In a recent interview, Jets interim owner Christopher Johnson once again refused to give a playoff mandate. Instead he simply insisted he “sure as hell hopes” the Jets make the postseason. We all hope so but sadly our intentions won’t get them there. So instead of simply hoping, let’s use the facts at our disposal to see if the Jets could or even should be a playoff team in 2019 based on who made the postseason in 2018. We’ll use two key areas of comparison: personnel and statistics.
The talent level on the Jets has been the biggest issue for the Jets under their current GM, Mike Maccagnan. The roster simply hasn’t been close enough to teams who are considered contenders. But let’s take a detailed look at why and how much closer they could be after the draft. Here’s how the teams who made the postseason have approached their roster construction.
Half of the 12 teams that made the postseason last year had quarterbacks on rookie contracts like Sam Darnold. Of those 6 quarterbacks, 2 of them made it to their Conference Championships and 1 even made it to the Super Bowl (Goff). Building around a promising young quarterback is definitely part of a good model for success. But all these teams collectively brought up these three key principles: Build your offensive line, acquiring (draft or trade) and retaining difference makers on defense, and have at least one mismatch weapon on offense at RB or TE.
Building the Offensive Line
Jets fans should now understand how important the offensive line is the success of the entire team. The struggles of the offensive line have directly correlated to an inefficient offense. While the Jets made a great move trading for Kelechi Osemele to upgrade their left guard position vacated by James Carpenter, they still have major improvements to make when compared to the offensive lines of most playoff teams from last season.
The Colts, the Patriots, and the Rams are the best examples of the importance of building the offensive line. All three of them were able to utilize a balanced offensive attack that took pressure off of their star quarterbacks and allowed them to control the game. Their stout offensive lines made that possible. For the Colts, the offensive line helped bring Andrew Luck back to playing at a high level and unlocked some of Marlon Mack’s great potential. For the Rams, the greatness of their line shined brightest when C.J Anderson had to step in for Todd Gurley and their running game was still just as effective (until the Super Bowl). Lastly, for the Patriots, their offensive line was peaking by the Super Bowl. There they did their best work. The Patriots racked up 154 yards rushing and only gave up 1 sack and 4 QB hits. They did this against a defense that boasted Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and finished 1st in pressure rate according to Football Outsiders.
Difference Makers on Defense
The second principle is drafting difference makers on defense. I want to be clear. That doesn’t mean, for example, a player that statistically seems to excel at run stopping on a team that can’t stop the run. Or a player that collects some interceptions on a team that can’t cover. I mean players that directly influence the outcome of games on a weekly basis and transform their unit on the team’s defense. Despite this clearly being an offensive league, the playoffs were stacked with elite defensive combos. Tyrann Mathieu, JJ Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney in Houston. Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, and Kyle Fuller in Chicago. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Demarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones in Dallas. Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark, and Shaquill Griffin in Seattle. But two of the best examples are with the Chargers and the Saints.
For the Chargers, adding Derwin James (3.5 sacks, 3 INT’s, 1st team All-Pro), and Desmond King (4 sacks, 4 INT’s, 1st team All-Pro) to compliment Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front completely changed the potency of their defense. For the Saints, drafting Marshon Lattimore, and Marcus Williams to compliment Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins did that. Then they followed that up with aggressively trading up for Marcus Davenport last season and striking gold with Demario Davis. Both teams are also a great example of personnel balance. They diversified the talent they added to their defenses, resulting in both a strong pass rush up front and a strong secondary in the back. In addition, both teams look young and promising despite having quarterbacks at the tail end of their careers.
The Jets have a nice combo with Jamal Adams and C.J Mosley. They will be a formidable force in the middle of the Jets defense. But it still feels like they’re missing at least one more piece when you compare that to those playoff teams. Particularly, after a disappointing season from Trumaine Johnson and Marcus Maye’s health concerns. That big addition could be what they target in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Let’s hope it’s a player that can make an immediate impact.
Mismatch Weapon on Offense
This third principle was a key for the majority of the offenses that made the playoffs. Many of them had at least one player that was an mismatch problem for defenses. This is often a player at a variable position like tight end or running back that can used to expose a weak defender in coverage. They also can act as a safety valve for a quarterback underneath, over the middle, or isolated. For the Saints it’s Alvin Kamara. The Chiefs have Travis Kelce. The Bears have Tarik Cohen. The Eagles have Zack Ertz. The Patriots have James White, Sony Michel, and had Rob Gronkowski. Each of the players are capable of creating “zero-win” situations for defenses without enough good cover defenders, where they have just have to pick their poison.
This is one area the Jets have addressed well. The emergence of Chris Herndon last season as a rookie was promising. Statistically he had a good year, with 502 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. But more importantly he grew into a reliable safety valve for Sam Darnold. That’s only going to further augment the addition of Le’veon Bell. Bell is arguably the most versatile running back in the league. Linebackers can’t cover him. Defensive backs can’t bring him down once the balls in his hands. With Jamison Crowder opening things up even more from the slot, and if Herndon can step a step forward next season, the Jets will be creating tons of mismatch problems for defense in 2019.
Statistics (Top 10’s)
Often the best way to measure how a team stacks up to the competition is to go by the numbers. Of course, talent level and statistics often go hand in hand. The Jets were lacking in plenty of statistical categories. But the teams in last year’s postseason give a good target point for a few different key stats.
Let’s start off with the big hurdle. 8 of the 12 playoff teams finished top 10 in scoring offense, 6 of 12 were top 10 in yards per play, and all 12 teams were either top 10 in passing or rushing yards per game. The Jets finished 23rd in scoring, 29th in yards per play, 25th in passing yards per game, and 26th in rushing yards per game. There really was no area of strength on offense last year. That could see a boost with the additions of the aforementioned Le’veon Bell, Kelechi Osemele and Jamison Crowder. Particularly, when it comes to big plays in the passing game. 7 of the 12 postseason teams were in the top 10 in yards per passing attempt. But a big part of climbing that board will come from the sidelines. The kind of climb that saw the 49ers go from one of the worst offenses in the NFL to an exciting and promising offense in 2017 and 2018. For the 49ers, that catalyst was Kyle Shanahan. For the Jets, Adam Gase is the main factor in how high this offense rises. But aside from that, let’s dig even deeper to some other key stats for postseason teams.
7 of the 12 teams finished the regular season in the top 10 in fewest sacks allowed. This goes back to the earlier point about building the offensive line. The Jets were actually 13th in fewest sacks allowed last season. The addition of Kelechi Osemele helps but as mentioned before, they need address center and tackle to ensure Darnold is running for his life all the time (no matter how good he may be at it). Speaking of signal callers, 8 of the 12 teams finished in the top 10 in passer rating, and 7 of 12 were top 10 in QBR. Efficiency is something Darnold has to significantly improve. Thankfully there is very much a precedent for such an improvement in year 2 after a coaching change. Trubisky went from 31st in QBR in 2017 to 4th in 2018 (Hi, Matt Nagy).
Lastly, 7 of the 12 teams were in the top 10 in time of possession. Like we spoke of earlier, controlling the balance of the game is more important than ever in an offense driven league. You have to have a defense that can get off of the field but more importantly an offense that can get ahead of the chains and move the ball consistently. The one big outlier in this instance were the Kansas City Chiefs. Their offense scored so quick they ended up 26th in time of possession and the top scoring offense in the NFL. A big part of that was that they were average almost 7 yards per play. An underrated part of that was also how bad their defense was at getting off the field on the third down and giving up big plays, which ended up costing them when it mattered most.
As offense leaning as the league is becoming, you still need a defense that can bend but not break.7 of the 12 playoff teams finished in the top 10 in scoring defense. The same number of teams finished top 10 in touchdowns allowed per game. And the same number finished top 10 in points per play. The Jets were 29th, 24th, and 27th in those categories respectively. Much like the offense, the Jets have a ways to go to be on par with the teams most of the defenses that made the playoffs. They need to make a big leap in 2019.
You still have to stop the run in today’s NFL. 8 of the 12 playoff teams finished in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed per game. This used to be a strength for the Jets in the past but they’ve fallen off of a cliff. They finished 26th in rushing yards allowed per game. It’s been a decline from the 11th place finish in 2016. Whatever individual run stopping stats they are getting from their defensive line has correlated to collective success in this area. C.J Mosley and whoever they draft in the first round of this year’s draft should help this area. But once again, they have significant jump to make.
Usually the easiest stat to correlate with success are turnovers. 7 of the 12 teams were top 10 in turnover differential. We spoke earlier of Darnold’s need to improve his efficiency but the Jets defense has to improve their ability to steal possessions as well. They were 18th in takeaways and 27th in turnover differential. So while its a good bet that Darnold’s turnover numbers will go down in 2019, the Jets need Gregg Williams to get their defense to be more opportunistic. The good news is that the Williams led Browns defense finished 2nd in takeaways last season.
So, in summary, how do the Jets stack up against last year’s playoff teams? They cover 1 of the 3 personnel principles mentioned earlier. They have their mismatch weapons with Le’veon Bell and Chris Herndon. But their offensive line isn’t good enough yet and they need more difference makers on defense. Statistically, their offense is going to make a leap. How high the leap will be heavily dependent on Adam Gase. Defensively, there a lot of questions. They need help in the secondary, specifically at corner. And they need pass rushers (still). There isn’t quite a balance of talent between both sides of the ball. Because of that, I think the Jets playoff chances are squarely dependent on fixing the offensive line and developing a more consistent pass rush. As a result, I’m not high on their chances at this moment. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still change that this offseason.
One thing is clear. To make the playoffs, you have to either be balanced on both sides of the ball or dominant on one side of the ball. To be a championship team, a level of balance is required. It’s why the Saints were a play away from the Super Bowl. It’s how we finished we Rams vs. Patriots. And it’s how the Patriots continue to win over and over again. You have to build like the best to eventually beat the best.