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

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

Will the New York Jets’ first game of the Robert Saleh era bring about immediate change on the scoreboard or further heartbreak?

  • What: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
  • Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS

new york jets, robert saleh

Geoff Magliocchetti

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. On paper, the arsenal that the Jets have surrounded Zach Wilson with is better than anything Sunday’s aerial opponent Zach Wilson ever had. Head coach Robert Saleh was a hire praised by on-field constituents both domestically and abroad, rather than the hot-take artists.

But Jets fans must realize something, especially in the early going: Saleh and Wilson have been brought in as long-term project overseers, not miracle-workers made to bless the metropolitan area with an instant fix. The Jets’ somewhat dire 2021 outlook, one where making the playoffs remains a tall task, is more of an indictment of the Adam Gase era than anything else. It’s simply asking a lot for this team to take out several established contenders in what’s ultimately an ill-fated attempt to reach the AFC postseason bracket. That also applies against a Carolina team that wasn’t as garish as its 5-11 mark from 2020 indicated.

The powers that be, true to their nature, did little favors for Gang Green: the first game of the Saleh era comes in Carolina, where ex-Jets Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson can prey on an inexperienced Jets secondary. Carolina as a whole is looking to make a statement of sorts, one that will remind observers not to forget them as they try to make noise in a division ruled by Tom Brady until further notice. Eight of the Panthers’ 11 defeats from last year came by eight points or less. Most of those games were staged without the services of star rusher Christian McCaffrey, who is set to make his return on Sunday. Granted a home opener against a Jets team lacking defensive clarity (thanks to the inexperienced secondary and Carl Lawson’s injury), the Panthers’ offense has a prime opportunity to state its intentions for 2021.

As it stands, the Jets aren’t a team that can waltz into another team’s home and steal a momentum-shifting win. It’s very possible Saleh can mold them into such a squad by the end of the year, but asking them to do so in Week 1 is, again, a little too much to ask for at this point on the franchise timeline.

Panthers 23, Jets 17

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

Brendan Carpenter

Who better for the New York Jets to faceoff against than the Carolina Panthers to open the 2021 NFL season?

Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold in a 1 p.m. ET matinee will surely be a sight to see. Darnold’s unit is ahead of Wilson’s in the preseason power rankings, but that could easily change Sunday. The season-opening result will rely heavily on the Jets’ defensive front. They have to pressure the quarterback because the young corners could get torn apart all game. The Panthers will be missing their starting right guard, John Miller, so Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins need to push the inside. The matchup to watch will be, without a doubt, Carolina’s blockers vs the Jets’  defensive line.

Jets 24, Panthers 20

robby anderson running a touchdown against the carolina panthers
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Dylan Price

Well, here we are Jets, the game we’ve all been looking towards since last season ended. On Sunday, the Jets fly to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers. The game holds extra weight as the team faces their demons of the past: the Panthers are coached by former Jets target Matt Rhule while Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and Frankie Luvu are among the former bearers of green on the current roster.

The Panthers will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement out of Gang Green and spoil the debuts of Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson. Ultimately, this game is a hard one to predict, but the Jets have a fresh start and a decent amount of momentum coming out of the preseason. I expect the team to come out fast out of the gate and to start the season strong. It’s going to be a tight game, but I think the Jets have what it takes to emerge victoriously.

Jets 27, Panthers 21

Best of the Rest 

Magliocchetti Carpenter Price
Dallas @ Tampa Bay (Thu.) Buccaneers Buccaneers Buccaneers
Arizona @ Tennessee Titans Titans Titans
Jacksonville @ Houston Jaguars Jaguars Jaguars
LA Chargers @ Washington Chargers Chargers Football Team
Minnesota @ Cincinnati Vikings Vikings Vikings
Philadelphia @ Atlanta Falcons Falcons Falcons
Pittsburgh @ Buffalo Bills Bills Bills
San Francisco @ Detroit 49ers 49ers Lions
Seattle @ Indianapolis Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks
Cleveland @ Kansas City Chiefs Browns Chiefs
Denver @ NY Giants Giants Broncos Giants
Green Bay @ New Orleans  Packers Packers Packers
Miami @ New England Patriots Dolphins Dolphins
Chicago @ LA Rams Rams Rams Rams
Baltimore @ Las Vegas (Mon.) Ravens Ravens Ravens

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Carolina Panthers

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

The New York Jets won’t have to wait long to check in on Sam Darnold, as they’ll open their 2021 season against their April trade partners.

The Opponent: Carolina Panthers
The Date: Week 1, September 12, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Series: Carolina leads 4-3 (last meeting: 2017, 35-27 CAR)

The “main protagonist showing off their new significant other in front of their ex” episode seems to be a staple of every sitcom. But more serious matters await in Charlotte on September 12.

Five months after collaborating on a trade that set the post-Trevor Lawrence portions of the 2021 NFL Draft into motion, the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers will do battle to open their respective campaigns. That April transaction ended the Jets’ Sam Darnold era in New York, giving way to the Zach Wilson chapters of the green Gospel.

Blessed with a rare meeting between New York and Carolina, the scheduling powers that be at the NFL wasted no time in staging a reunion. The Jets will face off against an interconfertnce opponent on kickoff weekend for the first time since 2018, when the Darnold saga began with a win in Detroit.

Darnold won’t be the only former green representative partaking in the game. Other ex-Jets who saw nothing finer than Carolina include Robby Anderson, Juston Burris, Pat Elflein, and Frankie Luvu.

Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Panthers 

The Jets will likely be all too familiar with the predicament the Panthers currently find themselves in: trapped in a division with Tom Brady with no end to his reign in sight. Carolina hit the reset button shortly before Brady took his talents to Tampa, firing Ron Rivera and bidding farewell to franchise face Cam Newton after the 2019 season.

To replace the departed Rivera, Carolina hired Matt Rhule, who knew more than a thing or two about rebuilds on the college level. Following a one-year term as a metropolitan assistant (assistant offensive line coach with the Giants), Rhule went back to school and dragged Temple and Baylor out of the college football underworld. Rhule was reportedly strongly considered for the Jets’ job following Todd Bowles’ ousting, but he wound up returning to Waco for one more season (guiding the Bears to a Sugar Bowl appearance and a program-record 11 wins).

The football gods immediately bestowed Rhule another hurdle to leap, as injuries swallowed Christian McCaffrey after he became the highest-paid rusher in NFL history (four years, $64 million). Despite the loss of McCaffrey, the Panthers played respectable football. They were unable to escape another 5-11 season (their ten-win tally over the last two years is their worst since 2010-11), but nearly every game was competitive. Eight of their eleven losses came by single digits and they scored a late win over the playoff-bound Washington Football Team in December.

What’s New in Carolina? 

When removing veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina was one of the youngest teams in football last season (26.05 on their 53-man opening day roster). Somehow, they managed to get younger, apparently finding the fountain of youth in Cleveland.

The Panthers were one of three teams (Dallas and Minnesota the others) that came to the podium an event-high 11 times during draft weekend. They used their opening pick (eighth overall) on South Carolina defender Jaycee Horn and ensured continued to surround Darnold with strong talents. Some of Carolina’s Saturday gems could particularly intriguing: injury issues landed Oklahoma State offensive force Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round, while another former Gamecock, Shi Smith, could become a hidden gem in the sixth-round.

Defensively, Horn will join Burris and versatile sophomore Jeremy Chinn in the secondary. Veteran A.J. Bouye likewise joins the fold, though the former Denver Bronco is missing the first two games of the year with a PED suspension.

Even before their draft day splurge (which also netted them LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round), Carolina brought Darnold to an offense that, at least on paper, was better than anything he had to work with in New York. In addition to McCaffrey and fellow former Jet Anderson, Darnold will also get to work with D.J. Moore (1,193 yards in 2020) and touchdown hawk David Moore (no relation).

robby anderson running a touchdown against the carolina panthers
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

How to Beat Them

-Let Bygones be Bygones

It’s no secret that the Jets’ visit to Charlotte will be one of the most intriguing matchups of Week 1…if only because the court jesters of Twitter probably already have scheduled posts lauding Darnold and Anderson.

The Jets have proven to be one of the most exhausted sources of social media schadenfreude in football circles. That was ridiculously present throughout the course of the Darnold era. The discourse behind his mononucleosis diagnosis and supernatural encounter probably would’ve died down in a week if it happened anywhere else in the NFL map…but, because it happened in a green uniform, it went viral.

Simply put, the Jets can’t go into Charlotte purely with the purpose of trying to show Darnold and Anderson (who has never let an opportunity to disparage the Jets go to waste) what they’re missing. They’re playing the Carolina Panthers, not the Carolina Ex-Jets.

The team would be wise to follow the example of general manager Joe Douglas. Ironically enough, no one in football was more complimentary toward Darnold than the man who pulled orchestrated his trip down south (notably scoring a second-round pick for a quarterback with a career 78.6 passer rating). Douglas has diplomatically addressed the trade, claiming that Darnold’s “best football is in front of him” but that the trade was in the best interest of both sides.

“Ultimately, we felt that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam…for Coach Saleh and his staff, and for the locker room,” Douglas said, per team reporter Randy Lange. “We felt this was the best decision for the organization moving forward, hitting the reset button.”

-Un-Christian Like Behavior

To the Panthers’ credit, the team did not completely fall apart when McCaffrey was lost for the season, thanks in part to a career-best season from the Atlanta-bound Mike Davis. If disaster comes to Carolina again, it’ll likely come down to the talented Hubbard to pick up the slack.

But, if McCaffrey is truly back, he’ll undoubtedly be a front-runner for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. No one on the New York defense…heck, any defense on Carolina’s 2021 docket…needs to be told what he’s capable of at full strength.

In the midst of their woebegone 2020 season, the Jets’ run defense was a rare silver lining. Thanks to the breakouts of interior linemen Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers, the Jets’ run game ranked fourth in the AFC last season (12th overall in the league). They’ll have an instant opportunity to prove that last year was no fluke, especially when the offseason centered on bolstering the pass rush.

Will the Jets be able to show Darnold what he’s missing when they meet in September? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter @GeoffJMags and continue the conversation. 

Three lessons the New York Jets can learn from their Islander friends

The New York Jets have been staples of the Islanders’ postseason tour on Long Island. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two along the way.

In following the New York Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Jets have traded in green and white for blue and orange. They’ve engaged in (Bud) light debauchery and have gone viral in the process as the Islanders are halfway through their quest for a fifth Stanley Cup hoist.

The next step of the journey begins on Sunday afternoon when the Islanders battle the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. ET, NBC). Nassau Coliseum will host the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series, and it’s very likely that members of the Jets will attempt to take their usual seats for those contests. 

Is it possible that, in their fun, they might actually learn a thing or two along the way?

Class is in session, courtesy of ESM…

Have Depth Stars

On Long Island: Save for Mathew Barzal (appearances in the last two exhibitions), the Islanders are not a team of perennial All-Stars. John Tavares’ absconding for Toronto was supposed to be their downfall, but they’ve responded with playoff series victories in three consecutive seasons while the Maple Leafs have been relegated to opening round exits.

The Islanders are a team that has gotten by with a group of gritty, skilled players whose union has worked wonders. Nothing showcases their depth and consistency better than the grouping of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, a trio of bottom-six forward staples since 2014. Nicknamed the “Identity Line”, NYI head coach Barry Trotz says that the group sets the tone for what they’re trying to accomplish on the ice.

“They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want,” Trotz said after a dominant January 2019 over Tampa, per Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com. “They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity. If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

In Florham Park: The Jets tried to go the big-spending route over the last few seasons, but marquee signings have not panned out. Right now, they’re actively paying Le’Veon Bell and Trumaine Johnson to keep their distance, for example.

Blessed with one of the highest offseason budgets in the NFL, it would’ve been easy for the Jets to fall to temptation and spend big money on a blockbuster talent (i.e. J.J. Watt). But once it became clear that the big names wanted to move on to contenders, the Jets bolstered their depth so more parts of the depth chart provide production and security.

This offseason has still seen some big contracts bestowed…Carl Lawson and Corey Davis are a combined $26 million cap hit…but many others signings have been about providing depth. They’re not the flashiest arrivals by any stretch, not the type of names that one can put on a parking lot light pole’s banner, but they’re the type of depth options the Jets needed at this point in time.

Jarrad Davis is a redemption-seeking first-round pick whose success in the 4-3 sets of the Florida Gators could come up big. At receiver, Davis is one of several names with the potential to become a No. 1 target. Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder return from last year’s team, while Elijah Moore was drafted in the second round. Uncertainty lingers at tight end and in the secondary, but the Jets’ thriftiness could pay big dividends, as undrafted free agents Kenny Yeboah and Isaiah Dunn could come up big.

Make Sure Special Teams are Special

On Long Island: Since Trotz took over in 2018, the Islanders have improved by leaps and bounds in almost every major statistical category with the exception of their power play. New York ranked 20th in the final regulars season rankings with a man advantage, though they were the only team in the NHL that did not allow any shorthanded goals.

The Islanders, however, rose to the occasion on the penalty kill, coming home sixth in the category over the regular season. Doing it in the postseason has been a work in progress…they’ve killed off only 61.5 percent of their infractions…but the power play came to life in spectacular fashion in Monday’s Game 5 showdown in Boston. Facing a Bruins squad that led the league with an 86 percent kill rate during the regular season, the Islanders scored three power play goals that forever changed the course of the series. Barzal scored on a chance in the first period, while Kyle Palmieri and Jordan Eberle earned extra-man tallies in the second.

The power play success not only provided the difference in the goal category but more or less shifted the entire course of the game. Taking advantage of the opportunities allowed the Islanders to not only withstand a late Boston rush, but they were able to earn a momentum-shifting victory on a night where they were outshot 44-19.

In Florham Park: There’s major hope for the Jets entering the 2021 season, even if reaching the playoff is still a tall task for the time being. But there’s no doubt that they’re still developing, still a work in progress, particularly on an offensive end that’s debuting a new quarterback and receiving corps. Thus, special teams must be addressed.

Confidence for a developing offense can be built by getting points on as many drives that end in opposing territory as possible. That comes through reliable field goal kicking, an area where the Jets have fallen woefully short since Jason Myers left for Seattle. Chris Naggar has been brought in to compete with incumbent Sam Ficken for that role. General manager Joe Douglas has shown that he’s not afraid to use valuable assets to address special teams. He used the last pick of his first draft to pick up punter Braden Mann and has tried to fill in the Jets’ Andre Roberts-sized void at returned through additions in the 2021 draft (i.e. Michael Carter).

Perhaps the most telling sign of Jets management’s willingness to bolster the special unit came through the retaining of coordinator Brant Boyer, who has now survived the purges of both Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s doomed staffs.

It All Starts at the Head

On Long Island: Again, no one expected the Islanders to be in his position three years ago. This, after all, was a team that just lost the face of its franchise, perhaps the one thing it had going for it since the immortal early 1980s.

The hire of Trotz in 2018, however, may go down as one of the most fateful moves in franchise history.

Trotz had already developed a reputation as a strong nurterer of young talent and helping woebegone franchises find their path. He put the Nashville Predators on the NHL map as the franchise’s original head coach (serving 16 seasons at the helm after their 1998 inception). He then moved on to Washington, where he helped the Capitals removed the playoff monkey from their backs. Only under Trotz has Alex Ovechkin been able to reach hockey Nirvana in the Stanley Cup Final.

Once Trotz was voted out of Capitol Hill due to a contract dispute, the Islanders pounced and have been reaping in the benefits ever since. Under Trotz, the Islanders have won playoff rounds in three consecutive seasons for the first time since their quartet of Cup hoists (1980-83). Trotz’s status as a players’ coach that is nonetheless willing to hold his guys accountable has been a delightful contrast to the recent slew of also-rans. Doug Weight’s animated style, for example, was refreshing when he first took the reins but it quickly ran its course.

Trotz credits his success to looking at his status as a head coach as not a position of superiority, but one that leads to a partnership with his players.

“I look at coaching, my time, as I’m in a partnership with the players,” Trotz told Mollie Walker of the New York Post in March. “We’re in a partnership to win hockey games. The other partnership is to make you the best version of yourself, whatever that version is.”

In Florham Park: There’s no doubt that, despite the nine-win ledger, that the Jets had some talent on their roster over the last two seasons, better known as the Adam Gase era. Look no further than the names the Jets gave up on before him: Robby Anderson, Avery Williamson, Le’Veon Bell, and Steve McLendon accounted for only part of the list. But help has arrived in the form of Robert Saleh,  whose hiring has been universally praised.

The difference between the arrivals of Saleh and Gase are best contrasted by player reaction to the news. While Gase’s landing was met with mostly indifference…and whatever honeymoon there was quickly ended when he won a power struggle against Mike Maccagnan…Saleh’s arrival has been praised by players both domestically and abroad. It’s created an energy field in Florham Park not seen since, arguably, the Rex Ryan days.

“You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” former Saleh pupil Richard Sherman said of his potential as a head coach in December, per the Associated Press. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”

As the Gase era showcased all too well, talent means nothing when the right man isn’t in charge. Though vital downs have yet to be played, it’s safe to say the Jets feel that they have found the perfect curator and developer in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Why Carolina is the perfect Sam Darnold trade partner

The quarterback trade market has mostly dried up, but if the New York Jets are looking to deal Sam Darnold, Charlotte is a prime destination.

The mythical hands of the football gods are ready to pull up the needle on their record player, ending a turn in the proverbial game of musical chairs played amongst the NFL’s quarterbacks. When the music stops, another turn awaits at the end of April through the NFL Draft in Cleveland.

The New York Jets have a chance to partially control who sits in their chair. But, when you’re a team whose offseason to-do list length rivals that of a CVS receipt, it’s a seat whose occupant you’d like to be aware of sooner rather than later.

As the league inches closer to a date with destiny in Cleveland, the pressure heightens when it comes to a decision on Sam Darnold. While many have penciled in several non-Trevor Lawerence names in the Jets’ slot at second overall, the Jets have stood their ground with Darnold for the time being.

But if they do intend to draft, say, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance, trading the incumbent should be a priority. A case could be made that Darnold could be a safety net for a newcomer, but circumstances, as they are, wouldn’t let that work for anyone. The Jets are already a team whose smallest controversies are amplified by social media platforms that thrive on schadenfreude, especially when it happens in a New York market. When rare hope presents itself in this perpetual rebuild, the Jets need to work through that situation with as few questions as possible.

The question of where the Jets have been too patient can certainly be raised. Several of the aforementioned seats (such as those in Indianapolis, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans) have been filled while others (Jacksonville) have clear plans to solve their quandaries at the draft.

But, if the Jets are still looking to send Darnold off to not-so-greener pastures, a prime opportunity awaits down south through the Carolina Panthers.

ESM explains…

Nothing to Lose

What Darnold needs for his NFL career to succeed is stability and relative peace and quiet. Carolina can offer the latter through somewhat macabre circumstances.

In short, no one is expecting the Panthers to contend for the NFC South in the immediate future. After all, the division lists the defending Super Bowl champions from Tampa Bay amongst its members. New Orleans maintains enough firepower to remain competitive with Jameis Winston while Atlanta seems to building toward one final run with Matt Ryan in tow. The Panthers, on the other hand, are engaged in a rebuild that’s now forced to take a detour after Curtis Samuel left for Washington.

But there’s no doubt that Carolina is a bit more quiet on the media spectrum that the New York metropolitan area. They have some pieces that can contribute to their potential future glory days but have fully acknowledged that they’re still several pieces away from contention…including quarterback. But a better setup than the Jets have ever offered him (Carolina franchise tagged blocker Taylor Moton and All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey is set to return) and relative, for lack of a better term, obscurity can help truly decide if Darnold is cut out for NFL endeavors.

Matt Rhules 

As he enters his fourth NFL season, Darnold, no matter where he goes, is set to work with his third different coaching regime. It’s not impossible to recover from this; the perfect case study in finding success after some brutal early-career turnover is Alex Smith, who has developed a lengthy, strong tenure despite entering in the midst of countless regime changes in San Francisco.

But for the personal reclamation project to officially begin, a strong, accomplished offensive mind must be at the helm. Enter Matt Rhule, who has dragged entire college football programs from the gridiron underworld through dazzling offensive antics.

When Rhule took over Temple, they were picking up the pieces after Al Golden left for Miami. After a two-win debut, Rhule had the team at .500 before consecutive 10-win seasons. That led to a Big 12 gig at Baylor, where he transformed a one-win team into a Sugar Bowl contender within three seasons. One of Rhule’s primary weapons, Denzel Mims, became a second-round pick of the Jets’.

A familiar face in a stocked arsenal

Despite an ugly five-win ledger, Carolina had a lot of things to be proud of last season. All but three of their losses came by a single possession as the team remained competitive in a year where McCaffrey was limited to three games. But their inability to close games and earn points on late possessions doomed them to be buried in the power NFC South, wasting a 3-2 start.

Manning the quarterback role was Teddy Bridgewater in his first full-time starting job since Minnesota’s star-crossed season in 2015. While Bridgewater’s story is one of the most inspiring in football…regaining a starting position after a non-contact training camp injury in 2016 threatened to derail his career…questions have been raised as to whether he can hold the responsibilities of a full-time franchise role. Rhule did not commit to Bridgewater under center in his year-end statements.

“Teddy is here. I have a lot of respect for him. I believe in what he can do. I’ve seen glimpses, flashes of us as an offense looking really good,” Rhule said, per ESPN’s David Newton. “With regards to the draft and players, we’ll look at every opportunity to have the best we can have at every position, and that includes the quarterback position.”

Bridgewater is set to enter the second year of a three-year, $63 million deal inked last offseason. While Bridgewater has some experience with the Jets organization through the early stages of his comeback endeavors through the 2017 preseason, it’s unlikely the Jets would want to take on that price tag, unless they want to go with a stopgap option.

When it comes to a trade destination, Carolina is stocked with several offensive weapons, including Robby Anderson, with whom Darnold worked over his first two years in New York. Anderson mentioned that he “loved Sam” shortly before he hit the free market. Reuniting with a familiar face, as well as one of the most electrifying rushing talents in the league in McCaffrey, would help move Carolina in Darnold’s corner. Even with the loss of Samuel, the team seems well pleased with the emergence of DJ Moore as well, though they’ll likely look to upgrade their depth come draft weekend in Cleveland. While the blocking (which includes Anderson’s fellow former Jet Pat Elflein) leaves something to be desired, it’s unlikely that Darnold has had protection of Moton’s caliber…save for probably the one season he had with Mekhi Becton last season.

No matter what happens with Darnold, the Jets will be staring at questions that will take months, probably even years, to be answered. But if they’re opting to move on from Darnold, Carolina might be their best, and possibly only, option.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The Sam Darnold trade partner power rankings

As the new NFL year officially gets underway, trade partners for New York Jets QB Sam Darnold are starting to dwindle.

To quote Evelyn Carnahan, Rachel Wiesz’s character from the beloved 1999 film The Mummy, patience is a virtue. Except, apparently, in the NFL.

The New York Jets have bided their time when it comes to their ongoing quarterback quandary. One guarantee remains, that all questions will be solved by the final hours of April 29, the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Jets hold the second overall pick. All but one of the elite rookie names will likely be available to the Jets, who still have a Sam Darnold-sized question to answer: where will the third pick from 2018 take his snaps comes Week 1 of the 2021 campaign.

It’s hard to fully blame Darnold for the current, wayward state of the offense. But with the Jets holding the second overall pick and a new coach in tow, the temptation of starting fresh at football’s most vital position may be too much to resist.

But it’s possible the Jets have been too patient when it comes to Darnold’s future. Several starter-starving teams have settled their vital affairs and have found their solutions. Some took care of the matter early on (Indianapolis trading for Carson Wentz after Phillip Rivers’ retirement), while other solutions have presented themselves more recently (Andy Dalton in Chicago, New Orleans re-signing Jameis Winston after Drew Brees’ departure).

Others have remained stagnant, but at least there’s a clear plan in mind. The Jacksonville Jaguars have addressed other areas of need while actively shopping incumbent Gardner Minshew under the presumed assumption they’ll take Trevor Lawrence with the top overall pick come April. While the Jets have made some agreeable, if not downright underrated, signings this offseason, they’re no closer to solving their quarterback situation than they were in Week 17’s immediate aftermath.

Where else can the Jets turn and where will Darnold end up going? ESM ranks the remaining possibilities…

5. Washington Football Team

With Wild Card hero Taylor Heinicke and living football meme Ryan Fitzpatrick in tow, there’s no doubt that Washington’s passing endeavors will get social media clicks. But is it going to lead to wins? With Curtis Samuel joining college teammate Terry McLaurin, there’s a chance for offensive fireworks in Landover.

Washington does have a little extra draft capital that would be appropriate in a Darnold trade…they hold an extra third-round choice from the Trent Williams trade…but they’re probably set up with the pairing for the time being with their current, popular pair.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The status of incumbent Jimmy Garoppollo has been a hot topic in the Bay Area this winter, especially with the Warriors and Sharks mired in mediocrity. But, interestingly enough, Garoppollo’s future seems a bit more secure after the 49ers made Williams the highest-paid blocker in the history of football and re-upped with secret weapon Kyle Juszczyk.

The Jets have done something similar, adding Corey Davis after his career-best season, though their other offensive areas (particularly the blocking) still leave much to be desired.

3. Seattle Seahawks

The apparent displeasure of Russell Wilson in Seattle has been one of the most curious offseason sagas the NFL has had to offer. Such discontent has apparently had the Seahawks looking into trade possibilities. Wilson’s market is also a lot wider due to his status as an established star and Super Bowl champion. While Seattle has made some moves that will likely picque Wilson’s interest (adding Gerald Everett and Gabe Jackson), it’s likely nothing that’s going to make him fully buy into the Seahawks’ endeavors.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has reportedly expressed interest in his fellow USC football alum and the Jets’ previous dealing with the Seahawks through the closing chapters of the Jamal Adams saga. However, one has to think that Seattle, already sidelined in future capital (i.e. no first round picks for the next two years) would want to stop sending their assets out east to get a quarterback whose career has thus far defined mediocrity.

2. Denver Broncos

Denver’s in a bizarrely similar situation as the Jets in that they too are saddled with a young quarterback who has shown flashes of brilliance but not nearly enough to assure them that they don’t have to worry about their passing situation. Perhaps the arrival of another young talent would light a fire under either prospect.

The Broncos already solved one of their biggest offseason issues…exercising the $7 million option on Von Miller…and Darnold can help them solve another, the passing situation that has been in limbo since Peyton Manning retired.

1. Carolina Panthers

Robby Anderson’s time with the Jets didn’t end on a bright note, with the receiver declaring that he was “was losing (his) love for football while clad in a New York uniform. The Jets themselves made little effort to retain him, letting him walk to Carolina. But Anderson and Darnold, the closest thing the Jets have had to an explosive, big-play QB/WR combo in recent memory, still had some kind words for each other. Anderson made it clear that part of the reason he wanted to return to the Jets was because of his rapport with Darnold and the quarterback had nice things to say about Anderson even after his departure.

“Me and Robby had a really good connection over the years,” Darnold said of Anderson in May, per USA Today’s Tyler Greenawalt. “He had gotten a lot better at running routes, as time went on.”

Carolina’s quarterback situation is a questionable state at this point in time. Ex-Darnold mentor Teddy Bridgewater’s return is undoubtedly inspiring, but there are doubts he’s the long-term solution. The current backup plan is XFL star P.J. Walker, so the Panthers could stand to upgrade. Further working in Darnold’s favor is the prescience of offensive guru Matt Rhule as head coach. The NYC native has overseen collegiate offensive fireworks at Temple and Baylor and could be the perfect mind to help fulfill Darnold’s NFL potential.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Head Coaching Candidates: Joe Brady

New York Jets, Joe Brady

With the New York Jets now sitting at an 0-11 record with only five games to go, it is apparent the team needs a change of pace. That is likely to come in the form of a. Full-scale rebuild, starting with the coaching staff. As the team will likely move quickly with their coaching search, I decided to take an individual deep dive into some of the guys who could lead the New York Jets into the next era. This begins with Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady.

Who is Joe Brady?

Joe Brady was born in 1989 in Miami Lakes, Florida. Brady played wide receiver in high school and earned an opportunity to play College Football at Willam & Mary. After a college playing career there, Brady begins his coaching career as a Linebackers coach before becoming a grad assistant at Penn State. Then, Brady got an opportunity of a lifetime to serve under Sean Payton as an Offensive Assistant. Payton saw a lot of potential with Brady, but when he took a gamble on heading to the college level under coach Ed Orgeron at LSU, Payton thought he was making a mistake.

Looking back, that chance Coach O took on Brady, and he took on a young and hungry LSU paid off immensely. When Coach O handed Brady the keys to the LSU offense, he revamped it and took it from the 38th ranked offense in the country to the 1st ranked offense in the country in just one season.

The offense was so explosive that they were able to roll over competition on the way to their National Championship. Along with that, he was crucial in the development of now Bengals starting quarterback Joe Burrow. In Burrow’s Heisman campaign, he had a 76.3 completion percentage that produced a line of 5,671 yds, 60 TDs, and 6 INTs. Not only was the passing attack spectacular, the rushing attack was spectacular. Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 1,414 yards and 16 scores, which only led him to be a first-rounder.

While on the topic of talent, I would be remiss without mentioning all the NFL Draft picks that came from last year’s offense and have excelled at the next level. Arguably the top rookie QB, RB, and WR are all LSU products. Now, this begged the question of how would Brady translate to the NFL, and he has answered that with emphatic success.

Joe Brady in the NFL

When Matt Rhule, a guy the Jets were heavily interested in before Adam Gase jumped from the college ranks to Carolina, he brought rising star Joe Brady with him. Brady has not disappointed. Brady inherited an offense ranked 27th in all of football in 2019 and has brought them to the 7th best offense in the NFL in only 10 games. With 6 games to go along with the impending return of Christian McCaffery, that ranking can only improve.

With McCaffery out, though, the offense has still hummed along perfectly fine. Guys like Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis have stood out in a big way, along with an impressive season from former Jets receiver Robby Anderson. The offense is innovative and unique, and the success he received at LSU has absolutely translated seamlessly to the next level. With a talent group that isn’t even on par with what it could be, Brady has built a resume capable of being a head coach, and at 31 years old, he would be a fresh, innovative hire, but why the Jets?

Why would he be a good fit?

The Jets have tried everything in the past few years. Todd Bowles was a discipline heavy defensive coordinator who was supposed to carry over the hard work culture built under Rex Ryan. Bowles failed to get on the same page with the management and could not gain control over the locker room after a strong first season. Then the Jets hired Adam Gase. This was a hire that was not received well, but fans set out to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has been absolutely awful, and the coach who was supposed to bring a head coaching background has only brought incompetence.

Joe Brady would be the anti-Bowles/Gase hire. He is a fresh, innovative mind along the lines of Sean McVay and Kyle Shannahan and would immediately revitalize the franchise. Not only that, but with 98 million dollars in cap space, a renowned general manager in Joe Douglas, and a plethora of draft capital, the resources are there to build a competitive team that would work around Brady’s strengths. Not only that but pairing Trevor Lawerence and Joe Brady is the kind of tandem that excites everyone repping the Green and White.

Brady would be the best offensive-minded coach the Jets could grab, but is he a leader? Brady is 31 years old and inexperienced. If Brady can step up and show he is capable of being a leader in the interviews, he could be the easy favorite to be the coach. However, if he does not seem like a guy who could instill a winning culture in New York and mentor Trevor Lawerence, then maybe he is not the right hire. With that said, I firmly believe Brady deserves and should be the next head coach of the New York Jets.

Releasing Le’Veon Bell depicts everything wrong with the Jets’ Organization

New York Jets, Leveon Bell

When the Jets inked Le’Veon Bell to join the team, the consensus was that Gang Green may have just rejuvenated their offense. The team handed a big contract to a former All-Pro running back and expected him to contribute immediately. Now when you add that caliber of a talent to your team, you expect a certain level of production no matter what side of the ball.

Bell had 245 carries for 789 yards and 3 TDs. He also added 461 yards and a score on 66 receptions. Bell put up numbers that look impressive on paper and for other backs, but when looked at in the grand scheme of things. It was an abnormally abysmal year for him.

Looking at his numbers from Pittsburgh in contrast to his little over a season in the green and white, the drop off was eye-opening. With Pittsburgh, Bell had an average of 129.0 scrimmage yards per game in contrast to his 80.2 in New York. The other startling statistic was his 3.2 yards per attempt that stood as the lowest mark of his career. So, why did Bell have such a massive drop off in quality of play?

While the obvious culprit seemed to be Adam Gase.

You can make the case that the team failed to provide quality blockers for Gase, but Bell’s utilization was the biggest issue. Gase was adamant about this in his preseason pressers as he stated that one of his primary focuses of the offseason was on using Bell better. Bell received a high volume of reps, but they were not meaningful ones. With just 19 attempts this season for 74 yards, Bell had bumped his production up to 3.9 yards per attempt, but he had 3 receptions for 39 yards out of the backfield. Now, this was only in two games since he missed time with a shoulder injury, but one thing was different this year than last. Gase DID use Bell slightly more efficiently than last season, but the primary reason he was able to get those reps was because of how Gase used his 37-year-old back, Frank Gore.

It was obvious to even the casual observer that Gase and Bell had a tumultuous relationship, but it was only furthered based on Gore’s usage. Gore was used as the bell cow back in the offense while Bell was out and even given reps that would typically go to Bell when he returned. Here is the cold hard truth, Adam Gase and Le’Veon Bell were never on the same page. The “innovative mind” failed to realize the talent he had in his hands and instead failed to adapt his playbook to his best players. Gase instead remained stubborn and set in his ways by continuing to overuse basic halfback dives and receiver screens. See, the poor utilization of Bell by Gase that led to the rift is the utter depiction of the incompetence that has plagued this organization.

Le’Veon Bell now joins the list of so many other talents who were wasted whilst with an “offensive genius.” Some of those players include Jarvis Landry, Robby Anderson, Kenyan Drake, Ryan Tannehill, and DeVante Parker. All have had rejuvenated careers WITHOUT Adam Gase. If the blind eye could see that is the issue, why can’t the ownership? The fact is the Jets thrive off of their own self-destruction and incompetence beyond just the gridiron. Bell moving on and having success would just be the latest feather in the cap of the embarrassment: the Adam Gase era and the organization as a whole.

One New York Jets Receiver Enters A Make Or Break Season

New York Jets, Robby Anderson, Sam Darnold

The New York Jets lost Robby Anderson this past offseason. The loss was one that set the Jets back at wide receiver. Anderson was the go-to target for Sam Darnold. He was a deep threat who could stretch the field and add another layer to the Jets passing game. The Jets return Jamison Crowder, a safety net for Darnold and a dynamic slot piece. They also added a presumed steal in rookie Denzel Mims. Mims brings a big red zone presence with his size and catch radius. Although he brings speed, he will be trusted to grow with Darnold and be groomed into a do it all number one receiver. The Jet receiver trusted to bring the deep threat presence and fill the void of Robby Anderson is Breshard Perriman.

Perriman Needs A Big Year

When Perriman signed with the New York Jets, just hours after Anderson inked a deal to defect to Carolina, I broke the news here at ESM. I touched on his inconsistencies in his past, but one thing I harped on was his recent successes. In 3 years, Perriman had 55 receptions for 916 yards and 5 TDs. Last season, he had 36 receptions for 645 yards and 6 TDs. In the final quarter of the season, Perriman didn’t have a game with less than 70 yards. Perriman was on fire and flashed the potential that got him picked by the Ravens with the 26th pick in the 2015 draft. Perriman parlayed those flashes into a 1 year deal with Gang Green. The Jets will give him the opportunity to start and earn meaningful reps. If Perriman can put up solid numbers, he could revitalize his career.

Perriman fits into the model Douglas is trying to build “prove it deals”. Perriman must put up a quality season in order to become a true fixture in this league. With all the speed in the world, if Perriman can continue to develop his route tree this offseason, similarly to what Anderson did last season. At 26, the best could be ahead for the Breshard Perriman.

New York Jets: UDFA Breakdowns, Lawerence Cager

New York Jets, C.J. Mosley

Over the coming weeks, I plan to breakdown the little known additions to the New York Jets, the UDFAs. The Jets added a couple of new players with varying levels of potential and talent at a few positions of need. The Jets have had UDFAs turn into key contributors in previous years like Robby Anderson, Damon Harrison, and even the legend, Wayne Cherbert. The first UDFA breakdown is Lawerence Cager, WR, Georgia.

Strengths

Lawerence Cager is a very unique player with his build. Similar to Quincy Enunwa, Cager is a speed threat with the body of a tight end. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and can be a good fit in quick throw and bubble screen packages that Adam Gase likes to run. Cager has got a lot of heart, if you look at his track record, Cager has been a leader and willed his way onto the field despite injuries in the past. Lawerence Cager has the physical and mental makeup to be a contributor at the next level. With good coaching, his talent could be harnessed into a formidable outside option or a depth receiver.

Weaknesses

Although I mentioned the dynamic aspect of Cager’s game, he also lacks a developed route tree. He’s got very good hands and he’s a crisp route runner, but at times he relies on his natural abilities to make up for lack of advancement in turns of his route tree. Natural ability may work in college, but at the next level, it won’t be as easy. Cager needs to develop more in that aspect. Cager also has a talented outside threat opposite him in George Pickens. That drew a lot of guys towards Pickens and freed Cager up more. This gave Cager more capability to succeed against lower-level corners. That’s a minor note that could be something to watch though. Lastly, injuries may have been something Cager could overcome at times, but he still missed the end of last season with a serious ankle injury. It may not be that much of an issue on the surface, but deeper damage could’ve hurt the dynamic aspect of his game and slowed him down a bit. That will remain to be seen.

Overall Outlook

Lawerence Cager was a worthwhile flyer in a free agency. There are definitely good reasons for Cager to not get drafted. The concerns in his game and injuries are justified. Ultimately, Cager is not going to be counted on to contribute right away. If Cager wins a spot on the roster, Hines Ward will likely be a key guy to watch in his development. If Ward sees potential in Cager or any other young receivers, his eye will be trusted. Cager could be a Quincy Enunwa prototype at best, but at worst this was just a camp body.