1) Pass Rush
Make no mistake the Jets coaching staff knows their deficiencies and this is one of them. I’ve been told since Kahlil Mack was traded to the Bears, the Jets have had everyone and their mother into Florham Park for a last minute tryout to make the team as a pass rusher. The Lions are not the Patriots but give Matthew Stafford time and he will rip up the Jets defense. I had mentioned it but look for the Jets to play three safeties (without Marcus Maye-injured ankle) with Jamal Adams or JJ Wilcox playing as a hybrid linebacker who will rush the QB on passing downs probably more than Todd Bowles would like but the options are limited. Getting a pass rusher will be a priority in next year’s free agency and the draft. The good news is Todd Bowles is a very good defensive schemer so this will give the Jets a puncher’s chance.
2) Offensive Line
I’ve been screaming about the offensive line for more than five years and have witnesses. Last year there were some good moments but there were a lot of horrendous ones also. In 2017 the Jets were 24th in the league in total offense and allowed 47 sacks. There has to be improvement this year especially with a 21-year old rookie quarterback at the helm. The good news is the Jets are improved at the center position with free agent Spencer Long who seems to be a huge upgrade over Wesley Johnson. Tackle Brandon Shell has improved every year and Jet fans can expect more improvement this year. The bad news is the Jet offensive line has not not played a snap together in the pre-season. The Detroit Lions have edge pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah (12 sacks in ’17, 14.5 in ’15) who can be a handful. Bilal Powell is an excellent blocker for a back. Expect Sam to keep him home in the backfield to help out on some passing downs.
3) Sam Darnold
I’ve seen the replay of the Eagles Carson Wentz injury last year and only hope Sam Darnold watched it a few times. Wentz went diving in the end zone which looked wide open only to have two players come in at incredible speed and the result was Carson Wentz has still not played since. Hey Sam, NFL players are incredibly quick! Please no headfirst slides! The Jets hierarchy thinks Sam Darnold is the one we’ve been waiting for. I have a lot of faith in Jeremy Bates and he will only do whatever is in the best interests of the Jets and Sam Darnold. One of Darnold’s best attributes is extending plays. This should bring a lot of smiles to the Jets receiving corp. Against the Lions, look for Bates to give Darnold simple pass plays like a few roll outs just to get his feet wet and in rhythm. I do expect him to open it up a bit as the game goes on. Keep an eye on the Darnold-Anderson combination. Anderson can stretch the field and he finally has a QB that can reach him.
4) Special teams
When thinking of the Jet special teams, I yearn for those days when the Jets had Leon Washington and Brad Smith with Mike Westoff calling the shots. Since those days the Jets ST have been abysmal. The pre-season continued this pattern. The cover schemes and return game are just not working. Can someone tell me if the Jets lead the NFL in fair catches on punts? This has got to change and coach Brant Boyer has got to a better job. If it was me I would put more starters on the special teams just to have better personnel. Special teams is an incredibly important part of a team and the Jets have got to do something for long term improvement.
5) Todd Bowles
He has got to prove to Jet fans and me that he is a real NFL coach and not just a defensive coordinator wearing head coach head gear. Bowles' on the field decision making has been awful. His two minute drill thinking is beyond bad. He seems very indecisive and does not know how or when to use his time outs. His math is embarrassing not knowing when to go for one point or two points after a touchdown. But his team plays hard for him. Still he has the quarterback this year who will lead some comebacks and Todd Bowles has got to control the clock. If he doesn’t, the Jets will have no choice but to look for another head coach.
See Sam Pass! See Sam Run! See Sam Win!
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…..As bad as the Jets special teams have been, punter Lachlan Edwards had a solid second year upping his average to 46.6 per punt from 43.1. Don’t forget his QB rating in 2017 was 118.7 (1-1, 31 yards)…..Newly acquired linebacker Avery Williamson looked impressive in pre-season. Hope his sure tackling carries into the regular season…..I’m liking safety Terrance Brooks better than JJ Wilcox and Doug Middleton for depth. He is an excellent closer on running plays…..Speaking of safeties, when you see rookie Parry Nickerson (#43) on the field, look for him to blitz…..I’m as big a Jermaine Kearse fan as anybody. But taking away personalities and based solely on talent, Terrelle Pryor should be starting at WR opposite Robby Anderson…..Eric Tomlinson is listed as the starting tight end on the depth chart. I like Neal Sterling better and want to see Chris Herndon…..Don’t panic Jet fans if Sam is running for his life in Detroit. Takes 2-4 games for offensive line to get in sync if they haven’t played together…..If DB Rashard Robinson is still on the team after his suspension, I’m moving to Boston…..Hope I’ve been wrong about rookie Trenton Cannon and he breaks two for TDS on Monday…..If rookie defensive lineman Nathan Shepard is anything, than Leonard Williams will be a beast this year…..
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What The Jet Scribes Are Saying
Rich Cimini, ESPN
It was a quiet preseason for Robby Anderson, who made only three catches for 23 yards, but he's ready to explode as he enters his third season. Anderson is thinking big (more on that in a second), but his immediate goal is to help Darnold, his rookie quarterback.
"I'm very comfortable, but I want Sam to be comfortable," Anderson said. "I want to be Sam's blanket, to make him look good and make the offense look good."
Except for one mugging-for-the-camera moment last season, the soft-spoken Anderson isn't your typical receiver in that he's not a self-promoter. He's the most exciting player on the Jets' offense, and he's ready to build on his 941-yard breakout year. He's on a grand mission.
"When you reach 1,000 yards, I think that's how you solidify yourself as a true No. 1 receiver -- a true NFL receiver -- and that's the thing I'm setting out to embrace and work for and achieve."
…..ArDarius Stewart, who is serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, could get squeezed out when he returns. The Jets already have six receivers, and the 2017 third-round pick failed to distinguish himself in the preseason. His fate could hinge on potential injuries in the first two games. Signing quarterback Davis Webb to the practice squad was a nice, no-risk move. Best-case scenario: He does enough on the practice field to stick around for the rest of the season and emerges as Darnold's backup in 2019. Worst case: He stinks and they cut him, no strings attached. No harm, no foul.
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Manish Mehta, NY Daily News
Lost in Todd Bowles’ stoicism and boring public persona is this undeniable fact: The man is a defensive schematic wizard able to mix and match his personnel to keep up with the league’s ever-changing offensive trends.
Consider veteran “free safety” J.J. Wilcox, who could be an X-Factor this season thanks to the coaching staff’s ability to properly identify him to fit an underplayed yet key role in today’s NFL.
Wilcox is set to be the “Money Linebacker”, a hybrid linebacker/safety designed to combat pass-friendly offenses. The rise of the 11 Personnel grouping (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) has prompted savvy defensive coaches to identify versatile, smart players athletic enough to cover tight ends/running backs and strong and instinctive enough to survive in the box.
It’s a way to have the same advantages of a true nickel defense without sacrificing much size. The Jets will use the 6-2, 212-pound Wilcox in passing situations on second and third downs as part of their Speed Package. It’s an innovative plan that Bowles utilized in Arizona with the versatile Deone Bucannon, who turned into a full-time linebacker. Wilcox, who spent his first four seasons as a free and strong safety with the Cowboys before a one-year stint in Pittsburgh, has the intellect, instincts and size to fill this new role. Although Wilcox is listed as a safety, he’s been spending time in both the linebacker and safety meeting rooms as he learns a new position.
“The more you can do,” Wilcox said, “The better.”
It’s no secret that the NFL has become a more pass-happy league. Just look at the growing number of plays in 11 Personnel. The league average for 11 Personnel has spiked from 34 percent in 2008 to 58 percent last year, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s a 71 percent increase over the past decade. Rams head coach Sean McVay, arguably the league’s best offensive tactician, used 11 Personnel on a league-high 80 percent of his snaps last season. The Lions, who will face the Jets in the season opener on Monday night, were second at 74 percent in 2017. Wilcox got his first extensive game experience in his new role in the preseason finale in Philly. The results were pretty fantastic: An interception, forced fumble, three tackles and a pass breakup in 24 snaps.
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Brian Costello, NY Post
The Jets’ starting offensive line did not play one snap together this preseason. The unit’s members barely practiced together. Now, they face Ezekiel Ansah and the Lions on Monday night.The biggest question mark facing the Jets offense on Monday may not be their 21-year-old starting quarterback, but the unit blocking for him. Injuries in training camp prevented the starters from working together. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum did not play a snap in the preseason and barely practiced in training camp after suffering a sprained foot. Right guard Brian Winters had back tightness that kept him out of one preseason game and cost him a week of training camp.
The Jets linemen and the coaches say that the group has had time to jell and they are not worried about any confusion on Monday night.
“We’ve been around each other quite a bit during this whole process,” Beachum said. “So, we can’t get into this excuse making that people on the outside are trying to bring into the locker room right now. For us, we’ve got to go out and perform. We’re professionals. Every one of us across the offensive line has played games in the National Football League. When our number is called upon, we know we’ve got to execute and perform.”
The injuries to their starters made the Jets offensive line look particularly vulnerable in the preseason games. It gives Jets fans reason to worry about the season and if Sam Darnold will have time to operate. But the Jets feel confident that with Beahcum and Winters back in the lineup, they will be fine.
“I’m very optimistic,” offensive line coach Rick Dennison said. “I think they’ve done a good job. They’ve worked hard. Obviously, it’s the start of the regular season. There’s a little bit of unknown, but I feel good about their efforts. I feel good about the guys.”
With Darnold at quarterback, there will be more focus on the offensive line and how it is doing protecting him. It is reasonable to expect the rookie quarterback to need an extra tick to make a throw than a veteran would. The offensive line is going to have to hold its blocks a little longer, but the players are not thinking like that.
“You can’t get into that ebb and flow type of game where you need to change your game because somebody else is in the game,” Beachum said. “As offensive linemen, we have to stay steady. We have to be consistent. When the play is called and when our number is called, we have to find a way to execute.”
Beachum could face the toughest challenge of all the linemen against the Lions. Ansah, who had 12 sacks last year, has been lining up on the left side of the offense, so Beachum could get a heavy dose of him. New Lions coach Matt Patricia surely has some tricks planned that he did not show in the preseason, and that might mean moving Ansah around.