By Jeff Capellini
It appears the Jets have finally learned that football is a game played and won at the line of scrimmage.
Sunday’s 34-16 victory over the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium featured one big play after another, but it was the subtle execution of the offensive and defensive lines that left many a fan and media member thinking that maybe, just maybe, this won’t end up a lost season after all.
The explosion on offense to the tune of 512 total yards was surprising given how anemic the Jets looked during the second half at Cleveland in Week 3 and throughout their Week 4 stinker at Jacksonville.
The offensive line, considered a major work in progress since the preseason, mostly because the starting five barely played together, was utterly dominant on Sunday, pushing around the supposedly physical Broncos at the point of attack. Von Miller, who is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL not named Khalil Mack, was a total non-factor.
Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was hit just three times and the one time he was sacked was due more to tight secondary coverage than anything else.
Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, guard James Carpenter, center Spencer Long, guard Brian Winters and right tackle Brandon Shell are without question the most important Jets at this point in the season, as far as Darnold’s development goes and in the quest to improve on the team’s five-win total from each of the last two seasons.
Beachum, who is in his seventh season, said Sunday’s destruction of Denver was more indicative of what this offense can be, even with a quarterback with just five games of NFL experience.
“We had a couple drives early in the game where we started out with three-and-out, so for us, keep things in perspective,” Beachum said. “At the same time, we have to grow up and find a way to string games together and get on winning streaks instead of losing streaks.”
Not only did the line keep Miller and the rest of the Broncos defenders far away from Darnold, it opened up massive holes for Jets running backs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. The former set a single-game franchise record with 219 yards rushing, on the strength of an absolutely ridiculous 14.6 yards per carry.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to my O-line. I can’t really take the credit. Really, it was all them,” Crowell said. “I mean, the holes were open. Anybody could’ve run through them. It just happened to be me.
“They really set the record.”
Powell was darn good, too, cranking out 99 yards on 20 carries as the Jets bulldozed the Broncos for 323 yards on the ground, the fifth time in franchise history they ran for at least 300 in a game.
For the season, the Jets are averaging a robust 4.9 yards per carry, just the type of production that will keep defenses honest and give Darnold the time he needs as he continues to try to adapt to the speed and complexities of the NFL game.
Again, the Broncos are generally viewed as having a brand-name defense, so the Jets’ offense now has fewer excuses than it did during the team’s three-game losing streak, when the line looked intimidated and forced offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to be conservative with his play calls.
Perhaps the more pleasant surprise, not just last Sunday, but throughout most of the first five weeks of the season, has been the Jets’ defensive line.
This was a unit coming into the season that everyone feared would get nowhere near opposing quarterbacks consistently due to the lack of an established edge rusher. Well, defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers’ by-committee approach has contributed to the Jets already having 14 sacks, which is tied for ninth in the league. Just to put things in perspective, New York finished 28th in sacks last year with only 28 and 29th in 2016 (27).
The Jets had four sacks, six additional quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss against the Broncos.
End Leonard Williams, who was basically abandoned by his fellow linemen in each of his first two NFL seasons, has come alive following a slow start, recording three sacks in the last two games, including two against Denver.
“I think it was important because players feed off of each other,” Williams said of his breakout game. “It could’ve been me, it could’ve been Jamal (Adams), it could’ve been Darron (Lee). It could’ve been anybody. When the big-time players are making big-time plays, it motivates the team. Everybody starts to back up each other, rally together and make stuff work.”
Veterans Henry Anderson and Jordan Jenkins each have 2.5 sacks and nine Jets have at least a half-sack. Overall, New York has 36 QB hits, good enough for fourth in the NFL.
The pressure the Jets are generating is helping mask some of the defense’s shortcomings. New York is tied for 16th in rushing yards allowed per game with 105 and is 16th in passing yards allowed (266.6). Those are obviously not elite numbers, but the unit overall is doing enough on a weekly basis to give the developing offense a chance.
“It just starts in practice, man, just communicating and playing fast and just making plays in practice,” safety Jamal Adams said. “I strongly believe in practicing how you play. We had a great practice week and it showed (Sunday).”
It’s safe to say if both lines can begin to perform with some consistency, the Jets should be in every game they play from here on out.
Should they win more than they lose? Is perhaps a .500 record by season’s end a reasonable ask?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Go out and beat the struggling Indianapolis Colts this Sunday and then we’ll talk some more.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapGLJ