Continuing our staff evaluations with a look at the New York Jets’ offensive and defensive coordinators. The Jets overhauled the much of their staff, including offensive coordinator Chan Gailey after last season. Of the few retained was defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. Amongst the new hires was first time offensive coordinator John Morton, who was formerly the wide receiver coach for the New Orleans Saints. Let’s take a look at how they’ve done so far.
* Note: All overall team stat rankings are based on yards per game *
When it comes to a coordinator’s value, stats are important but there’s more to it. Like every other coach it’s also about strategy, creativity, and most importantly maximizing your players’ abilities. Vic Fangio, for example, has been very effective in his role as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Young players like Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara have thrived under Fangio. As a result of that and good in-game strategy from Fangio, despite the Bears’ struggles overall, the Bears have improved from the 15th to the 10th best defense in the NFL. The best coordinators can match significant player development with sound strategy. With that, let’s look at the Jets coordinators.
Kacy Rodgers has had a really tumultuous time as defensive coordinator for the Jets. Many questioned the Jets retaining him after last season. The hardest question to answer with Rodgers is how much say and control he really has over the defense. But more importantly, has the Jets defense improved at all under Rodgers?
The Jets have invested a good amount of high value draft picks in their defense since Rodgers arrival in 2015. Leonard Williams in his first year, Darron Lee in 2016, and Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in 2017. Because of this, the development of these players is integral to the team’s future. Leonard Williams has the potential to be star but he hasn’t made any significant strides since last year. Darron Lee has flashed his skills at times this season but he’s still making many of the same mistakes that haunted him in his rookie season.
Maye and Adams have transitioned well into the NFL this year but next year they’ll be expected to make a leap and its fair to say we haven’t seen anyone really do that on this team with Rodgers in place. His main success story in 2017 has been Demario Davis but there’s been a good amount left to desire.
We covered some of the Jets poor decisions with in-game defensive strategy in our Todd Bowles evaluation earlier but its worth repeating. One noticeable strategic downfall was that the Jets often failed to adjust when team’s identified and attacked their weaknesses. It seems much of their defensive breakdowns followed a pattern. The Jets defensive scheme relies heavily on blitzing but it often gets them in trouble. The Jets had a terrible pass rush this season (28th in sacks). As a result, opponents seemed to often take advantage of Demario Davis or Darron Lee isolated in coverage or their corners in man to man with no help over the top. The Jets knew what their weaknesses were this season but they didn’t seem to protect well against them.
Statistically, the Jets had the 4th best defense in 2015 but it has progressively gotten worse the last two seasons. This is a bad reflection on Kacy Rodgers. However, that regression is also largely due to the holes that have persisted in their defensive roster. Other than 2015 Revis, they haven’t had a reliable shutdown corner or an elite pass rusher (defensive line or edge) during Kacy Rodgers’ tenure. The Jets have enough projects at CB and OLB (Dylan Donahue, Freddie Bishop, Daryl Roberts, Rashard Robinson, Derrick Jones, Jeremy Clark) they need more proven talent.
For comparison’s sake, 3 of the top 5 defenses this season have either one or both. The Vikings have Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes. The Broncos have Von Miller, Chris Harris, and Aqib Talib. The Jaguars have Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue (honorable mention: Dante Fowler Jr). The other two had the type dominant front the Jets thought they’d have with Lee, Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams: the Steelers (Heyward, Tuitt, Watt, Shazier) who led the NFL in sacks; and the Eagles (Cox, Graham, Long) who had the best run defense in the NFL.
Time to deliver
With the mountain of money the Jets will have in cap space in the coming offseason, and some quality defensive players at the top of the draft, the Jets will have an opportunity to address their needs much like they tried to do in 2015. Unless Maccagnan completely botches addressing those needs, expectations should be very high for Kacy Rodgers’ Jets defense next season. No more hiding behind the rebuild.
John Morton just completed his first season as offensive coordinator of the Jets after taking over for Chan Gailey last offseason. Overall opinions have been mixed on his first season. It’s hard to make a snap judgment because of his short tenure but there are some observations worth discussing.
One of the smartest personnel decisions the Jets did made season was hanging on to McCown as the starter until he got hurt. Morton was able to get possibly the most significant player development this season from Robby Anderson. Anderson nearly doubled his yardage total last season (587), racking up 941 yards on 63 catches. The Jets also saw encouraging contributions from Austin Seferian-Jenkins this past season, particularly in the red zone.
However, there remains the mystery of ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, the Jets 3rd and 4th round draft picks in 2017. Both had very limited playing time in their rookie seasons and its unclear whether that was because they weren’t ready to contribute or Morton just preferred veterans. Judging by how he handled the QB situation, though, the former seems more likely. But its worry that he preferred Jojo Natson to Stewart and Hansen. If they were that unprepared that’s a bad reflection on Maccagnan. But if Morton simply didn’t want to play them, that lands squarely on him. There’s nothing more valuable than in-game reps.
Good start, bad finish
Morton’s offense seemed to consistently have decent starts and bad finishes throughout the season. Usually an offense starts off each game with a script. Then eventually the offensive coordinator has to deviate and react to the defense. Morton seemed to struggle to counter defensive adjustments from Jets’ opponents. His play calling was predictable at times and he struggled to manufacture any offense when opponents shut down the Jets’ run game. His ability to gameplan well should encourage every Jets fan, particularly with what he had to work with on offense. However, part of growing into his role (much like it was/is with Bowles) has to be becoming a better in game decision maker.
Second season leap
After the Jon Gruden went in another direction for his offensive coordinator, it’s confirmed Morton will be back in 2018 and there’s a reason to be somewhat optimistic. The Jets 2016 breakout star, Quincy Enunwa, who was out injured for all of 2017, will be returning. In addition, the Jets will likely be making upgrades at QB, RB and along the offensive line in free agency (with the aforementioned mountain of cash) and in the draft. The most significant of those potential upgrades, obviously, will be at QB. While Morton was able to get a decent season out of Josh McCown as the Jets starter, there were a good amount of big plays that were left on the field. If the Jets finally get QB right, it’s interesting to see how much of a leap Morton’s offense will make in year two.
As the Jets 5-11 record would indicate, they were ranked near the bottom of the league both offensively and defensively in 2017. Bowles and Morton may have had the excuse of the deconstructed roster this past season but next season they have to improve on the 25th ranked defense and the 28th ranked offense respectively. If they fail to do so, it’s likely ownership won’t be as positive and forward thinking as they were this season.
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