What a bitter, disappointing defeat. The Jets are already 0-1 in Trent-Dilfer-must-win-games™.
If the Jets like last year end up narrowly missing a wildcard spot due to AFC tiebreakers, he’ll actually have a point. It doesn’t matter if it’s Week 1 or Week 15, a loss against a team competing for AFC postseason football is always potentially devastating. The good news is the Jets have 15 more games to make this up, and an opportunity to restore some faith quickly with a fast turnaround playing Thursday night in Buffalo.
There was a decent amount of good to take away from Sunday. That is what makes this loss so frustrating. The Jets for large periods looked like the much better team against a perennial playoff contending opponent, yet failed miserably to match the ruthless red zone efficiency of last year. A revamped special teams unit featured great punts, a promising returner, and some excellent kick coverage, yet a veteran kicker leaves four easy points off the board in a game that was decided by a one-point margin. Free agent signings and several young breakout candidates were the best players on the field, yet veterans the Jets came to rely on last year – Decker, Marshall, Revis – were among the biggest disappointments. Sigh.
Let the Big Cat Eat
The Jets had an incredible 7 sacks on Sunday, the most the Jets have had in a single game since 2003. By comparison, it took the Jets defense until the Miami game in London last year to tally the same amount. The keys here were an excellent debut from Steve McClendon and a stellar start to Leonard Williams’ sophomore campaign. In one game both players put past years to shame – two sacks for McClendon Sunday matches his total sack output from the prior three years. Compared to Snacks, McClendon is a lot more agile and the Jets are using him as a one-gap player more often than what happened with Harrison. Williams was credited for 2.5 sacks and was easily the best player on the field for the Jets. This isn’t hyperbole, I think he could be a defensive player of the year dark horse. A scorching hot start after notching only 3 sacks last year, things are looking up overall here with Richardson joining the fray starting this Thursday.
On offense, the stars also were new faces and breakout candidates. The new-look running game got a heavy dose of Matt Forte, and he answered the call admirably. He looks like vintage Forte, at least for now. Is 27 touches for a 30-year-old running back sustainable? It wouldn’t be wise to find out. But Powell also looked good in spell duty, picking up 41 yards on just 4 carries. The Jets paid to bring him back, so it is logical to think the duties at running back become more even as the year goes on. Quincy Enunwa led the team in receptions and caught the first touchdown of the season, doing a little bit of everything in the process. Rookie receiver Jalin Marshall, though without a reception, twice drew penalties that extended drives and probably would have had a touchdown if not for one of them.
And how about the offensive line? Brian Winters has quietly grown into a steady guard in the run game, and the right tackle rotation was not the disaster it sounded like it might be. I give the edge to Ijalana over Qvale, but as a rotation they were both steadier than we usually expect from Giacomini. Clady too was solid in his debut, but it was always more health related issues with him. A healthy Clady is an upgrade on a Brick that was clearly on the decline.
Revis Island is dead. And that’s fine. But scheming like Revis is still that player is perilous.
It’s been gone for a while. The revolutionary superhuman corner who could handle the league’s elite receivers man-to-man every week really hasn’t been seen since his first stint with the Jets. But he doesn’t need to be doing that to still be a highly effective player. Most corners are not.
His utilization, and perhaps the defensive philosophy as a whole, needs an adjustment. Generally speaking I like what Bowles has done here so far despite some clear flaws. This is a disciplined team that is competitive every single week and there’s a clear vision of play on both sides of the ball that’s been pretty well executed. The foundation of a good team is here. But the defensive expertise he has brought similar to Rex relies a lot on pre-snap confusion, blitz packages and the strength of the secondary. Given the strengths of the personnel on defense, the amount of blitzing the Jets do under Bowles is superfluous.
The defensive line has three first round picks, all of whom have double-digit sack ability. On the other hand the secondary is top-heavy. Revis, while still a very good corner, is no longer an elite one. Good corners are going to get beat by great receivers in man-to-man coverage in an officiating culture that favors offense. It is ok to give good corners help. As Joe pointed out early this week, the Jets under Bowles have had a tough time stopping top-tier #1 receivers. What is especially troubling about getting destroyed by these players is that they were all the solitary threat on their respective offenses. “Don’t let the one really good player beat you” is Phil Simms level logic, but the Jets haven’t figured it out. Here’s hoping Bowles does before the Jets play the Steelers.
Giving Us Fitz
I mentioned last week in a Bengals preview piece that this past week could be especially telling because it introduces Fitzpatrick to a stretch of quality defenses the likes of which were rarely seen last year. The early signs weren’t promising. He was even more inaccurate than usual, and strangely wasn’t as willing to take chances as he usually is (there still were several risky throws however). The performance in the red zone, one place where he was a very efficient quarterback last year, was particularly disappointing. But he also wasn’t the only one struggling.
Relative to expectations, you also have to be really disappointed in Brandon Marshall and to a lesser extent Eric Decker. You need your best players to play at their best and the Jets expect the pair to carry the passing game, not Fitzpatrick. The Jets aren’t going to win games where the pair combine for just five receptions and fail to win red zone matchups. It wasn’t going to be overcome last year, and it certainly won’t this year with better opponents on average. When the Jets best offensive players play like they’re supposed to, and the complementary passing targets that emerged Sunday are consistently involved, that is where improvement over last year is going to come from.
Regardless, it isn’t a good look for Fitzpatrick going into a short week against an opponent that traditionally has had his number. Here is hoping Gailey can be especially creative in manufacturing touches for Thursday’s game. For once, it would be nice to have the answers for Rex and not the other way around.
Photo Credit: NewYorkjets.com