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NY Jets’ applauded ‘process’ is same reason criticism is now warranted

Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, Zach Wilson
Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ applauded calling card represents the same reason criticism is necessary

No gas, all brake? Or, how about very little gas and hardly any brake? Perhaps even a running on empty with a cut brake line could suffice. (After all, messing with the opponent once or 100 times over the last two decades is something not foreign to a Bill Belichick-run football program … so they say.)

Whatever the case, New York Jets fans would surely take high gas prices and at least a speed bump to throw in front of Matt Judon over reality’s alternative.

Sunday’s humiliating 54-13 defeat to the New England Patriots not only gave New York its fifth loss of the 2021 NFL season, but it also took rookie quarterback Zach Wilson out of action for 2-to-4 weeks with a sprained PCL.

Hey, this is nothing new. Belichick has been laying the smackdown on Jets squads for the better part of the last two decades. His obvious attempt at running up the score shouldn’t come as a surprise either.

Perhaps most notable is the idea that any blowout at the hand of any team this season shouldn’t have surprised Jets fans—for the roster is simply not yet ready for primetime.

What’s troubling are the trends and how everything’s transpired up until this very moment. What’s concerning is that heavy criticism is now warranted for the very same reason the new Jets regime deserved wide-ranging applause heading into this new campaign.

The organization’s fundamentally correct “process” is curiously and infuriatingly missing on game days.

“Top-down: (It) starts with coaching all the way down,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said following the mega-defeat in Foxborough. “Obviously we’ve got to be better. They punched us in the freaking mouth and scored points, so credit to them. That’s it. I mean, I’ve been in part of some of those in my life. They just don’t feel good.”

Saleh, 42, is currently feeling the heat. By no means should his job be in serious jeopardy, but what helped him get the job in Florham Park isn’t carrying over to Sunday.

The very first play featured a Quinnen Williams defensive holding call, and apparently, the word is out. Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive unit has been penalized several times this season via holding in the trenches. For such a rarity, the Jets’ defensive line simply cannot stop adding to the already-absurd number of instances.

Additionally, the inexperience at linebacker destroyed the Jets against the Pats. In many respects, there was little Saleh could do. At the same time, a lot of the in-game strategy should serve as an alarming trend.

Even when the Pats tipped their hand, play after play, the Jets still couldn’t adjust. It’s tough to point to a “correct process” when the on-field football strategy is as bad as it gets.

Where’s the awareness? Of course Josh McDaniels attacked the inexperienced linebackers

This one was as obvious as anything. Without C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis still sidelined, Josh McDaniels attacked the Jets’ inexperienced and undersized linebackers.

Damien Harris ripped off a 12-yard gain on a duo call to get things started right for the home team.

The play (run out of 11 personnel) featured the 3-technique (Quinnen Williams) and 1-technique (Foley Fatukasi) getting doubled, while Jamien Sherwood was slow to react.

The former collegiate safety didn’t react quickly enough to the offensive linemen. He failed to meet the fullback in an appropriate place closer to the line of scrimmage and overplayed it. Rather than playing it outside-in (protecting more space on the 3-tech side), he overran it a bit and couldn’t disengage in time to make a play.

Additionally, Quinnen allowed himself to be moved too much, while Quincy didn’t add anything to the play on the backside.

Sherwood took on MIKE duties and found himself outclassed in every way. Moreover, Quincy Williams, although athletic, continued to play extremely out of control.

In a lot of ways, what Saleh has been given at this position is unforgivable in nature. While the injuries remain an under-discussed problem, it’s tough to win with so much inexperience against any NFL offense (no less McDaniels).

Joe Douglas‘s NFL draft process led him to two bigger collegiate safeties he thought Saleh could turn into linebackers. So far, the moves have come up empty.

Perhaps even worse is the idea that nothing was done to protect the linebackers this past Sunday. Nothing that can be deemed protection-worthy is present on tape, which means Saleh and Ulbrich played things straight-up in New England.

Where’s the in-game strategy? Recognizing what the offense is attempting is half the battle.

New England smashed the Jets in the mouth from the get-go. Yet, the Pats did in a transparent way the Jets never quite adjusted to. When power football wasn’t the plan, the Pats simply allowed Jets defenders to go where they wanted much of the time.

McDaniels took a patient and misdirection-type approach that featured a heavy dose of screens, draws, delays and anything else that showcased wham and crack blocks.

Never did the Jets fully adjust.

The Pats’ situational awareness is off the chart, whereas the Jets ooze mind-boggling unawareness. A defense must ask itself this question early in each game: What is the offense trying to do? What is it that they’re trying to accomplish?

Sure, a duo call is a duo call. A wide zone is a wide zone. But not every run play is worked in an identical fashion to the next. Oftentimes, a hint of misdirection or mystery is involved, and New England did a great job of mixing the power scheme with the blocking techniques that allowed the Jets defensive line to go where it wanted to.

Saleh’s gap-attacking 4-3 scheme is an aggressive run-defensive unit. However, that mentality plays against itself when the offense is guiding defensive linemen downfield.

Here, Nathan Shepherd simply fires his way downhill while the Pats’ interior guard allows it on the draw play:

At which point is Ulbrich going to force their defensive linemen to stay at home?

Did New England call 310 screen passes in this game or was it just my imagination? In spite of the actual number (it was four or five up to this point in the game), how Saleh, Ulbrich and the Jets couldn’t adjust remains a mystery.

Yes, the linebacker inexperience remains the greatest issue, but dialing up a third-and-manageable blitz later in the same drive (in the red zone) when the Pats continued to call screen after screen is as head-scratching a move as any.

There are no young linebackers to blame here. Instead, Marcus Maye and Javelin Guidry are responsible for the two backfield weapons.

Amazingly, Ulbrich dialed up a five-man pressure after New England had run four or five screens by the mid-way point of the second quarter. But more amazing is the idea that the veteran Maye is expecting a “your side” man call as opposed to strict man-to-man with Guidry.

In this one, McDaniels dialed up screens, draws and misdirections to an embarrassing level. A great defensive mind understands that the game (chess match) doesn’t truly start until the unit forces the offense to do something it doesn’t want to do.

Despite the numerous calls that played off of the Jets’ front-seven aggressiveness, Saleh, Ulbrich and the Jets defense never forced the offense into a contrasting attitude.

Where’s the competition and demand for production? Greg Van Roten is killing the Jets offense.

Douglas and Saleh promised a competitive brand of football. This just wasn’t the case for when they took on other teams, rather in-house as well.

As Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania outlined, right guard Greg Van Roten is killing the Jets offense right now. Whether or not he’s better than backup Dan Feeney is a legitimate question, but how Saleh and Mike LaFleur haven’t yet benched him yet remains a total mystery.

Competition equals correct process, providing somebody else with an opportunity if a starter isn’t getting it done should equal the correct process. Yet, the Jets aren’t practicing what they’ve preached.

At what point does Saleh make a move? At what point does he let it be known that unproductive stretches won’t be rewarded with playing time?

Featuring a non-competitive situation at right guard defies the head coach’s process as it relates to in-house competition.

The still-correct process now deserves heavy criticism thanks to the unimaginable results.

In the end, what appropriately got the fanbase and pundits fired up about this new Jets regime is the same thing that should force everybody to fire off criticism. Although results are king in football, deploying the correct process is what leads to consistent results.

Me, the very same man who told Jets fans that it was, indeed, different this time around, still believes in this regime.

Douglas understands personnel, the salary cap and everything that goes into building a winning culture. Saleh is an excellent leader of men. And the young players on this depth chart—the youngest roster in the NFL—haven’t even scratched the surface.

But where is the personnel eye for football instincts and availability? Where is the coaching prowess that showcases smart game plans and in-game adjustments?

Perhaps the only saving grace is how everything is currently being handled from the top. Chairman Woody Johnson isn’t even thinking about a rash move, and it’s a breath of fresh air the Florham Park atmosphere welcomes.

“We will get it right,” Johnson said, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. “Just a very young team with a 22-year-old quarterback. He’s seeing things for the first time.”

Understandably, Jets fans don’t want to hear it. They have waited far too long to watch a product like this. Wins are one thing, but unquestioned disasters that can’t even produce the smallest of silver linings are quite another.

It’s so bad that questions surrounding Saleh’s temperament have become a topic. Saleh, the sometimes fiery sideline boss, isn’t one to scream at his players a la Mike Ditka or a Bill Parcells.

“No, these are grown men,” is how Saleh responded to whether or not his players needed a good kick in the ass or somebody screaming at them. “In this league, I refuse to believe otherwise, these men play their tails off. … Everyone once in a while you get your (expletive) – excuse my language – you get your teeth knocked in. Sorry.”

Saleh’s players may want to put up good tape each week, but right now, it’s fair to ask whether or not this coaching staff knows what it’s doing in the on-field strategy department. It’s more than fine to question this front office’s eye for personnel (albeit to a much lesser extent than the first item).

It’s also beyond acceptable to wonder if the Jets will ever field a defense with over 50 percent of its projected August starters again. (Douglas’s new vision in minimizing player injuries needs the world’s best optometrist.)

Joe Douglas swooped in after the 2019 NFL draft and dropped the correct message instantaneously: “It begins with the quarterback and both lines,” a phrase that hadn’t been uttered in decades around these parts. He discussed culture and hyped up doing things the right way—from the player in the locker room to the dudes who direct traffic in the MetLife Stadium parking lot.

Robert Saleh proclaimed “All Gas, No Brake” upon his arrival. He preached character and toughness, while also oozing a professional vibe that would hopefully spill over into his players’ souls.

For the 2021 New York Jets, it’s pretty simple right now: The correct process heading in hasn’t fetched the results needed to satisfy even basement-level development checkmarks.

“I always look inward. I always look at me first, look in the mirror, see what we can do,” Saleh added. … I’m not upset. It’s probably more disappointment than anything.”

Although the spot they were put in is as unimaginable as even the most pessimistic onlooker could decipher—as John Idzik and Mike Maccagnan set the organization back to a day sliced bread felt novel—the new regime’s grace period has come and gone.

If this New York Jets regime is actually deploying the correct process that’ll ultimately lead to the desired results, that’s even more reason to wonder what the hell is happening.

Each form of criticism is now officially on the table.

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2 years ago

Robby, your article sums up what is so confusing about all this. I think most Jets fans would be content with the struggles and losses if there was growth, rookies making significant plays, close games, any semblance of a competent offense, and Zac Wilson slowly getting better.

While there certainly have been some small glimpses, the overall picture has been more disappointing and embarrassing than successful.

What happened? Saleh was (for the most part) the consensus best HC candidate due in part to his exceptional leadership, future looking mentality, and culture-changing ability. His staff was highly touted with LaFleur being called one of the brightest new offensive minds available. Zach Wilson is a rookie but had high upside. The offensive line was supposed to be upgraded (even with GVR still around).

We all knew defense would struggle with its youth but we could accept that as long as points were put up by the offense (and the offense has some weapons).

How did it all go so wrong that the Jets got absolutely embarrassed by the Patriots (of all teams) 54-13? Something just doesn’t add up? Was Saleh over-hyped? Is the offensive line just that bad? Is LaFleur just lost and needs more time to figure this out?

Again, I think most fans (myself included) would be fine with a losing season as long as it meant progress and hope for the future. Right now, it just feels like all that was taken away (both by the blowout loss and Zach Wilson’s injury) and Saleh doesn’t “look” like he is in control anymore.

2 years ago

That just about sums it up for all of us. A few things to note: Douglas’ failure to fix the offensive line by now, considering it was his proclaimed #1 priority is not only concerning, it’s borderline malpractice. How he could think GVR was a good option after what he’s seen from that player makes me wonder if Joe knows anything about the offensive line. Regardless of his years playing the position. Knowing they were moving on from Sam, they should have gone all in on Thuney or Linsley, maybe they did but the fact they landed neither for whatever reason is a MAJOR problem.

Saleh was my favorite candidate for HC in large part because I wanted LaFleur too. I was wrong on LaFleur (for now), but as I have commented on Nania’s stories, nobody expected to lose Knapp. That WAS MAJOR, and we are seeing that weekly. Knapp had the pelts, the rest of the staff are rookies. We’ll see what Saleh is really made of in the off-season when he HAS to bring in someone to oversee his OC AND his young QB, because Matt Cavanaugh isn’t the guy. Never was. Gary Kubiak IS the guy, not sure they can pull that off, but bringing him in to replace Knapp, be the Associate HC, Coach Zach and pay him whatever he wants is the only choice. If they can make it happen. BTW, take a look at his “pelts.”

I’ve never seen so many DL holding penalties on RUNNING plays! What a mess. Also, whoever thought it was a good idea to start a 215lb rookie at MLB in an NFL game, needs to go on notice. If that was Saleh, then yeah he’s on notice too. This is the NFL not the Mountain West. There was NO DOUBT it was going to be a problem. I wrote somewhere in the summer when everyone was loving Saleh and the “new system” we’ll see how they like it when they are practicing the same thing over and over because according to the HC “perfect practice makes perfect” and we don’t see adjustments.

Marcus Maye is overrated. He’s a nice player, and good to have on a team but let’s be honest, he’s not a top 5 safety and all of the beat writers giving Joe a hard time for not signing him because “it’s the right thing to do” would be hammering him if he was on a big contract now.

Joe needs to stop building and start adding players to this team. Draft picks are fun in April but not in October. This team doesn’t need more draft picks or more salary cap room, they need players. Time to bring in some players. Also, Saleh is going to have to look inward and shake up the coaching staff, and yes that means his buddies. We are going to find out if he’s really ready for the big chair soon enough.

2 years ago

Robby….help me? Does it ever end for us?

2 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. It’s frustrating to watch what’s going on. As coach has said, the first quarter is a feeling each other out. Well you saw what they are doing to feel you out, how are you gonna adjust to it? Where is the situational awareness? I do strongly believe we have the correct management team in place. He just has to do a better job of translating the message to the coordinators.