Here's part two of the epic guest post from JetsFix regular Sacks are Friends, not Food. In part one, Sacks looked at the offense from the standpoint of what could go wrong. Now he moves onto the defense (and special teams)...
This, without doubt, has to be considered the most potentially worrisome area on the team. We Jets fans, as I am incredibly fond of saying every time we end up with middling or worse cornerback play, are incredibly spoiled by the years where our duo was Revis and Cromartie. They were top tier corners, and we had the both of them in their primes with relatively few injuries. Last year we obviously faced a debacle that Gregggg was able to mask with his defensive scheming, along with a useless but highly paid Trumaine Johnson, so there is hope that this year the younger corners like Arthur Maulet and Blessuan Austin can further blossom, but now we have added some more names, none of whom are even on the radar of being big time stars or just short of there. As such, our CB looks like the main contributors will consist of Bless Austin, Pierre Desir, Nate Hairston, Arthur Maulet, Bryce Hall, Brian Poole, and Quincy Wilson.
Let's start by looking at the guys our defense relied on last year. Maulet has been in the league since 2017, having started with the Saints. His first year he played in six games and had one solo tackle...that is it. In his second year, he split time between NO (one game) and the Colts (see trend of CBs we have picked up in the last year or so). In a total of 6 games with 1 started, he had 8 total tackles and no other significant statistics. Last year for us, he played in 12 games, starting half of them, and finally nabbed his first career interception, but had only 2 passes defensed on the year. Given he is an undrafted free agent and practice squad player most of his career who has not seen significant time until last year, he may be just what his statistics state, a decent backup with no prospects for upper level play.
Austin is someone we were all pretty excited about, despite having been a pick in Mikey Macs final Jets GM draft. As a 6th round pick and coming off of injury, Bless played in 7 games last year and started 6. While he had no interceptions, he did defense 4 passes. Concerningly, Gregggg benched him at the end of the year for some reason, whether alone because he gave up a big play at a crucial point which we all assume he would have been told would be a capitol offense, or for alleged whining behind the scenes after being benched just after said play. In either case, if his immaturity is just that, then he likely can succeed this year. If it is a symptom of a larger attitude problem, then he might be long for this roster, especially with his prior regime draft status ties. Also of concern is his injury history, having torn his ACL twice in college, during his last 2 seasons there. While he held up after returning from PUP last year, if his body is still injury prone then he may not last the whole season, if much at all.
While not being older than Maulet or entering the league earlier, Hairston is effectively the Veteran of the trio to have played for the Jets last year, having been drafted by the Colts in the 5th round prior to the 2017 season and never having played less than 11 games. He also had 2 interceptions to his name and 9 passes defensed. Obviously he did not the Colts system as we traded a conditional 6th round pick to get him. His injury history is quite clean, but it is clear that the concern here is that he nothing more than a serviceable backup, as he did struggle mightily at times with the Jets last year.
Desir is another Colts castoff, whom we signed this offseason on a one year deal. He was drafted by the Browns in the 4th round back in 2014, and has already been with them, the Chargers, and the Colts prior to joining us. In that time, he has 34 passes defensed and 5 interceptions. He has a clean injury history, but again seemed to have fallen out of favor with the Colts. Thoughts he may have ties to Gregggg are not real as he went to the Browns after Desir had already departed for the Chargers. Despite the fact he started most of the past 2 seasons, the concern is that he is not suited to be a starting CB and slotting him in there will only have marginally better results than we have had in the past 2 seasons or so.
Hall is young, being our 5th round pick in this years draft, so the hunger is an upside and his stellar play at Virginia is also an upside. However, injury history is the scare here. In his final collegiate season, he fractured his fibula and dislocated his ankle, requiring him to be carted off and have season-ending surgery, on a special teams return where he was blocking. The hope is that he young enough to successfully bounce back from this injury and that it is a one-off, and not something likely to cause recurring problems. However, given the magnitude of the injury, it could be something that plagues him moving forward, especially given it is in a vital physical area for turning and adjusting.
HEY GUYS! LOOK! ANOTHER INDI CASTOFF! Wilson entered the league in 2017 as a second round pick of the Colts, and while he had 2 interceptions his first 2 years, his role seems to have diminished last year and obviously he fell out of favor. We gave up a 5th last year for him, so JD seems to have a propensity for picking up young, typically backup players for late round picks. Wilson does not have much of an injury history, but obviously he may be a player who never realizes his second round potential.
Poole was without doubt the best CB on the team last year, playing primarily in the slot. Poole was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, and joined the Jets last year before the season and draft last year, and was re-signed again this year. Poole has never played less than 14 games in a season and has solid statistical production from the slot. In 2018, he arguably broke out with 3 interceptions, and while he only had one last year for the Jets, it was a TD return against the Raiders in a blowout. His injury history is rather clean, except for a concussion suffered last year that caused him to miss minimal time. Obviously, further concussion would be cause for concern. Honestly, I have Poole as the most sure-fire CB on the roster, and there is little to be worried about on him other than aging related slowdown and injury. Funny enough, a few weeks ago some sports website (NBC or something) posted a depth chart that had Quincy Wilson AHEAD of Brian Poole in the slot. If that ends up being the case, I think we have a problem.
I really do not have too much to say about the inside linebacker group. At the lead are CJ Mosley and Avery Williamson, who are injury red flags as both pretty much missed the entirety of last year. Mosley played incredibly sparingly, and Williamson was in ACL hell. Mosley, when healthy, is elite. He CAN cover, although maybe not his best skill, and he is a tackling machine who can coordinate a complicated defense with relative ease. Williamson is obviously a step below and is a not a good cover guy, but much like David Harris, can tackle with the best of them.
If these guys are hurt, the newly signed Patrick Onwuasor and Blake Cashman are left to man the field. Onwuasor has only recently really come on as a solid player, having been drafted in 2016, but Cashman last year showed that he may always have problems staying healthy.
After that, your tandem is Neville Hewitt and James Burgess, who while serviceable in backup capacities, have proven that they are not starting players. Burgess is a tackling machine, but that is it. Hewitt is a good cover LB, but that is also about it.
The only real incumbent at outside linebacker is Jordan Jenkins. While he is pretty solid, he is best suited as an edge-setting run defender. If he tries to pass rush, it usually backfires as his run defending worsens, and the same vice versa. If his pass rushing production increased significantly, it might be a worthy sacrifice, but alas, he is well known for the effort sack as opposed to the beat his man off the edge almost immediate sack.
On the other side, who knows who will start. Harvey Langi/Frankie Luvu/Tarell Basham/Bryce Huff? So many players, so little experience and/or production. Best case, one of these guys turns into a stud that no one ever really suspected. Worst case, and the fear, is that these guys cannot step up to either set the edge or provide consistent pass rush pressure.
I do not think much needs to be said about Jamal Adams here. He was highly touted as the best player in his draft class and he has arguably lived up to those expectations. Problem is he only has 3 years under his belt and is acting in an absolutely childish manner, the likes of which I do not know we have ever seen in the NFL from a player with this short a tenure. Frankly, I think that he is damaging his brand and his reputation by acting a fool, despite the fact I want him signed to a long-term extension. The facts are that if he is here, we are a significantly better defense and therefore team, so long as he is playing at 100% health and 200% capacity. If he is here and disgruntled, we could see a dip in his play. If he gets an extension, we could see him pull a Trumaine Johnson. If we trade him, we better be getting pack multiple firsts. Honestly, I do not see this situation ending well, and if it does not end well, our season likely will not end well.
Right now, all I see in terms of projected depth charts for Kick Returners is Vyncint Smith. He handled that job for a portion of the season last year, having returned 10 kicks for 299 yards with a long of 78 and, if you can do simple math better than me (hint: you probably can), a return average of 29.9 yards per return. Obviously, he has some return experience now and also ran a 4.36 40 yard dash at his 2018 pro-day, so he has the tools. As usual, we have to hope he builds on the experience last year and does not regress, and also gets good blocking out in front. He did have a fumble as well.
Braxton Berrios handled punt return duties last year, so by George he will do it again unless someone bumps him out. Last year he logged 21 punt returns for 240 yards and a return average of 11.4 yards per return. He had one fumble though. His long of 26 yards against the Raiders will hopefully be what we see moving forward, but at least he is reliable in terms of catching the ball on fair catches, similar to Jim Leonard back in the Rex Ryan days. The worry is he gets too aggressive, makes mistakes and therefore fumbles or otherwise makes poor decisions.
Now that we have JETtisoned Lachlan Edwards into space, his replacement is none other than college standout and universal most wanted Punter for the Jets (sorry, 68), Braden Mann. Literally our only worries are that he works out too much and busts his leg, or can never find a way to place the ball inside the 20. Edwards, in my opinion, always had issues downing the ball successfully and had way too many shanks. Hopefully, Mann not only booms balls to the other side of the field when we get hemmed deep in our own half of the field, but also can develop a touch game that allows our defense to get aggressive and go for some safeties. If he goes wildcard rookie on us, we could have a problem.
As far as kickers go, right now we have a battle between Brett Maher and Sam Ficken. Ficken is technically the incumbent, as he kicked for us most of last year out of necessity since Chandler Catanzaro apparently got the kick sh*t out of him (yes, the opposite of how a fight usually goes), and since God Kicker Kaare Vedvik turned out to be nothing more than a lamb shank. Ficken ultimately went 23 for 26 on extra points and an abysmal 19 for 27 on all other kicks. The hope is that he is not our kicker entering the 2020 season. Maher is more of a veteran than Ficken at this point, as while Ficken entered the league in 2017, he only attempted 12 kicks with the Ram in 2017 and 2018. Maher entered in 2018 as the Cowboys full time kicker and that yielded results as he only missed one extra point on 33 attempts, and went 29 for 36 on field goals with an amazing 6 for 7 mark on kicks of 50 yards or more. Last year was a regression, despite a perfect extra point count, as he went 20 for 30 on field goals and 4 for 8 on kicks of 50 yards or more. It is clear Maher has a bigger leg, with his 2 longest kicks made at 62 and 63 yards, while Fickens long is only 54. Also, Ficken did tend to have issues getting touchbacks (under 50% rate) while Maher was over 50%. The last kicker we effectively grabbed from Dallas after a down season was Nick Folk, and he turned into a Folk Hero. Assuming Maher wins, hopefully he turns into Brett The Hitman Maher, and does not continue the issues he had when he struggled last year.
I am, simply put, no fan of Adam Gase. Do I care about his giant eyes press conference? No. Do I find he has been snippy with the media like he ended up being in Miami? Honestly, No. Am I a fan of his offensive style and the fact we poached him from a division rival? No and no. Gase, while enjoying some brief success when he first started with Miami, ended his head coaching tenure there at 23 wins and 25 losses. While he was void of offensive talent most of his time there, he at one point had an offense with QB Jay Cutler, RB Jay Ajayi, RB Kenyan Drake, RB Damien Williams, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Devante Parker, WR Kenny Stills, TE Julius Thomas, OT Laremy Tunsil, and C Mike Pouncey, and a defense with DE Andre Branch, DE Cameron Wake, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Kiko Alonso, LB Lawrence Timmons, CB Xavien Howard, and S Reshad Jones. Despite this seemingly star studded cast on both sides of the ball, Gase went 6-10 and finished in 3rd in the AFC East. Players have complained about him in the past, but others have stood up for him, so it is hard to determine if he does rub players the wrong way because he wants them to do things that he knows they should but cannot properly convey to them as to how to do so. We also know he failed spectacularly at being both coach and GM, so hopefully he leaves player personnel decisions to Joe Douglas.
The Penalty Problem
I have a problem with the officials, as people who know me in person know, and most people in chatzy and/or on the blog know. I am borderline convinced that the NFL is out to get us, as we get called for far more penalties, especially holding, than other teams. I could go into the total numbers the past few years, showing us consistently in the top 10, and that the last time we were in the bottom quarter of the league in penalties were during the first 2 years of the Todd Bowles era, but let us look at something else from 2019. The numbers below come from a personal account of the Game Books for each game on NFL.com.
i. Week 1 - Bills at NYJ – 4 total holding calls, 2 offensive, 2 defensive. ALL against the Jets. Loss.
ii. Week 2 – Browns at NYJ – 6 total holding calls, 4 offensive, 2 defensive. 5 of 6 against the Jets. The one against the Browns was an offensive hold. Loss.
iii. Week 3 – NYJ at NE – 4 total holding calls, all offensive. 3 of 4 against the Jets including 2 on one play. Loss.
iv. Week 4 – Miraculously, no holding calls. Oh wait, BYE!
v. Week 5 – NYJ at PHI – 5 total holding calls, 4 offensive, 2 defensive. Only 1 of 4 against the Jets, being a defensive hold. Loss.
vi. Week 6 – Dal at NYJ – 7 total holding calls, all offensive. 5 of 7 against the Jets. Win.
vii. Week 7 – NE at NYJ – 6 total holding calls, 4 offensive 2 defensive. 4 of 6 against the Jets. NE had 1 defensive and 1 offensive. Loss.
viii. Week 8 – NYJ at JAX – 4 total holding calls, 3 offensive, 1 defensive. 1 of 4 against the Jets. JAX had all the offensive holding calls against them. Loss.
ix. Week 9 – NYJ at MIA - 5 total holding calls, 4 offensive, 1 defensive. 2 of 5 against the Jets. The 2 Jets holdings were offensive. Loss.
x. Week 10 – NYG at NYJ – 4 total holding calls, 2 offensive, 2 defensive. 3 of 4 against the Jets. Only 1 defensive holding was called against the Giants. Win.
xi. Week 11 – NYJ at WAS – 7 total holding calls, all offensive. 4 of 7 against the Jets. Win.
xii. Week 12 – OAK at NYJ – 2 total holding calls, all offensive. 1 of 2 against the Jets. Win.
xiii. Week 13 – NYJ at CIN – 6 total holding calls, all offensive. 6 of 6 against the Jets. Loss.
xiv. Week 14 – MIA at NYJ – 4 total holding calls, 2 offensive, 2 defensive. 1 of 4 against the Jets. The only Jets holding was defensive. Win.
xv. Week 15 – NYJ at Balt – 1 total holding call, offensive. The penalty was against Baltimore. Loss.
xvi. Week 16 – Pitt at NYJ – 2 total holding calls, both offensive. 1 of 2 against the Jets. Win.
xvii. Week 17 – NYJ at Buff – No holding penalties at all. Win.
I do not believe the defensive holding calls to be too unjust in terms of numbers, given what the Jets were working with in the secondary last year. My issue stems from the offensive holds (some of which the ones above were on special team, but I believe still apply). Looking at the Jets offensive line, while it clearly had issues, it was not built with pure trash. Beachum is a starter LT, Osemele then Alex Lewis are at least passable starters, Kalil came out of retirement and clearly could not hold up but was still a Pro Bowler not too long ago and Harrison is at least a capable backup C, Winters/Tom Compton are veterans, and Shell/Edoga is the only part that arguably could be considered the weak link as Shell fell out of favor and Edoga was a rookie. Our defensive line, on the other hand, continued in the same Jets vein by being comprised of very capable and quality players – Henry Anderson, Steve McLendon, Leonard Williams, Folo Fatukasi, Quinnen Williams, Kyle Phillips, and Nathan Shepherd.
In 2019 Jets games, a total of 67 holds were called. 52 of these were offensive holds. 32 of those were against the Jets, and therefore the Jets were called for 61.5% of all offensive holdings called in their games last year. Of the Jets 16 games, they were called for more offensive holds in 8 of them – where they went 3 and 5. They were called for less offensive holds in 4 of the 16 games, going 1 and 3 in those games. They were called for the same number of holds as their opponent in 4 of the 16 games, going 3 and 1.
This data says a few things to me. First off, the Jets are a worse team when they are called for more offensive holds. Second, they are a better team when on par with their opponent in terms of offensive holding. The odd trend here is their losing record against teams that they had less holding penalties called against. A deeper look shows those games to be against Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Miami, and Baltimore. They lost to Philadelphia by 25, lost to Jacksonville by 14, won against Miami by 1, and lost to Baltimore by 21. 3 of these games were essentially blowouts, which in my opinion accounts for the refs throwing more flags against the opponents. In the Baltimore game, somehow Baltimore was flagged for a single offensive hold, the only one in the game in fact. Despite Lamar Jackson being an absolute monster on the ground, I find it suspect that their line did not hold against, solid run defending team like the Jets. Literally all it takes is one OL holding on for a second too long. Then again, somehow Baltimore was tied for 2nd in least offensive holding penalties all year.
I am not a statistician, but these numbers show that the Jets were called for holding more than their opponents last year. I am sure a deeper dive into other areas may reveal similar comparisons (e.g. DPI, defensive holding). However, I find it pretty egregious that we get such a disparity in holding calls in our favor when our defensive line is on the field.
Long story short, I believe that for the Jets to have a shot at the division this year they are required to rely on a lot of pieces falling exactly right when it comes to their roster composition and injury potential. As a Jets fan, I have learned the hard way to never count them in. Every time I look on the bright side, the clouds of doubt tend to shatter the team. As usual, I will pour one out for the Jets and be watching, wishing, and willing them to success. I figure, it has to work eventually!
Thanks again to Sacks for these epic posts. If YOU want to write a guest post for JetsFix, we will accept almost anything, so send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.