I sat down with Michael Nania of Gang Green Nation, the New York Jets SB Nation site. He asked me five questions. I also asked him five to preview this Saturday’s game between the Jets and Texans. This is what he had to say.
1.) Sam Darnold has been hurt and has thrown a lot of interceptions, but he has made some sublime throws. How would you describe his rookie year? Where would you rank him out of the rookie quarterback selected in the first round last year? How excited are you for future Josh Allen versus Sam Darnold matchups?
Fans are mostly very happy with what Darnold has done so far. His box score production is poor, and his struggles as a 21-year old rookie have been a major reason the Jets have struggled mightily on offense. However, the flashes have been aplenty, often occurring at times and in circumstances where he has no business making things happen.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has taken a lot of heat this season. Top two wideouts Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa have both missed some time. Jermaine Kearse has fallen off a cliff and Terrelle Pryor struggled before getting cut mid-season. The team’s most reliable receiving and pass protecting back, Bilal Powell, went down mid-season. The Jets’ offensive line is lackluster. Darnold had two games this year where he dealt with constant poor shotgun snapping from center Spencer Long (15+ bad snaps in one game!). The offense runs the ball a lot on first and second down and is stuffed more often than nearly every offense in the league, and in turn Darnold has had to throw from 3rd & 10+ at a higher frequency than any other starting quarterback.
Darnold has dealt with all of that, and he still commonly showcases the amazing talent that made him the third overall pick. He has a lot of work to do, but it would be an absolute shock if we weren’t saying that at this point of his rookie year as the youngest Week 1 starter in NFL history. He needs to do a better job picking and choosing his spots to make those Brett Favre-esque gunslinger throws, and also must do better reading the middle of the field and cashing in on open receivers deep.
However, with the special ability he has shown to bounce back from mistakes this year, and his impressive displays of football IQ and maturity both on and off the field, there’s plenty of hope Darnold will become a high quality NFL starter in the future with more stability around him.
2.) Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Elijah McGuire, Isaiah Crowell, Christopher Herndon. The Jets have a bunch of decent skill players, but no one that can carry an offense on his own. The offensive line hasn’t pass blocked or run blocked well this year. Is Darnold in an environment where he can succeed?
As I described in the previous section, that answer has been “No” all year. The Jets need to heavily invest on offense this season. This team has over-emphasized defense for far too long, and is now behind the curve in an offense-oriented league. In turn, they have an insufficient infrastructure to surround their rookie with—that goes for the talent both on the field and on the staff.
The Jets are going to clean house. They need to find a staff that can click with Darnold and get the most out of him—whether the HC/OC combo be an up-and-coming one or proven NFL coaches.
They have a lot of cap space as well. They need to try and get as many weapons for Darnold as possible. A Le’Veon Bell chase is likely. Whether or not Bell is worthy of the money he will command is a very fair debate, but the Jets need to help Darnold as much as possible.
Of course, the O-Line must be addressed also. Both in free agency and the draft, the Jets should be looking for upgrades at just about every position, probably save for right tackle and right guard, where Brandon Shell and Brian Winters seem safe for 2019.
3.) The Jets blitz from every level of the defense. They blitz all the time. When it gets picked up, it leaves them susceptible on the back end and allows the quarterback to step up and run forever. The Jets have a top ten pass defense, but they have trouble stopping the run. What’s your opinion of Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme? Are you expecting him back next year?
The answer to your second question is a resounding No - the writing is on the wall that Bowles will not return next year.
Bowles’ scheme draws a lot of criticism. A former assistant of his, Pepper Johnson (defensive line coach), called him out for doing a poor job of matching blitzes with coverages, and that is a very valid criticism. The Jets went out and paid Trumaine Johnson a ton of money this offseason, but haven’t played him to his strength in press coverage enough.
Bowles also very rarely adjusts in game. The Jaguars beat the Jets running the exact same 2-3 plays multiple times throughout the game, gaining yards and touchdowns over uncovered field. The team also constantly struggles to defend running Quarterbacks (3rd most rushing yards allowed to QBs this year).
4.) Leonard Williams is an undeniable talent, but he has only 15 sacks in his career and hasn’t put together a monstrous box score stuffing season. Why is that?
This is one of the biggest debates among Jets fans. While disappointing, Williams is a solid player, but gets far too much heat from fans because of his lackluster box scores. You know how fans are. There are only two ways to describe a player—he sucks or he’s great!
Williams is strong, has a quality array of pass rush moves, and draws a lot of doubles that help out his teammates. He defends the run generally well and racks up a lot of pressures and hits, but he doesn’t seem to have the quickness or athleticism to finish sacks like some of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL.
Overall, he is one of the best players on the team, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft status in which he was pitched as potentially “the best player in the draft.” It’s fair for fans to get on him, but they need to be even keeled and understand that he’s still pretty good. The Jets will have a tough decision to make on his contract after this year. I’d like to see him back, but he could likely get overpaid as a primarily run stuffing DT who doesn’t make many high impact plays in the pass game.
5.) Do you give the Jets any chance of upsetting Houston? If so, why will the Jets win?
I think it’s highly unlikely, as the Jets’ offense faces a tough matchup against a good run stuffing defense while the Houston offense presents a mobile QB and a true #1 WR, two things the Jets have also struggled with.
I don’t think it’s impossible, though. Darnold beat the Colts and Broncos at home, and pulled off two improbable road wins in his career debut on prime time at Detroit and in the cold against a good defense in Buffalo. He’s been inconsistent, but Darnold’s peaks have been legit quality quarterbacking. Usually, his good performances have been accompanied by sufficient help. If the Jets can help Darnold out with good field position from takeaways or on special teams, Darnold has proven he can take advantage of that help.Andre Roberts has been an outstanding returner this year, both on punts and kicks. The team has also blocked a bunch of kicks this year (#1 special teams DVOA this year). Can the Jets keep helping out their rookie? If so, anything is possible.