In which we call out Neil Glat, call for defensive adjustments, and listen carefully as Maccagnan sings his comeback song…
We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Billboard
When things go terribly wrong, fans and the media find targets to shoulder the brunt of the blame. Sometimes targets are justified and sometimes blame is deflected and players are painted as merely victims of the “real problems.” Sometimes you’re just Neil Glat.
The 2016 Jets have cases of all this. Bowles, fair to an extent, has taken the lion’s share of blame for defensive regression as well as spineless (and often nonexistent) game management. Ryan Fitzpatrick has both been called out to be benched and been given a ride on the Rich Cimini spin zone. Someone out there somewhere is probably bringing up Chan Gailey as “the real problem” as if he’s not responsible for every good thing that has ever happened in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s NFL career (not that he’s impervious to criticism).
But let’s be clear about something – when you’re 1-4 and are 30th in the league in point differential, there is not just one major problem. Let’s look at two major ones.
116/168 (69%), 1,740 yards (10.4 Y/A), 12 TD, 2 INT, 121.6 passer rating.
124/173 (71.7%), 1,512 yards (9.2 Y/A), 12, TD, 2 INT, 118.6 passer rating.
One of those stat lines is arguably the NFL MVP through five weeks Matt Ryan. The other is the cumulative statistics through five games against the Jets defense.
111/200 (55.5%), 1,049 yards (6 Y/A), 4 TD, 7 INT, 65.3 passer rating.
111/192 (57.8%), 1,267 yards (6.6 Y/A), 5 TD, 10 INT, 64.7 passer rating.
One is Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the other is the cumulative statistics through five games against the Minnesota Vikings.
In the NFL in 2016, the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league throwing the ball and are one of the worst teams in the league defending the pass. There is a *lot* of blame to around. Brandon Marshall is amongst the leaders in drops. Forte is running too much and not catching enough, while Powell is not running enough and receiving almost exclusively. Enunwa could be an even greater focus on offense still. The Week 1 defensive line performance has been nothing more than an enormous tease, with Wilkerson in particular failing to stand out. Naming an actual good player in the Jets’ back seven is becoming an increasingly more difficult task. Yes, Fitzpatrick. Yes, Bowles. But yes, a lot of things, sadly.
Adjusting to Not Being Good
Todd Bowles and his “failure to adjust” has been another consistent criticism this season, and there is a fair bit to it. Sometimes this can be one of those vague and lazy arguments that are used as a catch-all to explain why an entire unit is failing, as if opponents are also incapable of readjusting to continue targeting personnel weaknesses. But after four weeks it was clear some adjustments did need to be made. The Jets have remained a blitz heavy defense despite being poorly built for it and underperforming veterans deserved to be pushed by players behind them.
And we saw some changes this week. Darryl Roberts saw extended action for the first time, and has probably earned himself more reps in the future despite being victimized his fair share. His play carried a level of intensity, even with the warts, that has been lacking over the first few weeks. Juston Burris played more snaps, and Calvin Pryor lost snaps to Rontez Miles. The Jets also called a blitz on just 13% of dropbacks according to ESPN Stats and Info, the lowest percentage the Jets have blitzed in a game the last three years.
Here’s the big touchdown to Sammie Coates. When a team gets beat deep consistently, your instinct is to want to blame corners being hung out to try schematically, but that isn’t really the case here. Of course, playing an offense like Pittsburgh’s, there’s also a pick-your-poison type situation to an extent. This, especially for third and long standards, is a conservative play by Bowles’ staff. It’s a standard four man rush, and while it is man coverage there are also two deep safeties. There is clear and careful attention not to be burned by Antonio Brown here (Gilchrist at the bottom of the screen is cheating well over to his side), but it opens up Coates down the right sideline. Pryor’s pre-snap position compensates for Gilchrist’s, probably too much. He is late getting over and Coates blows the top off the entire defense. Williams can’t escape blame, he’s given himself a five yard cushion and Coates still blows by him. And it must be said, it is an absolutely perfect throw from Roethlisberger (go cry about it Robby Anderson).
Outside of this early shock, the Jets adjustments defensively did work in a sense. Instead of being knocked out by two or three swift blows, the Jets defense would instead die by a thousand paper cuts. Outside of Coates, who the Steelers knew would see the best match-up opportunities, every other receiver on Pittsburgh averaged under 10 yards-per-reception.
Wilkerson has come under heat for his performance in this game and it has to be said that this was a huge failure by the Jets’ highly regarded defensive line. Bowles put the pressure on his best players to carry the day and they failed to step up. Of course, this is *still* a team that lacks a true edge rusher. But when you can’t get good performances from your best players, what hope do you have? Good scheming can mask weaknesses when there are strengths to design plays around. When your defense has no strength, like last Sunday, all there is to do is hope your opponent has an off-day.
And All the Nasty Things You’ve Done
Mike Maccagnan, 2015 NFL Executive of the Year.
The Executive of the Year award is a strange one, as it fundamentally misrepresents the real goal of a GM. When a new general manager is appointed, it is usually because a team has fallen apart and needs to be taken in a new direction. A general manager’s goal over the long-term is to collect talent and build a sustainable franchise that can consistently compete. When done right, that is often a measured and methodical process. The Executive of the Year award meanwhile is a one-year measure typically that just looks at moves made in that annual period and sees who caused the most improvement. That means something, but it isn’t necessarily the main goal, and can sometimes be an award for prioritizing short-term gains over what is best for the future. Consider that in addition to Maccagnan the award has gone to Colts GM Ryan Grigson in 2012, while a who’s who of elite executives such as Ozzie Newsome, Ted Thompson, John Schneider and John Elway have never won the award.
It is clear that the plan upon Maccagnan’s appointment as GM was to try to compete immediately while building for the future as a team in transition rather than a full-blown rebuild. Whether that is based on pressure from ownership, Maccagnan’s own idea based on the cap situation inherited, or some middle ground between the two ideas is unknown. But if we grade how the plan worked in year one from a pure roster assembling perspective, it was strong. The Jets won 10 games in 2015 and arguably should have won more. The vast majority of veteran additions in year one played well. Maccagnan for all intents and purposes did build a roster capable of making the playoffs in 2015.
So far this year, not so much. One issue is the longevity of players on second contracts. Just because year one is fine, it does not mean you’re going to avoid later being on the books for underperforming and aging players in subsequent years. But that’s not really the only issue. Sure, Revis is on a mega-deal and has been a major disappointment. Something is clearly off with Wilkerson, fresh off his big extension. Harris is a top-ten linebacker in terms of salary, but just an average player at this point. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a disaster so far, and he was a player Maccagnan technically did not even have to bring back (the reality of it as it relates to job security is probably another story). This team lacks solid mid-level talent.
The roster Maccagnan inherited was one of the worst in the league. Actually building a solid core of young talent here is a project spanning longer than Jets fans would care to admit. The drafting from 2008 to 2014 for this franchise was so poor, the Jets are still feeling it’s effects. Consider that in 2014 the snapshot of the roster was not only one of the worst in the league, but many of the team’s actual good players – Ferguson, Mangold, Harris for example – were also heading toward decline.
Maccagnan’s aggressive short-term trades and use of ample cap space to make immediate improvements made the team respectable again (at least in 2015), but it’s just a band-aid. The good news is that most of these big contracts have reached the point where the Jets will not be locked into keeping any player they don’t want sans Matt Forte, and probably Darrelle Revis (clears space but also carries a large sum of dead money; may also just be worth trying to revitalize him). Ultimately building a team through massive free agency turnover every other season is not sustainable and is a crutch for poor drafting.
Inspecting Maccagnan’s two-year draft haul, there is a bit of good, a great deal of unknowns, and some worry signs. Leonard Williams has been as advertised thus far, and it seems the Jets already have found something amongst the group of rookie receivers on the team. Lachlan Edwards may as well be the face of the franchise at this point. Then there are players making certain levels of contributions with hope they’ll eventually come good – Darron Lee, Devin Smith, Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin, Juston Burris. It’s hard to be optimistic about the offensive linemen – a pair of mid-round picks. Jarvis Harrison already has been moved on, whereas 24-year-old rookie Brandon Shell did little to turn heads in camp.
Then there are the quarterbacks. Talk of Maccagnan’s entire tenure here being joined at the hip by second rounder Christian Hackenberg is exaggerating things, but it does play an important part in analyzing Maccagnan’s goal of finding a legitimate answer for the position long-term. It would be ridiculous to define Christian Hackenberg already as a bust, but it is fair to be critical of Maccagnan’s quarterback strategy overall relative to other players available. The Jets are keeping four on their roster, that’s already eye-opening. The argument from a roster management perspective of keeping Geno Smith is probably actually the easiest one: a young former second rounder with starting experience still on his rookie contract. Bringing back Fitzpatrick as a guaranteed starter was a little contentious amongst the fanbase, and the stupid contract saga that dominated the offseason did not help. But it would have been a tough sell to the fan base and ownership to leave the quarterback that just set the franchise single season touchdown record and was part of a major turnaround out on the market. It’s also just a one-year deal, and his apparently long leash as a starter probably isn’t coming from the general manager.
But they’ve drafted two quarterbacks in the first four rounds the past two seasons. Bryce Petty, who they traded up for in round four in 2015, was a 24-year-old rookie project. Christian Hackenberg, the 21-year-old taken in round two this past April, is the absolute definition of project. How long do they wait for something to click? What is considered “acceptable progress” from each of these players? For Hackenberg, it’s been a free pass his rookie year, while for Petty being clearly the third quarterback but not a complete mess seemed to be enough. And if this season is enough of a disaster where the Jets are in a position to grab a top prospect next spring, is Hackenberg going to be a reason to pass on that player? Meanwhile the Broncos are already comfortable enough starting a seventh rounder from 2015, and Dak Prescott and Cody Kessler look way more ready to play NFL football than maybe Hackenberg ever will be.
But overall, I would pump the breaks on judging Maccaganan either which way. Jets fans tend to want to either deify or vilify faces of the franchise with little room in between. Despite the massive short-term improvement from 2014 to 2015, the road to making the Jets a consistently competitive team is a long one.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com