Home | Articles | Column | Browns’ success exposes flaws in NY Jets’ mindset

Browns’ success exposes flaws in NY Jets’ mindset

NY Jets, Browns, Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, HC, GM
Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, Kevin Stefanski, Andrew Berry, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

On Thursday night, the New York Jets witnessed firsthand what they could’ve been with better coaching and management

The New York Jets are 6-10 with a -101 point differential and an NFL-worst total of six losses by three-plus scores. But there is no need for fans to panic: Aaron Rodgers is on the way in 2024! Simply by adding Rodgers, this Jets team will be a Super Bowl contender next season, even with the same exact coaching staff and the same exact front office.

That is essentially the message being sent to Jets fans by owner Woody Johnson through his premature declarations to retain head coach Robert Saleh, general manager Joe Douglas, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Due to the set of circumstances they were handed, Johnson and the Jets seem perfectly complacent with writing off the 2023 season as an insurmountable gauntlet sent from the depths of hell. With Rodgers missing the entire season and numerous injuries to the offensive line, surely there was no way this Jets team should have been expected to be remotely competitive, right?

Wrong. And the Jets don’t have to look far if they want clear-cut evidence that proves their acceptance of mediocrity is inexcusable. All they have to do is look across the line of scrimmage at the team that walloped them on national television last night.

The 2023 Cleveland Browns have been handed a very similar set of circumstances to this Jets team:

  • Elite defense (Both teams ranked top-3 in defensive DVOA)
  • Injury to expensive starting QB leads to QB carousel (4 starting QBs apiece)
  • Plethora of injuries to offensive line (Browns lost both starting tackles for the year, and their best backup tackle)
  • Early season-ending loss of a key offensive weapon (Browns lost Nick Chubb in Week 2 – Jets lost Corey Davis before season began)
  • Offense still has a solid group of weapons to raise offensive floor despite QB/OL injuries (Cooper, Moore, Njoku, Hunt in Cleveland – Wilson, Hall, Conklin in New York)

Yet, one of these teams has 11 wins and is headed to the playoffs while the other has six wins and is looking at another top-10 draft pick.

Wait a minute… how is that possible!? You’re not supposed to win games when some of your starting offensive players get hurt! That’s not allowed!

Or at least, that’s what the Jets’ leadership seems to think.

Newsflash, Jets: this is the National Football League, where teams overcome insurmountable odds to find success every single year. That’s the nature of this sport. This isn’t the NBA, where one superstar can single-handedly carry a team to success or sink them to the basement if he gets hurt.

This is football – a fluky, small-sample, high-variance sport with a misshapen ball and 22 players on the field. Any team can win on any given Sunday, and any team can scratch out a winning record in any given 17-game sample.

But in the Jets’ eyes, this is the NBA. Aaron Rodgers is to them what LeBron James was to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rodgers goes down and we’re doomed! Everyone is off the hook for what happens when LeBron, erm, Aaron, is not in uniform.

However, as the Browns have proven this year (ironically a team that hails from the same city as the star-carried Cavs), it does not have to be that way in the NFL. With good coaching and quality scouting from the front office, you can overcome anything in this league.

Winning five more games with a similarly tremendous defense, similar injury woes at offensive line and quarterback, and similar skill-position talent on offense, it’s obvious that the Browns’ coaching and front-office management are the sole factors that set them apart from the Jets this year. The coaching staff led by Kevin Stefanski and the front office spearheaded by Andrew Berry have wiped the floor with Saleh and Douglas’ units, leading to far better maximization of a very similar situation.

And there’s one specific position group that emphasizes why the Browns’ brass is vastly superior to the Jets’ brass: the offensive line.

Superior coaching and superior talent acquisition at OL is the biggest separator between one elite defensive team that has 11 wins and another that has six. If the Jets’ coaching and talent acquisition at OL was equally proficient as Cleveland’s, I guarantee you New York would be in a wild card spot right now, even without Rodgers.

Joe Flacco’s strong play in recent weeks has taken the league by storm. But this is the same Joe Flacco who struggled mightily for the Jets last season, throwing for a hideous 5.5 yards per attempt (even worse than the Jets’ 32nd-ranked team average of 5.7 in 2023). It’s the same Joe Flacco who didn’t receive any calls from interested teams until December despite a historically bad year for quarterback injuries.

So, how has this ancient version of Flacco been able to thrive in Cleveland after looking so washed-up with the Jets?

Do the math. What does this Browns team have that last year’s Jets team did not?

That’s right, a competent offensive line.

But this Browns team isn’t supposed to have a competent offensive line after what it’s been through on the injury front. They have dealt with a similarly nightmarish onslaught as the Jets. Yet, because of good coaching and good talent acquisition, they have managed to weather the storm and remain competent up front.

Against the Jets’ elite pass rush on Thursday night, Joe Flacco was hit just one time across 30 dropbacks. Overall, Flacco has been pressured on 31.5% of his dropbacks this season, which ranks as the fourth-lowest rate among 33 qualified quarterbacks since Week 13.

On the year, Cleveland’s offensive line ranks 18th in pass-blocking efficiency, per PFF. The Browns have managed to generate middle-of-the-pack offensive line play despite losing its top three tackles in Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills, and Dawand Jones. And when you have a dominant defense with good weapons on offense, middle-of-the-pack offensive line play is all you need to give your quarterback a fighting chance to do what must be done for victory.

The Jets haven’t even come close to reaching the modest bar of middle-the-pack offensive line play. That falls on the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s dive into a few reasons why the Browns’ offensive line has been able to survive this season and the Jets’ offensive line has not – highlighting the difference in quality between these teams’ leaders.

1. Getting bang for your buck from the biggest investments

While injuries have ravaged both units, they both possess a couple of premium-investment starters who have stayed healthy for most of the year. For Cleveland, it’s guards Wyatt Teller (16 starts) and Joel Bitonio (15), and for New York, it’s tackle Mekhi Becton (15) and guard Laken Tomlinson (16).

Teller and Bitonio are each multi-time Pro Bowlers who received lucrative deals from the Browns to stick around for the long haul. Teller’s contract averages $14.2 million per year while Bitonio’s contract averages $16 million per year. While general manager Andrew Berry did not initially bring Teller or Bitonio to Cleveland, he was behind both players’ contract extensions with the team.

These two stars are giving the Browns what they paid for. Statistically, they both rank among the best players at their respective positions. Thanks to their strong play, the Browns have had two rocks to lean on while the door revolves at tackle. This significantly raises the overall floor of the unit, even if the ceiling is limited due to the losses of Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills at tackle.

This is not what has happened in New York.

Becton, a 2020 first-round pick, has not come remotely close to living up to his premium draft status. A plethora of injuries have taken their toll on him, and Becton is now arguably the most destructive offensive lineman in the league. Among all linemen, Becton has allowed the most sacks (12) and third-most total pressures (50) while committing the second-most penalties (16).

Tomlinson was signed by the Jets in 2022 to a deal that pays him $13.3 million per year, right in the ballpark of Teller and Bitonio. While Teller and Bitonio have given the Browns top-notch production, Tomlinson is one of the worst guards in the NFL. He leads all guards with 50 total pressures allowed. Teller and Bitonio have allowed 59 total pressures combined.

It all starts here. Cleveland’s premium assets on the offensive line have been wisely spent. New York’s premium assets have gone into players who are just as poor as the backups playing beside them.

This one falls on the front office. There is only so much the coaches can do to affect the performance of a highly talented player who was acquired via either a high draft pick or an expensive contract. It’s on the front office to correctly identify which players are worth those assets. Cleveland has nailed this, New York has not.

2. Building strong depth by developing young talent

Not only has Cleveland done a better job of building the core of its offensive line, but the Browns’ backups are immensely better, too.

Rookie fourth-round pick Dawand Jones started nine games at right tackle this season in place of Jack Conklin. Jones went down with a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, but when he was on the field, he provided production that the Jets could only dream of getting from a backup lineman, let alone a rookie who was drafted on Day 3.

Jones allowed 21 total pressures on 419 pass-blocking snaps this season. His allowed pressure rate of 5.0% ranks 22nd-best out of 79 qualified tackles (73rd percentile). The Jets do not have a single qualified offensive lineman who is even league-average at his position in this category – forget about going as high as the 73rd percentile.

Starting center Ethan Pocic has been in and out of the lineup this season, missing 188 offensive snaps. When Pocic has sat out, the Browns have enjoyed steady play from backup center Nick Harris.

Among 44 centers to play at least 100 offensive snaps this season, Harris ranks seventh-best with a 2.4% allowed pressure rate, yielding three pressures (including no sacks or hits) on 137 pass-blocking snaps. Pocic is 14th out of 44 at 2.9%, so the Browns have gotten above-average pass protection at center regardless of who is on the field.

Where is this type of security in New York?

Ever since Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas arrived, the Jets’ offensive line has crumbled anytime a backup has been called onto the field. The Jets haven’t had a single backup in the Saleh/Douglas era who came anywhere close to replicating what Jones and Harris have done for Cleveland this year.

While the lackluster performance of the stars is a problem that likely falls more on the front office than the coaching staff, I would argue the lack of depth is a problem that falls on both the coaching staff and the front office.

The front office deserves blame for not doing a better job of locating gems who can provide adequate depth, but the coaches also deserve blame for not coaching up the reserves to be better prepared. It seems as if every Jets backup who takes the field looks completely lost in regards to knowing their assignments.

On top of that, the Jets’ coaching staff has not done a good job of developing young talent. Jones (2023 fourth round) and Harris (2020 fifth round) are both homegrown day-three draft picks who were drafted by Andrew Berry and developed by Kevin Stefanski’s staff. The Jets’ shots at the dartboard in this part of the draft have come up empty. Fourth-round picks Max Mitchell and Carter Warren do not look close to being adequate backups.

Again, while we should absolutely place partial blame on the front office for not identifying quality talent in the draft, it’s the coaching staff’s responsibility to take overlooked players and figure out how to mold them into quality players. The Jets’ inability to do this has spanned between two offensive line coaches: John Benton from 2021 to 2022 and Keith Carter in 2023. Neither coach has been able to unearth any gems with the Jets.

The Jets have done a terrible job of developing overlooked offensive line talent under Saleh and Douglas, and that is why their depth chart is so paper-thin every year. Meanwhile, the Browns have successfully filled out their depth chart with reliable backups, explaining why they have been significantly less affected by injuries than the Jets.

3. Coaching the unit to play soundly and cohesively

Last but certainly not least, we have an issue that certainly falls one hundred percent on coaching, and that’s… well, coaching.

If last night’s game was the first Browns game you have watched since waking from a one-year sleep, you would not know they had two backups on the field at tackle and a quarterback who joined the team less than a month ago. Flacco, the offensive line, and the entire offense appeared to be in perfect sync against an excellent Jets defense. Successful blitzes and unblocked rushers were very uncommon.

I don’t need to explain to Jets fans how out-of-sync the Jets’ offensive line has looked this year. Blown protections and free runners at the quarterback (or running back) are regular occurrences with this team.

Some might claim this difference is due to Flacco being a veteran quarterback who can effectively set protections whereas the Jets relied on the young Zach Wilson for most of the year. However, Flacco spent three years with the Jets and dealt with the same protection issues that Wilson has faced this year. Flacco’s experience did not do anything to help the Jets’ offensive line during his time there.

Simply put, the Browns’ offensive line is better coached than the Jets’. They are more cohesive and more disciplined. These things are easy to see through the eye test, but the numbers prove they are true – just in case there is any doubt we are spewing narratives without basis.

The Jets have been called for an NFL-high 31 false starts this season. The Browns have been called for about half as many, tying for the 12th-fewest false starts with 16.

Cleveland’s performance against blitzes is an indicator of its cohesiveness. If you remove plays where P.J. Walker was under center (who was extremely bad and skewed these numbers), the Browns have allowed pressure 43.7% of the time when blitzed (5+ pass rushers). That is slightly better than the NFL average of 44.5%.

Compare this to the Jets, who rank third-worst with an allowed pressure rate of 53.7% when blitzed. This exemplifies how out-of-sync the unit is.

Looking specifically at Flacco, he has been pressured on just 42.6% of his blitzed dropbacks this season. However, during his 2022 season with the Jets, Flacco took an unfathomable 62.5% pressure rate when blitzed (the Jets’ team average was 50.0%). This proves that Flacco is a beneficiary of Cleveland’s offensive line rather than the other way around.

The Jets’ offensive line coaching has been poor, spanning across Benton’s two years as the coach and Carter’s first season in 2023. Both coaches were hired by Saleh, so it ultimately falls on him.

The Browns are exposing the Jets’ delusions

Through the words of Aaron Rodgers and Woody Johnson, the faces of the Jets are attempting to spin the 2023 season into a bad break that they had no control over. Don’t buy it.

What the Jets did this season is not something that can be merely brushed aside or excused by injuries. Nothing was stopping this team from remaining competitive, respectable, and fun to watch in the wake of its unfortunate circumstances. It only failed to do so because of the failures of Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas.

For whatever reason, Jets ownership seems to think it cannot do better than the wildly uninspiring leadership it has fed to fans over the past few years, even though the Cleveland Browns screamed directly in their faces that yes, they can.

Want More Jet X?

Subscribe to become a Jet X Member to unlock every piece of Jets X-Factor content (film breakdowns, analytics, Sabo with the Jets, etc.), get audio versions of each article, receive the ability to comment within our community, and experience an ad-free platform experience.

Download the free Jet X Mobile App to get customizable notifications directly to your iOS (App Store) or Android (Google Play) device.

Sign up for Jet X Daily, our daily newsletter that's delivered to your inbox every morning at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Add Jets X-Factor to your Google News feed and/or find us on Apple News to stay updated with the New York Jets.

Follow us on X (Formerly Twitter) @jetsxfactor for all the latest New York Jets news, Facebook for even more, Instagram for some of the top NY Jets images, and YouTube for original Jets X-Factor videos.

Related Articles

About the Author

More From Author

Comments

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
4 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rich
Rich
5 months ago

You nailed it Michael. Douglas’ 5y track record building OLs, by itself, is enough to have him fired. He’s ruined every young QB in his stead and completely wasted two years of SB quality defenses and special teams units that don’t come around very often. I’m convinced these constant apologists for JD here have to be a relative, Woody, or his burner account.

Jets71
Jets71
5 months ago

I don’t think the Jets decision makers believe adding Rogers will fix everything. Yes, the Cleveland coaching staff has done a better job than the Jets’ staff, there is no debating that, however the injury situation isn’t quite the same as everybody makes it out to be. The Jets have had more injuries, I’m not sure Cleveland would have 11 wins if they had 7 different right guards, 4 centers snap the ball, 4 RT’s, then kick in the QB situation.

I’m not debating the coaching comparisons but the team’s injuries aren’t exactly the same, also do we throw out all of the other examples of teams with the same injury situation as the Jets that have also been disasters? This year’s Cleveland team is an outlier in that regard.

The fear I had with Hackett, was Saleh was risking his job on it, and it looks like that’s where it’s headed. I don’t question Saleh’s leadership as some here have, I do know he’s got to do better on the offensive side of the ball, and he’s to blame for not brining in the right support staff. I was a huge fan of bringing LaFleur so I was wrong on that one.

All of that said, they haven’t had a good OL coach since Bill Callahan left, interestingly enough, he’s coaching the Brown’s OL.

NCgreen73
NCgreen73
5 months ago

Really simple – Saleh does not provide the leadership needed. Not all their coaches are able to make players better, especially Keith Carter (Becton seems to get worse each game). The oline seems lost during defensive line stunts and it can’t always be that there are new players. Throw in their lack of in game adjusting. Saleh seems to get out coached weekly and he doesn’t seem to be getting better at it. Rodgers is not gonna fix all these problems.

Psi
Psi
5 months ago
Reply to  NCgreen73

The defense and special teams seem to have above average coaching. The offense has been a mess throughout Saleh’s tenure. Essentially, 2024 is all about what Aaron will do to fix all of it on offense. Whatever changes the coaching staff wants to implement after evaluating this year’s train-wreck will have to be “signed-off” by Aaron. I suppose that’s ok, as nothing else so far has worked.

4
0
REPLY TO THIS ARTICLE HERE:x
()
x