Following the Week 2 blowout in Oakland, here are David Aitken‘s five takeaways…
In a way I think it’s healthy for Todd Bowles to avoid putting too much pressure on this team and to be encouraged by certain performances when it’s warranted, even in a losing effort. But the tone of the locker room’s comments after last Sunday was utterly bizarre for a team coming off a blow out loss and starting 0-2 for the first time in 10 years. They walk a knife’s edge between managing morale and living in delusion.
After two games the Jets are not just 0-2, they’re in the basement of most measures. Only the Colts, blown apart by the Rams Week 1, have a worse point differential. They’re 30th in DVOA. ESPN’s FPI have the Jets as the most likely to land the first pick by a significant margin. Being competitive against a good but sloppy football team for most of a half is not something to get excited by.
But such is the difficult position Bowles is in. After two weeks the Jets are (mostly) simply playing to their talent level. I suppose the hope is to avoid getting too down before this upcoming stretch of the season’s most winnable games. But this isn’t going to be the last week like this. It’s an act that could wear out fast.
Kearse, a Blessing?
Through two games, Jermaine Kearse has 11 receptions and two touchdown receptions. The Jets’ wide receiver core combined otherwise has 12 receptions and no touchdowns.
There are two ways to look at this – part success story, part exercise in frustration. Kearse of course only joined the Jets a few weeks ago after the preseason officially came to a close. He jumped Robby Anderson as the presumed #1 receiver, and has an impressive 11 receptions on 15 targets and 2 touchdowns so far. Seen initially as a throw-in to the Sheldon Richardson trade, he could now be a factor beyond this season. He doesn’t separate well, but makes up for it with strong and reliable hands, a solid catch radius and making plays in traffic. Assuming the Jets are starting a rookie quarterback next year, he’d be useful to have in the group.
On the flipside is Robby Anderson, who has seen 12 targets so far but for only 6 catches and for a just awful 8.3 yards-per-reception. Over the coming weeks it’ll be worth monitoring Robby Anderson’s attitude should Josh McCown and John Morton continue to struggle getting him the ball. This Body Language Expert™ has noticed Anderson’s visible frustrations on a number of incomplete passes already. It’s perfectly understandable – he’s been a player much better than what his numbers indicate a year and a half in the league thus far. He’s had a few potential big plays ruined by timing or inaccuracy already. But should the trend continue, we’re probably a few weeks away from a soundbite and a not-actually-funny NY Post or NY Daily News back page headline.
Another source of frustration came with snap allocation last Sunday, particular as the game got out of hand. ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen combined for just 10 snaps, while Jeremy Kerley off the street played 44. Over the coming weeks the Jets need to get their pair of rookies more snaps. It would be one thing if this was a dynamic group in front of them, but as a whole this was a group struggling to get open. There really isn’t anything to lose.
One player likely to disrupt the target share as soon as this Sunday is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With Quincy Enunwa out for the season, the Jets lack players with the size to win vertically. We’re seeing Josh McCown quarterback this team in a conservative manner, favoring check downs or scrambling if receivers are initially blanketed. Seferian-Jenkins could encourage McCown to push the ball more, knowing he’s a target with a significant size advantage over most back seven defenders.
Leegion of Gloom
This marks two weeks in a row where the Jets have been bullied unexpectedly on the ground. I’m reminded of this time last year, where A.J. Green toasting Darrelle Revis was argued as a one-off but the Jets being dismantled by Tyrod Taylor the following week raised serious questions on the state of the pass defense. We’re at that point now as a run defense.
The collapse we’ve seen is a combination of a downgrade in personnel and key players letting the unit down. Sunday in Oakland was maybe the worst performance of Leonard Williams’ professional career. Wilkerson thus far has carried 2016 into this year, playing at a level the fraction worth his price. I don’t think he’s been terrible, but we are expecting a lot more.
Not everyday Leonard Williams get driven back 10 yards on a double team pic.twitter.com/ivvMUx7Jsp
— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 19, 2017
With the focus for this year being on playing young players, the Jets are making the right decision playing Darron Lee as an every down player. But he’s basically doing the defensive equivalent to what starting Hackenberg would be to the offense.
Here’s the thing with taking a player in the first round: they need to be able to play three downs. As an inside linebacker, that means being able to play the run and occasionally deal with blocks. You need to be able to cover tight ends and backs. You need good recognition skills and instincts to consistently be in the right position to minimize the success of run plays. Smart coaches can get players in a role that maximizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses, but when you struggle with all of the fundamental responsibilities of a certain position, it says more about the player.
There isn’t really a better position fit for Lee in this defense so much as it’s a scenario where if the Jets were trying to be good this year, they’d limit the situations he actually plays. He’d be a third-and-long utility LB/S where his snaps against the run are minimized, and (in theory) would be seen as a threat to blitz or cover ground in the middle of the field. For what the Jets drafted him to be and his best case scenario, they are playing him in his best position in this defense. He was an off-the-ball linebacker and former safety at Ohio State. He was drafted to be the Jets’ Deone Bucannon. Bucannon too is undersized for a typical linebacker, and naturally he can also find it difficult dealing with linemen clean on the second level. But he’s an instinctual player who gets in the right positions and can use his athleticism to get around incoming blockers in certain scenarios. He reads plays quickly, and gets to where he needs to be even quicker.
Lee came into the league as a prospect that flashed the ability to do a lot of things but had nothing he did consistently well. Gambling on his youth and relative unfamiliarity with the position, the idea is with more experience and physical growth the Jets could get more out of him. The best thing the Jets can do is to just keep playing Lee and hope it eventually clicks. That’s what this year is for, right?
Hitting the Ground Running
This was an encouraging performance from the team’s starting rookie safeties, particularly from Maye who had a tougher time in Buffalo than Adams. Despite the potency of Oakland’s passing attack, the pair combined to give up just one reception for 16 yards per Pro Football Focus. Once again it was coming up field they most stood out.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 19, 2017
The next step? It’d be nice to see them make some plays on the ball. This isn’t a knock on what they’ve done so far – they haven’t been tested much in coverage and their first two opponents aren’t big risk takers. That changes over the next few weeks though, as the Jets have Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles and rookie DeShone Kizer as opposing quarterbacks. Prediction: we’ll see one of Maye or Adams come down with their first interception in the coming weeks.
Under No Pressure
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) September 18, 2017
Lost amongst the hysteria regarding the team’s quickly eroding run defense was the cleanliness of the pocket Derek Carr worked from on Sunday. We can talk about a rebuilt secondary all we want, but the team’s ability to put pressure on the quarterback is going to be a determining factor as to whether the young group in the back end sink or swim.
Week 1 we got a tease from Kony Ealy, but it was a much more difficult time for him in Oakland. This looks like a spot Maccagnan continues to look at as the season goes along, bringing in former Florida pass rusher Alex McCallister in for a workout. It feels like a fluid situation, evidenced by the amount of players that got reps on Sunday. Oakland only ran 55 plays, but no fewer than 5 different players lined up on the edge. In addition to Ealy, Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, Dylan Donahue and Freddie Bishop all rotated in Oakland but no sparks provided.
Still, what new faces may or may not emerge on the edge isn’t as important as the Jets’ established stars staying on schedule. Leonard Williams gets a pass for his poor display in Oakland, but he is a player we should be expecting to push the double digit sack mark this year. Muhammad Wilkerson is in year two of a monster extension which he signed after a 12 sack year. Given his extension was a sign of him ostensibly chosen over retaining Damon Harrison or Sheldon Richardson, Maccagnan can’t afford Wilkerson coming up as damaged goods.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com