Adam Gase is taking most of the blame for the mess that is the Jets, and he’ll be the one that takes the fall for it in the end. That’s fine. That’s part of the job of being an NFL head coach.
But Gase is far from the only problem with the Jets right now.
The reality is that this team has questions and issues all over the roster. And while this is still very early in GM Joe Douglas’ rebuilding project, the little he has built so far keeps falling apart. Injuries are crushing them. Key players haven’t developed. And the roster is so thin that when one player struggles, there’s no capable replacement ready.
Yes, Gase is what his record says he is – 7-13 with the Jets, thanks largely to two straight 0-4 starts. But the Jets’ problems run far deeper than just one man …
Injuries, injuries, injuries
It’s an excuse no one wants to use, but it’s reality. The Jets have spent significant time without the top five receivers from their training camp depth chart, three offensive lineman (two tackles and the center), their starting running back, a couple of corners and a linebacker who was supposed to take over from the star linebacker that opted out on the season.
That’s ridiculous one month into the season and it’s not something most teams could overcome – particularly a team with a thin roster. Like it or not, a lot of the Jets’ offensive problems can be traced to replacement players at key positions. Certainly not all, but a lot.
The focus on the offensive line hasn’t paid off (yet)
Even before the injuries to tackles Mekhi Becton and George Fant and center Connor McGovern, the Jets’ line wasn’t good. In some ways, that’s not surprising. Line play has a lot to do with chemistry and this was a complete overhaul from what the Jets had at the start of last season. It was always going to take time.
So Darnold has been under constant pressure, culminating in the six-sack disaster on Thursday night. A strong line was supposed to stabilize the offense. First it has to stabilize itself.
Sam Darnold was left without weapons
Even before the injuries the Jets knew this was a problem. They let Robby Anderson walk (and he’s doing pretty well in Carolina, by the way) and replaced him by taking a flier on Breshad Perriman based on five games last year. Granted, the free agent market wasn’t deep, but the draft was. In fact it was one of the deepest drafts at that position in years, yet the Jets drafted only one receiver (Denzel Mims).
Receivers will be the Jets’ No. 1 priority in the offseason, but that won’t do them any good right now.
Running back is a problem now, and for the future
It’s not just that Le’Veon Bell is hurt, it’s that he hasn’t done anything for the Jets since they signed him. Frank Gore is a fine backup, but he’s far from a No. 1 running back anymore. The Jets most explosive back this summer was rookie La’Mical Perine, and he could be their No. 1 back of the future, but he’s been tragically underused – 19 snaps in two games.
Gase needs to give Perine an opportunity, even when Bell returns. But what this looks like overall is an ineffective committee that Gase still hasn’t figured out how to use.
The Jets never found a pass rusher
They got away with this a year ago because defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ schemed his way to a Top 10 defense and they had safety Jamal Adams adding pressure with blitzes. But this year their pass rush has been terrible. Six sacks in four games? They barely touched Denver’s Brett Rypien on Thursday night (legally, anyway), though he was making his first NFL start. Jordan Jenkins, theoretically motivated by being snubbed in free agency, has one sack in four games.
There were pass rushers available, both in free agency and in the draft. The Jets chose to pass. That was a mistake they can’t make in 2021.
They didn’t get cornerback help either
There were definitely cornerbacks available in free agency, and the fact the Jets chose not to spend the money is somewhat mind-boggling. They had to know they had no pass rush, which was going to really hurt their secondary. Yet they shopped in the bargain bin anyway, loading up with Brian Poole, Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson.
The result is what was on display on Thursday night. Those are solid players who do some good things, but plenty of bad things, too. It’s erratic and when there’s no pass rush it’s worse.
The quarterback isn’t the star he was supposed to be
It’s a little chicken-or-the-egg trying to figure out whether Darnold is struggling because of the problems around him, or if his struggles are making those problems worse. Whatever it is, the result is the same: Darnold is one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s capable of good blow-your-mind moments, but there are too many blow-your-mind bad ones. That’s not supposed to happen to a quarterback in his third season – not when he was the No. 3 pick in the draft.
And really, by now, he should be able to rise a little above his circumstances. He did that at times last season. But he’s not doing that now. There’s no other way to say this: Right now, he’s not good.
Chris Herndon is looking like a bust
Herndon’s drop at midfield with 2:14 remaining and the Jets trailing by two points on Thursday night said it all about the third-year pro. It was a big spot. He was wide open. It was a near perfect pass, chest high, right in his hands and … he stumbled and dropped the ball. In what was supposed to be a big year for him, he has 11 catches for 74 yards so far.
The Jets aren’t throwing to him often – only 19 targets so far. That drop may have shown why.
Several other key players haven’t developed, either
Darnold and Herndon are great examples of this, but there are more that show how bad the Jets’ drafting has been. Quinnen Williams promised to “dominate” the NFL, but the best that can be said about him is he’s better than he was last season when he’s not committing personal fouls. Marcus Maye had a good start to this season, but like the defense he’s been shaky since. And right now, only two of the nine players from Douglas’ first draft class are really contributing – Becton, who is now hurt, and sixth-round punter Braden Mann.
Maybe that will change as these players get more experience, but the early returns are the Jets don’t have much from any of their recent drafts. That’s why this roster is so thin. That’s why injuries are so devastating. And that poor drafting record might be the biggest thing Douglas has to fix.