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NY Jets’ personnel decisions must reflect reality rather than dreams

C.J. Uzomah, NY Jets, Blocking
C.J. Uzomah, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets must face the reality of Rodgers’ absence when choosing personnel

When the New York Jets’ Week 2 inactive list came out, one name stood out as a surprise: Will McDonald. Although Carl Lawson returned to the lineup, the assumption when the team picked McDonald was that they would go with a 10-man defensive line rotation.

Meanwhile, Mecole Hardman saw no offensive snaps in Week 1 and 14 in Week 2, while Randall Cobb had 22 in Week 1 and 23 in Week 2. Robert Saleh waved away Hardman’s absence from the win over the Bills by saying that the Jets used a lot of 12 and 13 personnel once Aaron Rodgers left the game. Comparing Hardman’s snap count to Cobb’s exposes that as a lame excuse.

The Jets’ decision-makers seem to be in a state of denial in their 2023 plans. Saleh insisted after Rodgers’ Achilles tear that people should stop writing the obituary of the Jets’ season. On one hand, Nathaniel Hackett has clearly pared down his playbook with the fall-off from Rodgers to Zach Wilson. Still, there are many inconsistencies in the Jets’ personnel and decisions that need to be resolved sooner rather than later.

2023 was supposed to be an all-in year, but it no longer is. Wilson has proven in pretty much every way possible that he is not a viable NFL quarterback.

NFL first-round picks have nine lives. Wilson will always have his defenders who wear green-colored blinders (or are simply too obstinate to admit that they whiffed on his evaluation). Still, with No. 2 at the helm, the Jets are going nowhere fast. Even if their defense rebounds from a shaky Week 2 performance and plays at an elite level, today’s NFL rarely allows teams to succeed without at least average quarterback play.

Therefore, the Jets should be pivoting toward 2024 as their all-in year, at least conceptually. That does not mean giving up on 2023. It just means playing with the long game in mind rather than only one season. That’s what they did in both 2021 and 2022. It also means getting a good, hard look at the talent that will or can be on the team past 2023 rather than sticking with those who most likely won’t.

As Michael Nania discussed, the Jets should shuffle their offensive line at this point. There are several options, but Joe Tippmann must be part of the picture.

The second-round pick may not have been a Day 1 starter in front of Rodgers, but what are the chances of a serious downgrade at this point? Whether he replaces Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, or Duane Brown (assuming Alijah Vera-Tucker moves to left tackle) in the lineup, all three players have been so bad to start the season that even an early drop-off in play is worthwhile to see if the rookie can learn the ropes.

Additionally, as Michael addressed, playing C.J. Uzomah is asinine. Uzomah may be a great veteran in the locker room, but he is a major liability on the field. That was evident in 2022, and it’s been even more apparent in 2023. Uzomah is holding back the talent that the Jets have in the backfield. It is often his blown block that prevents Breece Hall or Dalvin Cook from getting loose. The Jets have a promising alternative in Jeremy Ruckert, but they’re acting as if they still must abide by Rodgers’ preference for veterans.

While Hardman is not as big of an example, even he should be getting more of a look. He has plenty of shortcomings, but the Jets need a legitimate speed threat on the field. They should be using chicanery and decoys to take some pressure off the running backs. Instead, Rodgers’ preferred option is still playing a far bigger role. While playing Cobb over Hardman may have made sense with Rodgers, it doesn’t with Wilson.

If they’re not going to play Hardman anyway, how about giving Xavier Gipson some looks in the slot? Gipson has good speed and tremendous shiftiness. He likely can also take some gadget plays and is a weapon with the ball in his hands. Why not try to develop him rather than turning to the 33-year-old Cobb?

Getting back to McDonald, the equation is obvious. The Jets reduced Lawson’s salary rather than cutting him outright because they hoped he could still contribute to a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That is almost certainly out the window in 2023.

Jermaine Johnson is not rushing the passer well so far (6.3% pass-rush win rate, 48th of 62 qualified EDGE) despite a major playing time increase (he’s played 69% of the Jets’ defensive snaps). Why not give at least some of those snaps to McDonald while still allotting Johnson a nice chunk? The rookie didn’t record any pressures in Week 1, but he won’t be facing Dion Dawkins every week.

It’s been only two games, and perhaps the Jets’ coaching staff is still figuring out how they want to play the season. Maybe their Week 1 victory gave them false hope that they could still make a legitimate playoff run in 2023. Still, they need to learn their lesson quickly and pivot toward the players who will matter the most when it matters the most.

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8 months ago

Rivka’s the best. Tells it like it is.

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago

I spent my week between Rodgers injury and the rest of the season finding optimistic ways this could still work out, only to find none of those things represented in week two’s game plan. Wow, is that disappointing.

I expected to see 21, 12 and 13 personnel for about half the game.

For example, out of 21, I expected Wilson and Hardman to run go and posts, respectively, while the Jets either ran the ball, or had Bawden stay in to block, Hall chip and release to the flat, and Conklin or Ruckert chip and drag to the weak side. This would’ve given Zach a simple pre-snap read of 2-high run, 1-high pass, and a simple post-snap read to confirm if they stay in 1-high, throw away from the safety giving Wilson or Hardman a 1:1, or if they rotate to zone, find the WILL, and throw the drag or flat accordingly.

I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but when I watched the game, I got the impression I spent more time thinking about it than Nathaniel Hackett did. I’m sure that’s not true, but just the fact that I felt that way was disheartening.

8 months ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

I am of the same mind. It seems (I know, horrible word) as though the Jets coaching staff is on an entirely different tangent than the rest of us. If you read my comment below you’ll see that I contemplated the same type of adjustments post Rodgers. And got none of them

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago

I stiffen at the way this is worded, “or are simply too obstinate to admit that they whiffed on his evaluation.” I think there is nuance between “they missed on that pick” and “he can still work out!” I would say every pick is made with a degree of projection, meaning every player is going to have to improve their game to live up to their draft position, and projection is part of the pick…so yeah, this is, by itself, accurate.

But it doesn’t explain what happened, and it might be letting the Jets off easy. There is a actually a scenario where they evaluated him exactly right, but whiffed on what actually matters. I’d love to know how they whiffed. Did they think his physical tools would carry him with bad mechanics? What made them think he could process at high speeds when he apparently never had to do that in college? Did they know about the mental fragility he’s exhibited, but thought he could overcome it?

At #2, they were going to take a quarterback. One could argue they grabbed for ceiling, because, even with all his horrific performance, of the five QBs selected, he still seems to rank #2 in arm talent. If that’s what the Jets prioritized, they didn’t actually whiff, but they made a potentially even more telling mistake, which is they don’t actually know what to look for in a QB prospect.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt Galemmo
Jim G
8 months ago

While you raise some valid questions, I believe we have to be fair to the coaching staff. The entire 2023 season plan they had put together since March went out the window on the 4th play of the season. The coaching staff had to redesign their entire season plan on the fly. Think about it: the entire plan for the season, letting Zach Wilson sit and observe for the 2023 season was obsolete four plays into the season. Shell-shocked? I’m not surprised.

What you are proposing is a foundational shift in thinking. It’s a lot to ask of a coaching staff. They need time to figure it out. As you point out, the “guys” Aaron Rodgers felt comfortable throwing to may not be the “guys” Zach Wilson feels comfortable throwing to.

Please also keep in mind that the coaches get to see the players in practice. We don’t. The coaching staff really has no choice but to experiment with player combinations to see what will work and what won’t.

8 months ago
Reply to  Jim G

I think everyone understands that the entire “Plan A’ went down the tubes after four snaps. The problem is this is not baseball, it’s a short 17-game season. The coaching staff does not get the luxury of being shell-shocked for a week.
When you watch other teams play you see innovation, adjustment, and playing to player’s strengths. We seem to be stuck in an endless loop of predictable plays to predictable players.
It may well be that Zach is the reason for playing such unimaginative football, but I don’t see us trying anything new.
With a hyper-aggressive front like Dallas what works to mitigate that agressiveness is misdirection (traps, counters), screens, wheel routes from the backs, jet sweeps, wr screens etc.
Use our speed in the form of Gipson and Hardman.
Playing Uzomah over Ruckert defies all logic. Playing a still compromised Lawson over WMcD is also foolish.
There have been articles here before about the fallacy of diminished returns; sticking w a player bc we’re paying them a great deal or bc they were a high draft pick. This is a fool’s game and we seem to be stuck in it.
Listen, Rivka and others can attest, I’m usually an optimist (to a fault), I’m a long time fan (season tix at Shea) but I think we are not making great choices, for the present or the future.

Jonathan Richter
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim G

I don’t get this whole “guys he’s comfortable throwing to” concept. There is only one player every QB should feel comfortable throwing to – the guy who’s open.