FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. The longest yard: The ill-fated fourth-and-1 play last week against the San Francisco 49ers prompted further investigation, and this is what we learned about Jets coach Adam Gase and his playcalling:
Curiously, quarterback Sam Darnold did not have the freedom to audible to a quarterback sneak in that situation, Gase said, even though there was a gap in the defensive front big enough for a golf cart. I checked with a longtime quarterbacks coach and two former quarterbacks, and they all said the same thing: That type of restriction is highly unusual. “Unexplainable,” one of them said.
There’s another layer to this. Quite simply, Gase doesn’t believe in quarterback sneaks.
In 18 games under Gase, the Jets have attempted one quarterback sneak in situations where they needed only one yard for a first down, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Detroit Lions have tried zero, while the Buffalo Bills have a league-high 21 attempts since the start of the 2019 season.
As the Miami Dolphins‘ coach (2016-18), Gase’s quarterbacks tried only seven keepers, fewer than all but four teams. He will call an occasional read-option — Darnold scored twice last season on those calls — but he shies away from sneaks because of potential injury to the quarterback. He also believes there’s a certain skill to it, and that not everyone can be Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, the sneak master.
That said, he should give Darnold the ability to call one if he smells an opportunity.
“I’ve never really heard of a coach saying, ‘No, a quarterback can’t do something,'” former quarterback and NFL analyst Boomer Esiason said. “The opposite should really be true. You want your quarterback to be able to do whatever makes him comfortable. I think Adam is probably being somewhat protective of Sam Darnold. That’s not how I’d go about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.”
Which raises a larger question: How much does Gase trust Darnold?
Gase called an extremely conservative game last week — no pass attempts over 20 yards. Essentially, he’s asking Darnold to play on a short field, which can only work with flawless execution and creative playcalling.
News flash: The Jets aren’t the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s time to loosen up and let Darnold use his playmaking ability. He thrives in up-tempo situations, yet the Jets haven’t tried to play that way. Gase is dealing with significant challenges, namely a depleted receiving corps, but he’s handcuffing his most talented player (Darnold) by coaching not to lose.
He should change it up Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, who aren’t as good as their defensive ranking (No. 1 in yards allowed). Instead of playing it safe against their Cover 2 scheme, why not stretch the field on occasion? The Colts’ cornerbacks — even the ones that weren’t traded to the Jets — are vulnerable.
Gase is a long way from his days working with Peyton Manning, who basically ran the entire show. This is the first time he has had the opportunity to groom a young quarterback, so there was bound to be a transition period. They should be past that point.
2. More on audibles: Gase noted Darnold has the ability to change the play in certain situations. Example: In Week 1, he recognized a blitz and checked to a wide-receiver screen, resulting in a 69-yard touchdown for Jamison Crowder.
As a few Twitter users noted, it means that neither of Darnold’s touchdown passes came on plays called by Gase. The other scoring pass was a broken/improv play by Darnold to Braxton Berrios.
3. Roster reality check: Gase is getting most of the blame for the Jets’ 0-2 start, but let’s be clear about one thing: This is not a winning roster. I asked an opposing scout to name the players who are good enough to start for “most teams.”
After a chuckle, he mentioned left tackle Mekhi Becton, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Crowder and safety Marcus Maye. He named tight end Chris Herndon, linebacker Avery Williamson, cornerback Blessuan Austin and defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi as players who could start on “some” teams.
So that’s four on one tier, with four a notch below. That’s not going to win a whole lot of games.
And what about running back Le’Veon Bell?
“I don’t know where he is anymore,” the scout said.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas struck gold with Becton in this year’s NFL draft, but none of his other moves have inspired songs. It’s early, and things could change. I still think the offensive line, now dealing with injuries to center Connor McGovern and right tackle George Fant, has a chance to be decent. But it sure seems as though more talent left the building (namely, safety Jamal Adams and wide receiver Robby Anderson) than entered.
Clearly, Douglas is thinking long term. But that doesn’t help Gase.
Dan Orlovsky likes the Broncos’ chances of recovering from an 0-2 start, while Keyshawn Johnson picks the Eagles as the team he feels can turn things around.
4. Historically bad start: The most alarming part about the 0-2 record is the non-competitive starts. The Jets have been outscored in the first half 42-6. Not only is the minus-36 point differential the worst in the league, but it’s the worst by any Jets team since 1996 — the infamous 1-15 season.
It’s only the eighth time since 2000 that a team has been minus-36 or worse. Of the previous seven, only one — the ’05 Minnesota Vikings (9-7) — won more than six games.
Despite a talent deficiency, the Jets shouldn’t be getting blown out by halftime. This is the NFL, not Alabama versus Troy. Obviously, it speaks to a lack of preparation, mental and physical — and that’s on the coaching staff.
The biggest surprise is that it’s happening to the defense. Coordinator Gregg Williams runs a tight ship, but it’s taking on water, especially in light of the comments by safety Bradley McDougald and Williamson.
5. Did you know? The Jets are the only team that has yet to hold a lead. Chew on that for a minute.
6. Where’s the “Unicorn”? The biggest early-season mystery is Herndon, who was expected to be a big part of the offense after missing 15 games last season. So far, he looks nothing like the player who showed so much promise at the end of the 2018 season. He has seven catches for only 42 yards, with most of it coming in garbage time. He also has a lost fumble and an end zone drop.
With so many injuries at wide receiver, this should be Herndon’s time to shine. So what’s going on? He’s getting fewer opportunities in the passing game than 2018, as statistics show he’s being used more as a blocker than before. This makes little sense, considering the paucity of weapons. It would be a gross miscalculation if he’’ not featured against the Colts.
7. The Indy shuttle: The Jets and Colts have made five trades since August 2017, the most celebrated being the St. Patrick’s Day 2018 blockbuster that resulted in the Jets drafting Darnold. Of the other four deals, the one that worked out the best is the one everybody forgets about.
In 2017, the Jets traded for long-snapper Thomas Hennessy, who has become one of the most consistent players on the roster. Insert your own long-snapper punch line.
The other trades brought defensive end Henry Anderson and cornerbacks Nate Hairston and Quincy Wilson. Anderson was terrific in 2018 but has faded. Hairston hasn’t created a niche for himself, and Wilson, out this week with a concussion, hasn’t been around long enough to make his mark.
8. The last word: “They’ll just be like, ‘Dang, bro.’ And that’s it. I just laugh and then go on to the next play.” — Becton on how defenders react when they get pancaked by him.