We're going to kick off today's analysis with some things you might not have noticed from yesterday's loss to the Bills:
That's a Darn shame
Yesterday's loss has a distinctly 2018 Browns game feel to it, as the Jets were well on their way to an ugly low-scoring loss, but then allowed a two touchdown lead to evaporate and gave up the winning touchdown late.
There were similarities within the offensive gameplan too. More than any other, that was the game where Sam Darnold kept throwing short passes and rarely looked down the field and yesterday saw a similar approach.
With limited reps together during preseason - and none at all with his running back or his offensive line - Darnold was never able to establish enough of a rhythm to keep the offense humming.
After a slow start, Darnold initially seemed to settle in the first half. He had a streak of eight attempts with seven completions, looked to have found some tempo and rhythm and completed a sharp downfield throw to Josh Bellamy on a slant pattern from the outside.
That was basically his only downfield success all day though. Other than the two point conversion to Le'Veon Bell, which was a desperation throw, he hardly had any throws that carried a significant distance in the air.
It could have been different for Darnold if he'd managed to connect on a deep ball. Robby Anderson got in behind the defense three times for would-be touchdowns but Darnold underthrew the first two and overthrew the last one - which came with under two minutes remaining and could have won the game.
As for what was working, that created its own problem as Darnold was arguably looking for Bell too much in the first half and Jamison Crowder too much in the second half. At one stage in the second half, Darnold completed 14 passes in a row, only to then misfire on six straight passes as the game wound down towards its disappointing conclusion.
We were anticipating Crowder getting a ton of targets and producing in volume and that's what he provided yesterday, ending up with 14 catches for 99 yards. His ability to get open underneath on routes like this one is going to be vital in third down situations and in the red zone:
Crowder got open over the middle on a similar hesitation route on the Jets' first drive, but the pass was rushed and off his hands. He had a lot of open space ahead of him on that play, which easily would have ended up being the longest play of the game for the Jets. In the end, they didn't have a single 20-yard gain.
That a problem, obviously. You can't build an entire offense around plays like that, as it becomes too predictable. Of course, that perhaps opened up some of those deep opportunities for Anderson and, had Darnold connected on a couple of those, we would probably be lauding the offensive gameplan this morning.
The other issue on offense was the setting of the protections. How much of this is Darnold's job and how much is down to Ryan Kalil is uncertain, but Brian Winters also seemed to be involved in the process. This didn't go well, as the protection was often set incorrectly, leading to unblocked rushers coming off the edge.
Had Darnold been able to hit his hot read more often, that could have been mitigated to an extent and he did so a few times. However, he also had several passes batted down at the line and was lucky none of those led to turnovers.
The other issue was that even when the protection was set correctly, the pass protection wasn't great. The Bills exploited the fact that the interior line hasn't played together with stunts and blitzes and the Jets weren't quite ready to pick those up as a functioning unit.
Here's just one example. It's Kelvin Beachum's man that gets the sack, but really Darnold is flushed into him because Winters gets rocked back by the interior rush, losing his lid in the process like a rock-em sock-em robot.
Faced with such pressure, Darnold obviously didn't get to set his feet and fire a dart as often as would have been optimal and this no doubt fed into his lack of downfield success. The Jets face some good pass rushers in the coming weeks, so the offensive line has to establish some chemistry as soon as they can.
Waiting for the Bell
The lack of playing time as a unit for the interior line was also apparent in the running game. Not just in terms of the fact that it seemed like every other play was blown up with nowhere for the runner to go, but also in terms of the Jets' offensive approach.
The Jets saw some success with running plays that employed tight end Ryan Griffin as a lead blocker, either trapping up the middle or coming across the formation to wham-block the player off the opposite edge. On such plays, the linemen would sometimes be zone blocking, so it would be like an isolation zone trap. However, they would also sometimes have one lineman pulling in the same direction as the tight end, so this would be more of a power-blast play.
It was clear the Jets had worked hard at mastering these plays and the running game was clicking early. Check out the perfect rhythm on these three blocks from Winters, then Kelechi Osemele, then Griffin:
However, these plays - which will work superbly as a tendency breaker later in the year - were probably overused as the Bills started to figure out how to stop it.
In his first game as a Jet, Bell showed his value as a runner, creating extra yards on several of his runs. However, he still only ended up with a 3.5 yards per carry average.
Bell's contibutions in the passing game were readily apparent too. His touchdown came as the Jets lined him up in the slot next to Anderson. That's a pairing the Jets will exploit all year, as Anderson's quickness off the line drew the safety and left Bell able to exploit a one-on-one.
Bell also showed what a great blocker he is on this play:
The Jets know they need to work hard to sustain blocks within the running game to allow for Bell's patient style to work. There are some signs this has been a focus. Check out how well Winters stays on his man here:
In the fourth quarter, when they were protecting a lead and should have been eager to run some clock, Bell carried just twice for two yards and wasn't thrown to either. Could this be a sign that Bell was gassed in the fourth quarter?
If he was, then the use of the backups was also confounding. Ty Montgomery got just one conventional hand-off all day - on a play where he was lined up as a full-back in an offset-I with Bell at halfback behind him. They also threw him a couple of swing passes. Also, with Bilal Powell inactive, Trenton Cannon's only contribution was as a decoy on a jet sweep where Bell got the ball anyway.
Over the next few games, the Jets should be able to open up the playbook a bit more and have a much more varied approach in the running game. That should include involving the other backs as well to keep Bell fresh so he can help them close out games better in future.
Jamal Adams was another player who had a solid performance but didn't produce much in the fourth quarter. Clearly CJ Mosley's injury was a huge factor in terms of the defensive playcalling and pre-snap communication, as the Jets had several poor run fits and issues in coverage during the Bills' comeback, including a few big plays where Adams was taken out of the play by a blocker at the second level.
Still, it's worth appreciating just how good Adams was for those first three quarters, even though some were regarding it as a quiet performance by his standards. Even on those fourth quarter plays, Adams was just in his lane and had a linebacker been able to fill and make the stop, then he would have done his part, further emphasizing what a big loss Mosley was, because that would have been him.
Incidentally, yesterday proves unequivocally just how important it was for Avery Williamson to get reps with the headset during preseason and that while his injury was regrettable, any criticism Adam Gase received for allowing that to happen was misguided.
Let's focus on what Adams did well. Here's a tremendous reaction play as he closes and makes a clean hit to stop Josh Allen short of the marker:
However, he also had several plays where the most important work was done before the snap. If you saw the NFL Network video package during the offseason, you'll have seen Adams breaking down how he reads his keys to get the jump on a blocker to blow up plays like this one:
Adams did the same thing on a few other occasions, including on the play where Brian Poole stopped the running back for a safety. That was set up by Adams taking out the lead blocker to bottle up the middle.
Adams ended up with six tackles, a quarterback hit, a couple of pressures and a pass defensed and it's a sign of how high he's set the bar that fans were left wanting more.
For much of yesterday's game, it looked like Mike Maccagnan should get a gameball, as his offseason signings - Mosley, Bell and Crowder - seemed to be sparking the Jets to an opening day win.
What about his rookie class though? Of the Jets' six draft picks, one is gone, one in on the PUP list and one was inactive along with the only undrafted rookie to make the team.
So, how about the three that did play? Even one of those - Quinnen Williams - departed early with an ankle injury. Trevon Wesco only saw action on a few snaps as a blocker and Blake Cashman was in a special teams-only role until being thrown into the fire when Mosley got hurt.
Williams didn't record a statistic and although he did get into the backfield a few times, this left a lane open for the quarterback to step up or take off.
Probably his best rep was this bull rush, which enabled him to get some pressure in Josh Allen's face but didn't prevent the completion:
Cashman flashed on a couple of plays in his fourth quarter action, as he was in on an open-field tackle underneath and then closed well for a tackle for loss in the flat. However, he also missed a tackle in space and was driven back way off the line on Josh Allen's 3rd-and-2 keeper.
Finally, Wesco - who blocked well in preseason - was pretty ineffective in his brief appearances. He had two running plays where he allowed his man to get off his block and one in pass protection where he got tossed aside on a bull-jerk move. The Jets also tried to run behind him on 4th-and-short and that got blown up (although somehow Bell squirmed free and got to the marker). Beachum, Winters and Daniel Brown were probably more at fault on that play though.
Much more analysis to come later today and over the next few days. Please let us know who you'd like to see us feature in more detail in 3-on-D and 3-on-O.