By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Jets’ season may be over at 1-5 after yet another noncompetitive effort — a 28-3 thrashing in Arizona on Monday night.
But the reasons go way beyond the ineptitude of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
I’m not going to dispute that Fitzpatrick’s inaccuracy (16-for-31 on Monday) has been a big drag on the Jets’ offense this season. On a last-chance drive at the end of the third quarter, he was again picked off in the red zone, moving his touchdown-to-interception ratio in the second halves of games this season to a mind-boggling 0-to-11.
It’s nearly impossible to win consistently in this league with a quarterback that turnover prone.
However, as bad as Fitzpatrick has been, let’s not ignore all the other problems in Gang Green’s universe.
Name a position group that has outperformed expectations this season.
Running backs: Matt Forte at his best has been the king of the elegant four-yard run. His supposed exceptionalism in the passing game has not been utilized to any significant extent. Bilal Powell has been getting more touches lately, but not enough to put his stamp on any game. The duo combined to gain a paltry 29 yards on 12 carries in Arizona.
Wide receivers: Brandon Marshall has had moments of greatness diminished by some great big bobbles. Eric Decker, even before his torn rotator cuff placed him on injured reserve, was noticeably MIA from some game plans. Quincy Enunwa has played well, but none of the youngsters (Robby Anderson, Jalin Marshall, Charone Peake) have stepped up in Decker’s absence.
Tight ends: Why bother playing any of them? They’ve been mostly useless.
Offensive line: The unit is starting to get overwhelmed and banged up. The Jets have had very little success in the run game since Week 2, putting more pressure on Fitzpatrick to make plays.
Defensive line: The pride and joy has only nine sacks in 6 games, seven of which came in Week 1. The Jets can’t get within sniffing distance of opposing quarterbacks without coach Todd Bowles sending the house on a blitz. They were gashed by the Cardinals for 171 yards on the ground. Only Leonard Williams has earned his paycheck.
Linebackers: They have been burned repeatedly in pass coverage. The Jets missed injured leader David Harris badly on Monday, but where was the next man up? First round pick Darron Lee, who went down in the second half with a leg injury, looks out of sorts at times on the inside. Why was 294-pound Sheldon Richardson responsible for chasing down Cardinals scatback David Johnson on a third-down pass play?
Secondary: A big pile of excrement all season. The unit is ranked 31st in the league in passes defended and 40-plus yard pass plays allowed. There were no bombs surrendered on Monday night, but cornerback Buster Skrine committed four penalties and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer completed 23 of his 34 pass attempts. Darrelle Revis returned Monday after missing a game with a hamstring injury, but he, too, was underperforming earlier in the season.
Special teams: A pair of Nick Folk’s shanks cost the Jets in their one-point loss to the Bengals on opening day, but he has been perfect since. Punt coverage continues to pose problems and the Jets have gifted opponents two touchdowns on fumbled returns.
And while we’re at it … Coaching: Where do I begin? In addition to his team being unprepared at times, Bowles has been badly outmaneuvered in second halves and has made some poor strategic choices in fourth quarters. The large number of blown coverages suggests that the secondary members don’t understand their assignments.
So you want to pin all the blame on Fitzpatrick?
Look, the 33-year-old signal caller’s days as a Jet are obviously numbered. He will ride out the last two-plus months of the one-year, $12 million contract he held out all summer for.
But there isn’t an heir apparent on this roster. Certainly not one with the ability to have saved this season. There are placeholders, but no difference makers.
Those few of you who have been clamoring for Geno Smith all year must not recall Geno Smith.
No one should believe that Smith would have “provided a spark” during any of the Jets’ last four consecutive defeats against stiff competition.
The fourth-year pro, who was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, finally saw some action late in Monday’s game after reportedly pouting on the sidelines for a good portion of the night. In his one garbage-time series, Smith was strip-sacked and threw an interception.
He still has no feel for the pocket and his eyes send easily-readable transmissions to defensive backs as to where the ball is going.
It’s for these reasons that Bowles took all of three seconds in his postgame press conference to announce that Fitzpatrick will start Sunday’s home game versus Baltimore.
Sorry, fellow media members. You can’t have a quarterback controversy when you don’t have a quarterback. Bryce Petty isn’t the answer either and Christian Hackenberg reportedly needs to be Tebow-ed (footwork, throwing mechanics, processing, etc.) before he is anywhere near ready to play in an NFL game.
I still believe that someone other than Fitzpatrick will finish the season under center, but I wouldn’t rejoice if it’s Smith.
As a Jets fan, I know the playoffs are out of reach. This team isn’t going on a 9-1 run with all of its issues. I would rather they went 1-9 and be in the mix for one of the top college quarterbacks who will enter the 2017 draft, as opposed to winning a bunch of meaningless games and finishing, say, 7-9. Playing Smith or Petty may even help in the tanking process.
The bottom line is that general manager Mike Maccagnan has to go get his quarterback of the future in his next offseason after whiffing on Hackenberg in the second round of April’s draft. It’s a must.
But it would also be a grave mistake for Maccagnan to ignore all else that ails his crashing club.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1