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Jets optimism and concern: Sauce Gardner on rise, but miscommunication an issue


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Jets optimism and concern: Sauce Gardner on rise, but miscommunication an issue

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By Zack Rosenblatt

Robert Saleh can look at both of the Jets’ losses, to the Ravens in Week 1 and to the Bengals in Week 3, and explain them away. Unforced errors, miscommunication and unlucky breaks.

Against the Ravens, Saleh said he didn’t feel like the Jets got beat, they lost. He spoke in a similar tone Monday after the latest Jets disappointment, a 27-12 loss to Cincinnati.

Luck was the word of the day — and how the Jets don’t seem to have much of it.

“We’ve got to earn the benefit of the doubt in those situations and we’ve got to play above the neck in those situations,” Saleh said. “But (the mistakes) are going to go away as time goes on. Part of it is crappy luck. We’ve just got to find a way to not be so darn snakebit where it blows up in our face.”

Historically, the Jets haven’t had much luck, so it would be fair to question if it will ever actually be on their side. Still, there are reasons to believe the Jets can turn things around, too.

Here are this week’s reasons for optimism and concern coming out of the Bengals loss, which has the Jets at 1-2 heading into a Week 4 game against the Steelers. Let’s start with “concern” this week. (All league stats are before Monday night.)

Reasons for concerns

1. Miscommunication 

For three straight weeks, miscommunication in the secondary has led to an easy touchdown for the offense: twice between Sauce Gardner and a safety, and once with Gardner and linebacker Quincy Williams. The latter occurred against the Bengals on the Ja’Marr Chase touchdown.

“They were supposed to switch. I was talking to Sauce about this. He talks too much — he doesn’t know when to not say stuff,” Chase said, laughing. “But it was just: The defense got lost on a switch when (Joe Mixon) came outside of me” on his route.

Saleh doesn’t think the Jets miscommunicate more than other teams, it’s just been magnified since those moments have led to touchdowns.

“All 32 teams, there’s going to be six or seven miscommunications a game,” Saleh said. “It is what it is. There’s a lot of different things happening. We’ve been unlucky on two occasions.”


He also attributes the issue to the new faces in the Jets secondary: Gardner, cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead weren’t here last season, and Lamarcus Joyner missed all but one game. After Sunday’s loss, Reed had some pointed comments about his frustration with the communication errors and called for the Jets’ defensive players and coaches to meet and hash out their issues.

“Players feel things. And that’s what D.J. is feeling,” Saleh said. “What he’s feeling is there’s four new faces in the back end and communication is not at the level we need in terms of the way we talk to one another on the field. And, to be honest with you, that’s going to get better and better as the weeks go by with regards to them understanding how they’re going to play things, just being in the meeting rooms and talking through certain route concepts. We’re a lot better than we were a year ago. …

“They’re communicating actually pretty good for what you’d expect out of four new guys, and I’d anticipate it’ll be a lot better as the year goes on.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley doesn’t think the Jets need any special player/coach meeting.

“We meet every single day. That’s our time to express whatever we feel to put everyone in the best situation,” Mosley said. “The coaches leave the floor open for players to express those things and the coaches are open to hearing any observations we’re seeing from being on the field.”

Saleh also acknowledged another point Reed made — that perhaps the defense should be simplified.

“As coaches, we can get ahead of ourselves with regards to checks within a call. You always put your limit on three. You don’t want them thinking. You want them to set (the play) and run it,” Saleh said. “So we can bring it back down a notch so the guys can get comfortable. Then, as they get comfortable, then we can start adding back on. There’s that balance. He’s 100 percent right. … As coaches, we’ve gotta find that happy medium. We’re learning each other. We’re only Week 3 in year two with a bunch of new faces on defense. Everyone is learning each other.”

Those struggles on the back end, along with inconsistent pressure up front, have likely contributed to the Jets’ struggles on third down, too. Seven of the 10 touchdowns they’ve allowed this season have come on third down.

2. What to do at left tackle …

George Fant was limited throughout training camp by offseason knee surgery, then the problem lingered into the season. It had become bothersome enough recently for the Jets to rest him each Wednesday. Then things got worse Sunday.

Fant struggled against the Bengals, allowing 1 1/2 sacks to Trey Hendricksonin the second and third quarters. He left later in the second half with what was announced as a knee injury, and was replaced by Conor McDermott.

Saleh implied McDermott would start if Fant can’t go against the Steelers, which they won’t know until later in the week. They are adding reinforcements, signing veteran offensive tackle Mike Remmers to the practice squad on Monday. But Remmers hasn’t been with a team since the end of last season and is coming off a season-ending knee injury of his own. He has 90 career starts, though just 12 the last two years in Kansas City.

If Fant has to miss games, the Jets are in trouble, to put it kindly. Pro Football Focus gave McDermott a brutal 20.6 pass-blocking grade for the 27 pass-blocking snaps he played against the Bengals.

Duane Brown is eligible to come off injured reserve, but he’s unlikely to return this week.

Brown is “out there working,” Saleh said. “He’s putting in all the work, and once he clears IR, we’re going to get him back on the practice field and see where he’s at. … He looks good.”

3. Free-agent signings, not living up to expectations

Joe Douglas has spent a lot of money the last two offseasons adding talent. The returns through three games haven’t been amazing, outside of Reed and kicker Greg Zuerlein. Linebacker Kwon Alexander has been solid, too, and will be stepping into a larger role following Quincy Williams’ ankle injury suffered Sunday.

All stats below are via PFF:

• DE Carl Lawson: 0.5 sacks in 69 pass-rushing snaps.

• WR Corey Davis: 187 yards, one touchdown, one drop, one back-breaking penalty in a crucial moment against the Bengals. And 66 of those yards (and the touchdown) came as the result of a Browns mistake.

• S Jordan Whitehead: Ranked 69th of 80 safeties to play at least 50 snaps. His missed tackle on Tee Higgins on Sunday was brutally bad and led to an easy 56-yard touchdown — and a sideline blowup by Williams. He had six missed tackles and has allowed a 150.3 passer rating.

• S Lamarcus Joyner: Ranked 79th of 80. Has four missed tackles and has allowed a 158.3 passer rating. Has also had two killer penalties in three weeks.

• G Laken Tomlinson: Ranked 57th of 62 guards (minimum 100 snaps). Thirteen pressures allowed. “I thought he did not have his best game in the first game,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “Give it a couple more weeks. The test for offensive linemen is consistency.”

• TE C.J. Uzomah: One target, one catch for 5 yards in 50 offensive snaps.

• TE Tyler Conklin: Two drops, two fumbles, though he did play well against the Bengals and appears to be on the right track.

• OT Duane Brown: Zero games played. Unclear when he’ll return.

• DE Jacob Martin: 0.5 sacks in 44 pass-rushing snaps.

“Our vets made critical mistakes at critical times,” Saleh said after Sunday’s game.

He wasn’t talking specifically about the free agents, but Davis, Joyner and Whitehead have been three of the Jets’ biggest culprits.

Douglas’ draft picks have played well. The free-agent signings have not.

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Jets wide receiver Corey Davis is called for a personal foul against Eli Apple on Sunday. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

4. Safety issues

This has been a weekly problem that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Whitehead had a brutal missed tackle on the long Higgins touchdown. He has six missed tackles through three games. Also: Whitehead has made first contact with a ball carrier and not completed the tackle nine times, per TruMedia. Only one defensive back (Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards) has been worse.

Joyner has arguably been worse than Whitehead. He admitted he thought about retiring before the Jets called to re-sign him this offseason.

Unfortunately, the Jets don’t have any other safety options on the roster they trust enough to start.

5. Linebacker depth

Quincy Williams suffered a high ankle sprain against the Bengals and will probably miss some time, but the Jets “dodged a bullet,” Saleh said, considering how serious it looked. With Williams out, the Jets will turn to Mosley and Alexander as the primary linebackers, with veteran Marcell Harris likely filling in as the third linebacker in the base defense. Jamien Sherwood is the only other linebacker on the active roster.

Reasons for optimism

1. Zach Wilson’s return

I wrote about Wilson’s likely return at length after the Bengals game. Saleh said Monday the Jets should know if he’s cleared to play against the Steelers by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jets need Zach Wilson back at QB, but he can't solve all that ails them

Joe Flacco did not play well against the Bengals, looking the part of a 37-year-old who was 2-15 in his previous 17 starts before Week 2.

He threw the ball 52 times and now leads the NFL with 155 pass attempts, 14 more than Kyler Murray in second place. There were far too many instances Sunday when Flacco didn’t see one of his receivers open in the flat or down the field — most frequently Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore.

So while some may question how Zach Wilson might play once he returns — he hasn’t even fully practiced since suffering his knee injury Aug. 12 — perhaps he at least can bring some life to the offense. His mobility should open up Mike LaFleur’s playbook to something different than what we saw with Flacco.

Getting Wilson back will “bring some motivation,” Mosley said. “Zach is ready to get out there. … But it doesn’t really matter who is at (quarterback). We have to execute regardless.”

2. Max Mitchell

Before Week 1, Mitchell was the biggest concern on the offensive line. Now, he might be the least of the Jets’ worries there.

The rookie has gotten progressively better each week, capped with an impressive performance against the Bengals. He allowed only two pressures in 58 pass-blocking snaps in Week 3. He bounced back nicely after allowing a strip sack to Jadeveon Clowney in Week 2, which Benton attributed to Mitchell having the wrong “set point.”

“I think one of the thing Max impressed all of us with, even going back to training camp, he just seems to get better every day,” Benton said last week. “I’ll admit I was very nervous with him going into that first game. … The jump he made from the first game to the second game was even more exciting. He’s out there battling.”

3. Tyler Conklin at tight end

After two rough games to open the season, full of drops and fumbles, Conklin got back on the track he was on during an impressive training camp. He caught all eight of his targets for 84 yards, and appeared to be wide open on a few occasions throughout the game when Flacco didn’t target him.

It’s plainly obvious he’s the Jets’ top tight end, even though they paid Uzomah more money this offseason.

Conklin is fifth among all tight ends in targets with 24. That puts him on pace for 136 this season, which would be the most by a Jets tight end in franchise history. The previous record: Dustin Keller, targeted 115 times in 2011.

4. Sauce Gardner, up for the challenge

In Week 1, Gardner shut down All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews. In Week 3, he battled with superstar wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase — and jawed with him the whole time. His right to trash talk was well-earned.

In 10 snaps against Chase on Sunday, Gardner allowed just one target and zero catches, with one pass breakup.

“He’s a good player,” Chase said. “He can play a little scrappy.”

Gardner had another pass breakup against Higgins.

“It wasn’t really tough to me and I don’t think it was tough for the rest of the secondary,” Gardner said. “I was just thinking about going against Ja’Marr Chase the whole time. Everybody says he’s the best, that’s what I was ready for, he didn’t have any catches, so I feel like I did what I had to do.”

Gardner has been involved on all three miscommunications that have led to touchdowns for the other team but has otherwise lived up to his draft pedigree as the No. 4 pick. He looks like a potential star.

Reed continues to look like a shutdown corner, too. Per PFF, Reed is the 12th-best cornerback (minimum 100 snaps) and has permitted only a 16.0 passer rating. Only Panthers corner Jaycee Horn has forced a worse rating.

5. Quinnen Williams, taking charge

Williams got a lot of attention for his sideline blowup on defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. It’s obviously not ideal, though Williams’ message — that the defense should do more four-man rushes and fewer blitzes — seemed to get across.

That all distracted from the fact that Williams has quietly gotten off to a nice start for the Jets. Against the Bengals, Williams had four pressures, two QB hits and one sack. For the season, PFF has him graded as the eighth-best defensive tackle.

Sheldon Rankins also deserves a shoutout for a solid Week 3. He had two pressures, one sack and, according to TruMedia, six run stops. PFF gave him a solid 76.9 overall grade.

Both Rankins and Williams have played a big part in the Jets’ improved run defense. Last year, they ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed (138.3 per game). Through three games, they’re 14th (105.3) after holding the Bengals to 69 yards on 28 carries.

6. Greg the Leg

After a rough Week 1, Zuerlein has bounced back in a big way and looks like the “Legatron” of old. He missed a field goal and extra point in Week 1.
Since then, Zuerlein is 5 for 5 on field goals — three of them from 50-plus yards — and made his four extra-point attempts, all in Week 2.

(Top photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

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This coach is the king of excuse-making.

After a loss, you never hear Belichick try to spin positives.  He never offers much in the way of explanations or analysis but at least he owns the problems and there is a sense of urgency to turn things around.

And another meaningless phrase (from Saleh) you hate to hear after a(nother) loss is “we were moving the ball”.

Every team is going to have offensive yardage in a game, make an occasional play, etc.

That’s not enough.

The bar this guy sets is so low it’s no wonder the players continue to underperform and make mental errors.

Saleh’s approach to everything is:  “don’t worry, be happy…eventually, I know things will get better.”

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3 minutes ago, More Cowbell said:

I didn't  read the whole thing but glad they pointed out how bad Whitehead has been because all anyone talks about here is Joyner. Our S are a huge problem and thosnwas supposed  to be a strong unit. 

Been borderline shocking how bad Whitehead has been.

Was supposed to be this reliable stabilizing presence on the backend with all this big-time experience, etc.

Instead he’s been a liability 

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2 minutes ago, JoeNamathsFurCoat said:

Been borderline shocking how bad Whitehead has been.

Was supposed to be this reliable stabilizing presence on the backend with all this big-time experience, etc.

Instead he’s been a liability 

Look at this FA group… they are all good players, but aside from Reed all of them look lost. 

I don’t think it’s about signing busts. These guys can play. I think it’s about the situation and scheme. It’s crap.

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9 minutes ago, JoeNamathsFurCoat said:

Been borderline shocking how bad Whitehead has been.

Was supposed to be this reliable stabilizing presence on the backend with all this big-time experience, etc.

Instead he’s been a liability 

I noticed this against Cleveland which was a pretty bad game for him. I think I saw a lot of talk about how Joyner shouldn't  be on the field after that game and I am thinking did anyone notice how bad Whitehead is playing? 

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9 minutes ago, Integrity28 said:

Look at this FA group… they are all good players, but aside from Reed all of them look lost. 

I don’t think it’s about signing busts. These guys can play. I think it’s about the situation and scheme. It’s crap.

Actually I think it has something to do with the amount of youth on the team as well. I think this will get better. 

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4 minutes ago, More Cowbell said:

Actually I think it has something to do with the amount of youth on the team as well. I think this will get better. 

What youth of defense? Sauce is the only consistent rookie on the field. JJ and Clemmons rotate. The rest of the line, safeties, DJ Reed, LBS like Mosley have been around the block. 

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5 minutes ago, kevinc855 said:

What youth of defense? Sauce is the only consistent rookie on the field. JJ and Clemmons rotate. The rest of the line, safeties, DJ Reed, LBS like Mosley have been around the block. 

All the CB are young guys except Reed. Hall, Echols, are young guys. It might might not be that. Trying to be optimistic  for a change 🙂

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9 minutes ago, More Cowbell said:

All the CB are young guys except Reed. Hall, Echols, are young guys. It might might not be that. Trying to be optimistic  for a change 🙂

Optimism?  For Bryce Hall?  He was allegedly a "#1CB"  As soon as they started expecting their corners to actually cover someone he ended up a healthy scratch.  Shocked they gave up on Pinnock so early, but they seem to love Adams.  I guess we have to hope that he was more than just a camp darling like Isaiah Dunn.

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6 minutes ago, Matt39 said:

Who has been benched in season? This is a real question yes.

Then you should watch more games if it is. 
Question went from ever to through the 1st 3 games

Who should be benched so far, after 3 games.  And for who? 

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11 hours ago, 92ShaunEllis92 said:

Getting Wilson back will “bring some motivation,” Mosley said. “Zach is ready to get out there. … But it doesn’t really matter who is at (quarterback). We have to execute regardless.”

 

Awkward Oh No GIF by CBC

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4 minutes ago, Matt39 said:

So the answer is no. Gotcha.

I don't think that is particularly fair.  They rotate so much it is difficult to determine if anybody is being "benched."  Mims and Hall certainly have been doghoused for poor performance.  GVR was benched last year as soon as we had an option.  I actually think Feeney was benched for GVR at some point.  On D, Nasrildeen was benched for Sherwood after starting most of the preseason and first game or two.  They poured through safeties like water last year, but most of that was injury related.  

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3 minutes ago, #27TheDominator said:

I don't think that is particularly fair.  They rotate so much it is difficult to determine if anybody is being "benched."  Mims and Hall certainly have been doghoused for poor performance.  GVR was benched last year as soon as we had an option.  I actually think Feeney was benched for GVR at some point.  On D, Nasrildeen was benched for Sherwood after starting most of the preseason and first game or two.  They poured through safeties like water last year, but most of that was injury related.  

Thank you. However, seeing what the Giants are doing with Golladay and Toney- the nicey, nice Saleh seems to employ isn't really working either. Corey Davis would be a prime guy to keep on the sideline for a game, especially with last weeks  game losing penalty. He doesn't bring much to the offense, has at least one drop per game, and is now getting unsportsmanlike penalties. 

Mims is their 5 or 6th best receiver, so it's hard to say he's been benched per se.

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1 minute ago, Matt39 said:

Thank you. However, seeing what the Giants are doing with Golladay and Toney- the nicey, nice Saleh seems to employ isn't really working either. Corey Davis would be a prime guy to keep on the sideline for a game, especially with last weeks  game losing penalty. He doesn't bring much to the offense, has at least one drop per game, and is now getting unsportsmanlike penalties. 

Mims is their 5 or 6th best receiver, so it's hard to say he's been benched per se.

FWIW, I was thinking of last year when Mims entered the season as a starter with Davis and Crowder in the slot and worked himself down the depth chart.

My feeling of this regime is as follows:  I don't particularly like any of them, but... I think LaFleur is good and will be good.  I am not in love with everything, but I see something that should succeed.  We can argue about whether he can get them over the hump, but the execution hasn't even reached that level yet. 

On D, I don't like what they are trying to do, but that is a style thing.  It can work.  The question is, will they adapt and will they change things until it works?  Last year made sense to install and get guys up to speed, but at some point you have to stop sucking.   The whole "monkey can call this defense" thing has been a joke in that people think it means it is so simple.  With Reed calling for simplicity, maybe it is too complicated.  You don't need to change calls when the players have keys to read and change based on what they see, but that is more difficult to execute and results in more blown assignments.

I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt until I don;t and I am not off these guys yet.  I don't know what Saleh brings to the table, but the team itself does not seem to be imploding.  They seem tight and together and they seem to believe.  A few more losses and that might change, but for now I will put my fingers in my ears and sing lalalala and assume they are doing the right thing behind the scenes.  

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1 hour ago, Matt39 said:

So the answer is no. Gotcha.

The answer is you need to watch the team and not just throw cliches like no players have been switched in and out of the lineup 

Start with Mims.  Move to the secondary.  If you don’t think players have been switched that’s on you.  

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