The holiday season is upon us, but there isn’t much cheer to be found across the New York football landscape. The New York Jets fell to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 31-24 in Week 15, piling on another loss in the franchise’s 11th consecutive lost season. The offense hasn’t put up more than ten points in the second half of a game since Week 10. The defense may be the worst in team history. Simply put, things can be better. Here’s how it went down on Sunday.
Zach Wilson has been the worst starting quarterback in football this season. His tendency to make the simple look complicated has stunted the offense time and time again. Thankfully, Week 15 saw the New York Jets rookie take some steps forward in this regard. He wasn’t outstanding by any means (13/23, 170 yards, 0 Passing TD, 0 INT), but the signs of progress were encouraging.
The impact of Mike White’s performance manifested itself in Wilson hitting the checkdown and short, first read much more frequently. He showcased the same instinctiveness we saw in college to avoid some sacks. Perhaps most importantly, he kept the ball out of harm’s way, outside of a lone lost fumble. The next step for Wilson is to successfully run the offense outside of scripted drives early in games.
The Running Backs
Tevin Coleman’s experience in a Mike LaFleur-like offense showed up early in the season and continued in Miami. He did get more favorable blocking than Michael Carter, but made the most of his carries. His proper vision and footwork were on display and helped him accumulate 50 yards on the ground.
Moving on, I’ve been a huge supporter of Carter during his rookie campaign. With that said, he did not play particularly well on Sunday. He found himself working horizontally for too long, failing to climb vertically before a defender brought him to the ground. He weirdly struggled to gain traction in the passing game, too.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Injuries to Corey Davis and Elijah Moore were always going to cripple this offense. Unfortunately, nobody truly stepped up to the plate at wide receiver. Jamison Crowder became the go-to option, garnering five catches on eight targets. Given the state of the depth chart and offense, he’d be the only pass-catcher to see more than three targets.
Braxton Berrios looked good in his limited touches as he fights for a 2022 roster spot. On the other hand, Denzel Mims had another gloomy day. Wilson could not connect with Mims on any of his three targets. His weaknesses as a route runner continued to get exposed. That hurdle in the path to larger responsibilities may be the one that ultimately ends his Jets tenure.
For what seems like the first time this season, I was impressed by the tight end group. Wilson completed each of his five targets to Ryan Griffin, Tyler Kroft, and Trevon Wesco. There were seized opportunities after the catch and no painstaking blunders reminiscent of past weeks. The run blocking wasn’t great, but the Jets will certainly accept that trade off the rest of the way.
The Offensive Line
It was a rough day at the office for New York Jets offensive linemen in Week 15. Conor McDermott was predictably bad in his first start of 2021. The rest of the unit wasn’t much better. Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern both had high-variance play. The right side of the line consistently struggled in both phases of the offense.
Getting your young quarterback battered and failing to open up rush lanes are not exactly the keys to winning. Against a solid Dolphins defense, it was never going to be acceptable. It’s an area that will likely be addressed heavily once again this offseason. For now, New York is just hoping bad play up front doesn’t lead to bad habits for their young players in the backfield.
The Defensive Line and Edge Rushers
We knew the New York pass rush was going to do little against Miami’s short passing game. One sack and four quarterback hits was probably all they were ever going to get. It was nice to see Bryce Huff back in action, even if it was in uneventful fashion.
Once again, their front four looked woefully outmatched. The Jets have been trampled on the ground this season, from Cordarrelle Patterson to Damien Harris and now, Duke Johnson Jr. It is certainly more than just a defensive line issue, but everyone on the interior needs to step up.
Sheldon Rankins was far and away the best lineman for the Jets on Sunday. On a line with as much talent as New York’s, it shouldn’t be necessary to highlight his performance, but here we are. It will be an interesting challenge for Douglas to improve the unit without spending significant assets.
The linebacking group coming into the year was questionable at best, and the rookies brought in to rejuvenate the unit had failed to make an impact. However, the emergence of Quincy Williams has been huge for this defense. Williams above all else is consistent, even with his faults. His motor showed up constantly across his 66 snaps. As he improves in coverage, the unit should become incredibly formidable.
Furthermore, C.J. Mosley looked decent for the New York Jets in Week 15. I thought he had a solid day in coverage, especially given the weapons Miami has over the middle of the field. Unsurprisingly, he led the team in tackles, though he played a role in the Jets’ unrelenting struggles against the run.
It is widely acknowledged that this unit has been the most pleasant surprise for New York. That was no different on Sunday, as they played like the team’s best position group. Brandin Echols headlined the unit, posting his best week in a couple of months. Headlined by a pick-six, the rookie was strong all day.
Bryce Hall was not perfect, but held his own. His strong day was likely helped by the absence of phenom Jaylen Waddle, though that shouldn’t take away from his prowess in coverage. Both he and Echols totalled three passes defended in the loss.
Michael Carter II played well on the inside, too. Of course, getting flattened by Tua Tagovailoa isn’t ideal, but the rookie had a strong day. If two of Echols, Hall, and Carter emerge as legitimate long-term starters, New York should be in a good spot. So far, that seems like a realistic possibility.
Much like the linebackers mentioned earlier, this was ultimately a mediocre day. Ashtyn Davis showed up early, catching one interception and almost hauling in another. His athleticism and playmaking skills are exciting, but his struggles with both processing and tackling are as surprising as they are bad for his future as a starter.
Elsewhere, Elijah Riley played well before his scary concussion. I don’t expect to see him back in action for 2021, but he’s more than secured his spot on the practice squad at the very least. Another depth option, Sharrod Neasman, filled in for Riley aptly. The unit was not exempt from the tackling woes that hurt the defense, but they did a fairly good job of holding up the back end.
The Special Teams Units
Outside of a bad punt by Braden Mann, the New York Jets special teams units looked pretty good in Week 15. Eddy Pineiro hit his chip shot field goal and each extra point. On the coverage side of things, the only punt return they surrendered went for five yards. Berrios continued his solid season as a return man. Nothing spectacular, but it was a very necessary step up from most of 2021.
The Jets get the privilege of taking part in a heavyweight matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16. It’ll be an opportunity for a get-right game, and a chance for Wilson to have the same late-season streak that Sam Darnold went on in his rookie season. Of course, that will be made more difficult by the coronavirus outbreak in the locker room.
If Wilson can continue to limit the turnovers and the special teams units play a clean game, there’s no reason why they cannot leave MetLife victorious on Sunday. Expect the run game to get back on track and the defense to take advantage of a bad Jaguars offense. Hopefully, New York can bring some cheer before hosting Tom Brady in Week 17.