A late-season bye week offers a prime opportunity to take inventory of an organization. Joe Malfa looks to answer a few key questions that will provide some insight into the current state of the New York Jets.
A mediocre AFC playoff race had Jets fans excited ahead of last week’s matchup against the Ryan Fitzpatrick led Buccaneers. Gang Green could have entered the bye week tied for a playoff spot at 5-5. Instead, the team came out flat and limped into the bye week at 4-6. The Jets are still just one game out of a playoff spot, but a difficult schedule after the week off does not seem like it will yield itself to a surprise playoff push. The fact that a “surprise playoff push” is even being discussed speaks volumes about the state of the organization, which is stronger than most people perceive. Let’s dissect the current state of the New York Jets:
Will the Jets make a playoff push?
The short answer is no. They are still just a game out in a bad year for the AFC, but it is not going to happen.
The Bills and Ravens are currently tied for sixth at 5-5, while the Raiders, Dolphins, Texans, Bengals, and Chargers are all tied with the Jets at 4-6. If you just threw up a little, it’s alright — so did I.
Given the mediocrity in the conference, the Jets will be listed on that “In The Hunt” graphic the networks display until the last couple of weeks of the season, but they will not get in. You can go ahead and give them two losses with road trips to New Orleans and New England still on the schedule, which means they would have to win the other four games just to put them at 8-8.
Unlike two season ago when 10-6 was not enough to get the Jets in, 8-8 might be enough this year, but I cannot see them going 4-0 against the Panthers, Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers. The Broncos are the only opponent in that quartet that the Jets will face on the road, but the trio of teams they will face at home are all more talented. I think Gang Green finishes 6-10 with wins against the Broncos and Chargers.
Are you happy with the team’s performance before the bye?
I projected a 2-14 season and they have already doubled that win total before the bye. The Jets have exceeded my expectations and they have looked good in the process.
On the offensive side of the ball, Robby Anderson has developed into a more complete receiver. He is no longer a one-trick pony capable of running fly routes and just about nothing else.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been a revelation for the Jets considering they have not gotten any production out of a tight end since Dustin Keller. He has proven his worth to the team, deserves an extension and should be a building block for John Morton’s offense going forward.
Speaking of Morton, he has appeared to be the first competent offensive coordinator the Jets have employed in this decade. He has built a very efficient air-raid offense around Josh McCown and provided the fans with some hope that he may be the coach capable of finally developing a quarterback for the Jets if they go that route early in next year’s draft.
The offensive line has shown promise at times and looked bad at others. James Carpenter has been a rock at left guard, Kelvin Beachum has performed admirably at left tackle, and Brian Winters bounced back at right guard after some early struggles. Center Wesley Johnson and right tackle Brandon Shell have had some good games in their first season as starters, but they have had some growing pains as well. The same goes for Brent Qvale, who has filled in for the injured Shell. The depth along the line needs to improve and some upgrades can be made as well, but it has not been as bad as some feared after a couple of putrid preseason games.
Defensively, Morris Claiborne has been able to take away one side of the field with Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye locking things down in the middle. The stud rookie safeties have infused some much needed energy into a defense that was lifeless last season.
Darron Lee has made some major strides at linebacker over the last few weeks while Demario Davis has played the best football I have ever seen him play. He might earn an extension depending on his play down the stretch.
The defensive line has come alive as well over the last few weeks. Muhammad Wilkerson regained his old form, Leonard Williams is still a beast, Steve McLendon has been quietly productive and Jordan Jenkins has improved significantly as a pass rusher.
The defense has not been the ’85 Bears by any stretch of the imagination — they have not even been the ’09 Jets — but some very positive, consistent, individual performances have provided some hope for this side of the ball that fans can carry into 2018.
Do you approve or disapprove of the performances of Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles?
I personally approve of both, and two polls I ran on Twitter at the end of last week echo that sentiment. With nearly 200 votes cast, 80% of fans approve of the job done by Todd Bowles and 71% approve of Mike Maccagnan’s performance.
There are certainly picks made by Maccagnan that are black eyes on his resume — Devin Smith, Christian Hackenberg and Lorenzo Mauldin to name a few — but he has found some gems as well. With the recent play of Lee, it seems Maccagnan may have hit on all three of his first round picks (though it is too early to say for sure) and Marcus Maye has produced like a first rounder. Right there, between Maye, Adams, Lee and Williams, the Jets have four blue-chip defensive players all under the age of 24.
Beyond that core-four, Kony Ealy has proven to be a great addition on the defensive line worthy of an extension in the offseason. Davis has played the best football of his career as I referenced earlier, and Maccagnan was able to acquire him by getting rid of Calvin Pryor. Jenkins, another Maccagnan pick, has turned the corner at the EDGE position.
On the other side of the ball, there is still a lot more work to be done and certain players (Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart) have not seen enough of the field to be properly evaluated. Elijah McGuire, however, has shown some positive flashes and may be a younger, better version of Bilal Powell. Shell has begun to ease into that right tackle position, though he has certainly had some growing pains. Anderson has developed into a real threat on offense, and Seferian-Jenkins has been one of the most productive tight ends in the league.
Maccagnan also handled the Sheldon Richardson situation perfectly, picking up an additional 2nd-round pick next year and Jermaine Kearse through the trade with Seattle.
He has not been perfect, but Maccagnan has laid the groundwork for future success by finding talented young players.
The basis of my approval for Bowles is simple. He has shown some growth as a coach, not looking nearly as incompetent in certain situations as he has over the last two years. There seems to be a definite culture change and he is getting the absolute most out of a roster that seemed doomed to end the season as one of the worst teams in the league. Had they been able beat Fitzpatrick and hold a 14-point fourth quarter lead against Matt Moore, they would currently be the fifth seed in the AFC.
The last six games of the season will go a long way in determining the fates of Maccagnan and Bowles, but I believe they will both be back.
Final Thoughts on the State of the Jets
I have been pleased with what I have seen from the Jets in 2017, and the state of the franchise is strong. Quietly, they have assembled a good young core and they will have over $80 million to spend next season in addition to what I believe will be a top-10 draft choice. They will not make any sort of legitimate playoff push over the final weeks of this season, but a successful offseason could amount to the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2010 next season.
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