Lessons learned: Jets starters come out flat again
Let's be real here.
The New York Jets are coming off a 4-12 season. And though the team spent money this offseason to add star talent like wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Darrelle Revis, most people aren't expecting this team to make a giant leap forward in 2015.
However, Friday night's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons showed some troubling trends in all three phases of the game that Jets head coach Todd Bowles will want rectified before games start counting. Let's break it down.
A glance at the numbers for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, starting for the recovering Geno Smith, wouldn't reveal the truth. Sure, the NFL journeyman completed 13 of 19 throws for 118 yards and didn't throw an interception as offensive coordinator Chan Gailey seemed determined to spread the field.
Those numbers didn't translate into offensive success as the Jets punted on their first five possessions. Mistakes? There were plenty as the team racked up 10 penalties for 73 yards in the first half alone.
The Jets offense didn't get going until the second quarter, when the Falcons pulled their starters and allowed Chris Ivory to score on a 33-yard run followed by a two-point conversion pass from Fitzpatrick to Marshall. The latter was one of the one bright spots for the unit on Friday as he caught four passes for 62 yards on five targets.
Julio Jones (11) and Leonard Hankerson
This isn't supposed to be an area of concern for the Jets in 2015 and again, it's just the preseason.
But one couldn't help notice that the Falcons and starting quarterback Matt Ryan had absolutely no problem moving the ball against the Jets' first unit. Ryan started fast, connecting with fullback Collin Mooney on his first possession for a 60-yard catch that badly beat linebacker Quinton Coples in the process. A few plays later, a pass interference penalty on Revis — yes, Revis — kept the drive alive and the Falcons scored on short run by Terron Ward, who was starting in place of the injured Devonta Freeman.
The second possession didn't go much better as Ryan got another touchdown on a short pass to Leonard Hankerson. Ryan's night ended at that point — he completed 4 of 5 throws for 75 yards — and he was replaced by backup T.J. Yates. In all fairness, it's hard to blame the Jets defense for that second touchdown because ...
3. SPECIAL TEAMS
... allowed the Falcons to get excellent field position. You would think people would stop kicking to Devin Hester after all these years, but no. The wily veteran showed he still can burn people in the open field as he took a Jets punt and returned 59 yards all the way to the 4-yard line.
That wasn't the only special teams gaffe of the night. Tommy Bohanon also drew a personal foul penalty on a later punt for hitting the returner too soon after the catch.
Now, is it time to push the panic button? Absolutely not. Nobody should lose it over a preseason performance; by the way, the Jets' second- and third-stringers did rally for a 30-22 victory. But slow starts like this will end games before they begin in the regular season, especially against a high-powered offense like the Falcons'.
So, what else happend on Friday night?
YOU WILL HAVE TO BLOCK LEONARD WILLIAMS
The Jets spent the No. 6 overall pick on the giant defensive lineman out of USC.
The big man, who recently got his first driver's license at age 21, got the Jets on the scoreboard in the second quarter, when he charged through the line virtually unblocked and sacked Sean Renfree for a safety.
You can check out the highlight right here:
Williams and Jason Babin combined for another sack on the Falcons' next possession when once again, the blocking up front broke down. Williams has a high ceiling and there will be people who will make a big deal out of his performance on Friday night (he did have five tackles), but temper that praise. If people aren't going to block up front, the job is made much easier.
MACLIN IS WORTH THE MONEY!
Switching over to the second preseason game of the night, the Seattle Seahawks' 14-13 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, we will observe that the host team's quarterback has been fighting a dubious streak.
Jeremy Maclin (19) and Jason Avant
Alex Smith lasted all of the 2014 season and didn't complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Not one. To counter that, the Chiefs went out and found some talent this offseason, signing former Eagles star Jeremy Maclin to a free-agent contract.
And wouldn't you know, Maclin came down with a scoring grab against the Seahawks late in the second quarter.
Of course, Smith's streak continues because this is again ... the preseason. But it's good to see Smith actually have a target out wide who can strike fear into opposing secondaries.
CAN'T QUESTION WAGNER'S ABILITY
The Seahawks made Bobby Wagner the highest-paid middle linebacker in the NFL when they gave him a four-year, $43 million contract extension earlier this month.
Money well spent? Sure seemed like it on Friday as Wagner stepped in front of a Smith pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. It's interesting to see Wagner make an impact as he was missing last season when the Seahawks got dominated on the ground in a regular-season loss against these Chiefs.
The Seahawks D is clearly a different unit when their middle linebacker is patrolling the field. Now, if they can just get Kam Chancellor back in the fold ...
OFFENSE HASN'T TAKEN FLIGHT YET
The Seahawks made a splash by bringing in star tight end Jimmy Graham this offseason. The latter caught three passes for 39 yards in the first half, but the offense failed to get into the end zone.
In fact, in five first-quarter possessions this preseason, the Seahawks have punted all five times.
Next week will reveal more about how this offense is coming together as the third week of the preseason is traditionally when teams allow the starters to play a big chunk of the game.