After digesting the Jets’ Week 1 performance, here are David Aitken‘s five takeaways…
Rushing the Blame
Though most levelheaded fans expect this team to be bad (“optimistic” fans were mostly predicting 5-6 wins), it still came as a surprise just how badly the Jets defended the run on Sunday. McCoy’s 5 yards-per-carry average may have been below his 5.4 for the season last year (little victories?), but the Jets have been one of the elite run defenses of the NFL for the past several years. This is one area where the expectations have been high, even following the release of David Harris and trading Sheldon Richardson. Of all the ways for the Jets to be beat, being bullied upfront on defense seemed most unlikely.
There’s been one player taking a particular amount of heat and that’s Muhammad Wilkerson. He’s been called lazy, washed up from his injury, accused of mailing it in – an overall bemoaning of his lack of impact. Watching the game again, I thought Mo was… fine. He certainly was not the heights we expect where he’s making several impact plays a game, but I didn’t think his net contribution was negative and the call outs are premature. In a few passing situations he affected the pocket by blowing up the guard into Taylor and tipped a pass, and is being assigned too much blame for failures against the run. The question is if this is all we’re going to get over 16 games, whether it’s worth keeping him at 17 million a year. Truthfully, no.
So what went wrong, then? Certainly nothing regarding Leonard Williams, as he was the Jets’ best player on the field. This was an uneven game for some of the interior rotational pieces – Steve McClendon, Claude Pelon (who has since been waived), and Mike Pennel, and a tough game for the team’s starting inside linebackers. Darron Lee has come under fire and it’s mostly warranted. He’s clearly an athlete and his willingness for contact isn’t in question, but his instincts are questionable and he’s not strong enough to hold his ground consistently.
Tank Commander John Morton
Sunday marked the debut of John Morton as an NFL offensive coordinator and it was a painfully conservative display. The Jets built their passing attack around a lot of basic designed dump-offs to running backs and receivers in the flat or through screens. Morton was nobody’s first choice and should the Jets clean house with their coaching staff there will be no cries to keep him around. Still, this is mostly a thankless task due to the ingredients he has to work with. Trying to scheme for this offense has no easy answer. The Jets have one of the worst starting quarterback, receiver and tight end groups in the league. Buffalo had little respect for the Jets’ ability to move the ball through the air and the running game on Sunday offered no respite.
It was far from trusting a veteran quarterback to sling it to the team’s young group of receivers. This felt like an offense being called to bed in a young quarterback slowly. Despite the high number of attempts, McCown isn’t really running this offense. He’s more a caretaker. You’d imagine if the Jets coaching staff felt they actually had a young quarterback worth playing, they’d be doing it.
One must keep in the back of their mind that this is still Josh McCown quarterbacking the team, the quintessential crap journeyman quarterback. When it comes to holding the potential of these receivers back, he takes responsibility as well. It feels like the shortcomings of McCown in getting the ball to Robby Anderson is going to be a theme all season.
In a season where the Jets are going to be bad, it’s all about unearthing some long-term positives in order to keep your sanity. If diehard Jets fans can appreciate one thing from Sunday, it’s the performances of several of the team’s edge players. This was the best position group on the field for the Jets on Sunday.
The star was waiver wire pickup Kony Ealy, who came in with a reputation as a talented but mercurial 2014 2nd round pick. He was the team’s most active lineman defending Tyrod Taylor, credited by Pro Football Focus with two hurries, a quarterback hit, and a tipped pass. Ealy’s run hot and cold throughout his short career and by all accounts looked nowhere near this kind player in New England’s camp, so it’s best to take this performance with a pinch of salt. But as cynical as it is to say, he’s a free agent after this year and the Jets have a whole lot of cap room to burn in 2018. He’ll be motivated to give the Jets his best.
An unlikely roster climb for Josh Martin has seen him go from a camp body filling in during Mauldin’s injury to significant action on merit in September. Credited with a partial sack on Taylor, he also set the edge well in the run game and showed quality play recognition. For more on Josh Martin’s first game, check out Dan Essien’s excellent write up on him here.
Jordan Jenkins’ start has gone a little under the radar due to Martin and Ealy getting more attention, but it was an encouraging performance for the 2016 3rd rounder. The de facto long-term Calvin Pace replacement, Jenkins did a little bit of everything in a way that would make the old man proud. Showing comfort in space, an ability to win on the edge and a hint of pass rushing prowess, he’s looking on his way to being a tick in the “win” column for Mike Maccagnan.
New Jack City
Sunday marked the much anticipated debut of the team’s two rookie safeties, and they were challenged as expected. It was a tougher outing for Maye, who was beat for a touchdown by Charles Clay and as the typically deeper of the two safeties had less of a chance to make a positive impact on the game. Testing the Jets defense deep wasn’t really in Buffalo’s game plan, so Maye most often appeared when a Bills run was successful enough to have the Jets’ deepest defender pop into the screen.
It was an encouraging debut for Jamal Adams, though a little more uneven than it seemed through the broadcast feed. Adams made a number of impressive plays in the passing game on Charles Clay, including forcing an incompletion on 3rd down and smacking him on the play that ended up being Burris’ interception. But he was beaten in the end zone by Clay at one point where the ball happened to go elsewhere. On the deep shot to Jordan Matthews early in the third quarter, there was a *major* lapse in coverage between Adams and Lee that would have been six if Taylor looked to their side of the field.
To go back to play calling, it all indicates an offensive coordinator that does not have much trust in his offensive line. The Jets passing offense was mostly based on quick, short passes with multiple route runners designed to create space. McCown did not show patience for longer developing routes or to switch eyes to the other side of the field. When Morton wanted to attack Buffalo down field, he did so with 2 or 3 man routes.
The Jets running game never got out of first gear on Sunday, and it would be easy to throw that at the sluggish feet of Matt Forte. That wouldn’t be totally fair though. Great running games have all elements on the same page, and that doesn’t just mean the offensive line. This is not to say the line doesn’t play a part, as both tackles in particular struggled moving bodies in the run game. But tight ends have a role to play in opening up the run, as do wide receivers. Think back to the Jets’ successful 2015 rushing attack between Ivory and Powell. It was a competent starting five along the line, but it also had two excellent blocking receivers, and Quincy Enunwa at that point was playing almost exclusively as an H-Back due to his merit as a blocker. The Jets struggled in all of these areas.
In pass protection the story was a little better. Beachum struggles with power, but Shell on the other side handled one-on-one match-ups reasonably well. The worst of it came when the Bills tried to confuse the front five with stunts or gave McCown a confusing pre-snap look. In the case of communication and understanding it’s important to remember that Shell and Beachum were not locked in as starters in training camp and that McCown conceded snaps for the quarterback competition in both practice and especially the preseason games. This is not a well-oiled machine.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com