Lichtenstein: Adam Gase Must Be Held to Playoffs-or-Bust Standard

Steve Lichtenstein
May 19, 2020 - 9:06 am

Jets fandom requires the lowest of expectations.

The “meh” franchise culture trickles down from the top. For instance, when is the last time a Jets head coach entered a season with a playoff mandate? You can’t count 2016, since Todd Bowles was allowed to slumber on the sidelines for another two desultory seasons following that 5-11 debacle.

Adam Gase went 7-9 in his first season at New York’s helm, one where the stated goal beforehand wasn’t to snap an eight-year postseason drought, but “to play meaningful games in December.” Mission unaccomplished.

After yet another offseason rebuild, you would think that Gase should be held to a higher standard in Year 2 when (if) games can safely get under way amidst this COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t count on it. The excuses have already started to line up even before the inevitable injury plague that seemingly decimates every Gase-led team relapses.

First, the degree of difficulty in Gang Green’s 2020 schedule is a 180 from last season. The Jets will face the daunting task of three road games on the West Coast plus both reigning Super Bowl participants—San Francisco at home and at Kansas City.

Soon you’ll be hearing the missives from Gase apologists about how the coronavirus outbreak will hinder the Jets’ ability to integrate all their new pieces, especially on the offensive line. The Jets anticipate at least four new starters across their front five, including rookie first-round draft pick Mekhi Becton.

It's true that virtual minicamps are no substitute for on-field interactions. Quarterback Sam Darnold looked fine tossing a football on a California beach, but it would be preferable if he can get some spring reps throwing to his new top-two receivers.

Still, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stressed that any resumption plan must not put any team at a competitive disadvantage. Teams’ personnel may be allowed back into their practice facilities on Tuesday, but access will still be limited—only players who are rehabbing injuries along with their trainers can get back to work. Coaches are banned.

So, the fact that the state of New Jersey might not clear the Jets to return to Florham Park for a while shouldn’t be much of a handicap.

Instead, it will put a premium on coaches who can actually, well, coach.

Unless he’s had Peyton Manning calling the shots from under center, Gase has never proven he can be that guy, a coach who can teach and scheme his way to elevate lesser developed players.

Unlike Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, whose unit shook off a slew of injuries that devastated the linebacker and cornerback crew to perform rather admirably last season, Gase oversaw the worst or next-to-worst offense in the league, depending on which metric you favor.

Young, previously unheralded defenders like Folorunso Fatukasi, Arthur Maulet, Blessuan Austin, and Neville Hewitt stepped up when called upon by Williams. Where were the similar stories on the other side of the ball? I can’t name any young Jets offensive player who took a significant leap forward last season, and that includes Darnold. That’s on Gase.

How many times after a Darnold interception last season did Gase tell the media, “Yeah, I probably should have called something else." Ya think?

As for the line’s troubles in 2019, too many negative plays resulted not from a single man simply getting beat, but by assignment errors. Forever etched in my mind is the picture beat writer Conor Hughes showed of five Jets’ offensive linemen standing around (or laying on the ground) with no one to block while three opposing defenders converged on the QB. It’s almost like they weren’t prepared to play.

Gase, by the way, kept offensive line coach Frank Pollack on his staff for this season.

The NFL is a different breed from the other major pro sports—turnarounds are far easier. It’s not unusual when new entrants comprise half of the league’s playoff field in a particular year. In many cases, it’s the coach/QB combo that provides the impetus for such drastic improvements.

No wonder the Jets haven’t been one of those teams since 2010.

You’d think this would be the season to shoot for the moon with an added wild card and the AFC East in flux--New England can’t continue its dominance over the division without a legitimate quarterback to replace Tom Brady and Miami is too young to scare anyone. As for Buffalo, well, let’s see how they’ll handle the pressure of being prohibitive favorites.

Look, I have no illusions about where the Jets stand on paper. That doesn’t mean they can’t overachieve. Despite the schedule, despite the roster holes, the Jets should be thinking bigger. A winning organization would make this a prove-it campaign for Gase.

Unfortunately, this franchise always has excuses at the ready for why it’s never playoffs-or-bust.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.