Life is good right now for New York Jets fans, as their team went to Detroit for the opening Monday Night Football doubleheader and administered a 48-17 beatdown of the Lions. The Jets did everything well and got a nice showing from highly touted rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the third pick in the draft out of USC. Can this be the Jets’ team that makes the playoffs for the first time since 2010? And if there’s any kind of slippage up in Foxboro, can they become the heir to the throne in the AFC East?
In spite of the solid game from Darnold on Monday Night and a big performance from the running game duo of Isiah Crowell and Bilai Powell, I still have my doubts. The Jets’ non-descript offensive line didn’t grade out well, even in victory, from the film mavens at Pro Football Focus.
That makes it unlikely that Crowell and Powell can run like they did on Monday. The most notable offseason addition to the front five was center Spencer Long, who never established himself in D.C. When signing the Redskins’ leftovers is the biggest “upgrade” there’s no reason to expect things to get any better.
I’ll also cop to having my doubts about Darnold. Or, more accurately, that I haven’t had any doubts that he was overrated in college, left USC too early (after two years) and was picked way too high. I”ll grant Darnold’s backers this—any success he has out of the gate is purely about him, whereas rookie shortcomings can be attributed to the lack of a quality supporting cast. But for the purposes of evaluating this season, that still adds up to the offense being a big question mark.
Head coach Todd Bowles made his reputation as a defensive coordinator in Arizona and in his first year with the Jets, back in 2015, produced the ninth-rated defense in the league. The Jets won ten games that year and nearly made the playoffs. The decline in defensive production the last two years has tracked precisely with the fall from relevance. Which means the hopes for postseason contention this year again depend on the defense.
That makes another USC product perhaps the most important indicator of Jets’ success in 2018. Defensive end Leonard Williams was another high draft choice four years ago. The early returns were good and Williams made a Pro Bowl in 2016. But he fell off badly last year and simply must return to form if this defense is going to be a Top 10 unit.
Another key player is Morris Claiborne at corner, a hyped draft pick himself back in 2012 when he went to the Cowboys. Claiborne never got it done in Dallas, the Cowboys cut their losses and the corner came to the Jets last year. He’s only 27-years-old and has the physical tools to be an excellent defensive back. Now would be the time for him to become one of those late bloomers that are so common in a league where impatience reigns supreme.
Overreaction is another thing that reigns supreme in the NFL. When you break down the Jets’ personnel, it’s clear that reaction to Week 1 should be contained. I don’t see this team as anywhere close to a playoff contender and it’s going to take a good month of football, and some consistent performances from the key defensive players to change that view.