New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?
New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

New York Jets 2018 Stats Review:

Record: 4-12

Pythagorean Wins: 5.3

ATS: 5-11; average line 4.2

Over/Under: 10-6; average total 43.0

Close Games Record: 2-6

Turnover Differential: -0.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 74.6 (13th)

Offense: 30th in EPA per play (-0.111);  5.04 yards per play

Defense:  21st in EPA per play (+0.062);  5.88 yards per play

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Disastrous Setup

The New York Jets had no chance to survive in 2018: a mistake-prone rookie at quarterback, a lousy offensive line, injuries at wide receiver and a defensive-minded head coach who didn’t do his offense any favors. Sam Darnold played as advertised: young and inexperienced, lousy footwork, many interceptions but also incredible Mahomes-Esque throws out of the structure and out of his mechanical platform. He has been one of the worst signal-callers up to his injury but had a durable finish. From weeks 10 to 17, Sam Darnold had the highest QBR of all quarterbacks, even though playing only four games. That’s a reason to be optimistic, but it was just a four-game sample.

On the season, the New York Jets had some bad luck. They went 2-6 in close games and had a Pythagorean win expectation of 5.3. A dumb penalty decision by Todd Bowles likely cost the Jets a win at Tennessee. Sam Darnold lit up the Packers, but on the most critical drive, the Jets trusted their run game that produced 2.3 yards per rush. On back-to-back long downs. They led 35-20 entering the fourth, but never got the ball in overtime. Those were two games they should have won. They had a -0.6 turnover differential, and it could have been worse if defenders hadn’t dropped a lot of Darnold’s interceptable passes

Gang Green was more like a 5-11 team and their close game differential along with some significant changes on the offensive side point towards positive regression.

Adam Gase and Le’Veon Bell

The priority for the Jets this year was giving Darnold an offensive-minded coaching staff and improve his supporting cast. In theory, they achieved that. But I am having a hard time predicting the impact of Adam Gase on this team. On the one side, he’s an offensive-minded coach who has orchestrated incredible offenses with Peyton Manning and guided Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill to career years in 2015 and 2016. He also made the best out of an atrocious Dolphins roster, at least win-loss-wise. However, of the 23 games, Miami won since 2016, 20 were by one possession. But out of the 26 losses, 20 were by more than one score. His situational play-calling was questionable, too. Depends on how you see it: glass half-full or half-empty?

I disagreed with the expensive signing of Le’Veon Bell because teams tend to call too many inefficient runs to justify a high running-back salary. At least he provides a security blanket for Darnold, proper pass protection and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. According to camp reports, Gase is using Bell and Ty Montgomery creatively:

Montgomery and Bell are regularly on the field together. Gase lines them up in the backfield, or one in the backfield with the other split wide, in the slot or at H-back. From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens. The Jets had one play where Darnold pitched the ball to Montgomery with Bell as the lead blocker. It’s going to be fascinating to watch Bell and Montgomery work together during the season.

If Gase uses running back passes on early downs, gets creative with Bell and Montgomery and stays unpredictable, I’m okay with it. Ty Montgomery is a former receiver, so lining him or Bell out wide often makes sense. But it’s an if. Glass half-full or half-empty?

The Offensive Line

Aside from an expected second-year leap for Darnold and an offensive-minded head coach, the offensive line could propel the whole team. First of all, the Jets signed Frank Pollack as their new offensive line coach who is a very underrated signing. Pollack orchestrated one of the best offensive lines for the Dallas Cowboys from 2013 to 2017. At the center, Spencer Long, who was a disaster in 2018, gets replaced by the unretired Ryan Kalil.  The older Kalil-brother has been dealing with injuries lately but should be a significant upgrade for Sam Darnold and the whole unit. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has been one of the best guards in the NFL before joining Tom Cable at Oakland. He’s a significant upgrade over James Carpenter.

Kelvin Beachum, by far the best offensive lineman last year, will stay at left tackle. His injury is something to monitor. Brian Winters should stick at right guard, but at right tackle, there could be a battle between Brandon Shell and rookie Chuma Edoga, the latter who looked good in his first pre-season game. If Edoga can provide an upgrade over Shell, this offensive line is a vastly improved unit over 2018. For an offense, the jump from bad to average is much more valuable than a leap from average to elite. This Jets offensive line looks to be an average unit.

New York Jets Offensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Jets Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Robby Anderson played 68 percent of snaps, Quincy Enunwa played 53 percent last year, many of those being banged up. Both guys are healthy and get joined by Jamison Crowder, who has already built a connection with Sam Darnold during training camp. Chris Herndon could have a breakout season, but not before week five because he is suspended for the first four matchups.

Overall, this offense looks much improved from last season. Sam Darnold is entering year two under an offensive-minded coach, with an improved offensive line and potent weapons in the passing game. The delta between 2018 and 2019 performance will define the season.

The Defense is Stacked with Holes

The Jets had two massive holes on their defense, going into the off-season: cornerback and edge rush. They didn’t address corner at all and drafted edge-rusher Jachai Polite in the third round. Polite got some first-round grades but fell because of off-field issues. He’s currently running with the second team in training camp. With rookie Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams and nose tackle Steve McLendon, the New York Jets have a strong interior line but almost zero pass rush outside. With expensive acquisition CJ Mosley, Jamal Adams, and Marcus Maye, they also have at least decent coverage over the middle of the field. But their cornerback depth chart reads like one of the worst in the league.

New York Jets Defensive Depth Chart Projection
New York Jets Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Trumaine Johnson is the best cornerback on the roster, but he doesn’t belong to the elite. He is currently sidelined with a hamstring issue. Therefore, the Jets have the worst cornerback depth right now. Also, Gregg Williams is a very aggressive defensive coordinator, who likes to call many high-risk blitzes and loves to line up his free safeties deeper on the moon. That will inevitably lead to some massive space for opposing offenses. As bullish as I am on the Jets offense, as bearish I am on their defense. They played one of the easier schedules last year, but couldn’t finish higher than 21st in EPA per play.

2019 Schedule

The New York Jets have one significant advantage: they play one of the most relaxed schedules in the league. According to current Pinnacle win totals markets, they are supposed to represent the second-most manageable program (.4695) after playing the 13th-hardest in 2018 (.506). Considering 2018 EPA per offensive play numbers, the Jets are projected to face the third-easiest slate of opposing offenses (-0.0053). The Jets will travel the fewest miles and won’t play outside of the eastern time zone once. They go to Miami in November, when the heat the humidity have cooled down. They have a bye week to prepare for their opponent with the highest win total outside of New England – a road game at Philadelphia.

Because of their fourth-place finish, Gang Green gets to play Oakland and Jacksonville. The Miami Dolphins are in rebuild mode, and they are the consensus-worst team in the NFL. The Bills are almost in the same position as the Jets, just that folks are higher on Buffalo’s defense than their quarterback, opposite of the Jets. The Patriots and 42-year-old Tom Brady will play their first season without Rob Gronkowski and might need some time to adjust early in the season – both matchups are before week eight. Maybe they can sneak out a win against New England. The AFC North is a tough division to face, but there are some winnable games against the NFC East with teams like the Redskins or Giants.

It could hands down shape up as the most relaxed schedule in the league.

New York Jets 2019: Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

The New York Jets are primed for a massive improvement on offense, but at the same time, this improvement dictates how far they can go in 2019. Therefore, they have an exciting range of outcomes this year. Will the offense overcome the other question marks on the team? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? It is the first year since 2015 that I am optimistic about a Jets season. With Gregg Williams at DC, minimal pass rush and a weak cornerback group, this defense will be mostly dependent on the schedule – which is very relaxed. But I am not counting on this defense to contribute a lot.

Do I think the Jets are a playoff team on paper? Not at all. But their schedule could mask a lot of weaknesses and propel them into playoff contention in December. The win total for the Jets opened around 7.3 and got bet up to 7.5, with the original Pinnacle number being priced at -163 on the Over. That means the Jets need to win eight or more games 62 percent of the time. If things go south quickly, it could be another transition year, but I don’t think 9-7 or 10-6 is out of reach either. It could be boom or playoffs for Gang Green. The common projection is probably in the 8-8 range. Tiny lean is on the over, but I would instead grab a much better priced 7.5, risking the push opportunity.

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