New York Jets Week 1 – “Pump The Brakes?”

While the rest of Jets Nation basks in the reflective glow of one of the most complete and stunning victories the franchise has seen in years, it is up to one curmudgeonly-beyond-his years man to temper expectations. While I am not the hero (or even a hero) that Jets fans need, I’m the one they got, so here goes something. 

As easy as it might be for everyone to get excited and overreact about being on the right side of a prime time drubbing for a change and salivate over the possibility of a 3-0 or 2-1 start, I think a little sanity can always be helpful so we don’t collectively go over our skis after one win. For the sake of being balanced, I’ll start with the things I liked: 

The Special Teams: 

It looks like the Jets finally exorcised the ghost of JoJo Natson as the Special Teams looked more “good special” than “bad special” while in the process proving that time is in fact a flat circle as former Falcon, Andre Roberts, who was on the opposite sideline at one of this unit’s lowest points during a deluge at the Meadowlands in October of last year, was single-handedly responsible for the best moment in nearly a decade, taking a punt return 78-yards to the house. If I’m Mike Maccagnan, I’m signing Roberts up for a Bobby Bonilla lifetime contract yesterday. As for the specialists, Jason Myers was perfect on the night and kicked the ball out of the end zone on every single kick-off. Even Lachlan Edwards, who didn’t get that much action had a couple of nice boots.

Why I’m Curbing My Enthusiasm: 

It’s one thing to kick in a climate-controlled dome in a laugher, it’s another to do it in the “Swamps of Jersey” with the wind howling, the rain pouring, or the snow blowing. Although I subscribe to the school of thought that kickers are like closers in baseball, in that a guy can go from a bum to “the man” from one season to the next, Myers was booted out of Jacksonville for missing three field goals in a single game and has a history of botching extra points. As such, I proceed with cautious optimism, keeping my eye on Dan Bailey’s movements and health in the event of a regression to the mean.

The Defense: 

You have to hand it to Todd Bowles, he called one heck of a game, his defenses were multiple, showing a number of different looks and fronts to confuse Matthew Stafford and the Lion’s offense. You saw stunts, blitzes from defensive backs, defensive linemen dropping into coverage, oh – and of course, the first defensive touchdown since Antonio Allen was still a Safety. In spite of the knocks on this team not being able to generate a pass-rush, a combination of scheme and flashes from guys like off-season addition, Henry Anderson and undrafted rookie free agent and wannabe Ultimate Warrior, Frankie Luvu, had Stafford off-balance all night. Even the much-maligned and disappointing-to-date, Darron Lee had the game of his life, racking up two interceptions including the aforementioned defensive score which came by way of his first interception in the Third Quarter.

As far as the secondary goes, Mo Claiborne had a good game, making some big plays in the Red Zone and recording one of the five interceptions the Jets collected over the course of the night. Among the other stand-outs was Jamal Adams, who as expected, played all over the place in run-support, coverage and as a blitzer, giving us a real glimpse into what his ceiling can be and also picking up his first career interception in the process.

Why I’m Curbing My Enthusiasm: 

The Jets $72 Million-Dollar Man, Trumaine Johnson was visibly beaten several times as it appeared the Lions saw something on tape that they wanted to exploit and were able to do so in the first half. My sense is that this is just a match-up related blip but it’s something that bears watching moving forward. In spite of the big game out of the Defensive Line and the no-name Outside Linebackers, without more of a sample size I’m attributing their success to a combination of the opponent and the game plan. As I mentioned above, Bowles did a very good job of scheming and putting players in positions to make plays but if anyone thinks that Frankie Luvu or Brandon Copeland are going to sustain this team’s pass-rush over the course of 16 games, they’re dreaming. In respect to Darron Lee, everyone has been waiting for him to break out and take advantage of that speed that many had touted coming out of college. One hopes that this will be his breakout year but I’ve been down this road too many times with guys we hoped were turning the corner (see Calvin Pryor 2015) only to find out that it was just a “flash in the pan”. There is no doubt that this is a strong unit, especially in the back-end but without the horses (see: pass-rushers), Bowles and Kacy Rodgers will be the ones driving the ship and determining how far they can go.

The Offensive Line: 

For a unit that barely played together all off-season and caught a lot of undeserved flack for being mediocre, they came out and put a whooping on a pretty stout Lions front-seven, imposing their will in the running game to the tune of 169 yards on the ground and a 4.7 YPC average. In the passing game, they did exactly what you would hope a veteran offensive line protecting a rookie Quarterback would do; and kept Sam Darnold upright all night and away from Ziggy Ansah.

Why I’m Curbing My Enthusiasm: 

First and foremost, health. Kelvin Beachum and Brian Winters were out for extended periods during the pre-season and both have pretty lengthy injury histories. If one of these guys goes down (specifically Beachum), it will leave the Jets most prized asset (Sam Darnold) vulnerable conjuring up images of Wayne Hunter’s auditions for the role of turnstile in 2011. Jeremy Bates also provided the line with a significant amount of help, utilizing multiple tight end sets for a good bulk of the night. Finally, the jury is still out on Brandon Shell but as the old adage about offensive linemen goes, “If you don’t hear their name called it’s a good thing.”

Jeremy Bates: 

As noted above and as is the premise of this article, I tend to skew cynical when it comes to the Jets and so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a great deal of my cynicism was directed towards the survivalist former Quarterbacks Coach-turned-Offensive Coordinator. Who can blame me, if you watched the quarterback play (specifically the young quarterbacks on this roster) last year, it was hard to look past the performances of Petty and the (non)-performance of Hackenberg to say that the Jets brass made the right pick in selecting John Morton’s replacement. Granted, we only have a very small sample size of his version of the West Coast offense but the early returns aren’t terrible. Bates called an okay game, dialing up a bunch of boot-legs and roll-outs to cater to Darnold’s strengths, mixing in a healthy dose of running the ball, and re-discovering the seemingly forgotten tight end position. It’s hard to nitpick when a team puts up 34 points on offense but let’s take a stab at it anyway.

Why I’m Curbing My Enthusiasm: 

It’s easy to score points when you constantly have good field position and the defense is getting the ball back for you five times. The offense was the beneficiary of good field position for most of the night and was able to convert that field position into points. It’s going to be interesting to see how Bates calls a game when down multiple scores but hopefully he doesn’t have to.

As of the date this article was written, we have yet to hear whether that ill-fated first play of the game was designed or just a bone-headed rookie mistake by Darnold. Having heard rumblings of it being a designed play to hit Bilal Powell on a wheel route, I’m not sure where to place blame but I don’t think a sideline to sideline throw is a very high percentage play, especially for a rookie Quarterback so I would hope that one gets thrown out. Additionally, calling an end around on 3rd and short exhibits a lot of what my grandpa might call Chutzpah but when you have two very capable backs who can both tote and catch the ball, getting too cute can ultimately cost you games. I’m interested to see how he can put his survival skills to the test in a big game with real adversity.

Sam Darnold: 

Last but not least is everyone’s new “Golden Boy”, the humble California Kid pundits, the Jets beat, and fans have not stopped raving about and swooning over since the Giants decided it was a good ideas to take a running back at number two. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype and as much as I want this guy to be the second coming of Joe Namath, Jesus Christ, and Prince, the “over the top” gushing about every little move the kid has made was a little bit much for me. Certain members of the Jets beat are bigger offenders than others but it’s clear that there are some visible tools and intangibles there that make you believe Sam Darnold could be the savior.

In terms of this game, as I mentioned above, I don’t know who to blame for that horrible sideline to sideline throw that was intercepted for a touchdown but my hope is that even an obedient rookie Quarterback has enough common sense not to make that throw so I’ll pin this one on him. Watching that ball end up in Quandre Diggs’ hands triggered my PTSD and nearly had me resigning to the fact that no Quarterback to dawn the green and white would or could ever be successful. Fortunately, the sky did not fall and Darnold did what I would argue he does best; and he bounced back. It wasn’t always pretty but he moved the chains, hit guys in stride on crossing routes, aired out an ever-so-slightly under-thrown deep ball to Robby Anderson for a touchdown, and used his pocket presence/mobility to avoid the rush and extend plays.

Why I’m Curbing My Enthusiasm:

Put quite simply: I’ve seen enough to know that I haven’t seen enough. Week 1 is a game you spend all off-season preparing for and he played as you would expect a rookie quarterback to play, he did some good things, he did some bad things, overall it trended in a positive direction. However, as someone who witnessed the pre-mature coronations of Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, it’s just too soon, my heart cant take it. He has yet to be in a position where the Jets need to lean on him to win a game and he received arguably about as much support as a Quarterback can ask for from the other two units. It will be interesting to see what happens when an opposing team decides to put eight or nine in the box and dare Darnold to beat them, that’s when we’ll see the true mettle of our ballyhooed savior. As a recovered Mark Sanchez believer, I have been sucked into this “honey hole” way too many times to lose my mind over a single game. As Todd Bowles put it yesterday, “ask me after 100 more games” whether Sam Darnold is a “Franchise QB”.