The Jets fell to the Ravens today in their 2022 opener at MetLife Stadium. The loss drops New York to 0-1 and extends their September win drought. It has been more than four full calendar years since the Jets have won a regular season game in September.
Every loss comes with its own frustrations in the NFL. For the last five years or so, the Jets have typically been overmatched talentwise when they have faced quality opponents. The team stood little chance of winning when it took the field unless the opponent played a very poor game.
I think today’s frustration is different. The Jets were very much in this game. In fact they were a play here or there from potentially making this a real challenge for Baltimore.
On some level I feel like this is a positive for the day and speaks to an improved talent base for the 2022 roster. But I’m sorry. I can’t claim moral victories over being competitive in the first game of the season.
The Jets had their chances. This was in part due to an excellent defensive performance. Sure, there were two breakdowns in the second half between the starting safeties. There was also a sequence in the first half that led to a Baltimore touchdown where Lamarcus Joyner committed a bad penalty, and Bryce Hall was beaten for the score through the air.
Still the defense’s effort should raise optimism. Many of us wondered whether the Jets could hold up against Baltimore’s rushing attack. Although the Ravens were missing a number of key players, I’m not sure many were expecting a run defense that was so shaky last season to hold Lamar Jackson and company to 63 yards on the ground.
The defensive line rotation generally controlled the trenches, and the new outside corner duo of Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed was excellent.
That leads us into another positive. The rookie class stood out. Beyond Gardner, Jermaine Johnson recorded a sack. Garrett Wilson made the most of limited playing time. He made one highlight reel run after a catch where he made multiple defenders miss. He also saved the Jets 3 points by hustling to a fumble before the half. Running back Breece Hall lost a fumble but otherwise showed good flashes.
Unfortunately for the Jets, there were obstacles that prevented them for winning. Special teams was among them. Greg Zuerlein missed a field goal and an extra point (although the extra point came well after the competitive portion of the game was over). Braden Mann had a rough day highlighted by a 20 yard punt that preceded an important Baltimore touchdown.
However, these could have been overcome if not for the quarterback play.
In fairness to Joe Flacco, the offensive line play was poor. George Fant in particular had a rough outing as he allowed a pair of sacks and committed a penalty. There was consistent pressure though the game.
With that said, Flacco’s tendency to hold onto the ball and inability to move was a significant contributor to the pressure. We all know that Flacco doesn’t have much ability to scramble or get outside the pocket. What is more frustrating is that he didn’t even seem to be able to maneuver within the pocket to buy himself some time for downfield routes to develop. Flacco was sometimes sliding himself into pressure.
This combined with a clearly diminished arm left the Jets offense unable to move the ball for much of the game. Flacco was able to pad his stats with a lot of garbage time production against prevent defenses, but even then he was only able to net 307 yards on 59 attempts. Any pass beyond a checkdown inside the numbers was an adventure.
There is an old cliche that came to mind for me today, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
The Jets were totally unprepared for an injury to their starting quarterback based on how they approached the offseason. This has been the case throughout Joe Douglas’ tenure. Flacco, now in his second stint with the team, is 0-6 in games he has started.
What is even more frustrating is that when combining Flacco’s and Mike White’s salary, the Jets are paying approximately $6 million to their backup quarterbacks. That is roughly the price it costs to sign a high end backup who is capable of running an offense in free agency. Douglas has avoided widescale criticism for his approach because he ran into what was probably an anomaly last year in Mike White’s 405 yard effort against the Bengals.
The play of the offensive line might have longer term implications. The Jets opened the season on their third different alignment since training camp began. This group could prove to be problematic once Zach Wilson returns.
With that said, the more immediate problem is Flacco. He is clearly in the twilight of a distinguished career. A team simply cannot expect to win looking like Flacco did in this game, and the Jets are at least two games away from getting Wilson back in the lineup. Even if White is an uninspiring and limited option himself, the Jets probably need to make a change at this point.
Heading into this game I wondered whether the Jets would be able to run the ball effectively on Baltimore. In fact I worried a bit whether Mike LaFleur would stubbornly commit to the run even if it wasn’t working.
As it turned out, the Jets ran the ball effectively. Carter and Hall combined to average just around 5 yards per carry. Yet they only ran it 17 times against 59 passing attempts. Granted, the game situation played a major role in the final distribution. The Jets found themselves behind multiple scores for most of the second half. Even before garbage time, however, they had a 60/40 pass to run ratio. The team leaned into its weakness.
Certainly this will be something to consider going forward. Next week’s gameplan should probably feature the run more heavily. The Jets will likely have difficulty passing downfield at least until Wilson returns so they would be wise to figure out ways to manufacture more touches in space for speedy receivers like Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Braxton Berrios.
Still, there is only so much play calling can do.
An offense needs an effective quarterback to have success in the NFL. Flacco doesn’t seem capable of functioning on a baseline level at this point of his career, and that more than anything took the Jets out of today’s game. That will likely be a theme as long as he continues to start.