The Jets don’t have “enough talent to win on talent alone”
As the 2022 regular season in the NFL winds down, 75% of teams still have some sort of playoff hopes alive.
The only teams truly eliminated from playoff contention are the Colts, Texans, Broncos, Bears, Cardinals, Falcons, Rams, and Browns. Every other team fancies itself having a shot (whether realistic or not) to make it to the show.
You’d think that at such a time, we would see max effort on every single play. Besides the playoff incentives embedded in players’ contracts, the ultimate prize in the NFL is winning a Super Bowl. Once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Just get there.
However, if you watch the New York Jets on a play-in and play-out basis, there is a suspicion that some players don’t feel that urgency. Some of this may be a projection based on body language; some of it is based on actual lollygagging on the field. However, some of it comes simply from an inability to understand how a player could have fallen so far off a cliff mentally.
Watch guys like Garrett Wilson, C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Quinnen Williams, Mike White, Zonovan Knight, D.J. Reed, C.J. Uzomah, and others. No matter their skill level, they are giving their all on every play. These players demand that same level of effort from their teammates.
When you see a player make a business decision like Cam Newton did in the 2015 Super Bowl, it’s fairly simple to point a finger at effort. However, is it fair to judge effort based on poor performance alone?
Not all levels of poor play are created equal. Some players are just not that good. No one could accuse Sam Darnold of mailing it in during his time with the Jets; the guy did his best, but he was simply in above his head on a team that could not carry him at all.
However, when a player signs a large free-agent contract and immediately falls off the rails, the questions about effort are going to rumble. Those murmurs grow louder when the fall-off in play is due to consistent mental mistakes. That’s where the Jets currently stand with Laken Tomlinson.
Jets fans were clamoring for guys like Austin Corbett (2.4% pressure rate) or James Daniels (3.1%), who both signed similar three-year contracts for significantly less money than Tomlinson ($26-27 million vs. $40 million for 4.5%). When you sign a guard to a contract with $13.3 million in average annual value, you expect to be getting a top-five guard in the league. Joe Blewett warned us in the preseason that he was paid like an elite guard when he was merely average, which was visible on his tape in San Francisco. Playing next to the best left tackle in football allowed Tomlinson to ascend from first-round bust to Pro Bowl guard.
However, Tomlinson has played like a bottom-10 guard in the league this year. Besides being several seconds late off the ball on multiple occasions, his whiff rate is astonishingly high. Just watch these clips of Tomlinson blocking no one while a rusher comes free to the quarterback or a tackler zips in to stymie the running back.
Did Laken Tomlinson lose connection to the servers for a second here? pic.twitter.com/XJMQezf4SR
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 24, 2022
What is 78 doing pic.twitter.com/Wk1GjiMxsy
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) December 20, 2022
Doesn’t even help McGovern pick up this DT (look at what Herbig does to help Fant, that’s what he should be doing) and then still completely whiffs on his own block anyway pic.twitter.com/j43IirYYjP
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) December 26, 2022
Yes, we have seen such plays from Connor McGovern and Nate Herbig, as well. However, McGovern is giving it his all in the run game and is sometimes simply overmatched in pass protection. Herbig was a backup for a reason; he is struggling mightily. There is less reason to suspect that it’s an effort issue.
Absent an injury, though, it is difficult to comprehend that a 30-year-old offensive lineman falls from slightly above average to not rosterable in less than a year. Yes, he was overrated and overpaid coming to the Jets. Yes, Blewett’s preseason prediction that Tomlinson would be the Jets’ most disappointing player of 2022 has come true. But even the mighty Joe did not think that Tomlinson would be this bad.
Tomlinson seems like a high-character guy, so it’s difficult to believe that this is an effort issue. But you be the judge: does it seem like there’s a deficit of want here? Or did the Jets just get their evaluation that wrong?
It would be wise for Joe Douglas to strongly consider moving on from Tomlinson this offseason.
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The same mistakes on repeat
It’s hard to say that any player that makes the same mistake repeatedly is mailing it in. Maybe they’re just not teachable.
However, certain mistakes lead you to wonder if there is an effort component. For example, we’ve seen Elijah Moore mail in his routes on several occasions, either refusing to stick his nose in and break up an interception (against the Lions) or allowing a defender to fall off Moore and make a play on the ball (Steelers). On Blewett’s Blitz, Kyle Smith had noted from Moore’s college tape that he has the occasional tendency not to see his route through to completion. That has seemingly continued at times in the NFL.
Furthermore, there have been several times that Moore could not get his feet down on a play that every NFL receiver should be able to make. Against Miami, he set up with his toes out of bounds, leading to an incomplete pass by Zach Wilson despite a good throw. Against the Vikings, he simply did not even attempt a toe-drag when he had plenty of space to do so. If a 5’9” receiver without a large catch radius won’t do what it takes to catch the catchable throws, you have a problem on your hands.
We’ve also seen some mental lapses from Moore, including not even attempting a block on a read-option from Zach Wilson (against the Patriots, on which he seemed to be the only one who thought the call was a screen pass), running out of bounds on what should have been a lateral play to end the game (second Patriots game), and cutting off his route or run after the catch short of the first-down marker (Jaguars).
Despite Moore’s obvious talent, he will never fully reintegrate into the offense unless he cuts out those mistakes. It’s hard for a quarterback to completely trust a receiver who makes these gaffes.
Consistently splitting the difference
In the NFL, players sometimes need to play halfway so as not to get beat, particularly when their skill level is inferior to that of their opponent. However, when two players who play side-by-side are both doing that, it’s a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, it looks like both players are just playing half-baked rather than trying to avoid the big play since the big play has beaten them way too often.
This is the case with both Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead. No one who watched Joe Blewett’s review of either player should have expected much from them. However, the approach they both take in coverage, the angles they take in tackling, and the sheer number of blown assignments make you wonder about their commitment. Whitehead seems good for one thing, and one thing only: come on a run blitz and whack a guy hard. Joyner doesn’t even have that going his way.
Again, this could just be two subpar players trying to make up for their lack of skill. But when D.J. Reed referred to miscommunication in the secondary earlier in the year, Joyner was the primary culprit, even if Reed didn’t call him out by name. Whitehead was singled out by Robert Saleh for his dropped picks.
Is this an effort issue?
Lost multi-dimensional approach?
Carl Lawson has easily been the Jets’ most disappointing defensive player relative to expectations. While the linebackers and safeties have been up and down (mostly down in the case of the latter), we knew that those would be weak links prior to the season. Lawson, though, was expected to provide juice from the edge rusher position. There was concern that his Achilles’ injury would take its toll on his athleticism, but he certainly looked to be in shape in training camp.
Indeed, it doesn’t really appear that Lawson’s athleticism has been affected. His get-off time is still one of the fastest in the league, a trait that led him to be one of the most efficient and dominant pressure producers in the league over his first four seasons.
However, instead of his past multidimensional pass-rush moves, Lawson seems to have been reduced to one move only: the pure bull rush. It’s difficult to stomach watching him come up against a left tackle and just try to push into his chest. Knowing that it’s coming, even weaker tackles (like Walker Little of the Jaguars) can prepare for and defeat the rush. It’s why Lawson’s pressure numbers are below average for edge rushers this season. His six sacks belie how lackluster his season has been compared to expectations.
That being said, I don’t think this is because of effort. I’m not exactly sure why Lawson has suddenly dropped his other moves. Maybe it is the lingering effects of his Achilles’ tear. Maybe he just doesn’t trust his foot the way he used to.
Even if Lawson is cut this offseason, finds a home elsewhere, and suddenly reverts back to his old form, I do not believe it will be a sudden return to max effort. It’s far more likely that recovery from a severe injury takes two full years, as we’ve seen from time to time with players returning from ACL tears.
Unless Lawson agrees to a steep pay cut, he is likely gone from the roster in the offseason. It would be nice to see him play up to his potential for a playoff push, though.
Just plain bad
As we said with Joyner and Whitehead, some players are just outmatched. With Braden Mann and Braxton Berrios, it’s likely not an effort issue; both are simply playing about as poorly as you can at their respective positions.
I’m not sure what it would look like for a punter not to try. Over the second half of the 2022 season, Mann has been the worst punter in the league. Period. His tendency towards a minimum of one crushing lapse per game is mind-bending. I’d think that Ty Long, he of the practice-squad signing following Mann’s Week 1 shank (an unfortunate precursor of things to come), would be less of a shank expert than Mann.
Meanwhile, Berrios is somehow a Pro Bowl alternate while having brought negative value at every position he plays. He is 106th of 108 receivers in yards per route run, he barely returns kicks past the 25, he has botched multiple fair catches that resulted in a Jets drive starting inside their own 5, and he’s dropped critical throws in the red zone. He’s not even getting any yardage on gadget plays. Besides two or three nice jet sweeps against the Dolphins, Packers, and Broncos, virtually every play Berrios has been involved in has been a disaster for the Jets.
I don’t think this is an effort issue, though. I believe it’s just who Berrios is: a drifting former seventh-round pick. Jets fans deluded themselves into thinking he could be something more after his All-Pro selection and late-season receiving spark last year following numerous receiver injuries. However, the reality is that Berrios’s career drop rate is well worse than average for WRs, and his yards per route run number has never been good. Furthermore, the idea that he separates well in the short range is a myth, as we’ve seen many contested throws his way in recent weeks.
These two players should be off the Jets’ roster the minute the offseason begins, but it’s due to lack of talent, not effort.
Is the criticism fair?
You need to watch an NFL player consistently to get an idea of their effort level. Looking at numbers won’t give much of an answer, no matter how good or bad the player is. Chris Streveler clearly gave 110% against the Jaguars, and I wouldn’t say that Zach Wilson’s issue is a lack of effort.
However, when a pattern begins to emerge, I believe that it’s fair to at least ask the questions. Albert Haynesworth was the clearest case of a free agent mailing it in that the league has ever seen. Other cases may be less clear-cut, but the preponderance of evidence tends to brew or put to rest suspicions of lack of effort.
For the New York Jets, Robert Saleh has an “all gas, no brake” mentality for a reason. It’s January football. Two wins and likely in. Time to turn on the juice.