Robert Saleh, 4th Down, Stats, Aggressiveness
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

The pressure is on for New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh

In the early 2000s, Herman Edwards led the New York Jets to three playoff appearances in five seasons. Say what you want about backing into the postseason, lack of defensive philosophy, and poor player development, but Edwards’s tenure with the Jets was one of the more successful ones in team history.

However, what may have done Herm in with his playoff teams was his time management. It seemed to come up all over the place, most notably in a 20-17 defeat in 2004 against the Ravens. In that game, the Jets had first and goal on the Ravens’ 4-yard line while down three points with 50 seconds left in the game and two timeouts, but failed to even get off a third down play.

With a team that was talented but not superstar laden, the clock management woes were often their downfall. The late Mike Heimerdinger was hired in 2005 in part to take care of the issues, but a woeful season ensured Edwards’s departure in a trade to Kansas City for a 4th round pick (that became Leon Washington).

Cue Robert Saleh in 2021. Saleh was recently rated as Pro Football Focus’s worst non-rookie head coach heading into the 2022 season (based on the usage of Pythagorean wins to estimate how many games each coach would win with an average roster). While that may put some Jets fans’ backs up, the reality is that Saleh was awful last year.

One big factor in that was Saleh’s time and game management. From bad timeout usage, poor preparation, and mishandling of drives, the Jets’ offense was simply sloppy all around. The time management is on the head coach, and Saleh botched it. This was on full display in the Jets’ 45-17 blowout loss to the Bills in Week 10, in which Saleh decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 on the Buffalo 45 but could not get the team on track in time, resulting in a non-intentional delay of game penalty.

Believe it or not, three-quarters of the way through the season, ESPN had Saleh ranked as one of the NFL’s better coaches when it came to fourth-down aggressiveness in 2021. Overall, he seemed to have gotten those decisions largely correct from an analytics perspective. That says nothing of his play calling in those situations, though.

In one of the defining plays of the 2021 season, Zach Wilson’s choice to sneak the ball on 4th-and-2 from deep in Tampa territory gave the Bucs a chance to come down and win the game, which Tom Brady promptly did. Saleh blamed the play on miscommunication, saying that Wilson did not know that the primary play was the option to Braxton Berrios, with a secondary sneak if it was available. That’s on the coach. Aggressiveness on 4th down is one thing, but with a bad call or bad communication, the result is predictably poor.

Another way in which Saleh’s first season is reminiscent of Herm’s was the defense’s poor planning. Both of these guys were supposed to be defensive gurus, Herm coming from Tampa, Saleh from the vaunted San Francisco defense. Beyond the statistics, it was the lack of a coherent defensive plan that often did Edwards in.

While Saleh has a very defined defensive gameplan, coherent is another story, at least when it comes to the defensibility of his philosophy. As Robby Sabo and others detailed on this site throughout the season, Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich were very obstinate with their defensive objectives. They stuck to predictable tendencies, allowing other coordinators to feast on the weaknesses.

Last season, the Jets’ dearth of talent and injuries to key players were not Saleh’s fault. However, failing to maximize the players on the roster was on him as the head coach. Despite the tumult of the 2021 season, the Jets could have been better than a four-win team, or at least more competitive than they were. Burned timeouts, delay of game penalties, poor on-field discipline, players out of position, miscommunication, and many other technical details showed signs of a poorly coached team.

Saleh still has the approbation of players and coaches across the NFL. This year, though, his reputation will not be enough to carry him. Fans and ownership need to see legitimate improvement, starting with Zach Wilson. In particular, the defense will come under careful scrutiny, not just for execution but also for the gameplan.

2022 is Saleh’s chance to prove his doubters wrong, to show Jets Nation that he was the right hire. If the process improvements do not materialize, it’s possible that the Jets go back to the drawing board at the helm for next season.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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mlesko73
mlesko73
5 months ago

While I agree that the team, including the coaches, needs to improve over last year, obviously, I do not see Saleh being anywhere close to the”hot seat”. Woody loves him, Joe Douglas and he get along great and they seem to have the same vision. Watching all episodes of the Flight 2022 series gives the definite impression that the Jets will have this group of leaders for years to come.
If anyone could be on the hot seat it might be LaFleur. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but I think his inability to adjust to new players was glaring last year. He seems to have corrected it around the game 10 mark. How he uses the new weapons will be telling.

mlesko73
mlesko73
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Hey now, I played Div III ball (Wittenberg U)

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago

I think what Saleh was lauded for more than anything was building team chemistry. His players loved playing for him and completely bought in. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s doing a fantastic job at building chemistry here. He’s brought in nothing but high quality people.

Misterhawk
Misterhawk
5 months ago

Is there evidence that Saleh had similar issues while in San Francisco but was bailed out by the talent among his players?

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
5 months ago

“Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich were very obstinate with their defensive objectives. They stuck to predictable tendencies, allowing other coordinators to feast on the weaknesses.”

If you’ve got a really young team, and this is going to be the system, I’m not sure what’s wrong with being obstinate. Let the young players take their lumps now for the good of the future. I actually wouldn’t want a coach–on defense–to stray far from their principles, especially as that system is not one predicated on deception or creativity.

This is to say that this specific critique of Saleh’s & Ulbrich’s performance is more about the talent than the coaching. If it’s a good system, better players and execution will make it work. Replacing Davises Ashton and Jarrad, both corners and improvement from Quincy alone should really help. Go ahead and be obstinate.

I also thought Saleh’s time management was an overall improvement over Bowles (who is the Jet coach immediately proceeding Saleh and I am sure of that and don’t try and tell me otherwise) but I guess I do recall yelling at the TV a couple of times last fall.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

What system works well with mediocre to poor talent?

wa2k99
wa2k99
5 months ago

Over the top harsh. The fact that he was that good at 4th down was quite impressive.

Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago

The term “guru” is way overblown now because it’s over used and it basically means nothing. Saleh was not brought in as a “defensive guru.” He was brought in as a successful defensive coach who had put in the time and preparation to become a good head coach. The “guru” thing? Well, that’s on ESPNquirer, the beat writers, and the fans. Yes, there were time management mistakes, play calling mistakes and some questions as to why the defense was so bad at times. The fact they were even IN the game vs. Tampa is good coaching. The “defensive objective” for the team was set before the season: they were going to install their defensive philosophy regardless of the players on the team. Their plan was to teach what they believe will bring success to the team and lay the foundation for good defensive football long term. I realize nobody likes that, but that was the philosophy. I understand teams need to be more “game plan specific” but coming up with a different game plan each week to match the talent of players who will not be long term roster members is part of why they landed in this spot to begin with. All that Gregg Williams game planning and making players “multiple” created a disaster week after week once everybody realized it wasn’t the game plans, it was the talent. There is no doubt Saleh needs to improve, but anybody who expected him to take that group, with the disaster that was here for 2 seasons under Gase and make something of it, is just not in touch with reality. The team won 2 games prior to Saleh’s arrival. They doubled that total. To say the “pressure” is on, to me is a reach. This is year 2 of a massive rebuild, and I mean MASSIVE. Give credit, we bash the Johnsons but they looked in the mirror, and restructured the entire organization. Letting a football guy run the show, and perhaps creating a winning culture after all this time. These “coaches” rankings are a HUGE joke. Saleh is fine, he was a rookie HC with bad talent and lots of injuries, and I can tell you I like where the team is compared to anytime in the last 5-10 years. Let’s keep it in perspective here.

Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I don’t think he was inflexible with the defense, I think the talent flat out stunk and he did what he could with what he had. Let’s be honest, there are two safeties at my local HS that have better instincts than Ashtyn Davis.

Being “flexible with the defensive system” would have gotten them zero more victories. The greatest system in the world needs talent. It’s not a matter of just game planning and you win a game. As I said, to try a stop gap game plan week after week so players who stink and won’t be on the team in a year or two feel more comfortable would be a HUGE mistake. The defense wasn’t shredded because the system was inflexible, it was shredded because they were injured and/or the players stink. Playing more man on first down would have led to bigger plays on first down.

Saleh was 100% correct to build the defense. We can’t be fickle and say we want a winning culture, we want to develop a team that can win year in and year out, then be upset when trying to lay that foundation.

“Lauded” as a good young coach and “guru” aren’t the same thing. Your initial point was “guru” and that came from media and fans. I only heard “guru” from Rex (who I have no ill will towards and liked as a coach), and fans/talking heads using it when trying to point out, he really isn’t a “guru.”

Yes, if the team doesn’t improve this season then the pressure will be on Saleh, but your article stated in bold print at the top, the pressure IS ON. The pressure isn’t currently ON Saleh in the way you are talking (every coach has pressure to win but you seems to be implying added pressure). IF…IF they don’t improve the pressure will be on him.

Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Read your article again….this is copied and pasted from it: “The pressure is on for New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh.” It’s in bold print right under the picture. I’m certainly ok disagreeing on the added win or two, I just don’t see it.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

What I don’t get is why anyone thinks we WON’T win at least 6-7 games this year. Frankly, we would have won 6-7 games last year if only Carl Lawson had been healthy. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win 8-9 games this year.