We are already in Week 4 of the NFL season, which puts the Jacksonville Jaguars up against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Jets were able to shock the Jaguars in an overtime win last season in the Meadowlands. Let’s find out more about the 2018 version of New York, shall we? In an effort to learn more about this team, I spoke to Michael Nania, staff writer for SB Nation’s quintessential New York Jets blog, Gang Green Nation.
Michael provided some extremely detailed and insightful answers regarding the Jets. Check it out below.
1. The Jets looked incredible in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, before losing two straight games, including to the lowly Cleveland Browns. Where do you think this team really stands right now, and what areas do the Jets need to improve in?
Michael: I think the Jets are exactly who we thought they were. The high of the Lions win and losing in heartbreaking fashion back-to-back weeks against the rival Dolphins and the BROWNS has all of Jets world in a frenzy. However, most knew this team had six-to-eight win talent before the season anyway, and you could’ve gotten just about anybody to sign up for that as long as Sam Darnold stayed healthy and developed. The team also was forced to play three games in 11 days to start the year under a rookie quarterback, two of those games on prime time on the road. Getting one win out of that isn’t so bad.
We’ve seen flashes from just about every Jet through three games, but very few players have been able to string together good performances throughout all three games. That’s the making of a mediocre team, as this Jets roster is devoid of truly proven impact talent.
Offensively, Quincy Enunwa is the man. He is a YAC machine, beast blocker, and intermediate range behemoth. Isaiah Crowell is boom-or-bust, but has scored four touchdowns already and broken out a handful of big runs. Bilal Powell is the same player he’s always been - versatile, tough, a yards after contact monster, but never quite able to handle the entire load. On the negative side, the receiver group has struggled beyond Enunwa. Robby Anderson has not been able to get on the same page down the field with Sam Darnold, and has fumbled the ball away in each of the team’s two losses. Terrelle Pryor has cute stats but is a terrible route runner and a come-and-go competitor. Jermaine Kearse was injured Week 1 and hasn’t found a groove yet, though he has blocked great. The tight end position is not a weapon. Beyond (former Jaguar) Neal Sterling, a journeyman with decent but unspectacular receiving skills, the Jets don’t have a receiving threat at tight end save for the surprise downfield release or screen. Eric Tomlinson and Jordan Leggett are decent blockers, though. Rookie Chris Herndon has struggled big time catching the football and blocking. Hopefully Sterling, who missed the past two games, returns and gives Herndon time to be groomed on the bench. The offensive line is not the league’s worst but will be dominated by good fronts. The unit did a good job in a favorable matchup against Detroit to start the year, but has been manhandled in the run and pass game each of the past two weeks. The Jets interior trio of LG James Carpenter, C Spencer Long, and RG Brian Winters just cannot all click together at once to form an adequate downhill run game. Right tackle Brandon Shell is a plus, as the third-year South Carolina alum has been steadily improving and is a solid starter. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum (also a former Jag) is not a turnstile but has yet to have a clean game.
Defensively, the Jets haven’t allowed more than 21 points yet, but there is work to be done. It’s a unit that doesn’t necessarily have a particular strength or weakness at any unit, but certainly has its good and bad performers. Jamal Adams is having a breakout year. He’s looking like a star in every aspect. He moves everywhere, covering deep, matching up one-on-one against all positions, and rushing from the edge. Inside backer Darron Lee is also much improved. His run defense could still get better, but in coverage he has been phenomenal after struggling his first two years. On the defensive line, Indianapolis pickup Henry Anderson has had a great start. He’s a good interior pass rusher with a high motor. Tackle Steve McLendon is no pass rusher but a force to be reckoned with who opens things up for his teammates behind him.
The question marks on defense are scattered everywhere. The cornerback group, considered a strength before the year, has been all over the place. Their numbers look sublime right now, but both Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne have been extremely lucky to see some awful quarterback and receiver play on the other side. They are walking the tightrope dangerously right now. Both of these guys are talented and have had one very, very good game so far, but they both need to start clicking. Johnson is doing a great job bottling up screens and getting physical at the line, but was lucky to not give a up a 70 yard bomb he was beaten on last week, while penalties are plaguing him. Claiborne has had very similar issues, including a should-be game winning bomb he was beaten on against Miami that was overthrown. Slot corner is a big weakness. Starter Buster Skrine was struggling, but his replacement against Cleveland as he was out due to injury, Parry Nickerson, was torched and picked on by a debuting rookie. Free safety is a big X-Factor. Marcus Maye, last year’s second round pick and full-time starter, has not debuted yet. Doug Middleton has struggled in his place. Maye returning would be a big upgrade in keeping the deep portion of the field, especially the middle of the field between the backers and the safety, on lock. He would also allow the Jets to feel safer with Jamal Adams playing in the box. Up front, Leonard Williams is the big-name star but isn’t playing like one. He’s all right. You can’t question his effort. He draws doubles. But he’s not dominating. Will he ever be a monster?
2. What is the general consensus amongst the fanbase about Sam Darnold? Is he the franchise quarterback you all have been waiting for, is it more of a wait-and-see approach or has he not been all of that impressive so far?
Michael: I have a wait-and-see approach and any sane non-hot take spewing fan does as well. There’s a lot of confidence he can be the guy. As the youngest starter in league history, faced with playing three games in 11 days to start his career (two prime time road games), Darnold has played two good and one bad game. A solid start. In Detroit, he bounced back from a bad game opening pick to have an efficient rest of the game and lead the team to the win. Against Miami, he threw one bad interception and misfired deep a couple times, but on the whole played a good game and should have led the team back from a 20-point deficit if his teammates held up their end. Cleveland was a disaster — the classic “that kind of game” night for a rookie starter. He wasn’t himself. Darnold had zero confidence to push the ball downfield, did not see open deep receivers, was inaccurate in the short range, and could not produce anything on the ground. He was flat out terrible. But that’s OK. He’s making these mistakes now instead of a year from now, and that is a great thing. Darnold has not yet given us any reason to believe he isn’t the type of guy who will bounce back from the lows and come back stronger. We shall see if he lives up to that billing.
3. The Jets were able to stun the Jaguars last season, thanks to a strong rushing attack. Do you think the Jets will have a similar game plan this season, and do you think it will be effective again?
Michael: It’s hard to trust this offensive line right now. Then again, it’s a barely different unit than the one that stomped on the Jags on the ground last season. But I do think the Jets are going to keep using a healthy diet of run and pass to take a small bit of pressure off of Sam Darnold. Obviously, the front really needs to bring its best against a defense as amazingly talented as the Jaguars’, but the Jets made their bed and now they have to lay on it. They’re going to have to try and run the football behind these guys. There have been stretches where they have really got it going. But there have been a lot more where they could not move the ball for anything on the ground.
The Jets should run the ball outside more. It worked great against the Lions but they’ve gone away from it a bit over the past couple games. Brandon Shell (RT) has run blocked very well while the wide receivers and tight ends were on a groove last game blocking.
Honestly, I think any success the Jets have rushing will be on the running backs’ ability to simply create it themselves.
4. If you could take one player from Jacksonville’s current roster not named Jalen Ramsey, and place him on the Jets’ roster, which player would that be and why?
Michael: I’ll go one on each side. Offensively I’d take Andrew Norwell. The Jets are in desperate need of difference-making talent on the offensive line. So far, the only tool they have been able to rely on across all three games has been Brandon Shell’s run blocking. Center Spencer Long has been pass blocking well on the whole and should continue to, but was obliterated by the Browns last Thursday.
Guards James Carpenter and Brian Winters are big question marks. Carpenter is not a good fit in this zone running scheme and is declining as a pass blocker as he ages. Winters is just wildly inconsistent and has pass protected terribly so far. Norwell would be a great influx of talent to the unit.
On defense, I’m torn between Calais Campebll and A.J. Bouye. Pairing Bouye with Trumaine Johnson would make for one hell of a cornerback duo — arguably a potential top 3-5 kind of pair. I really wanted the Jets to sign Bouye a couple years ago. However, the Jets are also in dire need of pass rushing help. The Jaguars don’t necessarily have a great outside edge rusher, but Campbell is the kind of force who makes things easier for everyone else while still dominating on his own. Malik Jackson would be great as well. Pairing either one of those guys with Leonard Williams would be so fun to watch.
5. Is there any player or players that Jaguars fans may not be aware of that can make an impact for the Jets on Sunday?
Michael: I already mentioned the two guys I usually put in this section, but right tackle Brandon Shell and defensive lineman Henry Anderson. Shell is a rapidly improving young tackle who has great size and athleticism and is finally combining those things with improved technique. Watch out for him on runs to the right edge. Anderson is a high-motor interior lineman who has really solid pass rushing ability.
Bonus: Final score prediction?
Micheal: I think the Jets will cover and compete again. But I don’t think they can beat an angry Jaguars team coming off of a home loss to a division rival. Darnold is due for a bounceback game. The defense has been inconsistent but is keeping the point totals down and forcing turnovers. The special teams are suddenly a weapon. Neal Sterling and Marcus Maye should return. However, I can’t see it. Don’t forget that nearly this entire Jaguars team was there for the loss at MetLife last season.
Jaguars 22, Jets 20.
Thank you to Michael for his thorough responses and giving us a glimpse into what to expect from the Jets on Sunday. You can follow Michael on Twitter, and to keep up with New York Jets news and notes, be sure to follow Gang Green Nation as well.
For more from Michael, check out the “Know Your Foe” podcast on the Turn On The Jets network. I joined Michael on the podcast to discuss the Jaguars this week.