By Steve Lichtenstein
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What were the Jets doing for nine days?
After an embarrassing loss on so many levels to the Rex Ryan-coached Bills in Week 10, Gang Green should have been fully aware of their situation as they prepared to face the Texans on Sunday in Houston.
Losers of three of four games, and with their playoff aspirations on life support, the Jets needed to lay the wood to an inferior AFC opponent.
You would think that they talked a little about J.J. Watt, the Texans’ monstrous defensive end who is one of the best players in football. You would think that they would have planned an adjustment to teams doubling wide receiver Brandon Marshall by featuring Eric Decker early against an injury-plagued secondary. You would think that they would design defensive schemes which could confuse a third-string quarterback like Houston’s T.J. Yates.
Jets coach Todd Bowles and his staff might as well have taken a vacation during their extra days off for all the lousiness in the game plan that led to the Jets’ 24-17 defeat that dropped them to 5-5 on the season.
While I have written this story on many occasions, the pain never gets duller each time I watch them lay an egg.
Most disturbing on Sunday: How in the world could they allow Watt all those opportunities to wreak havoc in one-on-one situations? Watt was credited with eight tackles (five for a loss) and five quarterback hits (two of which were third-down sacks).
Watt moved around a little bit, but he mostly engaged Jets right tackle Breno Giacomini. I know the Jets prefer to be a right-handed running team, but don’t go at Watt with just one guy. He needed to be doubled.
On passing downs, the Jets’ lack of a competent tight end on the roster who could both slow down Watt’s rush with a bump and then become a receiving threat on routes over the middle was never more troubling. It seemed whenever the Texans needed to make a stand, Watt would bull past/through Giacomini or left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and get in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s face.
The Jets’ offense was grounded for most of the first three quarters, accumulating just 170 yards. A short field off a strip sack of Yates gifted the Jets a second-quarter field goal and a 44-yard pass interference penalty set Fitzpatrick up to connect with Marshall on a 21-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 10 early in the third quarter.
Outside of those two possessions, there were lots of three-and-outs.
Decker, who should have been more of a focal point in the early going instead of making sure all three running backs got touches, was shut out in the first half on just one target.
In multiple receiver sets, Bowles opted to go with Quincy Enumwa, who just came off the league’s suspended list and was mostly invisible in catching two passes for 22 yards; and rookie Devin Smith, who for the second consecutive week made a game-changing gaffe when he dropped a sure touchdown pass near the end of the third quarter.
Meanwhile, two guys who have proven abilities to get open and catch the ball didn’t see the field. Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive and Jeremy Kerley was limited to returning punts. In his postgame press conference Bowles denied that Smith got the call on Sunday to justify his second-round selection, but his words weren’t convincing.
The Jets defense — Bowles’ specialty — was no better prepared. The Texans exposed the Jets’ lack of speed with runs out of the Wildcat formation, short throws to running backs, a trick play touchdown pass by wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, and two deep balls to DeAndre Hopkins for touchdowns — one of which burned Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Defensive end Sheldon Richardson sat out with a hamstring injury, which made me wonder why Bowles predominantly went with a 4-3 alignment. That meant extra snaps for the likes of Leger Douzable and Stephen Bowen, neither of whom got close to the quarterback.
With Richardson out, a 3-4 would have been a better fit for Sunday. It would have allowed Bowles more options in his blitzing schemes, which in turn might have caused confusion and subsequent opportunities to force turnovers. The Jets’ one sack led to their only takeaway and it came courtesy of a Marcus Williams blitz from the defensive backfield.
Instead, it was the Jets who too often looked confused. They committed a 12-men-on-the-field penalty AFTER taking a timeout on defense late in the fourth quarter. How does that happen?
In addition to all the Jets’ other problems, it seems they now have a coaching issue.
On one hand, I want to be fair in Bowles’ first season. I thought he did well to get out of a relatively chaotic training camp with four wins in the Jets’ first five games.
But even then, there were alarming signs. Besides sometimes questionable clock management, Bowles bears some responsibility for the Jets habitually coming out flat and getting down early in games. They recovered against Cleveland and Washington. Not so in their losses to Philadelphia, Oakland, Buffalo and Houston.
And we all know that this is not a team built for coming from behind. You can see it in their awkwardness every time they attempt to execute the hurry-up offense.
What it comes down to — as always with this franchise — is that the Jets don’t have that quick-strike capability. And for that you have to look first at the quarterback position.
I don’t want to throw a separate pile of dirt on Fitzpatrick, whose toughness can’t be questioned after returning so soon from thumb surgery and for his willingness to take on defenders to gain maximum yardage on scrambles. But the fact remains that he has yet to lead the Jets on a game-winning (or game-tying) drive in the fourth quarter this season.
At his best, Fitzpatrick can be a competent game manager. If he has the support of a running game. If his line gives him decent protection. If his receivers hold onto the ball.
To ask Fitzpatrick to go out and win games with his arm, well that hasn’t happened too often in his itinerant career (seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 99 career starts in which his record now stands at 38-60-1).
Fitzpatrick will take heat for a rather disappointing showing on Sunday. He completed only 19 of 39 throws for 216 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Some will use that — and the Jets’ slide — as a reason to holler for a change to turnover-prone Geno Smith.
Bowles could have quashed that talk after the game on Sunday, but he seemed to leave the door open when he said, “We’ll meet on all that stuff on Monday.”
If Bowles follows through on the switch, however, that would become his most monumental rookie mistake.
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