New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates (part 2)

In the first part of the New York Jets’ confirmed coaching target breakdowns, I highlighted some of the top offensive coordinators reportedly being targeted for the job. This time, here are the three rumored defensive coordinator candidates and what they bring to the table.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator

Matt Eberflus is a rising coaching candidate in the league, and for good reason. The well-traveled coach began his coaching career as a student assistant at Toledo in 1992, he then spent eight years coaching at Toledo, holding the positions of graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, outside linebackers coach, and defensive backs coach. Due to his success at Toledo, Eberflus was named defensive coordinator of Missouri in 2001, where he coached until 2008. He then signed on for two seasons as the linebackers coach of the Browns before he entered into the most crucial years in his coaching development. From 2011 to 2015, Eberflus coached under Rod Marinelli, super bowl champion coach. Marinelli taught Eberflus the Tampa 2 style defense, which has proved to be his staying power since then. Marinelli mentored Eberflus and developed him into a disciple, which led to him ultimately landing his current gig.

Eberflus was initially brought on to the Colts staff by the short-lived coach, Josh McDaniels. When he decided to return to New England and Frank Reich was hired, the team looked to Marinelli for his advisement on someone who could instill the Tampa 2 defense in Indy, and he let them know that guy was already on the staff. So, Eberflus kept his job, and in the time since, he has become an esteemed coach. The Indy defense has become a top one in all of football, but the way Eberflus has gotten the most out of his players is the true shining piece of his resume. Darius Leonard was not supposed to be a star in this league, he was out for most of his rookie camp, and he was a little known second-rounder. Now, Leonard is one of the best linebackers in football. The team also acquired Deforest Buckner this offseason, and he has had a monster season in the defense.

Eberflus’ only indictment is that he may not be that CEO type coach rumored to be the target. Eberflus does not have experience as a head coach, and just like most coordinators, there is no hardcore proof he could have success. Still, Eberflus is well connected in the league and could likely build a good staff and be a good leader. Eberflus is a true wildcard candidate; depending on his staff, he could be a solid hire.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

A year ago, Brandon Staley was a rather unknown coach, now, he has a shot to be a head coach rather quickly. Staley has bounced around the college ranks, starting in 2006 at Northern Illinois. From there, Staley went to various schools including, St. Thomas, Hutchinson Community, and Tennessee. Then, Staley got his shot as a D3 defensive coordinator at John Carrol University. From there, he went to James Madison and back to John Carrol. Then, he drew the eye of Vic Fangio and had been on his staff in both Chicago and Denver before getting his shot as a defensive coordinator this season in Los Angeles.

Brandon Staley succeeded esteemed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after his retirement last season. He inherited a defense with two of the best players in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey, and Aaron Donald. Donald brings a ferocious ability to get into the backfield unmatched by anyone in the league. Ramsey is one of the best lockdown corners in the game and didn’t have a single game this season where he allowed more than 20 yards. Despite that, the talent they had was present in both Phillip’s time and Staley’s. So, in analyzing their defensive jump from the middle of the league to first, that makes what Staley was able to do all the more impressive.

Staley has earned quite a reputation quickly. He has drawn comparisons to the man that hired him, Sean McVay, and been labeled as the defensive carbon copy. Staley would be the younger, more flashier hire than Eberflus, but both are unproven. Staley has not been in the league long, meaning his staff hires could leave something to be desired. Staley is a bold choice, but the Jets have gone the successful defensive coordinator route once in the past 8 years, and it didn’t bode well, will they make the same choice again?

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

Robert Saleh is a football guy. The former college tight end began his coaching career in 2002 with Michigan State. He then coached at Central Michigan and Georgia before going to the pros. Then, in 2005, Saleh was hired as an intern with the Texans, and he climbed through the ranks to the position of assistant linebackers coach before heading to Seattle. In Seattle, Saleh got to learn under Pete Carroll and coach on a Super Bowl championship-winning staff. Saleh coached there until receiving a shot to coach the linebackers in Jacksonville, where they had a large amount of success in his time there. His success across the board drew enough attention from Kyle Shanahan to earn him the defensive coordinator job in 2017. Since then, Saleh has become a household name.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl behind one of the most talented defensive lines I have seen in the past decade. Their defense was ranked in the top tier of the league overall, and although they were unable to pull off a win in the big game, they still showed major growth in 2019. This set them up as one of the most heavily feared defenses heading into this season, but when Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, Javon Kinlaw, and Kwon Alexander are among the big names who missed multiple games, if not the entire season. The team was banged up but still managed to finish as a top defenses again, taking only a small step back.

Robert Saleh is that CEO type of coach Joe Douglas should target. Saleh is the middle ground of Staley and Eberflus. He has the connections of Eberflus and the youth of Staley. Saleh brings juice and energy to the defense. One rumored connection is with Mike McDaniel, a rising offensive mind in San Francisco, who some believe could follow him as an OC wherever he choses to go. He is so intense that he runs the stadium stairs in order to get mentally prepared before games. Saleh is a fantastic coach and near the top of my board for prospective coaches. Saleh is a hot commodity, though, and there is a hometown connection with the Lions that could prove to be too much for the Jets to overcome.

Buffalo Bills: A postseason legend returns as an enemy on Saturday

A Buffalo Bills postseason legend returns to Orchard Park on Sunday. But Frank Reich won’t receive a warm welcome.

If anyone knows what it’s like to be underestimated in the NFL playoffs, it’s Frank Reich.

Reich is best known for engineering perhaps the greatest comeback in football history, leading the Buffalo Bills back from 32 points down to top the Houston Oilers in the 1992-93 AFC Wild Card playoffs. The Bills were underdogs when Reich had to start the following weekend against Pittsburgh, but he scored two touchdowns in a 24-3 triumph. Reich’s long-awated Super Bowl title came when he was the offensive coordinator of the star-crossed Philadelphia Eagles…underdogs to the mighty New England Patriots in the game’s 52nd edition. Reich’s unit became the eighth team in Super Bowl history to put up at least 40 points in the 41-33 triumph. Surely there were some Bills fans that appreciated the fact that the veteran Buffalo thrower finally got a ring…and that it came against the hated Patriots.

A similar situation awaits Reich on Saturday afternoon. This time, though, no one in Western New York is going to be celebrating if Reich leaves the area with a victory.

Reich returns to Bills Stadium as the opposing head coach in Buffalo’s first playoff game in Orchard Park since December 1996. The Bills battle Reich’s Indianapolis Colts in the modern AFC Wild Card playoffs, officially kicking off the 2021 postseason on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Obviously, Reich is business-focused as the Colts prepare to make their arrival. But it’s hard to deny the significance and irony of a former Bills postseason hero potentially spoiling a long-awaited party that will be open to just over 6,000 members of Bills Mafia (though Governor Andrew Cuomo will no longer be one).

“This is a business trip,” Reich said of Saturday’s showdown, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Fortunately, I have been back to Buffalo a few times since (leaving in 1994) as a player and as a coach. I feel like I’ve gotten all of that out of my system. Love Buffalo, will always love Buffalo, will always be a Bills fan, except for this Saturday for sure.”

Bills fans more than likely hope that Reich’s latest visit ends like the one he made in November 1996, just over a month before they fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars in their most recent playoff staging at what was then known as Rich Stadium. Reich threw three interceptions as he and the one-win Jets fell in a one-sided 35-10 defeat to Buffalo. More recently, Reich holds the current bragging rights in the series, with his Colts dominating a 37-5 decision at Lucas Oil Stadium in October 2018.

Even if Reich is unwilling to give in to nostalgics, his impact is recognized by those who came after him in the Bills’ quarterback room.

“It’s a cool moment with coach Reich and what he meant here in Buffalo,” quarterback Josh Allen told Maiorana. “I saw his press conference on coming back and you know he was excited that we won on Sunday, but he’s not gonna be a fan of the Bills when he comes into town this time. The fans obviously love him and what he’s been able to do here so that’s a cool story in itself.”

A good part of Reich’s NFL story is written in blue and red ink. He was drafted by the Bills in the third round of the 1985 draft out of Maryland, spending a decade as Jim Kelly’s backup before he served as a mentor and fill-in thrower in Carolina, New York, and Detroit. Such a career made him ideal in a coach’s spot, and his career with a headset has come full circle. He was an offensive assistant for four years with the Colts (2008-11) before other deputy positions in Arizona and San Diego before his championship dream was finally fulfilled with the Eagles. Reich accepted his first head coaching job shortly after with the Colts. Philadelphia hasn’t reached 10 wins since his departure.

Reich’s tenure has been about stabilizing a franchise that could’ve been set back years by the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck. The Colts won 10 games and a Wild Card contest during Reich and Luck’s one season of collaborating, but Luck’s departure during the ensuing preseason was a roadblock that could’ve set the franchise back several seasons.

But Reich made due with a fate that dealt him a Luck-free future, driving the Colts to a respectable seven-win season that fell two games short of the playoffs. With the addition of an experienced placeholder quarterback (Phillip Rivers) and the emergence of a day-two gem at the draft (Jonathan Taylor), the Colts won 11 games for the first time since 2014 and captured the final AFC Wild Card spot, leading to Reich’s date with destiny.

Even Reich’s most recent playoff clinch was sprinkled with a healthy dose of Buffalo-based irony: the Bills’ dominant 56-26 win over Miami during Sunday’s early window put the Colts in a win-and-in situation for their late afternoon game against Jacksonville. Indianapolis’ 28-14 triumph clinched the spot on the 28th anniversary of Reich’s dramatic comeback against Houston. Reich would later insist that he was unaware of the coincidence until the day before the game.

“Us coaches, we don’t know what day of the week it is or what the date is, we just know when we play and what the practice schedule is,” he remarked in Maiorana’s report. “It actually wasn’t until I was doing the production meeting with the TV crew and someone mentioned that did the thought even cross my mind.”

In preparing for the Bills, Reich was more willing to focus on the current incarnation of Buffalo’s gridiron endeavors. In another report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com, Reich referred to them as “one of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team in the NFL” and to head coach Sean McDermott as “one of the (most) respected coaches in this league”.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills to face Indianapolis Colts in AFC Wild Card playoffs

The Buffalo Bills (13-3) will face their former AFC East brethren in the first round of the 2021 NFL postseason.

It’s only appropriate that this Buffalo Bills season, one that conjured the ghosts of AFC East past, it’s only appropriate that the potential postseason trek opens with a meeting against a former member of the divisional brotherhood.

The end of the American Football Conference’s regular season action has solidified its portion of the playoff bracket. Seeded in the second-slot, the BIlls will battle the seventh-ranked Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round of the postseason. It will be held next weekend on January 9 or 10.

Buffalo and Indianapolis are former AFC East rivals, with the Colts (then based in Baltimore) joining the division upon the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They were shifted to the newly formed AFC South when the Houston Texans became the NFL’s 32nd franchise in 2002. There have been 70 prior meetings in the postseason between the Bills and Colts, with the former leading the series by a 37-32-1 tally. This Wild Card meeting will be their first postseason showdown.

Ironically, the Bills (13-3) partially allowed the Colts (11-5) to clinch a playoff spot, as their 56-26 destruction of the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s early window put Indianapolis in a “win-and-in” situation against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 253 yards and two scores en route to a 28-14 victory.

The second-round pick out of Wisconsin (41st overall) has been one of the biggest reasons behind the Colts’ resurgence, having scored seven touchdowns over the last four games. His 1,169 rushing yards are the most amongst first-year players. Other talented in the Indianapolis roster include quarterback Phillip Rivers, receiver T.Y. Hilton, and linebacker Darius Leonard. The Colts have won five of their last seven games entering the playoffs.

Buffalo last faced Indianapolis in 2018, when the Colts took a 37-5 final at Lucas Oil Stadium. The last visit to Orchard Park was in December 2017, when the Bills earned a 13-7 overtime win in a blizzard.

Elsewhere on the AFC bracket, the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns while the Tennessee Titans host the Baltimore Ravens.

Time and television information will be announced in the near future, likely during the final overall regular season game of 2020, Sunday’s night NFC East deciding event between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). Washington will win that division if they take the tilt, while an Eagles victory secures the title and the playoff spot that comes with it to the New York Giants.

[UPDATE: 9:25 p.m. ET]]: The NFL has released times and dates for the first round of the playoffs, with the Bills-Colts showdown opening things up on Saturday, January 9. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on CBS.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Analyzing Sam Darnold’s trade market

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The hot button issue of the New York Jets organization right now is whether or not to trade former number three overall pick and presumed franchise quarterback Sam Darnold in order to clear the way for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawerence. Now, in theory, as the Jets continue to lose, the likelihood of the New York Jets trading Darnold increases by the day. Here’s the thing though, Darnold has been bit by the injury bug in a big way during his first three years. Not only that, but with a career line of 6,934 yards, 39 TDs, 34 INTs, and an overall passer rating of 78.3, there are surely more proven commodities on the market. So, what does a potential market look like for Sam Darnold, and what kind of value could he hold?

The Cost

It’s evident the Jets are tanking at this point. Roles are being cleared out for younger players to stake their claim to be here for the long haul, the incompetent coaches were not axed, and if a player needs extensive recovery time, they are getting it. Darnold is a prime example of someone who likely could’ve tried to play through an injury but was kept on the bench in order to protect him and, more specifically, his value in the long term.

In talking about Sam and his potential value, you cannot forget the fact that he is only 23 years old. Not only that, but he is still the same physically talented athlete who was selected out of USC just a short time ago. Darnold has regressed, though, due to poor coaching, injuries, and lack of talent at skill positions and in protection. At times though, despite all those circumstances, Darnold has looked like a special talent. There are still many within the league who agree with that statement as well.

If Darnold is to hit the trade market, there is hope the Jets can recoup significant compensation. Specifically, though, a first-rounder. If the Jets are unable to obtain a first for Sam, it is going to sting. Now, don’t get me wrong, the floated around a combo of a 2nd and a 5th would be great, but not for a 23-year-old quarterback. See, the Jets should play hardball with Sam, if they’re going to draft Trevor Lawerence, they should and will trade him, but at the same time, they can’t give him a way.

A 2 and a 5 offers great flexibility, but anything above that, particularly a 1st, would be a phenomenal deal. Josh Rosen was mediocre at best in his rookie season, and he fetched a 2nd, so Sam’s value should exceed that. Joe Douglas has shown in the past he is capable of making massive trades, a la the Adams to Seattle deal. Darnold may have flaws, but he could also be the missing piece for a franchise. A team like the 49ers, the Bears, or the Colts could pull the trigger on Sam because right now, there are not many other young and high potential options outside of the draft.

A team like the Bears may be reluctant to take a shot on Sam if they feel they’re a few pieces away. However, the Colts and 49ers have both shown they can be two of the top teams in the league when healthy, but both teams need a more talented and long term signal-caller. Jimmy Garoppolo and Phillip Rivers have had their moments just like Sam, but in Garoppolo’s case, he is likely nearing his ceiling. As for Rivers, he has played solid football this year, but his days are likely numbered on his career. Trading for Sam could rejuvenate one of those offenses that have felt so stagnant this year while also landing the Jets premium draft capital and signaling the true beginning of a new era in New York, led by Trevor Lawerence.

New York Jets’ Sunday loss in Indy shows how far they’ve fallen since 2018 trade

It’s hard to blame Darnold for it, but there’s no denying the New York Jets are no better off since their fateful 2018 trade with the Colts.

The NFL Draft has transformed from a single, fleeting weekend in April to a 12-month, 365-day affair that dominates the football landscape on both the professional and amateur levels. Part of the reason for this evolution is the lasting relationship the draft holds with the concept of “what might’ve been”. Fruitful and ineffectual Sundays in autumn have fans constantly asking questions in spring retrospect.

The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts will be linked by this bond for the foreseeable future. Two years, five months, and eight days before their Sunday afternoon meet-up at Lucas Oil Stadium, a 36-7 Indianapolis shellacking, the two sides agreed to a trade that altered the selection board of the 2018 NFL Draft. New York (0-3) sent four picks to Circle City to move their first turn up three slots. Such a move allowed the Jets to be around for one of the top quarterback choices available in the 2018 proceedings.

The Jets and Colts also engaged in several draft day deals since then, but none have been more vital than the swap that indirectly dressed Sam Darnold in green.

“(New York) had an interest to move up to (No.) 3 and kind of went back and forth for the last four or five days,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said at the time, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “(We) talked to a couple other teams, but we still wanted to stay in position in that top 10 where we could still get a premium player. We feel like at (No.) 6, we’ll still be able to get a premium player.”

At the time, the Jets were actually stocked on the foreign concepts of hope and momentum. They had gone 5-11 the year before but were energized by a young unit overseen by the reasonable reliability of placeholder quarterback Josh McCown. USA Today had the Jets winning a single game in 2017, but McCown and company conjured up five (including one over future AFC finalist Jacksonville), providing some rare positive vibes in green New York circles.

Trading four picks to move up three spots was risky no matter how it was sliced, but, in this NFL era ruled by offensive heroics and a fantasy football deity, a true franchise quarterback was vital. 2018 was the year to find that man, with Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson all entering the professional ranks. Then-general manager Mike Maccagnan knew just how important being in prime position to welcome one of those names to New York was, telling ESPN Radio’s Humpty and Canty “If (there) was a player we felt strong about, we would have no qualms of potentially trying to go up and get him”. With the third selection in hand, he was guaranteed at least one.

After Mayfield and running back Saquon Barkley respectively went to the Browns and Giants, the Jets took Darnold with the third overall pick. Everyone involved knew typical green growing pains were ahead, but the Jets’ perpetual rebuild had perhaps his brightest glimmer of hope since the Tim Tebow circus tent deflated.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis quietly made its selections, preparing for a future that would presumably be led by their own prized franchise man. Andrew Luck had missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury (leading to the Colts’ high draft slot), so Indy was abuzz on what would be done to protect him. Ballard acquiesced by draft Notre Dame guard Quinton Nelson with the sixth overall choice brought in from New York. The next day, another Jets selection (37th overall) was used to take another interior man, Auburn’s Braden Smith (one choice after the Colts used their original second-rounder to take future All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard). The final Jets choice from 2018 was traded to Philadelphia, but the Colts used the last of the bounty to choose cornerback Rock Ya-Sin 34th overall in the following year’s selections (Ya-Sin missed Sunday’s game due to injury).

Nelson and Smith (who later moved to tackle) joined a veteran group headlined by Peyton Manning-era holdover Anthony Castonzo and veterans Ryan Kelly and Mark Glowinski. Upon Luck’s return, he was sacked only 18 times during the 2018 campaign, slicing his takedowns by more than half. The Colts immediately returned to the playoffs and earned an upset win over divisional rival Houston in the wild card round. Not only was Luck never sacked, but Colts rushers also tallied 200 yards, 148 coming from Marlon Mack.

Indianapolis eventually bowed out to top-seeded Kansas City, but the reformed line earned rave reviews.

“They’re blue-collar work guys,” former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said in a 2018 report from ESPN’s Mike Wells. “These are the guys that dig holes. They work with jackhammers every day. There’s no glory for these guys. If it weren’t for them, nothing else happens.”

“Every team in the league has physical talent, but the mental makeup of this group top to bottom is by far the best I’ve been around,” retiring guard Matt Slauson said in Wells’ story. “The way they’re able to take coaching and immediately apply it is huge. It allows for in-game adjustments to happen real fast.”

Luck’s abrupt retirement prior to the 2019 season somewhat derailed the Colts’ resurgence plans, but the team has remained competitive under placeholders Jacoby Brissett and Phillip Rivers. They’ve only allowed 35 sacks over the past two seasons, good for eighth in the NFL. An uncanny ability to stay healthy has likewise been impressive. Sunday’s tilt against the Jets marked the 19th consecutive game that the Colts rolled out the same unit in front of the quarterback, which might as well be an eternity by NFL standards. The unit has been overseen by former playoff hero and strong offensive mind Frank Reich, who has worked with coordinator Nick Sirianni since their days with the Chargers’ franchise (2013-17).

To say Darnold has been lacking that kind of stability would be the understatement of this infantile season.

The USC alum can certainly be held accountable for the alarming number of mistakes he has made in the fateful third season, like the three Sunday interceptions into crowded coverage that yielded 14 Colts points. But the fact Darnold has managed to showcase some flashes of brilliance despite an ever-changing roster. Whereas throwers from Indianapolis have enjoyed continuity in their protection and receiving, Darnold is working with an entirely new offensive line from last season and not a single catcher remains from his rookie season.

The transition and turnover has not been limited to on-field personnel. Darnold has had to go through two different coaching staffs, and a third could be on the way if the Jets opt to move on from head coach Adam Gase. While Reich oversaw an offense that consistently racked up yardage in San Diego and Los Angeles, the 2020 season has been full of evidence against Gase. Ryan Tannehill has emerged from quarterback purgatory to become one of the game’s more consistent passers. Jets management, namely CEO Christopher Johnson, has offered a vote of confidence to Gase, the “offensive genius”, but the Jets appear in the 30s in numerous stat categories in a 32-team league. Funds and picks to help Darnold have gone toward acquisitions that have been disappointing (Breshad Perriman, Ryan Griffin, Quinnen Williams), injured (C.J. Mosley, Denzel Mims), or both (Le’Veon Bell).

Sunday was more or less a culmination of the Jets’ woes against a team with whom they collaborated with in managing their future. The Colts (2-1) are a team that’s still figuring things out. Rivers is clearly not meant to be the quarterback for any lengthy period. Longtime prime receiver T.Y. Hilton has struggled to post the number expected of him. Tannehill and the undefeated Tennessee Titans have control of the AFC South. The horseshoe helmeted squad might be able to take advantage of the expanded wild card picture, but no one’s expecting them to rep the conference in Super Bowl LV.

Against the Jets, however, it might as well have been the Manning/Edgerrin James/Marvin Harrison days all over again.

The Jets earned only 15 first downs and 260 yards on offense, failing to reach 300 for the third consecutive week in an NFL where such a concept is commonplace. Even brief moments of joy, like a 7-7 tie in the first quarter via Darnold’s rollout strike to Braxton Berrios, was offset by calamities both unforced and beyond their control. In the case of the latter, a rare step in the right direction, Mekhi Becton, was lost to an injury that cost him the entire second half. His prescience was best on display when his replacement, Connor McDermott, missed the block on Justin Houston that led to a Colts safety in the fourth quarter, more or less solidifying the case that the Gase-era Jets are football’s version of Murphy’s Law. Gregg Williams’ defense could provide no silver linings. True to form, the Colts’ blockers allowed no sacks on Sunday.

This brutal display simply personified how little the Jets have moved forward since that fateful trade in 2018. The Colts were the perfect team to expose such flaws. If anything, the Jets have only taken several steps back.

“I just got to play consistent,” said Darnold of the loss, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “I’m not playing consistent enough to play well in this league. Make the plays when they’re there. When they’re not, just get rid of the ball. Check it down. Do all the right things I need to do.”

Thirteen harrowing weeks remain on the Jets’ ledger. The lone positive to glean from Indianapolis is that a short week ensures that no one will have to watch the game film for too long. New York returns to action on Thursday, as an American public desperate for football will endure a test in endurance through a Jets tilt against the equally woebegone Denver Broncos (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network). While the thought of the playoffs conjures up only Jim Mora-style tirades, much of the Jets’ personnel, including Darnold, could well be playing for their New York futures.

The Jets are next scheduled to face the Colts in 2021, also at Lucas Oil Stadium. It stands to reason that a majority of Indianapolis’ haul from the trade will still be playing when the matchup arrives. Thanks to both personal and team-wide issues, Darnold’s status could well be in doubt as well.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the New York Jets’ Sunday fate vs. Indianapolis

A scoring drive in the first quarter provided hope, but the New York Jets endured yet another one-sided defeat in Indianapolis.

In a city best known for auto racing, the New York Jets fell off the pace in a hurry.

Sam Darnold threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns en route to a 36-7 defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets (0-3) have been outscored by 57 points over their first three games and are the only team in the league that has yet to hold a lead over this young season.

Which plays best personified the Jets’ latest defeat? ESM investigates so you don’t have to, taking one play from each quarter…

1st Quarter: Sam-I-Ran

Whether it’s scripted or (more-often-than-not) improvised, Sam Darnold seems to do his finest work on the rollout. They saw one such play last week against San Francisco, one that could’ve been a rare touchdown had Chris Herndon held onto the ball. The early stages of the game saw Darnold channel some suppressed rushing powers that allowed the Jets to extend some drives…and, by association, rare Sunday hope.

Making a rare visit to the red zone, Darnold sent a clear message to those chanting the name of Trevor Lawrence by escaping a furious rush from the Colts to fire a 16-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios. It’s a small moment that will get lost in the carnage of yet another one-sided defeat, but it was yet another flash of brilliance from Darnold in the murky mess that is New York football. It was perhaps a sign that Darnold knows that the final stretches of the season could be the make-or-break portion of his NFL career.

2nd Quarter: Same ‘Goal Jets

Alas for Darnold, the rest of the game was filled by a dangerously contagious 2020 trope: making throws that a third-year franchise man should never be making.

The Jets trailed 17-7 in the middle stages of the second quarter, but embarked on a red zone trek kickstarted by Josh Malone’s return to the New York 40. This drive seemed to further establish the slot replacement Berrios as a potential silver lining in a stagnant offense, as he and Darnold hooked up for a 28-yard gain that situated the Jets 12 yards away from another touchdown.

Alas, Darnold launched a potential touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager in triple coverage that was instead taken by Colts defender Xavier Rhodes. No points immediately emerged from the disastrous throw, but the Jets never truly threatened the game from there on out. Darnold’s first interception, also taken by Rhodes (albeit that former turnover for a score), was another bad decision tossed into a crowded era, a mistake that the Jets never truly recovered from.

3rd Quarter: Taylor’s Swift

Despite a pedestrian lead at “only” 10 points, the Colts were allowed to more or less run a cooldown lap in the second half. The Jets’ defense wasn’t doing much to inspire fear and the lack of consequences was best on display when the Colts opted to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from New York’s one-yard-line.

The Jets got off to a good start on the tightly packed play, as Bradley McDougald invaded the backfield after the handoff to rookie rusher Jonathan Taylor. But Taylor eluded the diving safety to punch in what was more or less the final blow to the Jets’ dying hopes. McDougald, who has so far been a rare beacon of consistency since coming over from Seattle, left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, dealing yet another medical blow to a woebegone unit.

4th Quarter: Safety Last

Someone must’ve uttered “how can this get any worse???” during the fourth quarter, because the Colts checked off one of the final boxes in the latter stages.

Another crucial injury loss, that of Mekhi Becton, was on brutal display during one of the Jets’ final drives. Backed up to their own four-yard-line after a Rigoberto Sanchez punt, the Jets advanced two yards before Darnold dropped back to pass on third down. Alas, Becton’s replacement, Connor McDermott, failed to account for the blitzing Justin Houston, taking Darnold down in the end zone for a Pacers/Fever-style two-pointer.

With Becton out for most of the second half, the rushing lanes shut down and Darnold was forced to run for his life. If the Jets miss Becton this much…and they truly have to hope that this won’t be a long-term issue…the first-round rookie might warrant a few MVP votes.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 3: Indianapolis Colts

The depleted New York Jets hit the road to take on an Indianapolis Colts squad looking to start a winning streak.

What: New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

“Next man up” has routinely been a mantra for NFL squads when a major contributor is lost to an injury. The New York Jets, however, may need a next team up entirely if current events keep pace.

The Jets (0-2) will be missing at least five representatives as they hit the road to battle the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday late afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). That manifest includes two of their top receivers (Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder) and two members of the secondary (Quincy Wilson, Ashtyn Davis), as well as a starting offensive lineman (George Fant). Not counted are the numerous players on injured reserve, such as running back Le’Veon Bell.

Head coach Adam Gase remarked this week that “whoever’s got a pulse right now” should be ready for action in Circle City.

“I look at it as if we’re the only team going through this it would be one thing,” Gase said in an attempt to find a silver lining, through Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “You’re seeing guys going down left and right whether it be in practice or games. We’re having soft-tissue things happen to us. It seems a lot of these other teams are going through major, major season-ending type injuries.”

The Jets are coming off a one-sided loss to the San Francisco, falling 31-13 in their 2020 debut at MetLife Stadium. Strong points were hard to come by in the ugly defeat, but Quinnen Williams earned the first multi-sack game of his career. Pierre Desir also had the first interception of his New York tenure, while Sam Darnold found Braxton Berrios for a 30-yard score late in the game. Desir will make his

On the AFC South side of things, Indianapolis (1-1) earned their first win of the season with a 28-11 advantage over the Minnesota Vikings last weekend. The Colts took three interceptions from Kirk Cousins while rookie Jonathan Taylor earned the first triple-digit yardage game of his career, picking up 101 and a touchdown. Mo Allie-Cox led all receivers with 111 yards on five receptions.

The Series

This will be the 75th meeting between the Jets and Colts, former AFC East rivals prior to divisional realignment in 2002. Indianapolis leads the series 42-32, but the Jets have won five of the last seven get-togethers. The most recent meeting came in 2018 in East Rutherford, a matchup the Jets took by a 42-32 final. Andrew Luck threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns but it wasn’t enough to counter three interceptions, including one by Avery Williamson. Then-rookie Sam Darnold has a strong game as well, throwing for 280 yards and two scores.

History Happens: 2011

The Jets will return to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the site of one of their most recent playoff victories. They topped the Colts 17-16 in the 2011 AFC Wild Card playoffs en route to the latter of back-to-back trips to the conference title game. Indianapolis took the lead on a 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining, but Antonio Cromartie set the Jets up with a strong return to the New York 46. Three Mark Sanchez throws later (two caught by Braylon Edwards), Nick Folk booted a 32-yard field goal that punched the Jets’ ticket to New England. LaDainian Tomlinson scored two one-yard touchdowns for the Jets in their victory.

They Said It

“We don’t do 3/4ths. We don’t do half-speed…That’s how we practice on defense…Those guys, whether it was misunderstood, they are taking ownership. Especially after a game, like we all do. Me first, then them. We practice very hard. It’s shocking when other people come into wherever this staff is, when they’ve been allowed to do certain things a certain way other places, that’s not what we do here.”Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the Jets’ practices after several players spoke out against them this week, per SNY

“He’s a tough runner. He doesn’t quit, he’s not an out-of-bounds guy, he’s going to lower his shoulder. He reminds me a lot of Adrian Peterson and how they’re 17 years into the league, that’s when football was football where you’re going to run between the tackles, man on man, is my man stronger than you, is my will better than yours? And he still has that mentality. I think that’s what makes him who he is, because when he gets between those tackles he’s going to lower his shoulder, he’s going to try to run you over, and that’s what type of mentality you need playing at running back and not a lot of this other stuff you see at running back.”-Colts LB Darius Leonard on Frank Gore, per Andrew Walker

Matchup to Watch

Quinnen Williams vs. Colts offensive line

Williams put up his best New York performance to date during last Sunday’s loss, picking up seven tackles and two sacks while forcing a fumble against the Niners. It’s up to him to prove that won’t be a fluke. That challenge won’t be easy against a Colts line anchored by Quinton Nelson.

Nelson has an indirect, yet eternal, part in Jets history. In the 2018 draft proceedings, the Jets were originally slated to choose sixth. That pick was later shipped to Indianapolis for the right to select in the third slot, where Sam Darnold’s name was called. Nelson went in the rebranded sixth slot and has gone on to become one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen.

“You don’t really hear a ton of things about offensive linemen especially interior guys when you’re coming out of college,” Gase said of Nelson in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg. “This guy was the talk of the combine. Everyone was talking about him leading up to the draft. Not only is he extremely smart, but he plays really physical. He’s mean. He sets the attitude of the entire room, but his technique and fundamentals are phenomenal. You can tell this guy takes a lot of pride in what he does.”

The Colts’ offensive line has done a solid job of protecting aging quarterback Phillip Rivers in the early going, allowing only two sacks over the first couple of weeks.

The Jets Will Win If…

Williams and the front seven can win the battle in the trenches.

With so many offensive contributors sidelined, the Jets will have to win the “ugly” way…low scoring, may multiple turnovers, and making the wary Rivers uncomfortable. The defense is missing key components as well, some of whom aren’t coming back (noted opt-out C.J. Mosley). If the defensive substitutes can rise to the occasion, they may stand a fighting chance in a low-scoring game, to the tune of a 16-13 or 13-10 final.

The Colts Will Win If…

Like many Jets games for the remainder of the season, the battle will be won if they take care of business.

The Colts are in an interesting spot in the AFC South. For example, the Houston Texans, division champions in four of the past five seasons, could well be winless in three games by the end of the weekend. The rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars have been no slouches, as the Colts found out the hard way in Week 1. At the top, the Tennessee Titans are proving that their conference title game appearance was no fluke, at least so far. Simply put, this game very well may be a must-win for the 1-1 Colts.

Indianapolis will need substitutions of their own to step up on Sunday. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin will be missing his second consecutive game, leading to the rise of T.J. Carrie. Several Colts are also looking to atone for slow starts, like former receiving yardage leader T.Y. Hilton (7 receptions, 81 yards). They could certainly benefit from a derailed Jets squad dealing with countless departures.

Prediction

The Jets have endured a brutal week, and it seems only right to end this with yet another tough defeat. If a depleted 49ers squad at home was too much to handle, it stands to reason that a slightly banged-up Colts squad that has everything to lose in front of their fans (Lucas Oil Stadium will admit 7,500 to Sunday’s game) would produce a similar result.

New York can keep things more respectable this time around. Wins, however, are far too tough to come by right now. A meeting with the equally famished Broncos on Thursday? That could be another story…

Colts 23, Jets 6

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags