NYJ First Quarter Recap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

              Through the first quarter of the 2020 NFL season, football could be described as anything but normal. Because of the ongoing pandemic, large multi billion-dollar stadiums have been reduced to ghost towns, with the fake crowd noise and empty seats making everyone feel a little uneasy. Whether you’re playing in the game or seeing formerly packed stands being reduced to ghost towns on TV, nothing seems normal nowadays. While this may be true, some things never change: death, taxes, and the New York Jets. But is it all bad? Is there no hope for this squad after stumbling to an 0-4  start? Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly after the first quarter of the 2020 season.


             The Good. Despite stumbling out to an 0-4 start, some units on this teammore specifically a handful of playershave been making major contributions to the team, and are poised for larger roles if they stay in New York. The first improvement on this Jets team has been the offensive line, or at least the left side of it. Rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton from Louisville University has been an absolute brick wall for the Jets. Despite battling a nagging shoulder injury in weeks three and four, Becton has only allowed 1 sack in 169 plays– the most plays out of any Jets rookie so far– has earned a grade of 72.6 overall from Pro Football Focus, and is consistently ranked as a top 5 rookie so far this season. Mekhi has proven so far that he is a lockdown left tackle, and Sam Darnold, or whoever it may be in the future, has their blindside protected. Furthermore, Left Guard Alex Lewis, who General Manager Joe Douglas acquired through a trade with Baltimore a year ago, has made significant improvements, no doubt with Mekhi making things easier for him. 


               Safety Marcus Maye and Cornerback Bless Austin have made significant improvement. Since taking the mantle of the team’s main safety after the Jamal Adams trade to Seattle, Maye has been thriving in his more pronounced role on the team, averaging more solo tackles, QB hits, and pass defenses than last year, and is on pace to have a career best season. Cornerback Bless Austin from Rutgers University has been enjoying a better sophomore year in the NFL thus far, almost matching the amount of tackles he had from last year and forcing a big fumble in week one against the Bills that nearly changed the tides of war.


              The Bad. So far this year, while showing some flashes of excellence, Sam Darnold can only be described as up and down, and too inconsistent to trust. Sam stumbled out of the gates, in arguably his worst game as a pro. As the game against Buffalo went on, it was more and more apparent that Sam was a shell of where he was at the end of last season, culminating in an interception thrown off of his back foot, across the field and into double coverage, eerily reminiscent of his first interception on his very first play in the NFL. Sam’s turnover struggles have not subsided since that first week, and while he played a good game against the 49ers where his receivers dropped a lot of passes, in week 3 against the Colts Sam threw an indefensible 3 interceptions, with two going back for touchdowns. Although he had a flashy touchdown where he dodged a few defenders in a collapsing pocket and rolled out to the sideline to find an open Berrios in the end zone, it proved to be yet another flash of talent followed by ruin. Whether or not the main cause of Sam’s regression is Gase’s play calling is up for debate, but there is no denying the regression of Darnold this season. 


               The Ugly. The Jets coaching staff has been notoriously horrible through these first four games, and has quickly gained a reputation around the league as the most defunct, dysfunctional, and downright bad leadership in the NFL. Through four weeks, the Jets have been outscored 131-65, and didn’t even have a lead in a game until week 4,where the Jets were able to strike first against the Denver Broncos in a 28-37 loss. Adam Gase’s Jets, who are 0-7 against winless teams, are 31st in offensive production, and 31st in defensive production. Having had a top 5 defense against the run last year, the loss of Jamal Adams seems to have really hurt the defensive unit, falling from top five to being ranked 23rd in rush yards allowed, and 25th in rush touchdowns allowed.

                 On top of the lackluster defense, the Jets offense has been painfully slow, not at all aggressive enough, and seems to roll over and quit before the ball is even snapped. The offense, led by “offensive guru” Adam Gase, is consistently ranked last in the NFL by analysts all over cable television and social media. The unit is ranked 32nd in pass yards, 30th in pass touchdowns, 25th in rushing yards, and 27th in rushing touchdowns. The offense mostly follows the path from last season: scoring early on an impressive drive, followed by absolutely nothing for the next 60 minutes. Under Gase, the offense has been extremely boring to watch, as he consistently fails to open the field for Sam Darnold.  Gase almost always calls screen plays and short passes, even in 3rd and long situations, which has resulted in the Jets only converting 35% of their third downs, good for 28th in the league. 

                As if the offensive and defensive woes weren’t enough for this team, the Jets have been riddled with injuries for the second year in a row. As injuries begin to pile up, Gase’s handling of these players and their injuries continues to seem boneheaded and shortsighted. This has been evident by the handling of Kelechi Osemele last year, with Gase making a pro bowl offensive guard quit playing for the Jets due to Gase’s handling of the injury, asking Osemele to play through it and denying his request to get surgery. Last thursday night seemed almost like deja vu as Mekhi Becton, the Jets star rookie tackle, and Sam Darnold, the young franchise quarterback, were clearly banged up during Thursday night’s game against the Broncos. Adam Gase elected to keep both players in the game late, only taking out Becton near the end of the game. 

                Not only does the coaching staff seemingly fail to properly manage the injuries that they face, but both team and league veterans are coming out to the media to talk about Adam Gase’s practices. Bradley McDougald, the starting strong safety for the Jets, who arrived in the Jamal Adams trade to Seattle, said of the practices: “We’ve had some slow practices and it correlates to the game. We need to have a complete, full week of just great practices. I don’t think we’ve had that yet. As soon as we realize that and hone in on how important practice is and come out and win at practice then it will translate to the games on Sunday.” This comment, whether intended or not, is an indictment of the coaching staff and their inability to energize the team to practice hard enough to win. This sentiment was reiterated by veteran linebacker Avery Williamson who said “We don’t start fast at practice. We haven’t the last two weeks, but that’s something we have to fix ourselves, because you can’t come out sluggish in games and expect to win. It’s tough to recover when a team you’re playing is that good.” 

               While the Bills and Browns, who began their rebuilds with quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, sit pretty at 3-1 and 4-0 respectively, the Jets continue to lag behind their competition, showing no signs of life and seem all but helpless every time they take the field. Only time will tell how severe the damage of hiring Adam Gase has caused this organization.