Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) passes the ball against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 28, 2018, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

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Lichtenstein: The Good, Bad And Ugly Of Jets’ First Half

Darnold Shines, But Coaching Leaves A Lot To Be Desired

Steve Lichtenstein
October 29, 2018 - 4:00 pm
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At the season’s midpoint, the Jets are almost exactly who I thought they’d be.

Gang Green is 3-5 after Sunday’s desultory 24-10 defeat in Chicago, on pace to finish 6-10 as per my preseason prediction.

To be fully transparent, however, I must also note that my prop bets haven’t paid off. For instance, the Jets’ special teams have played much better than I expected, even producing a return touchdown for the first time since 2012. Injuries have limited Quincy Enunwa to one touchdown reception, and linebacker Darron Lee hasn’t even registered a single sack, mostly because coach Todd Bowles hasn’t set him loose enough.

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I’m close on the others, with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold holding an 11-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and the Jets currently tied for 11th place with 63 penalties. Any team that commits five false starts in one game like the Jets did Sunday is an undisciplined train wreck, so that one’s not over.

The Jets only have three games remaining (home-and-home with Buffalo and at Tennessee) versus teams withlosing records, so reaching six wins isn’t exactly a given. However, as I noted previously, it’s quite possible that the Jets could be an improved team over last season even though the record might not reflect it.

Based on my observations, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the Jets’ first half:

THE GOOD

1) Darnold is the future.  For all of general manager Mike Maccagnan’s whiffs (we’ll get to that later) after Round 1, he seems to have hit on his franchise quarterback. Darnold is going through the normal ebbs and flows of a rookie season, during which he hasn’t been helped by a lame supporting cast that has been further decimated by injuries. Still, you can already tell that once he gets a line that can pass-protect (including a center who is healthy enough to shotgun snap) and some weapons who can get open, he will be fine.

2) Maccagnan deserves credit for his bargain shopping that brought in kicker Jason Myers, who leads the league with 18 field goals (in 19 attempts) and is second with 36 touchbacks, top NFL punt returner Andre Roberts and defensive lineman Henry Anderson, who has five of the Jets’ 25 QB hits -- the league’s third-worst total — in a reserve role. Myers was a waiver claim during the preseason, while Roberts signed a one-year, $1 million deal as a free agent and Anderson was acquired for a seventh-round pick.

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3) Cornerback Morris Claiborne has quietly had an exemplary first half. He’s played in all eight games, which is a feat in itself for anyone in the Jets’ banged-up secondary. There have been a couple of hiccups, but opposing QBs are pretty much staying away from him, even though he’s been assigned top receivers since the injury to $72.5 corner Trumaine Johnson. Claiborne already has more interceptions (two) and pass breakups (nine) than he had in 15 games last season.    

THE BAD

1) The offensive line has been maddeningly inconsistent. How can a team rush for 323 yards, like the Jets did in Week 5 against Denver, and then just 235 yards in the next three games combined? Take away that one outlier, and the Jets are averaging 83.9 yards per game on the ground, which would rank 29th in the NFL. Not what you want when breaking in a rookie quarterback. 

2) The Jets boast four tight ends, three of whom had the potential to be frequent targets for Darnold.  I’m sorry, but 28 total receptions from this group is disappointing. Rookie Chris Herndon has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games, but he had only one other target Sunday, which, considering Darnold had so few legitimate options, means he wasn’t open too often. Neal Sterling suffered his second concussion of the season in Chicago while sophomore Jordan Leggett has just four receptions on the year. Eric Tomlinson is used mostly as a blocker, and he’s not all that good at that.

3) With the exception of Cleveland’s Tyrod Taylor, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, mobile quarterbacks have given the Jets defense fits. Some of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill’s and Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky’s biggest plays were made by their feet, not just their arms. The lack of a competent edge rusher has been the proximate cause for the Jets’ aforementioned pass-rush failures, but it has also made them susceptible to QBs with good run/pass option skills. The Jets get another shot against Tannehill next Sunday in Miami.

THE UGLY

1) The play-calling on the road has been a joke.  For some reason, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has created game plans that would make Bear Bryant smile since the Jets’ season-opening win in Detroit. Run on most first downs. Run on most second-and-longs. Safe passes on third downs. Punt. Rinse and repeat. Granted, the Jets had no deep threat in Chicago with Robby Anderson out, but Bates made it very easy for the Bears by not taking any shots until the Jets got down two scores.

2) Bowles still hasn’t mastered clock management. In close games, it matters. I’ve detailed many examples in the past, so I won’t repeat myself, but the gist is that there have been too many times when the Jets have bungled opportunities at the end of halves because Bowles did not use his timeouts correctly, or at all.  The Colts game must have been an aberration.     

3) Want to know the real reason why injuries have taken such a heavy toll on the Jets this season? Look at Maccagnan’s drafts. It sure would have been nice to have young receivers in tow ready to take the reps that would have gone to Anderson and Enunwa on Sunday. Except that Devin Smith (2015, second round), ArDarius Stewart (2017, third round) and Chad Hansen (2017, fourth round) are all already out of the league after flaming out. Charone Peake (2016, seventh round) is still here, but his 14-yard garbage time reception Sunday was his first of the season. He only made the roster for his work on special teams. Lower-round picks fill out depth charts. The Jets, unfortunately, have typically had to scour the streets to plug holes. No wonder this team often falls to pieces when a starter goes down.        

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