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.
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.
— Alex Wilson (@AlexWilsonESM) October 29, 2023
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.
.@antwanstaley asked #Jets HC Robert Saleh about some of the personal foul calls (NYJ had 9 overall penalties for 85 yards in total vs #Giants), ‘it’s unacceptable’ + specifically said the Jermaine Johnson one that turned an NYG FG attempt into a TD was, ‘unacceptable’
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) October 29, 2023
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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