Lichtenstein: When Will Jets Recognize Bowles Isn’t The Right Fit?

Team Is Often Unprepared, Calls Are Head-Scratchers

Steve Lichtenstein
October 01, 2018 - 9:12 am
Jets coach Todd Bowles

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My plan for this submission was to give Jets coach Todd Bowles at least a one-week break from ridicule.

Besides providing you with a little diversity, I knew that Gang Green was going to be clearly outmanned in Jacksonville on Sunday, with a rookie quarterback facing a defense that boasted six Pro Bowlers.

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As awful a coach as Bowles has been, it would have been difficult for anyone to get this team out of town with a victory.

However, like the Jaguars at the end of the Jets’ 31-12 blowout loss, I feel no shame in piling on.

Bowles, who signed a contract extension through the end of the 2020 season after a 5-11 2017 campaign, is not going to get fired anytime soon. He should be.

His club is woefully unprepared many weeks and reeks from lack of discipline. In his fourth season, Bowles continues to make poor judgements when it comes to game management. On Sunday, he went with a short field goal while down three scores in the fourth quarter so the Jets could get ... within three scores. 

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Later, trailing 25-12 with 4:33 remaining, he punted on fourth-and-6. Who cares about field position at that point? The Jags drove 65 yards for a rub-it-in touchdown anyway (and even tried for a two-point conversion) while running the clock down to 25 seconds.

Play to win the game? Nah.

The most underrated impact from Bowles’ continued employment is that he can’t attract a decent staff. Groomed on the defensive side of the ball, Bowles has been outsourcing his offense to his coordinators.

Bowles is on his third one in three years, and from the body of work Jeremy Bates has shown in four weeks, he shouldn’t get too comfy here, either.

Bates was out of football for four years before Bowles hired him to be the Jets' quarterback coach last season, a position he also held with Gang Green in 2005. When offensive coordinator John Morton was let go, Bowles promoted from within, even though Bates hadn’t called plays since 2010 for a Seattle club that ranked as the league's fifth worst in yards per game.

The play-calling this season has been outright bizarre at times, a combination of ultra-conservatism with head-scratching designs in key situations. For example, why throw long on both third and fourth downs needing 1 yard from midfield with more than a minute to go in the second quarter and two timeouts?

Granted, quarterback Sam Darnold missed on those and several other key throws, but that kind of inconsistency is to be expected from a rookie in these situations. How about taking some shots on first downs earlier in the game? Maybe it would have opened things up in the running game, which continued its hot-and-cold pattern Sunday with 26 yards on 12 combined carries between backs Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell.

Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who should have no complaints given the percentage of Darnold’s attempts thrown in his direction, seemingly called out Bates after Sunday’s affair. After realizing the storm that he could have precipitated, Enunwa walked it back in a follow-up.

Lest we forget, Bowles’ defense is no prize, either, despite the bevy of high draft picks and expensive free agents at his disposal. The Jaguars, who lost running back Leonard Fournette to an injury in the first half, rolled up 503 yards of total offense. I’m going to hear the phrase “he has a man wide open” on repeat in my head for a while after watching Jacksonville receivers roam free on crossing routes all day.

It’s clear that Jets owner Woody Johnson made a huge mistake in 2015 by choosing Bowles over Doug Marrone, who is now in his second season as Jacksonville’s head coach.  And no, I’m not reaching this conclusion based on this one game -- the Jets beat Marrone’s Jags last season. It’s because after six seasons of Rex Ryan, whose defensive bent was even more slanted than Bowles’, the Jets needed to get up to speed with the modern NFL by hiring a coach with an offensive background. Like Marrone.

Think about it -- since Al Groh’s one-and-done in 2000, the four subsequent Jets head coaches have all been clueless about offense (Groh was known as a defensive coach, but he at least had experience as an offensive coordinator in college).

The main reason the Johnsons (Christopher is in charge while Woody is serving as an ambassador to the United Kingdom) should be feeling a greater sense of urgency to bring in an offensive guru to run the show -- even though they publicly don’t feel any -- can be traced to Darnold. 

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Jets have a quarterback of the future in place. Darnold, 21, is in a formative NFL season. 

The only way Bowles will get the boot after the season is if Darnold doesn’t show signs of improvement. Four weeks is way too soon to hand out a report card, but the rookie QB has regressed since his efficient debut in Detroit. While he didn’t throw any interceptions Sunday, there were three or four passes that were flat out dropped by Jaguars defenders in addition to the blown big-play opportunities.

The more film opponents can get on Darnold going forward, the easier it will be for them to force him into mistakes. If only Darnold had a coach who was adept at adjusting to their adjustments.

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