By Steve Lichtenstein
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No one should have been surprised at the outcome of the Jets’ season opener in Buffalo on Sunday.
The offense looked as pathetic as advertised in the 21-12 loss and I warned you that the defense was overrated.
This is one of the worst teams in the franchise’s not-so-glorious history.
Head coach Todd Bowles got pummeled afterwards from those who believed that a couple of his game management decisions cost the Jets a shot at a rare victory.
Folks, even if Bowles was more aggressive in the last 30 seconds of the first half or went for it on fourth down from near midfield with four minutes remaining and down two scores, the Jets weren’t winning that game.
Bowles’ personnel choices and assignments on Sunday, however, should be up for debate, and they have longer-reaching implications than just one defeat among what will surely be a double-digit total by season’s end.
How can Bowles develop or get the best out of his players if he doesn’t even know who his best players are and what they can do?
I’ll give you three examples:
Bilal Powell incognito
I’m sure Bowles watches a ton of game film, but I can’t fathom how he can conclude that Matt Forte, in his current 31-year-old condition, is anywhere near Powell’s level. Yet Powell, who gained the third-most rushing yards in the league over the final four weeks of last season after Forte broke down, did not get a single touch in the first quarter, a stanza in which the Jets accumulated a grand total of 16 yards in six plays.
It was only after Forte’s second dropped pass of the first half that Bowles went to Powell. He was given two carries in the last four minutes of the second quarter.
When confronted during his postgame press conference about the curious allocation of workload, Bowles noted that Powell had more carries than Forte on the day. Yep, he won 7-6.
It shouldn’t have been that close.
I will grant you that Powell had a very unremarkable performance (22 rush yards, 17 yards on pass receptions) in his limited reps. but that’s not the point. This is a team starved for playmakers and Powell has shown a level of dynamism that Forte just doesn’t have any more.
The Jets are wasting away Powell’s prime. To those who claim he’s injury-prone at 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds, I would counter that he’s played in at least 14 games every season but one (he played 11 games in 2015) since 2012.
Forte is regarded as the consummate pro, but his body language after his drops suggested that his mind might be on greener pastures than Gang Green’s. There’s been speculation that the Jets will trade him by the midseason deadline, but no matter the intention, the running back roles should be reversed now. Powell should be the feature back, with Forte in relief and on third downs.
The miscasting of Darron Lee
The surest route to busthood is to be assigned tasks out of your comfort zone.
Take Lee, the Jets’ first-round draft choice in 2015. All of the scouting reports at the time indicated that the linebacker “excels in space” and is not quite as stout when taking on bigger blockers.
So where does Bowles have Lee? On the inside in a 3-4 alignment, of course.
Was anyone else wondering, as Buffalo’s tandem of LeSean McCoy and Mike Tolbert ran roughshod to the tune of 152 yards on 34 attempts, where Lee was on these plays? I know the box score stated that Lee registered 10 tackles and a sack, but I lost track of the number of times the Bills’ backs blew through the first two levels of the Jets’ defense while Lee was entangled with an offensive lineman.
I knew the Jets’ run defense was going to suffer without David Harris in the middle for the first time in 11 years, but this was embarrassing.
And Lee’s pass coverage was even worse. As tweeted by Brian Costello of the New York Post, Lee was the lowest-graded Jets defender by ProFootballFocus.com, surrendering a 134.7 passer rating on his coverage responsibilities.
It’s a long season, so there’s still hope that Lee will grow on the job. With this regime, however, I have doubts.
Who’s No. 2?
Bowles had the perfect opportunity to clear up his quarterback depth chart in his postgame remarks.
He could have said that Bryce Petty was still recovering from a knee injury he suffered in the third preseason game and didn’t want to risk having to play him in an emergency.
No one would have challenged his decision to make Christian Hackenberg the backup in Buffalo.
That would have made too much sense.
Instead, Bowles left open the possibility that the pecking order was created on merit. Bowles only said that Petty had a full week of practice, intimating that he could have played if needed. Bowles felt Hackenberg was the better option.
Josh McCown went the whole way behind center, so you might think this criticism is a stretch. However, it represents exactly the kind of thinking that has made Bowles a prime target for ridicule.
While none of the “Terrible Trio” will save this franchise, Hackenberg has to be considered the least likely to succeed at this point. He has provided no basis for hope, other than his pedigree of having been drafted in the second round in 2015. In virtually every preseason appearance since, he has looked lost in the pocket and hasn’t been able to deliver an accurate ball with the requisite efficiency anywhere on the field.
Are we all missing something?
Hackenberg will get his opportunity at some point in this lost season, as he should. But don’t tell me he deserves to get one before Petty.
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