By Jeff Capellini
It’s looking more and more like the Jets are the team we thought they were.
We, as in fans and media types who usually have our yearly optimism squashed before the leaves even fall off the trees.
While I have readily admitted that there should be no reasonable expectations for this team this season beyond the development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets’ 1-3 start has been frustrating nonetheless.
Because they have gotten less and less competitive with each passing week.
This past Sunday’s no-show in Jacksonville was a disgrace. Not because the Jets will ever be confused with a team in the same class as the Jaguars, but because this is the NFL and the gap shouldn’t be that vast, regardless of the teams in question.
The Jaguars have a quarterback everyone still questions, a physical specimen of a running back who can’t stay on the field for more than a few plays before he’s felled by a gimpy hamstring, a backup tailback who shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than just that, and a wide receiver corps that’s supposed to be extremely top heavy.
Yet, Blake Bortles looked like Tom Brady, T.J. Yeldon made everyone forget about Leonard Fournette and veteran Donte Moncrief recorded his first 100-yard receiving game in almost three years as the Jags outgained the Jets in total yards, 503-178, in the 31-12 rout.
That’s impossible to defend.
And it’s hard to make any excuses for head coach Todd Bowles, no matter how young his core players are or how average it seems the rest of his roster appears.
This is still the NFL. Parity is supposed to rule the roost. Any given Sunday, right?
Nobody is saying the Jets were supposed to beat the Jaguars on Sunday, but the shellacking was actually a lot worse than the score indicated.
So since the Jets steamrolled the Lions in Detroit to begin the season — and got everyone unnecessarily charged up in the process — they have taken one step back after another. They couldn’t make a play when they needed one against the very beatable Miami Dolphins in Week 2, were embarrassed by the improving-yet-still lowly Cleveland Browns and their rookie quarterback the following Thursday and really looked like they couldn’t give a damn against the Jaguars.
That, my friends, is about coaching.
How is anyone supposed to have faith in Bowles to develop Darnold when he doesn’t even show conviction to go for it when a field goal isn’t going to do anything for morale, let alone the horrible situation on the scoreboard?
The Jets’ offensive line isn’t great. I think we can all agree on that. But is it as bad as it played against Cleveland and Jacksonville? Or was its effort against Detroit and Miami just a tease? One would think that better coaching would probably provide the answer.
To a man, the players say they love Bowles. I’m sure that love is genuine, but let’s be honest, what else are they supposed to say? While it’s true he hasn’t lost the locker room and it appears the players would run through a wall for him, how much does all of that matter when a team regresses from week to week in September?
“You can’t have panic,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said Monday. “I trust and believe in every guy in this locker room. It’s a long season. I understand we’re in a hole right now, but we still have a lot of games left.”
That type of rallying cry is usually embraced by NFL fans.
Jets fans know better.
Because the way the Jets were kicked around on Sunday resembled beatdowns of years gone by, when the personnel was better and the expectations greater. Sure, they seemingly have their franchise quarterback now, or at least hope they do, so mistakes are going to happen. But, if we’re being fair, Darnold really hasn’t been that bad, considering the circumstances.
The No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft has been running for his life behind a line that has been wildly inconsistent and his receivers, Quincy Enunwa aside, haven’t done much of anything. The running game has been nonexistent of late because of said line and taking shots down the field seems like the last thing on offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ mind. That’s not to say Bates doesn’t want to stretch the field. He just can’t because it’s physically impossible to roll Darnold out on every play to buy time so receivers can actually get open.
So excuse me if I look at Darnold’s stats — 868 yards passing, 57.5 completion percentage, 4 TDs, 5 INTs and a 72.6 rating — and don’t see the sky falling.
Through four games, I think it would be a real stretch to say Bowles has done enough to earn the right to come back next season.
Can you remember instances over the last three-plus seasons in which one of his decisions played a key role in a victory? I’m sure it has happened, but the fact that I have to scramble to think of one is troubling. The Jets are 21-31 under Bowles’ watch and are in danger of having this season turn into something that resembles 5-11 from the previous two seasons.
You can make the argument that the Jets are no better than that, as far as talent is concerned. But when you don’t score, things always look worse. They have 41 points over the last three games after putting up 48 in the Week 1 win.
That’s shameful, regardless of their personnel and the strength of their opponents.
And then there’s the Jets’ defense, which is once again overhyped. Bowles is supposed to be a real guru on that side of the ball, yet this unit, like all of them under his watch, has a ton of personality, but no real identity.
And its not like the Jets are devoid of talent. They already have 10 sacks, which is a ton for them, two very good linebackers in Darron Lee and Avery Williamson, corners in Johnson and Mo Claiborne who have shutdown ability and a safety in Jamal Adams who will one day be among the best in the league.
So why were Moncrief and Dede Westbrook open all day Sunday on simple underneath crossing routes? Why did the Jets forget about Yeldon coming out of the backfield as a receiver? Why did Bortles go 16-for-19 for 216 yards in the first half?
Ask the head coach.
The Jets are about to begin a three-game homestand that includes games against good teams in Denver and Minnesota. They very well may lose all of them, but at the very least they need to be competitive on both sides of the ball each time out to begin to change the minds of the growing number of people who think Bowles is in way over his head.
Good luck with that.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ