The New York Jets fell to the Cleveland Browns by a final score of 21-17 on Thursday night giving their opponents their first win in nearly two years. How does the offense grade out following their hapless showing?
The New York Jets arrived in Cleveland ahead of their Thursday night game facing a lose-lose situation. If the team were to win, the narrative would be that they simply beat the miserable Browns, despite the team’s many improvements. If they were to lose, they would face the public scrutiny of being the first team to be defeated by the Browns in over 600 days.
There wasn’t necessarily a possible outcome that would result in widespread praise, but perhaps no scenario could have been worse for the franchise than what transpired on Thursday night.
Not only did the Browns defeat the Jets, but they did so on the heels of a star-making debut from rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield who invigorated the city of Cleveland and left the Jets licking their wounds. Fellow rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets supposed franchise savior, put together his worst performance of his short NFL career as the offense stuttered and looked completely overwhelmed against a talented Browns defense.
It could not have gone worse for the Jets faithful and there is plenty of blame to go around, both internal and external. But the blame must begin with the man under center.
Darnold simply did not look like himself on Thursday. He was erratic, his footwork was a mess, and the confident aura that usually surrounds him was noticeably absent. Darnold’s play seemed more reminiscent of his USC days than his showings thus far as a professional.
Did the fact that this was the Jets third game in 11 days have an impact on his performance? Most likely. Did the offensive gameplan deployed by Jeremy Bates hold him back and limit his efficiency? Most definitely.
But these are excuses, and excuses are not a justification.
Darnold had a bad game on Thursday and he and the entire Jets organization is going to have to live with that. This doesn’t mean that his future looks any less bright and it certainly shouldn’t be a cause for any uproar about Darnold’s position with the team. If anything, this game just serves as a reminder that, yes, he is a rookie and he is going to make mistakes.
That being said, it’s hard to talk about this offense without touching on the putrid gameplan of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
It is completely reasonable for the Jets to be wary of Myles Garrett and the Browns pass rush and it is equally reasonable to draw up a gameplan that attempts to limit the effectiveness of Garrett. At the same time, the playcalling of Bates on Thursday night was rushed and lacked creativity, and that’s putting it mildly.
To put it bluntly, it should be considered a miracle that the Jets scored 17 points.
In an effort to counteract the Browns pass rush, Darnold was asked to drop back and pass the ball a grand total of three times in the first half.
Three. That’s it.
Only one of those passes was completed, a short seven-yard completion to rookie Chris Herndon, in which Darnold dumped the ball off to Herndon in the flats a mere two seconds after the ball was snapped.
That’s playing scared. That’s not playing to win the game, that’s playing not to lose.
On every other pass attempt, Darnold was asked to either roll out on a bootleg or simply swing it outside for a wide receiver screen. The execution of the screenplays was mostly good, save for a cross-field throwback to Herndon on the team’s first possession that should have never been attempted.
Still, a better defensive gameplan would have been able to adapt to the Jets predictability. Luckily for Gang Green, Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is as blitz-happy as any coordinator in the league and his inability to switch up his strategy was as excruciatingly painful to watch as the Jets offensive gameplan.
Not only was there a lack of creativity in the air, but on the ground as well. Bates ran almost exclusively outside zone runs with Bilal Powell and pitches to Isaiah Crowell which each worked to a varying degree of success. While Crowell did score both Jets touchdowns, Powell was the more efficient runner finishing with 73 yards on 14 attempts while Crowell ran for just 34 yards on 16 tries.
The sheer lack of inventiveness on offense proved to be as much of a difference maker for the Jets as Darnold’s poor play. When all is set and done, this is the type of coaching performance that could get a coach fired. While it’s still far too early in the season to jump to any conclusions, Bates will now have to prove a lot of doubters wrong and regain their trust if he is going to continue to be a part of the Jets coaching staff going forward.
That could start by treating Sam Darnold like an NFL quarterback and not like a newborn child.
Elsewhere on the Jets offense, Quincy Enunwa continued his stellar start to the season as he clearly appears to be the centerpiece of the team’s passing attack. His big-play ability after the catch is something that has always stood out for him but there’s now an argument to be made that he is one of the best receivers in the entire NFL after the catch.
Robby Anderson’s struggles continued as the speedy wideout caught just two passes for 22 yards and lost another fumble, something that has become a very worrisome issue at this point.
Perhaps it’s a mental thing or perhaps his skinny frame leaves him vulnerable and teams have finally picked up on it. Whatever the case may be, something is going to have to change or else Anderson’s big-play potential will not be able to make up for his offensive duds elsewhere.
The offensive line struggled for the majority of the game in both pass protection and run blocking. No lineman really stood out outside of maybe left tackle Kelvin Beachum who held his own against Garrett but much of that was likely due to game planning rather than actual performance.
Newly acquired center Spencer Long continued his struggles as a run blocker although he was able to make a nice block on one of the many screens to Enunwa. Long is an athletic lineman who is good in space but regularly gets overpowered in the run game. His pass blocking is typically considered to be a strength but he looked shaky on Thursday allowing a bad sack to Garrett in the first half.
Overall, the offense was set up to fail from the start and that combined with an awful showing from Darnold gives the offense its worst grade of the season. The play of Enunwa and Powell are the only things that save the unit from a failing grade.