was only 26 years old and coming into his own as a player which the Jets saw as a great opportunity. Lawson was said to be having a great camp before he went on season ending IR. He was being counted on for production and leadership on the defense. He was the player who would be a huge force on a defense with so many young players devoid of experience. His QB pressures would be vital for the group of untested CBs the Jets were going to have on the third level of the defense.

Jarred Davis

Jet fans haven’t even seen a glimpse of Davis yet since he has been on IR since before the season started. Davis signed a $5.5 million contract as a wingman to CJ Mosley. Davis is a physical player who was not used well by his former coach Matt Patricia. When I scouted Davis I found him to be super rugged and fast but not real smooth in coverage. He needs to play close to the line of scrimmage where he can make his presence felt. Here is is in college making a play I watched him make live. I stood up when I saw the play.

That is former Heisman trophy winner and current All-Pro Derrick Henry that Davis (while playing for Florida) stones in the hole and forces a fumble which Florida recovered. This is indicative of the type of play Davis is capable of making. Davis is also lauded for being a very high character player who could be of help on the field right now. I had him as a high 2nd round grade because I liked him quite a bit but thought he would struggle some in coverage. He was slightly overdrafted by the Lions who took him #20 overall in the 2017 draft.

Hamsah Nasirildeen is a good looking rookie who was filling in for Davis for a while. Nasirildeen is the antithesis of Davis as a player though as he is stronger in coverage but not near as stout against the run. He is also a rookie keen to make mistakes instead of learning in practice from a veteran like Davis. This is what happens when injuries occur. You have young, talented but raw rookies in key positions, mistakes will happen.

Nasirildeen was wisely replaced in the starting lineup by Quincy Williams, and the results were outstanding. Williams is a 3rd year pro so he has a better feel for the game than a rookie. He is still not near as stout as Davis on the interior, but his ability to diagnose then know where to go made a world of difference against Tennessee. This might have been a move to get some more beef in the lineup against a player like Derrick Henry, but the results of the afternoon may make the change permanent.

Vinny Curry

Curry was a player brought in as a rotational edge player who can add some sizzle to the pass rush playing 20-25 snaps a game. He signed a team friendly $1.3 million contract as a player in the third down pressure package. The Jets envisioned Curry on one side and Carl Lawson on the other in 3rd and long situations looking for sacks or strip sacks. Here Curry is making a monster rush from the interior of the defense against a guard.

Curry is using what is called a half-man technique where he gets most of his body to one side of the guard then powers through him before he can reset himself in a more stout anchor position. Curry is a sly veteran who has been very productive (194 tackles + 32.5 sacks) despite limited snaps. Curry was a stop gap measure who was inexpensive but could be used in passing situations plus be a valuable asset to younger players.

Lamarcus Joyner

Joyner was another player brought in to start next to Marcus Maye and bring some veteran leadership to the defensive backfield. As a diminutive player Joyner has played both safety positions as well as a slot corner. I watched him firsthand at FSU and thought he was an exceptional tackler for such a smallish safety (5’ 8 185 lbs). He is smart, tough with good instincts as he is here making a big play for the Rams.

Joyner is another of the six possible starter who are currently on the IR list. This list includes Mekhi Becton, Joyner, Davis, Lawson, Braden Mann plus Marcus Maye. This would be devastating to a veteran club but more so for a team like the Jets who are bereft of talent.

Because of this the Jets were starting two rookie linebackers who should be learning during practice instead of in games. The Jets are young and at times start 7 rookie players of the starting 22. These players are Wilson (QB), Vera-Tucker (LG), Moore (WR), Nasirildeen (LB), Sherwood (LB) Echols (CB) and Carter (CB, slot). Some of this is by design as with the CBs, but they were to be (in planning) helped by the improved pass rush of Lawson and Curry. That is now out the window. Even Ronald Blair who was brought in from the 49ers as an edge player is currently on the IR of the practice squad.

What was done to help the team?

As stated above the Jets signed four prominent free agents to help the team, but sadly they are all on the IR list. That is really bad luck, but it is what it is. The NFL is cruel so when it rains sometimes it floods. The Jets are currently experiencing a monsoon.

Some of the other free agents Joe has signed have not shown the type of cohesion you would like, especially on the offensive line. One of those players re-signed (Alex Lewis) is exempt/retired which left Joe another hole to fill in a position it is tough to find replacements. Some of the free agent players who many wanted the Jets to sign (for big $) are not having the type of year their teams thought they would. The offensive line is more dependent on cohesion rather than individual play. Technique/ability/strength help, but a line of great players who aren’t in unison is still a poor offensive line. I know PFF grades are not an end all in determining a players worth, but they can be used as a guideline to compare players from different teams.

For example:

This is the Jets fans view of Connor McGovern as a blocker.

McGovern gets completely annihilated on the block which leads to a pressure by two defenders and an INT by Zach Wilson. This is bad, but overall McGovern is ranked by PFF as the 8th best center by grades so far this year. His pass blocking grade is currently 13th while his run blocking grade is 10th. So far there are some players with horrific discrepancies between pass/run blocking so McGovern is actually better collectively than either grade is individually.

Take Corey Lindsley (who signed a 5 year/$62.5 million contract) for example. His run grade is currently 5th best in the NFL, but his pass blocking grade is 43rd. Overall Lindsley is the 13th rated center in the NFL. McGovern seems like a steal in comparison, but this is just how things go on the offensive line.

At guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is currently the 34th rated guard overall in the NFL. He does have some horrific pass blocking scores, but that can be contributed to the loss of his left tackle Mekhi Becton and working alongside George Fant who he probably has little cohesion with at this point.

What is interesting is who is around Vera-Tucker on the list. Joe Thuney (5 years/$80 million) is ranked just above Vera-Tucker at #33, and Kevin Zeitler (3 years $22.5 million) is just below Vera-Tucker at #35. These are players who many wanted the Jets to sign but are currently showing no better than a rookie. Others like Graham Glasgow (Denver) (4 years $44 million) ranked 40th, Cody Whitehair (Chicago) (5 year $51.25 million) ranks 42nd, Gabe Jackson (Seattle) (3 years $22.75 million) 43rd ranked and Andrus Peat (Saints) (5 year $57.5 million) ranks 54th.

Of course Greg Van Roten of the Jets has been horrible as many have seen and is ranked 50th out of 69 players.

The point of this is that an offensive lineman is not a buy/plug/succeed type of situation. It is unlike any other position on a football field. The offensive line must work in unison with each other, and that is especially true when using a zone blocking concept. Gaps in the line lead to penetration which is the death nail to most offensive plays. Plugging players into a power/gaps system is usually an easier fit because the line is not as dependent on each other than in a zone blocking scheme.

In order to have an outstanding offensive line you need specialized, elite athletes working together over time to develop the chemistry, to become an extension of each other along a solid front. This is developed with repetitions over time in game situations. There are no short cuts, and the only way to see who fits the mold is game play. Right now Joe Douglas figures he has two of five on the line with Becton and Vera-Tucker but even that remains to be seen. What Joe will do over the next few years is add high talented pieces to that unit until he finds the right group.

No need to add a high priced free agent until the unit is near complete. Then when you feel you are one player away from your ideal line then you can delve into free agency to add a single guy to an established line. If you have elite athletes with continuity then you can add a single player to the mix. Until then you are wasting valuable resources grasping at straws and hoping the players you bring together will meld into a cohesive unit. Adding a single player to an already unified group is a much easier task than trying to bring 2, 3 or 4 players together. This is why Joe Douglas has resisted the urge to spend freely on the offensive line.

On defense you can see Joe Douglas deferring some some of his scouting acumen to Robert Saleh since he has a keen idea of what type of players he needs for his defense. Saleh was a defensive quality control coach in Seattle in their heyday of the Legion of Boom and the 2013 Super Bowl team.

The Legion of Boom was a group of defensive backs that had a run of 4-5 years of elite play. Earl Thomas was a safety selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but the rest of the secondary was created with non premium picks. Brandon Browner was a UDFA that signed with the Denver Broncos but then was released. He then played in the CFL where he won the Grey Cup in 2008 before signing with the Seahawks in 2011. He was a 2012 Pro Bowler. Richard Sherman was a 5th round pick in 2011. Walter Thurmond was a 4th round selection in 2010, Kam Chancellor was a 5th round pick in 2010 and Byron Maxwell was a 6th round pick in 2011.

The Jets looked at traits rather than production in picking Michael Carter II in the 5th round, Jason Pinnock in the 5th round, Hamsah Nasirildeen (safety/LB) in the 6th round, and Brandon Echols in the 6th round. Basically these DBs will have a year to learn the system while the Jets do some deep self scouting of their secondary.

Why are we at where we are at?

This is a simple question to answer for a team that is in the middle of a complete overhaul. This is the transition period where established unproductive players are leaving and new players are coming in. Many of those new players won’t be staying long if they don’t show the type of tenacity or skills needed to play in the Saleh system.

Add to that 1/3rd of the team on IR, a rookie QB who has been under too much pressure, a porous offensive line that gets little push in the run game most times, and an offensive scheme that is vanilla and predictable.

With a team with 7 rookie starters the Jets were going to struggle to compete no matter what, but it is the best way to find out what you have. With the numerous draft picks Joe D has amassed you need to know right away who can play, and who needs to be replaced. It is the most arduous path to success since you have numerous losses piling up, but it is the quickest way to self scout your own team and make decisions on players. This in theory will make the rebuild quicker, but you need to bring in the right players to begin with or the task will be never ending. Joe Douglas is gambling on himself to make the right choices. If he does it could be glorious.

What is the plan going forward?

What was just written is basically the plan going forward. In time Zach Wilson will be more comfortable in the offense as well as the players. Mark my words you will hear the phrase, “I am light years ahead of myself from last year in this offense,” coming from Zach Wilson in training camp in 2022. With that knowledge and fluidity in the offense Wilson should be more sure of his reads and also a better leader on the team. When you are unsure of yourself it is tough to be a leader.

This is basically a year where Zach Wilson learns what it is to be an NFL QB, and in time he should start to improve. He should show some aptitude to decipher defenses as the year unfolds. If the offense can start to show some wrinkles that gets Wilson some open looks it will help his own confidence in his play, along with that the faith of his team behind him.

The team has shown some desire to fight even through such a awful start to the season, and Saleh should be expecting more days like they had against Tennessee rather than the rest of the season.

I know it’s hard to see progress when the Jets are hideous in some games. If more veterans get hurt it will get worse before it gets better. The thought to keep in mind is that rookies are gaining experience, and the coaching staff is compiling data on each player. The rookies should start to get better as they get some experience, and by the end of the year they will have much more knowledge than if they watched from the sideline.

If the Jets chose the right players, the effort will translate on the field into better play which should make the Jets more competitive in games coming up. So far every rookie QB has struggled, and none of those QB have an offensive line as bad as the Jets. If the Jets can make some adjustments on offense like shorter routes that get open quickly early in games then they have a chance at some more wins.

It might look bad on the field some weeks. Injuries have definitely hurt the Jets, but this is by design. As fans you just have to live through it a little longer to see the path to success. If we can have a few more games like the Tennessee game then we will know the Jets are making progress, and that is the most important thing to see right now.

That’s what I think...

What do you think?