Five observations on the New York Jets heading into their week six showdown against the New England Patriots from David Aitken…
The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Browns
Last Sunday was the Jets fan plight in focus. This is a fun team to root for, a young and close knit group, already on the cusp of breaking through the 4-5 win total ceiling most predicted. But in the back of your mind is the knowledge that the team’s win total come year’s end could be the difference between a quarterback to build around and QB purgatory. Last Sunday the Jets didn’t even play well, they were out gained in yardage 2 to 1 and in fact dropped in DVOA rankings despite the win. But they scrapped, got some luck, and took advantage of opposition mistakes to earn three straight. What was supposed to be an empty Metlife Stadium on Sunday with the winless Jets hosting the undefeated Patriots is now a battle for first place.
It feels good. In a vacuum these are the types of moments fans live for – a big game coming up, your team proving the doubters wrong. The contrasts between the Jets and their supposed #JetsTank rival seem strong. After five games, one team’s a win away from dreaming of a winning season while the other is in the driver’s seat for another top pick (it’s practically a dynasty at this point). The Jets have the Coach of the Year candidate, the Browns are a mess.
The tank/anti-tank talk all summer was fervent, whether it was fans debating if you should ever root for losses or analysts debating if tanking was even a viable NFL strategy. With these two teams we have a good reference point years from now if it’s all worth it. The Jets and Browns really aren’t far apart if the teams are stripped to their core building blocks, and the Browns have the more impressive draft resources. But the Browns keep losing and could very well blow up their organization structure again, or at least their coaching staff. The Jets meanwhile have the head coach redemption story, the veteran stopgaps providing leadership, and are getting wins. Is there any actual value in that to a rebuild? It’ll be interesting to see what time tells us.
It’s been a great start for both rookie safeties five weeks into their careers, but up until last Sunday it was Jamal Adams making the bigger splash. Last Sunday’s game was Adams’ least impressive as a pro, but Maye made up for it with his best outing of his short career.
The highlight of the day was his goal line interception of DeShone Kizer. The Browns made a lot of dumb mistakes on Sunday but this was one that Maye forced through play recognition and aggressive pursuit of the passing angle. It was a near mirror image of this play from Maye’s time at Florida:
Marcus Maye with his first career pick with an assist to the rule that neither team is allowed to score pic.twitter.com/J8IJyCR5PK
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 8, 2017
If you’re going to take back-to-back safeties early in the draft and establish the position as key building blocks to the future of your defense, they have to be complete players. Maye tends to play further back than Adams (though they do sometimes switch), but is adept at supporting run defense in his own right. Below is a great play from last Sunday:
The numbers also point to a safety playing good football, though the most difficult challenges obviously are yet to come with the likes of Tom Brady and Matt Ryan before the month closes.
Marcus Maye continues to impress. Across his 38 coverage snaps this week, he was targeted only once & recorded his first career INT #Jets
— John Gatta (@PFF_JohnGatta) October 9, 2017
The second round curse seems over. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 10 years for the next good one.
Offensive Line Progress
The Jets offensive line could be divided into two groups – the second contract veterans being paid well to be here for the immediate future (Winters, Carpenter, Beachum) and the two late 2016 carryovers trying to earn a long term starting role (Shell, Johnson).
The latter two are trending in different directions. Shell has been mostly a positive, holding up well with a few exceptions in pass protection in four games thus far as a starter. He’s helped to an extent by the offense and a quarterback that is getting the ball out quickly by design, but thus far he’s been nice value for a mid-round pick. My main gripe is that he has so far failed to live up to his pre-draft reputation as a road grader, struggling to move bodies in the run game (an offensive line wide problem in fairness).
Wesley Johnson meanwhile is struggling a great deal. He’s arguably the quickest lineman on the team but is often blown back in the run game, disrupting the success of plays before they can otherwise develop.
At this point the Jets brass will gladly take what they’ve gotten from Shell. Johnson, on the other hand, is probably playing his last year as a starter. Expect the Jets to pursue the position heavily in free agency (the Giants’ Weston Richburg, maybe?) or look to the draft if all else fails.
The Richardson Trade, One Month Later
Earlier in the week I asked on twitter whether Muhammad Wilkerson’s dismal start to the year changed anyone’s mind regarding the Sheldon Richardson trade. The appeal of trading Sheldon Richardson (or Wilkerson, prior to the extension) was that the team’s logjam at the position meant the Jets wouldn’t actually be losing anything of value. They were a dominant run defense, and should continue to be despite losing a body in the rotation. But with Wilkerson failing to return to pre-injury (or pre contract) heights, he’s been a liability instead of one of the defense’s best players. The result is that the Jets, a perennial top run defense for several seasons up to this one, have nosedived to amongst the league’s worst. So did anyone feel any regret on the trade? The consensus answer: no.
Not at all, Sheldon had to go. We can cut Mo for all I care and find cheaper replacement in the FA!
— JetsFrance 🏈 | 3-3 (@NYJets_FR) October 10, 2017
Nope. Wanted both gone. DEs aren't that valuable.
— Slick's_Ego (@Smaxor5) October 10, 2017
Would I have rather had Sheldon get paid instead of Mo? Sure. But I'm feeling pretty good about Kearse and an extra second.
— Cale Upshaw (@Calerblind) October 10, 2017
I figured it was worth discussing but I don’t have any real disagreements. Let’s be clear – there’s a hole on the Jets roster where there was not one previously. There’s a chance this second round pick acquired from Seattle gets used to bring in a Wilkerson replacement. But all else being equal I’d prefer resources go toward defending the pass rather than continuing to pour premium resources into run first players. I’ll roll the dice that the Jets could find a way to get better with the extra second, Kearse and the $11 million a Wilkerson release would free.
Still, it’s frustrating how this situation has played out over the last few years. In 2015 the Jets had an embarrassment of riches – three very good defensive ends and the league’s best nose tackle. Now, there’s a good chance only Leonard Williams remains after this year.
Praise for John Morton
When Chan Gailey left the Jets, there weren’t exactly coaches banging the table for an opportunity to take over the team’s offense. The Jets had the feel of a team a year away from wholesale changes. So when John Morton took the position for what was his first coordinator job at the pro level, expectations were nonexistent.
He deserves credit for his work so far. The offense functions logically around the talent, play calls have been strategically wise, and he’s schemed players open cleverly. It’s by no means a work of genius (the Jets haven’t cracked over 20 points in regulation yet), but he’s rightfully winning people over and has me interested in how he’d operate with more quality injected into the offense.
The Jets under Morton are a West Coast offense playing an extreme brand of small ball mostly, sprinkling in the occasional deep shot. It fits the talent and keeps McCown from turnover prone situations and avoiding big hits. It’s at a ridiculous extreme right now – Kerley and Seferian-Jenkins are both averaging under 8 yards a reception. But the efficiency at which they’ve been able to attack defenses deep in contrast has been striking. McCown’s deep passing in comparison to Fitzpatrick’s last year has been a huge boost in this respect.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) October 11, 2017
His playcalling leading up to the half last Sunday was worthy of plaudits. The Jets moved from inside their own 30 to field goal territory in 30 seconds using just one time out and leaving just a second on the clock to spare.
Below are two of my favorite plays from Sunday. The first was an incompletion but could have been a touchdown. McGuire moves from RB to the slot. The Browns are man across the board with a single high safety. The motion gets McGuire isolate on a linebacker. He works out and quickly back in to what would have been nothing but green were he and McCown able to connect.
The second was Tomlinson’s big third down catch and run. Seferian-Jenkins’ upfield route and Kearse coming across from the other side create a natural pick to free Tomlinson in acres of space.
Joe also had a great breakdown of the Kearse touchdown and the set up for it here.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com