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Huge NY Jets culprit still deserves harsh blame despite Giants win

Robert Saleh, New York Jets, New York Giants
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, New York Giants, Getty Images

The New York Jets may have won the game, but this individual deserves a boatload of criticism nevertheless

The New York Jets somehow won against their crosstown rivals, but the outcome should feel like a loss in every way.

Yes, a win is a win. Yes, the Jets often lose ugly games and then rue the consequences while also adding to the L column. Yes, the Jets had no offensive line to speak of. Yes, Zach Wilson held the ball too long and played quite poorly.

That still cannot obscure the fact that the Jets nearly lost the game for one main reason: an utter and complete lack of discipline.

And when a team lacks discipline, the blame always goes straight to the head coach.

Robert Saleh has been garnering much praise recently, especially after the Jets upset the Eagles. Deservedly so: beating an undefeated team without two of the best corners in football is a phenomenal feat.

Still, as good as that win was, this loss was nearly as bad — perhaps worse, if you look at it from the coach’s perspective.

The Jets were called for five personal foul penalties in the game. Five! If not for those flags, the Giants would not have scored their lone touchdown. The Giants’ offense couldn’t do anything with Tommy DeVito out there, but the Jets let them march down for a touchdown, buoyed by multiple chunk penalties.

Not a new problem

This issue goes back to the 2022 preseason, when Quincy Williams hit Jalen Hurts out of bounds for an unnecessary roughness penalty. Did Saleh do anything with Williams? Give him a talking-to on the sideline, bench him for a few snaps, make any sort of example? No. The linebacker went right back to the defensive formation.

Throughout the 2022 season, the Jets were called for terrible penalty after terrible penalty that cost them (or nearly cost them) games. Carl Lawson‘s roughing the passer penalty against Pittsburgh extending the first half, John Franklin-Myers‘ two-step slam of Mac Jones (yes, that was a flag), and C.J. Mosley‘s inexplicable jump offsides on fourth down against the Bills are just some examples. Each time, Saleh said it was inexcusable, yet it kept happening.

This year, we’ve seen more of the same. Sauce Gardner and Franklin-Myers have been victimized by terrible penalty calls against them, but there have been just as many ridiculous plays by Jets. Here are some examples from prior to this game.

  • Jermaine Johnson had an unnecessary roughness call for some after-whistle scuffling in the Chiefs game.
  • Quinnen Williams has multiple terrible roughing-the-passer penalties, including an absolutely unnecessary and asinine one against Jalen Hurts.
  • Quincy Williams had a bad unnecessary roughness call against Denver.
  • Allen Lazard‘s crackback block against Philadelphia may not have seemed major, but it was a clear flag by the letter of the law and should not happen to a veteran receiver. All he had to do was get in the way, a la legal pick plays.

Giants game

The penalties that the Jets took against the Giants should have led to a defeat. Here were the worst ones.

7-3 NYJ, 0:32 Q1, NYG 24, 2nd & 11

In baseball, a big part of winning is keeping the other team off the scoreboard in the half-inning after your team scores. In a sense, that’s what “completes” the score.

Much the same way, in football, it’s critical to hold the opponent’s offense off the scoreboard after a team’s offense scored. After pass to Darius Slayton for a one-yard loss and a Saquon Barkley six-yard run, the Giants should have been set up with third-and-five from their own 30. They were dominating the line of scrimmage at that point in the game, making it a favorable situation for their defense.

Instead, Quincy Williams’ 15-yard unnecessary roughness call gave the Giants first-and-10 from their own 45. It was an after-the-whistle hit, clearly visible even on TV, and a sign of a complete lack of discipline.

The Giants didn’t score on the drive, as Graham Gano missed a 47-yard field goal. Still, the Giants shouldn’t have been able to get into that position. It all started with a dumb flag.

7-3 NYJ, 4:20 Q2, NYJ 41, 3rd & 4

Zach Wilson was sacked on this play for a loss of six yards. The Jets were set to punt the ball from their own 35. Thomas Morstead had been doing an excellent job of pinning the Giants deep in their own territory, and he would have had another opportunity to do so.

The problem: Mekhi Becton shoved Kayvon Thibodeaux, drawing a 15-yard unnecessary roughness flag. That pushed the punt back to the 20. Punting for distance is not Morstead’s strongest point, and his punt sailed only 40 yards. The Giants were called for their own unnecessary roughness on the punt, moving it back 15 yards. This still could have been a very costly play.

7-3 NYJ, 13:14 Q3, NYJ 35, 2nd & 10

The Giants came out of the first half with Tommy DeVito under center after Tyrod Taylor’s rib injury kept him out of the game. They were clearly planning on running the football, as they did on the first three plays of the drive, gaining 34 yards on one Saquon Barkley run.

Still, the Giants had a second-and-10 play from the Jets’ 35 with the defense looking to contain the damage to a field goal. Tommy DeVito threw a short incompletion, but Quincy Williams came in with a helmet-to-helmet hit, which drew another 15-yard penalty.

That was not the last bad penalty on the drive.

7-3 NYJ, 10:06 Q3, NYJ 10, 3rd & goal

DeVito ran up the middle for no gain, which would have limited the Giants to a field goal. However, Jermaine Johnson foolishly came in with a hard hit on a pile that was already stuffed. He was called for unnecessary roughness, giving the Giants a first down. It may have been a soft penalty call, but it was still a bad decision by Johnson.

The Giants promptly cashed in with a touchdown on that drive.

10-7 NYG, 7:21 Q4, NYG 8, 4th & 5

The Giants were getting ready to punt from their own end zone with the game clock ticking down. Despite punter Jamie Gillan’s big leg, the Jets had an opportunity to take over with excellent field position. Micheal Clemons jumped before the snap, though, giving the Giants a first down and allowing them to run down the clock. In fact, they milked 4½ additional minutes before giving the Jets the ball at their own 25.

It’s easy to say that this is not on the coach, but it has to be. Situationally, as much as blocking the punt was a worthwhile endeavor, the priority needed to be not jumping. Clemons should have known the consequences of jumping.

Players’ coach — to an extreme

At some point, the question of whether Saleh is too much of a players’ coach arises. Aside from his infamous ream-out of the offensive line on Hard Knocks, there is little evidence that he holds his players accountable for their back-breaking decisions.

It’s one thing for a coach to defend his players to the extreme in front of the media. In many ways, that’s what a head coach should do, even if it sounds ridiculous (see: Saleh’s Dalvin Cook comments).

It’s a whole different ballgame to pander to the players. Their mistakes matter. Maybe a benching won’t work in today’s NFL environment or will simply be counterproductive, but Saleh needs to do better in disciplining his team.

A team decimated by injuries cannot afford to beat themselves. That is nearly what the Jets did against the Giants. Wilson criticisms aside, lay the blame for this near-disaster first and foremost at the feet of the head coach.

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Peter Buell
7 months ago

I’ve been yapping about this on every thread the past 2 years and from your above comments us goes back to his year 1.
It’s just so damn frustrating. The all gas no brake theme seems to be taken literally.
I get emotion but so many are just downright stupid or thier heads are in the clouds
How can you line up offsides right next to the ball?
Supposedly knowing how the game is played today how can you jump on two teammates and an opponent and expect no penalty.
I’ve coached High School kids who had more discipline than Saleh’s Jets.
It’s enough to make you change the channel which I did for a half hour coming back 12 minutes left in the 4th.
First time ever in a close game..if that’s what you call what they played yesterday.

mlesko73
mlesko73
7 months ago

I guess I fall somewhere in the middle on this issue. Yes, the coach can’t make the plays, it’s up to the players to do so. At the same time, I’ve seen footage of Belicheat going into fine detail w his players about situational football. For example, he tells his OLine that when they’re backed up inside their own 5 yd line, a little yip to get the D Line to jump is acceptable because even if they get caught it’s a “half the distance” penalty which amounts to next to nothing given the field position.
Clemons has got to be told that an off-sides penalty in that situation is an absolute “no-no”; don’t even plan on rushing. Similarly, someone needs to be in Zach’s ear saying “we cannot have a sack here, throw a pick before taking a sack on fourth down”.
This league (and world) is no longer about disciplining a poor/stupid play. On the other hand, I have to believe that in film review a player who made a mistake like Becton, JJ, and Clemons has to be called to task and embarrassed to the point of it causing a change in behavior. I would suggest that the team be asked to vote for its own financial punishment for post-whistle penalties ($10k or more) and use the money for a charity. That way there is buy-in and it’s not viewed as heavy-handed.
I do think that Saleh needs to do more.

Last edited 7 months ago by mlesko73
Peter Buell
7 months ago
Reply to  mlesko73

If that worked (film room.embarrassment) it wouldn’t keep happening. But it does.
After JJs penalty it seemed like a light finally went on in Saleh’s head.
After the win he wasn’t smiling or jumping on the players. He looked beyond pissed.
He has potential…let’s hope he moves more to the middle over 100% players coach

DFargas
DFargas
7 months ago

I don’t understand all the pushback here against Riva’s points. Without knowing what happens in the locker room, if you look at what Saleh says about his coaching philosophy–all gas, no brakes, play with violence, etc.–you can see, reading between the lines, that he prioritizes passion and energy over discipline. In pro football, it’s never one thing or the other, it’s always a question of balance because it’s an inherently violent game that also has rules, some of which are kind of ridiculous. It appears to me that Saleh has made his choice of what kind of mistakes to live with. But, contrary to some of the commentators here, I think he might agree with this column! I saw him grimacing if not wincing on the sideline after some of those penalty calls. The question is whether that pain he experienced will lead him to change his ways or whether he will stick with his philosophy no matter how risky and painful? Maybe losing that game might have been better for him and the club.

Jets71
Jets71
7 months ago
Reply to  DFargas

The push back is about who’s responsible. I agree there is a line, all teams have to deal with that line between all out effort, and over zealous play. The idea that the players are not responsible for their actions and the blame is on Saleh is why the push back. I agree he was disgusted with the mistakes but I’m pretty sure (you’re right I’m not in the room) he isn’t teaching them to be dumb. They aren’t teaching Clemmons to jump offisdes, they aren’t teaching JJ to be stupid and pile on. Listened to Ben’s and Nania’s podcast last night they said basically the same thing: coaches get way too much blame for penalties like that, it’s on the players. Player coach doesn’t automatically equal lack of discipline.

verge tibbs
7 months ago
Reply to  DFargas

My pushback is that under Saleh the Jets have been penalized at a less than average rate, so its not a recurring theme here.. we all know there have been game swinging penalties but usually those have been shit calls by the refs. Imo, of course. So i just dont think penalties have been such a negative under Saleh that he would need to spend any time harping on it or that writers should question his entire philosophy based on it. It obviously is a system that works, yesterday was an anomaly with the flags. Theres other negatives of his scheme, like how it needs star players to work at all, so youre an injury away from being a bottom feeder. Nothing wrong with the article being posted, im just not a fan of the viewpoint.

Jets71
Jets71
7 months ago

Absolutely not on Saleh, You don’t like the guy so you’re always looking for ways to hammer him. This was 100% on players playing stupid and it’s on them. I’m not bailing them out by saying it’s because Saleh has no discipline. ABSOTLUTLY NOT! They are NOT coached to act that way. No way, no how. Players have to execute period. The coach can’t make the plays for them. They need to be accountable for how they play. You want to criticize some of the play calling? Go ahead, you want to question in game decisions? Fine, there are two sides to every story, this is just looking for a reason to blame him.

They are NOT coached to play that way. I’m tired of baling out players when they act stupid. And before we get the, cut guys etc. comments, let’s be real. NONE of us have any idea what goes on behind those doors, ASSUMING he’s “too much of a players” coach is all guess work.

I’m 100% confident he didn’t say to them after the game “hey guys we won so don’t worry about the dumb stuff.”

verge tibbs
7 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

100% agree

Peter Buell
7 months ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

Well to all 3.above me if Saleh wants to stop the stupid and not paying attention penalties the answer is a seat on the bench.
JJ sat two plays and I think it was JJ who DeVito walked past into the end zone as soon as he returned.
Sit someone a quarter.

verge tibbs
7 months ago

According to this site, since 2022 the jets are the 20th most penalized, or 12th least…
https://www.statmuse.com/nfl/ask/nfl-most-penalties-team-2022-to-2023

Psi
Psi
7 months ago

While the general theme of your article may be directionally accurate, I’m not sure I agree that the team and by extension Saleh’s coaching results lack discipline. I do think Saleh’s comment about the line between violence and penalties is warranted here. Johnson and Clemons are clearly violent players but not reckless. I do think JFM is at times undisciplined…that’s been shown over multiple years. I think the penalties are a bit of downside risk of the type of D Saleh’s has instilled. BTW, I do not think Zack played poorly today. Without the benefit of the all-22, it seems his receivers were the ones playing poorly combined with good coverage by the Giants. Zach’s missed pass to Hall was definitely a result of a slip in his grip. I thought so in real time and was confirmed when Zach reflexively looked at his hand after the pass. The OLine wasn’t particularly helpful, but in a decent sign improved as the day went on. Lastly, I like your writing as I do most writers here, but you seem to have a generally negative take on balance.

Jets71
Jets71
7 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

If guys aren’t open he either needs to wait for them or throw it away, then you’d be complaining about his completion percentage. They did NOTHING to help Zach today. NOTHING. I’m tired of this narrative that he can’t make a mistake. THEY ALL MAKE MISTAKES!

Peter Buell
7 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

What offensive line? 😉

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