The New York Jets’ defense passed its first test

rob saleh, jets

The New York Jets’ makeshift defense, faced with lost pressure and Saturday draft picks in big roles, put out a respectable effort in Week 1.

It wouldn’t have been a New York Jets opener with a reminder that the team often serves as living, gridiron-based proof of the existence of Murphy’s Law. Thus, it was only natural that ex-bastions of New York hope contributed to the team’s Sunday demise.

Quarterback Sam Darnold and receiver Robby Anderson served ice cold revenge on a sweltering late summer afternoon, accounting for all but three tallies of a 16-point quarter that made up the majority of the Jets’ 19-14 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. Darnold, Gang Green’s most recent false prophet under center, ended the frame with a five-yard scoring run with 35 seconds remaining after previously tossing a 57-yard six-pointer to Anderson, a rare source of green metropolitan offensive power during the prior decade, one who claimed that the Jets were making him “(lose) his love” for football.

(Photo by James Dombrowski)

Anderson’s lucrative grab was his only catch of the afternoon, but Darnold tallied 234 aerial yards in the first half…needing only a single game to eclipse his highest such tally in New York. He and Darnold’s collaborative heroics provided fresh material for a football landscape that finds the slightest Jets mistakes to be a guaranteed punchline. The coming week will undoubtedly be filled with thoughtpieces and hypotheticals from both fans and commentators alike about whether the Jets made the right decision in letting Darnold and Anderson move on. Those theories will be callously pushed forth by Zach Wilson’s rollercoaster afternoon (20-of-37, 258 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) partly brought upon by a porous offensive line effort that led to six sacks and “a little whiplash” for the second overall pick of April’s draft.

But despite the endless “what if?”-based questions that Sunday produced, the Jets earned an undeniable victory: putting forth a strong defensive effort that can’t be erased by two entries in the scoring summary.

Youth in revolt on offense generated enough hype to mask the Jets’ defensive inefficiencies, ones that were the unavoidable consequence of having so much to work on after last year’s garish campaign gave the Jets so much to work on that it was guaranteed some roster area was going to be neglected. Even the quickest look at the depth chart would yield the area most affected: having spent most of the offseason transactional periods trying to surround their new quarterback with a potent welcome wagon and pressure artists with experience in the 4-3, the cornerback depth chart became a hodgepodge of young journeymen and acquisitions made during Saturday of draft weekend.

The football gods indulged in their beloved tradition of toying with the Jets, centering their cruel divine intervention on defense. Two of the high-profile defensive additions (Jarrad Davis and Carl Lawson) were bitten by the injury bug, the latter’s ailment erasing his 2021 season entirely. Qunnien Williams, fresh off a breakout campaign, missed nearly all of the offseason preparation after hurting his foot during a workout at the team’s Florham Park facility.

Suddenly, the issues in the secondary couldn’t be ignored: the franchise-tagged Marcus Maye was/is believed to be capable of holding down the fort at safety but the headliner at corner was 2020 fifth-rounder Bryce Hall, he of eight NFL games that showed promise but didn’t turn him into a seasoned professional veteran. Rutgers-based project Bless Austin was projected to be the man next to Hall as he entered his third season but the Jets bid him farewell less than two weeks before Sunday’s kickoff. The Queens native has already been scooped up by Seattle, creating a reunion with Jamal Adams.

Austin’s position on the depth chart was literally left blank on the depth chart shown on the team’s official website. Three names currently sit in the spot, all of them chosen on the most recent Saturday of draft weekend. Sixth-round choice Brandin Echols was there alongside undrafted Isaiah Dunn while fifth-rounder Jason Pinnock was inactive. It was part of defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich referred to as a “committee“-like approach to Sunday’s contest.

Such struggles set a dangerous stage: Carolina was already welcoming back two four-digit yardage receivers (Anderson and D.J. Moore) and was also anticipating the return of Christian McCaffrey after an injury-plagued 2020. Much like how Wilson was blessed with a better cabinet than anything the Jets had to offer in the last three seasons, Darnold was also provided his best arsenal after three years in offensive purgatory in New York. To put things in perspective: out of the 45 touchdowns Darnold threw over the past three seasons as a Jet, 26 were bestowed to receivers that are already no longer employed by the Jets. Now, he had a chance to work with potent weapons rather than aerial washouts.

Yet, the Jets defense held strong for as long as they could. Two plays will define their afternoon…and, perhaps, their season, in the eyes of the common fan, but it’s not fair to deny what this fledgling unit was able to accomplish in Charlotte.

There were countless opportunities for the Jets to break on Sunday: Carolina shook off Matt Ammendola’s unexpected punting heroics to drive into the Jets’ red zone, but the defense forced them into a situation that to an aborted Darnold fumble that gave New York the ball back. When the offense failed to take advantage of the opportunity (Wilson’s first professional interception to Shaq Thompson), they cracked down in the red zone, forcing Darnold into a pair of incompletions that yielded a mere field goal. Darnold’s history and the late scores could’ve blown the game open, but they never allowed the deficit to balloon past two possessions. The makeshift secondary did its job in its professional debut.

Pressure was understandably at a premium with Lawson missing for the year, but it came at the most opportune time. Faced with a two-yard third down, John Franklin-Myers broke through for a big sack that provided the best start possible for the second half. It was a 30-minute stretch that saw Carolina run only nine plays past the Jets’ 35, including none in the third quarter. Darnold threw for only 45 yards in the second half, 17 coming on a single throw to Ian Thomas on a drive that led to a mere punt. Carolina’s most lucrative drives came through strong starting field position: another drive that ended in a field goal began at their won 37 while two final runs from McCaffrey after an onside kick helped the Panthers seal the deal.

The Jets (0-1) were eventually done in by typical antics from McCaffrey, who sent a dire warning to the rest of the league through 187 yards of offense in his anticipated return. But there was no denying the strides the Jets made under Ulbrich and head coach Robert Saleh, he of San Franciso’s defensive prowess over the past four seasons. Last year proved he’s more than capable of adapting to tough situations brought about by medical issues. He picked up where he left off against the Panthers, even if the proof didn’t linger on the scoreboard.

“We had a great red zone stand where we got the takeaway. In the second half, I thought they came out and stood up to the challenge,” Saleh said of the defensive effort per team contributor Randy Lange. “The challenge at halftime was just keep getting our offense the ball, keep giving them opportunities and they’ll flip it. I thought the guys showed resolve. I thought (Ulbrich) did a great job with his halftime adjustments. And I thought the offense responded and made a game out of it.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley is used to victorious defensive efforts, having worked with Baltimore’s strong units during the latter parts of the last decade. Mosley was granted captaincy honors by his teammates, bestowed the task of leading this brave new defense into the future. Despite some late cramping issues, Mosley finished Sunday’s contest with four tackles.

Sunday provided a major personal victory for Mosley, who finished a Jets game for the first time in his three years under contract. But he was prouder of the victories earned as a unit, ones that could potentially change opinions on the Jets’ defense moving forward.

“I loved every second of it,” Mosley said in Lange’s report. “I was just happy to be out there, happy to have that ‘C’ on my chest, happy to be out there leading the defense, happy to be running around doing what I love. It wasn’t the results that we wanted as a unit or as a defense, but it was the first game, we’ve got a lot to improve and we’ve got to get ready for next week.”

The Jets’ revamped defense will make its East Rutherford debut next weekend against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley speaks after vaccination

New York Jets, C.J. Mosley

The New York Jets linebacker, who sat out last season due to health concerns, shared a message on Instagram after receiving his vaccination.

New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley announced through Instagram that he has been administered the first of two COVID-19 vaccinations. According to his post, Mosley has received the Janssen vaccine and is due for a second shot at a date to be determined.

In his message announcing the news, he encouraged others, including his critics to seek out their own shots.

“Let’s get back to normal, let’s be happy, let’s feel the love from our family and friends…LETS GET VACCINATED! [sic]” Mosley wrote in his caption. “ps if you got time throw in a football joke, you have enough time to type in your info to register to get vaccinated.”

The former Baltimore Raven opted out of his second season in green citing concerns about the NFL season proceeding in the midst of the ongoing health crisis. A four-time All-Pro nominee, Mosley signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Jets in March 2019, but injuries and last season’s opt-out have limited him to two games in a New York uniform.

Upset fans inevitably filled Mosley’s post, facetiously hoping that Mosley’s vaccination means he’ll be able to partake in the upcoming season. Mosley responded to his detractors in stride.

“I’ve never said check my stats…. but check my stats!” Mosley said told one. “I’ve missed two years and my stats still up there with the best. This post is about the health and well being of myself and others. If you disagree, then all good brotha. BUT pleaseeeeeee spare me talking about some career games. [sic]”

Because I’m part of the 1% in this profession, not you. So just 🤫 until them gates open up at METLIFE! Then it’s go time.” [sic]

Mosley won’t be the only vaccinated one returning to MetLife Stadium this season. With vaccinations well underway across the nation, it’s highly anticipated that fans will be welcomed back to Jets and Giants games. The pair were two of 19 teams whose home games remained closed to fans.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley reportedly opting out of 2020 season

C.J. Mosley, New York Jets

After partaking in just two games last season, New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley is reportedly skipping the 2020 campaign.

Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley will be opting out of the 2020 NFL season. Mosley, 28, becomes the second New Yorker to opt-out, following the departure of reserve offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi.

Mosley signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Jets last offseason after five years with Baltimore. He made his NFL entry as a first-round pick (17th overall) and earned four nominations each to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams.

His Jets debut was one to remember, as Mosley earned six tackles (including a sack), a fumble recovery, and an interception returned for a touchdown in the Jets’ opening weekend tilt against Buffalo. A groin injury kept him out of the fourth quarter of that 17-16 loss and would later sideline him for the rest of the season, save for an October showdown with New England. Mosley later underwent surgery to resolve the issue.

According to Cimini, Mosley’s opt-out has to do with “family health concerns” as the NFL prepares to navigate its 2020 season around the coronavirus pandemic. The Jets have descended upon Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park to prepare for training camp. But Mosley’s opt-out, as well as the trade of Jamal Adams to Seattle, will leave the Jets without two of their top defenders.

Mosley is, at press time, the 36th NFL player to opt-out of the season. He’s one of the most notable departures to date on a list that includes Super Bowl star Damien Williams and New England Patriots Pro Bowler Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots have been, by far, the team most affected by the departures, with seven exits so far. Receiver Marquise Lee was the latest on that list.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Five New York Jets who could make the leap into the Top 100 Players of 2021

New York Jets

NFL Network’s annual summer countdown featured no New York Jets representation, but there’s potential for some to make the leap.

Sports are slowly returning to the American consciousness. The asphalt and the links have respectively played host to NASCAR and Golf, while bubbles have been inflated to stage the NHL, NBA, and WNBA season. MLB continues to play in empty stadiums for the time being, though to say that situation is in flux would be the understatement of this chaotic year.

Yet, despite not having played a single down since Patrick Mahomes’ victorious throwaway at the end of Super Bowl LIV (which, by the way, did indeed occur in 2020) and training camp still going through medical testing, we’re still talking about NFL football.

The catalyst this time around is the full release of the Top 100 Players of 2020, the annual countdown of names determined by the votes of the players themselves. Results have annually been posted on NFL Network, with the full list unveiled in the span of a week this time by. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson went from unranked to taking the top spot. Fellow thrower Russell Wilson was the runner-up while Mahomes came in fourth behind previous winner Aaron Donald. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas rounded out the top five.

Alas, the metropolitan area possesses more teams than it does players in the current Top 100.

While the Giants were blessed with Saquon Barkley’s inclusion (No. 31, down 15 spots from the prior edition), the New York Jets have no current members on the prestigious list. Jamal Adams came in a No. 27 for his exploits from last season, but he, of course, has been dealt to Seattle, one of seven Seahawk representatives (tied for the most with Baltimore and New Orleans). The Jets were one of six teams without a current nominee, joining Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, Miami, and Washington in infamy.

Who are the Jets’ best hopes to ensure we’re not talking about another blank slate this time next year? ESM has five nominees…

T Mekhi Becton

Reaching the 100 after one’s rookie season isn’t impossible, evidenced by the appearances of Kyler Murray, DK Metcalf, Josh Jacobs, and Nick Bosa on this year’s edition. But doing so as an offensive lineman is particularly difficult. Candidates are unaided by flashy “fantasy football” stats, making inclusion a tough hill to climb.

If Becton is able to deliver the kick that the Jets’ offensive line needs, spark the protection revolution that a hopeful backfield requires to fulfill its potential, then he should definitely be among the top 100 this time next year.

The offensive lineman is one of the most underrated positions in football, and perhaps in all of sports entirely, with no opportunity to reach the box score except in the case of the tackle-eligible play or fumble recovery in the end zone. But they’re perhaps the most valuable member on the team, especially in this day and age of fantasy football heroics. Big plays are exciting, but they’re rendered meaningless when the thrower has no time or the runner can’t make it to the hole. It’s very telling that no Jets blocker has appeared on the list since Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson showed up in the inaugural edition in 2011. If Becton’s prescience finally starts to change the Jets’ offensive narrative, he should earn this special recognition.

RB Le’veon Bell

Bell went from the top five to unranked after his lost final season in Pittsburgh. Last season wasn’t enough to put him back on the list, rushing for a full-season career-low 789 yards. Since his year-long opt-out, Bell has gone on to serve as a soothing voice of reason during his time with the Jets. He reiterated his dedication to the franchise during an uncertain trade deadline last season and has since vowed to right the wrongs of his first year in green. The Jets’ offensive line renovation was an endeavor to help Bell return to form. Further fuel was added to his 2020 fire when Bell gave Jamal Adams one last parting gift in the form of a Twitter get-together that leaves the Jets potential December visit to Seattle looming larger than ever on the 2020 ledger.

The combination of new, and potentially more powerful, blockers and a quest for vengeance could make for fireworks in the Jets’ backfield. Bell has been a mainstay on the Top 100 list throughout his career. If he’s able to capture even a portion of his Pittsburgh firepower, he can definitely work his way back.

QB Sam Darnold

Darnold has become one of the most polarizing figures in both New York sports and the NFL entirely. While it’s completely fair to say that Darnold hasn’t fully reached his NFL potential, one has to analyze the hand he’s been dealt. With so much turnover in his blocking and receiving corps…Chris Herndon, Brian Winters, and Jonotthan Harrison are the rare leftovers from his rookie season…Darnold has still managed to post respectable numbers. Each of his first two seasons has ended with a hot streak, and now he might finally consistent blocking help and a long-term deep play target (Denzel Mims).

If and when we get a 2020 season, it will serve as the proverbial crucial third year of Darnold’s term as franchise quarterback, one that either extends the thrower’s stay in his locale (Jared Goff, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford) or ends it entirely (Trent Edwards, Christian Ponder, Daunte Culpepper). Darnold probably has a little more time on his hands, considering he’s working with an all-new offense. But if he can make a leap in the third year, inclusion on the Top 100 should be no problem. It more than likely won’t be like Jackson’s dramatic ascension (going from unranked to No. 1 in the span of a year), but if he’s able to move past No. 87 Josh Allen, that’d likely be satisfying enough for a good portion of the Jets’ fanbase.

S Marcus Maye

It’ll be a big year for a 2017 Jets draftee, a member of the secondary, an SEC alum, and someone who will likely be looking for a long-term contract.

But Jamal Adams is gone. The New York secondary now belongs to Marcus Maye.

Maye is now one of the leaders of the Jets’ defense, especially a safety group that will be relying more on former Seattle reserve Bradley McDougald and third-round pick Ashtyn Davis. Maye had a solid season coming back from injury, and now has a big opportunity in a contract year to make something happen in New York. Entering his fourth season, Maye is surprisingly one of the Jets with East Rutherford/Florham Park tenure now.  If he can impress in an expanded role…well, let’s just say an appearance in the Top 100 would come in very handy when it comes to contract talks in New York or elsewhere. Maye’s rise could similar to Top 100 newcomer Budda Baker (No. 97) who has taken on a larger role in Arizona over the past two seasons since the departure of Tyrann Mathieu.

LB C.J. Mosley

If the program was called the “Top 100 Players of Last Week 1’s First Three Quarters”, Mosley might’ve topped the list. Through 45 minutes of action against the Buffalo Bills, Mosley had tallied six tackles, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He served as the main catalyst behind the Jets’ 16-3 lead. Alas, Mosley’s injury the first domino to fall in the chain of events that was the Jets’ disastrous fall. With the exception of a one-game cameo in October, Mosley missed the remainder of the 2019 season, thus unable to move up the rankings after exploits in Baltimore placed him at No. 71.

As a leader in the defense, Mosley has high hopes for the upcoming campaign, which should be scary for AFC East newcomers like Cam Newton and Tua Tagovailoa. He expressed a desire to “(put) the pedal on the gas as quick as possible” during an offseason episode of the Locked on Jets Podcast.

“Last year was kind of building the foundation while we was moving,” Mosley said. “Now the foundation’s been set. We ended the season on a great note, so we’ve got to start the season fast like we ended the season, and I think if we can start early this year, through our offseason going into camp, and hit the ground running those first four games, that first month of football, we can set the pace for ourselves.”

A full season from Mosley should not only help the Jets’ defense, but resume his personal quest to climb up the Topp 100’s rankings.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags