Losing Effort

Losing Effort

Whoo, boy, the Jets just love disappointing their fans, don't they? This is a team that entered this game with a point spread of +10.5, even with them playing a division rival with a losing record at kickoff. That's how bad the talent on this team is, especially with all of the injuries they have suffered that have required more practice squad players to be elevated to the Jets' active roster. Yet, the Jets essentially dominated the first half, earning their first two-score lead of the season in the first quarter and going into the half with a seven-point lead and the first possession out of the half.

They didn't score another point on offense. They gained only three first downs and 52 total yards in the second half. Their defense allowed RB Duke Johnson- who was active for only his second game of the season today (his other game active was against the Jets in November)- to gain over 100 yards on the ground for the first time in his entire career, and he's been in the league since 2015. The Jets skill position players who are under contract for 2022 combined (including Ryan Griffin who had 39 yards, and most Jets fans want him off the team next year) for 90 of the team's 228 offensive yards against an average NFL defense.

There are so few redeeming qualities about this team that it's embarrassing to watch them. Much like the Jets offense, I missed most of the third quarter while I was out doing something at halftime. I did essentially nothing with my time away from watching the Jets game and found it infinitely more rewarding than watching the trash this team graced us with in the fourth quarter. It takes a truly special effort to be so thoroughly non-competitive in the second half and still keep the final score to within a touchdown. This doesn't fit my criteria for a blowout loss, but I still can't feel good about this team after watching them "play" against a team that just a month ago was considered to be nearly as bad as the Jets.

I'm not going to pretend that there was nothing to this game; QB Zach Wilson had the best first-half performance of his career (not that there was stiff competition for that honor, with only the first half against the Eagles being anything above mediocre). He was more accurate in this game when going for the easier throws, and had a super-accurate quick slant to Keelan Cole in the first half that Cole unfortunately could not catch for a big first down (which, if he converts, maybe the Dolphins don't score after the quick three and out). OC Mike LaFleur called up a highlight lateral play on 3rd and 15 in the Jets' two minute drill that was as bold as it was effective, converting the first down and extending the drive (for essentially one play). And Ryan Griffin continues to impress me, continuing to make me think that the Jets should not just cut him outright at the end of the season because they need to save the cap space.

Most importantly, Wilson was fine in this game. He wasn't good beyond the first half, but he was fine for a whole game's effort. If this effort was more reflective of his season performance, there likely wouldn't be as much chatter about him being overwhelmed by the awful team in his first year. I'd like to see him be a little better against the Jaguars next week, but if this were his baseline, I'd still be fine with it.

But I really can't come up with many positives beyond this. Wilson was bad in the second half, but his offensive line gave him no protection coming out of the half, so it's not like I can blame him for it. Not having George Fant at LT was a killer for this team's offense, as fourth-string LT (after Becton, Fant and even Edoga) Conor McDermott is not at all pro-ready despite being in the league for five years and being on this team for three years (he was a midseason waiver claim in 2019 from the Bills, after he was a preseason waiver claim from the Patriots in 2017 after they traded up to draft him in the sixth round). Look, he's better than nothing, so I'm not going to jump on Joe Douglas for having him on the roster as a fourth-string LT.

But it is time to talk about the bad performance of rookie LG Alijah Vera-Tucker, who Douglas traded up to acquire in the first round this year. His run-blocking has been mostly fine this year, but his pass-blocking has been bad, flat out bad. It's confusing because he looked like he was turning a corner as a pass-blocker after the bye week, looking like he could actually put together a rookie Pro Bowl case. Since Zach Wilson came back from injury, however, AVT has been arguably the worst pass-blocker on the OL, even worse than much-maligned Greg Van Roten (who has gone to the bench in favor of trade deadline acquisition Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff). You'd think he was intentionally trying to get Zach Wilson hurt again with how awful he had been as a pass-blocker.

Edit: PFF actually says he was the best pass-blocker on the team in this game. I guess it looked a lot worse than it was because he was playing next to McDermott, but I stand by my evaluation of his performances in the past three games before this one.

I'm not going to pretend I hated this draft selection. Far from it, in fact; I audibly cheered when Roger Goodell announced his selection. I was so hyped that I was even willing to forgive the apparent trade value loss that the Jets incurred (roughly equivalent to the 66th overall pick they traded to the Vikings). Draft pick value is nothing compared to the value of the right player, and I believed that the Jets had drafted the right player.

No, my issue with Joe Douglas with regards to this offensive line is that he only spent one draft pick on the offensive line after most of us called for two brand new starters at guard. It's difficult to do, yes, but AVT has been graded by PFF as the third-best rookie guard thus far (one of the two guys in front of him has played about 2.5 games' worth of fewer snaps, but still), and AVT was the first one to be drafted. Trey Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs has been a revelation as the team's RG this year, and he was drafted at the end of the 6th round. He fell so far because of concerns about him having experienced blood clots in 2018, and some teams were concerned about his ability to play with his medical condition in cold weather with him coming out of Tennessee. The Chiefs took that chance and he has been a true steal for them.

And it’s not like they were aggressive in free agency for the OL fixes. Who did they sign in free agency, actually? Dan Feeney, a center who was so bad for the Chargers that they spent a record amount of money to replace him at that position. Douglas decided that a competition between the since-retired Alex Lewis, the since-injured Cam Clark and the since-benched GVR would be the best for the spot at RG. It took until a mid-season trade for LDT that we seemed to have finally resolved the OL, if not for the recent struggles from AVT.

Douglas only found one new offensive line starter, essentially, as Morgan Moses was not signed until after Washington cut him late in the offseason, and the Jets still saw him as a bench player behind George Fant until Mekhi Becton's injury in the first game of the season. The Jets could have drafted Smith, and I know that hindsight is always 20/20, but I'm pretty sure we all agreed that we needed two new guards and he only brought in one. The fact that the one he brought in has been struggling so much as of late is what keeps this fresh in the mind. The effort to fix the offensive line was lacking, and the line as a whole was poor today.

Again, not getting the absolute best players at guard available is not what I'm complaining about here; I did not foresee Trey Smith being the best rookie guard in the league despite being the last one drafted this year. I also did not foresee the Ravens getting Kevin Zeitler after the Giants cut him turning out to be a shrewd move with him being one of the best guards in the league this year. I'm not demanding perfection from Joe Douglas; I'm demanding the best possible effort, and bringing in only one surefire new starter and one guy who sucked his way out of his last job was not the best possible effort.

And with regards to the receivers, it's about as bad as it gets. Few teams could weather the loss of their top two targets, but I can't imagine that other teams would have Vyncint Smith and DJ Montgomery on their rosters if they did lose two starters out wide. Denzel Mims was supposed to be the man to step up, but he has seen four targets and zero catches in these past two games. At the start of the season, I thought the team was holding him back. Now I see the truth; Mims is holding the team back. He should not be active next week, and if Elijah Moore is ready to return afterward, Mims might even need to be cut. Flat out bust.

And finally, we need to once again evaluate Robert Saleh's performance as a head coach. Ignore his supposed defensive prowess (and this defense hardly reflects well on that front) and just think of what he did as a game manager and a clock manager. After last week when he was roundly criticized for his awful clock management at the end of the first half, he essentially repeated the same mistakes in this one by being way too late on calling timeouts. It was more pronounced last week since the Jets had possession of the ball for the entire end-of-half drill then, but it was still poor this week.

For this week's two minute drill (1:59 remaining, if you want to be exact), the Jets began with the ball at their own 25. They lost five yards on first down, leading the Dolphins to call a timeout, so the Jets either had to choose to be aggressive with the lead or be conservative to hand the ball off to force another Miami timeout. They were aggressive, which I applaud, going for a pass on 2nd and 15 that sadly went incomplete on an overthrow by Wilson. At this point, I figured the Jets would concede and hand the ball off on 3rd and 15, which is what I likely would have done.

Instead, the Jets went hyper-aggressive and pulled out that aforementioned highlight lateral play. That play easily could have gone wrong in so many ways, but Crowder, Berrios and even Vyncint Smith (who provided the clearout for Berrios followed by his block that helped to allow the first down conversion after the successful lateral pass) all executed their roles perfectly, letting the Jets get to their own 46 with all three timeouts and 1:36 remaining. After such a hype-creating play, you'd think that the Jets would call a timeout so that they could get collected and organized for their next play.

Except they didn't, allowing the clock to run. Wilson was not able to conduct the offense from the huddle with the new play call, evidenced by the fact that they barely got the snap off with a man in motion. When the snap was delivered, Jerome Baker came in practically untouched for a nine-yard sack to bring up 2nd and 19. Then Saleh waits fifteen seconds to call a timeout, first appearing as if he were surrendering on the half before then calling for another pass, which LaFleur called as a throw over the middle which fell incomplete after it was tipped at the line (and nearly intercepted for what could have been a pick six). After that, on 3rd and 19 from their own 34 with only 43 seconds left, the Jets finally surrendered and handed off to Walter for 11 yards.

So, that's bad clock management hidden by bad plays except for the lateral throws. Then, coming out of the half, the Jets were getting the ball and had to answer for the incompetence displayed on their previous drive, and a score on this one could put Miami on the backfoot. They came out and went three and out because the offensive line failed to come out of the locker room.

I've argued in recent weeks that Wilson's protection has been better than the stat sheet would indicate. It's the exact opposite this week; the protection was worse, creating sacks where none needed to take place. Case in point, on that three and out on the first drive of the second half, the play-by-play says that Wilson took a 1-yard sack from Ogbah. What the play-by-play doesn't tell you is that sack was the best thing possible. Why?

Because on that play, both AVT and Connor McGovern apparently thought the Jets were handing the ball off, because both of them engaged in run-blocking rather than pass-blocking. Wilson either saw this or decided that running the ball himself was his best option anyway with no one open downfield; had he thrown the ball, the Jets would have been penalized for an illegal man downfield (two men, in fact). This isn't play execution so much as knowing what play you are running. This was the second snap of the second half; how were those two on such different pages with the rest of the offensive line? That's on coaching, plain and simple.

Wilson was prone to holding on to the ball too long in the 4th quarter on his sack-fumble, but other than that play, he was good enough at getting the ball out of his hands in this game to make the fact that he suffered six sacks inexcusable. They need to be much better than they were in this game; McDermott was bad, but the usual starters were bad as well.

This losing effort was shameful; sure, they've had more definitive losses this season to better teams, but the fact that the team they were playing was the closest to their skill level among those teams is what makes it so infuriating. The Jets defense was largely responsible for 10 of the Jets 24 points today (scoring 7 of those points thanks to Brandin Echols's pick six, and he and Bryce Hall were the two best players on defense in this game). The offense, even with LaFleur pulling out all the stops, was bad because they had few skill players and no offensive line for pass protection. They need to be much, much better than this, because it is starting to become who they are as a team. It is their identity at this point to be awful, but with three games left, they need to turn it around. The Detroit Lions defeated a 10-win team today; it is most definitely possible.

Because if not, then they truly are the worst team in the NFL, and the worst team in the league would require wholesale change to fix itself.

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