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Robert Saleh will face crucial choice when NY Jets visit San Fran

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, New York Jets, NFL, 49ers
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

Heads or tails?

In just 92 days, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh will be tasked with making a pivotal decision – one that will determine the fate of the Jets’ season. Saleh’s decision is a “sliding doors moment” that will send the Jets down one of two different timelines. While there’s no telling where either timeline leads, it’s certain that each timeline features a vastly different plot and climax for these title-hungry Jets.

The decision?

If the Jets win the coin toss at Levi’s Stadium… should they take the ball and let Aaron Rodgers immediately make a roaring statement in his return? Or should they count on their defense to set the tone?

Oh, stop your groaning. Don’t think I didn’t hear it. Do me a favor: Slide your finger down from the top of your screen and tell me what you see there. Oh, June 9? That’s what I thought. At this time of the football calendar, there’s no matter more pressing than the craziest hypothetical thought at the forefront of our minds. What else are we going to talk about right now? The Madden cover?

Being the Jets sicko that I am, it brings me no shame to admit that these are the thoughts running through my mind on a sunny weekend in early June. And if you’re reading this, I bet you’re a Jets sicko, too. So come along and join me on this ride as we discuss a decision the Jets may or may not make 2,220 hours from now.

Call me crazy, but I say the Jets should elect to receive, and here’s why.

Why the Jets should elect to receive

When I asked people for their opinions on this, most leaned toward kicking, but I think they’re overlooking some of the factors that would make it enticing to take the ball first.

Strategically, it’s widely accepted that kicking is the better option, and I agree. I want the first possession in the second half – not just to set the tone in the game’s deciding half, but also because it gives me the opportunity to have one more possession in the second half than my opponent. Great. Awesome.

But in the end, kicking to start the game is a marginal advantage at best, if it is even a proven advantage at all. That’s why, in the Jets’ situation, I would lean toward the decision that provides the best mental advantage. Which choice puts our team in the ideal mindset?

Imagine the Jets winning the coin toss on national television and electing to receive in front of 20-plus million people. It would be an incredibly bold statement by Saleh and the Jets – a proclamation of confidence that the organization has not displayed on the field in what feels like eons. Saleh would announce to the football world, “We’re not scared of our own offense anymore. We’re here to score points and you better be ready to keep up with us.”

The New York Jets have been a defense-first, play-it-safe organization for the entirety of their recent history. Over the past 20 seasons, there was only one season in which the Jets ranked higher in total offense than in total defense, and that was in 2021 when they were 26th offensively and 32nd defensively. On average over this span, they’ve ranked 12 spots higher in total defense than total offense. They have not ranked top-eight in total offense since they were fourth in 1998, yet they’ve ranked top-eight in total defense 10 times since then.

Defense can still win games, but running up the scoreboard is what wins championships in the modern NFL, and this franchise is two decades behind. It’s about time for the Jets to show everyone they aren’t scared to play new-age NFL football.

And it’s about more than proving it to the world. In fact, it really isn’t about that at all. It’s about proving it to themselves.

Take that ball on the road in the season opener against a perennial elite defense, and Saleh injects his entire team with a jolt of unwavering confidence. All 53 players would believe they are in control of the game – it’s no longer about waiting for the opponent to mess up so they can squeak by in a close game. Nah. Let’s run teams out of the building.

This is the same coach who said his team needed to win “a race to 20 points” against a mediocre Raiders defense last year. Yeah, I know that was largely due to the person under center, and Saleh would have never said that with Rodgers out there. Rodgers’ presence alone changes everything for the team’s mindset. He will make his teammates believe in a way they never could with Zach Wilson.

That’s all well and good, but to truly affirm a newfound mentality on offense, it has to start from the top – with Saleh. Look at Dan Campbell in Detroit. His faith in the offense permeates throughout the organization, creating the in-your-face identity that has transformed the Lions from a perennial laughingstock to a Super Bowl contender that wins on the strength of its offense. On paper, few thought the Lions had the infrastructure of an elite offense two years ago, but Campbell’s “screw you, we’re going for it” mentality has been the perfect recipe for unlocking the potential of his roster.

Saleh must do the same for this Jets team. He’s already taken the challenge of assuming a larger role on the offensive side of the ball. Every day in practice, he sees firsthand what this offense is capable of. And he’ll wax poetic about it in every press conference from now until September 9.

The next challenge is going out there on gamedays and showing these players how much faith he has in them. Be aggressive on fourth down. Take play-action deep shots on third-and-short. Up three with two minutes left in the fourth, throw it on third-and-6 to seal the game instead of rolling over and counting on the defense.

What better way to set the tone for all of that than electing to receive in the season opener?

The Jets might score on the opening possession. They might not. It doesn’t matter. In fact, I don’t even think Saleh has to take the ball first in any other game afterward. I simply believe the emotional value of doing it in that spot is worth it for the team’s long-term mindset.

Since 2022, the Jets have won the coin toss 17 times. They deferred 17 times.

Put yourself in the shoes of Garrett Wilson, for example. You’re standing there on the sidelines for the first game of the 2024 season – it’s Monday Night Football, you’re on the road against the defending NFC champs, Aaron Rodgers is back by your side – and over the loudspeakers, you hear the referee’s voice cascade down from above… “New York has elected to receive.” 

Wilson has never heard those words. Can you imagine the giddiness he’d feel in that moment? After two years of taking a backseat to the defense… it’s finally his time to seize control of the game.

I won’t speak for Garrett, but I know if I were No. 5 in that moment, only two words would run through my mind there…

“Let’s. Go.

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3 days ago

I have been saying for a long time now, for as good as the Jets’ defense has been the past two seasons, their ability to follow the opening kick with a “3 and out” hasn’t been good (just my opinion no stats). Yes, the D usually figures things out but after giving up a first down or two (sometimes worse) which means their opponent then punts from about the 40 yard line (things may change with the new kick off rules). That pins the Jets’ offense deep, and they didn’t have the offense to work out of that, putting them behind the sticks in the first 6 mins of the game.

I like them taking the ball. Imagine Rogers and Co. can get a couple of first downs, then punt. Now, Morestead punts and pins the opponent deep, where the Jets D can do some damage.

I know all you said about controlling the second half by getting the ball but we have been saying for the past two years, “if the Jets D can play with a lead they will be even better.” So put Rogers out there, get some points and then the D has their lead.

It can be a game by game call based on opponent and game plan. I agree, opening night…take the ball.