The brutal truth behind the Jets
In this lost season of unrealized expectations and stark realities, the New York Jets must use the rest of 2016 to see what they’ve got for 2017 and beyond.
Where to begin?
In this past Sunday’s battle between the league’s worst two offenses, the New York Jets (3-7) had a slim chance to remain in the playoff picture. If you read today’s ESPN scroll, even the lowly San Diego Chargers (4-6) are still in the hunt. Instead, Gang Green are facing their sixth straight non-playoff season. It’s getting downright Bills/Browns-like.
The losing Los Angeles Rams were not overly concerned about their mediocre quarterback Case Keenum because knew they had a real advantage — with their formidable defensive front facing the Jets patchwork offensive line. But then the Jets under-performing defensive line gave Keenum all day in the pocket, resulting in an untold number of easily converted 3rd down tosses.
Bayonne kid turned Rutgers product Kenny Britt beat Darrelle Revis so badly that he may have just officially shut down Revis Island. For a sense of perspective: the mediocre Keenum took care of business against the lowly Jets, and likely played his final game in a Rams jersey.
One could find positives in the fact that the NYJ “D” only allowed nine points. But how many times did they give up a big play or make a bonehead error in huge situations?
This is a sinking ship. They don’t even lose with style. Turn on any other NFL game on the dial, and you’ll see a qualitatively better on-field product.
So, in tribute to the New York return of local-boy-done-good Billy Joel to Madison Square Garden, here are a few of songs from his tortured soul that connect to the Jets’ dysfunction.
5. We Didn’t Start The Fire
Head coach Todd Bowles seems like a great guy. He’s a respected Super Bowl-winning pro football lifer. He’s earned his NFL job, no question. But there’s something wrong here.
Last year, Bowles’ strong silent type demeanor seemed like the perfect locker-room tonic to Rex Ryan’s braggadocio-gone-mad. This year, the veterans and too many of the young stars have tuned him out.
Sure, it was a tough opening six weeks. But in hindsight, there were three close losses that could’ve easily been avoided. Namely, the one-point opening home loss to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals after kicker Nick Folk killed momentum with a missed point-after; the gimme in Miami that ended with a late-game kickoff return taken to the house; and last week’s poorly handled Bryce Petty debut that sputtered after another early Folk choke.
As in all their other losses, in those three games, Gang Green came out flat. They missed tackles, made penalties, blew assignments and failed to execute. That all comes back to coaching.
To be fair, New York is a tough place to coach. The most successful NYC commanders — Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, even Mike Keenan and Pat Riley — were strong personalities, able to take on all the noise. When coaches don’t answer the questions, then the reporters go asking the players — which is never a good thing because that’s not what players are best at.
Bowles treats his players like men. Maybe that’s a problem.
4. A Matter of Trust
Jets fans had very good reason for concern when they saw their team’s defensive starting lineup. The roster is so thin at linebacker that they came out in their 4-3 set. In theory, that puts their best linemen on the field. In reality, it’s resulted in a non-existent pass rush, and almost everyone playing out of position.
There’s not a Jets fan who did not want the team to bring back Muhammad Wilkerson. But the moment the Jersey boy signed his $86 million deal, he stopped delivering with excellence.
There are rumbles that his slower than expected off-season foot surgery traces back to such lack of commitment. That is a stinging indictment. But the attitude doesn’t seem much-improving. It truly is the worst of all worlds for this organization.
It’s tough to say if Mo’s efforts have been worse on or off the field — be it blowing off practices, tuning out coaches, or getting blown off the ball play after play. Same goes for man-child Sheldon Richardson, one strike away from a season-long suspension.
Boy does this D-line miss the presence and maturity of Damon “Snacks” Harrison, currently tearing’ it up with their stadium mates, Big Blue.
3. New York State Of Mind
You gotta like a lot of what you saw with Bryce Petty in the first half — his poise, and his arm, particularly on that 52-yard heave at the end of the first quarter to Robby Anderson that was damn impressive both in terms of the throw and catch. It was clearly the kind of bomb that Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven unable to heave for much of his career.
A case could be made that Petty’s first-game rookie mistakes were no worse than the rookie mistakes made all season long by the 13-year veteran outta Harvard that he replaced. Having said that, the Baylor product’s blown gimme touchdown to Anderson late in the 2nd quarter was a brutal hiccup.
Petty had to deal with poor field position, and the poor execution and lack of focus of his teammates. For instance, on the Jets opening drive, the team got flagged for an unforgivable 12 men on the field infraction on Petty’s first-ever 3rd down and short. Bryce rebounded nicely with a pretty comeback route to Anderson that came up short of the marker. But it killed the team’s opening drive and was indicative of the game to come.
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The Jets’ only touchdown was on an impressive 99-yard drive. It culminated in one of the most exciting plays of a forgettable season — when Quincy Enunwa‘s block made for that beautiful old-school hook-and-ladder from Petty to Brandon Marshall to Bilal Powell touchdown.
These offensive series rate mention because everything changed in the second half. In previous games, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey lacked commitment to the impressive Matt Forte running game. He kept going back to his erratic prized pupil Fitzpatrick and expecting him to deliver on plays requiring elite-level execution.
Opposing secondary all say something similar; when they look in Fitz’s eyes, they know where he’s gonna throw it. Petty stared down more than a few receivers in his debut, but he’s a fourth-round project, not a $12 million holdout.
It’s cringe-inducing to realize that the team will also have to pay the bearded one an additional $3 million, for the rights to have him never wear a Jets uniform again.
2. Big Shot
Petty suffered from terrible field position all day because the Rams dominated on special teams. In many ways, L.A. punter Johnny Hekker was the star of the game, keeping Gang Green deep on their own side of the field for most of the contest.
The Jets’ special teams were once again generally awful. Sure, Folk blasted the opening kick for a touchback. But he also blew another point-after boot after the opening score, and it once again affected the outcome of the game.
The long punt returns by the Rams’ explosive Tavon Austin, in combination with the litany of Jets’ clipping calls, illegal blocks, and yet another muffed fair catch by Jalin Marshall allowing the Rams to stick Petty on his own one-yard line, all could’ve been catastrophes.
Young J-Marsh has an NFL future as a slot receiver. But yet they trot him out as a punt returner as if to justify his roster spot. When New York set the final 53-man roster after training camp, the coaching staff had serious concerns over Jalin’s abilities as a return man. Those concerns turned out to be warranted.
So why are they still sending the undrafted free agent out of Ohio State out there week after week and expecting him not to fumble? Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result?
Have the special teams really identified no other player on the roster up for the return task? Is aging recent import C.J. Spiller really a viable answer?
Special teams are one of those things that winning teams never have to talk about in the negative. But this is the New York Jets.
1. You May Be Right
This team is like a rudderless ship, the unintended result of the unique organizational chain of command. Both the head coach and general manager are equally empowered and report to Woody Johnson. That’s why the to-this-moment overmatched Bowles will likely get one more season to prove himself.
Listening to Mike Macagnan’s recent press conference was a lesson in conflict avoidance. Like when he kinda said that he did not regret signing Darrelle Revis or Fitzpatrick because they were both good last season. It all might sound a tad better than dealing with John Idzik’s control-freak paranoia or listening to Mike Tannenbaum whine on in corporate drivel about “the process.” However, that’s little cause for confidence.
Leonard Williams, last year’s No. 6 pick in the draft, is probably the best player on the team. This year’s first rounder Darron Lee has star potential. Brian Winters is evolving into a top-tier guard before our eyes. Enunwa can excel on any NFL team as a third option. Rookie punter Lach Edwards has had an encouraging season, considering the Aussie’s relative lack of football experience. After an injury-riddled early first season, third rounder Jordan Jenkins becomes more of a presence by the week. Despite it all, they’re better off with than without Calvin Pryor, Powell, and even Richardson
As the Jets play out the string, they need to see what they’ve got, with not just Petty, but with players like young Devin Smith recovered from ACL surgery, or Wagner import Julian Stanford. And they need to see who’s gonna rise to the occasion among a host of young cornerbacks, linebackers, linemen and tight ends.
If you want to get a handle on where this organization stands, the league decided to remove next weekend’s game against the ratings-kings New England Patriots from prime time.
Sometimes, the truth hurts.