Lichtenstein: Jets can win now by 'manning up' - and could win later by going Philly Philly?


This column goes out to the minority of Jets fans who abhor the very notion of tanking, and will celebrate should the team garner its first victory of the season on Sunday – no matter how devastating it would be to the franchise’s future by losing out on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Don’t laugh; the Jets could actually win a game at some point and avoid the ignominy of an 0-16 season. Pro football is that random. The Raiders have a history of stubbing their toes when they fly east for an early game – see also last week’s 43-6 shellacking in Atlanta, and last season’s 34-3 loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium. A couple of tweaks and a couple of breaks, and the heads of #TankforTrevor proponents will be on the verge of exploding around 3:30pm on Sunday.

Of course, the two biggest adjustments the Jets could make to advance their odds would be to fire head coach Adam Gase and bench quarterback Sam Darnold in favor of Joe Flacco, but neither will happen in time for the start of the Raiders game.

However, while Gase is unlikely to change his spots and come out of the gate with a more aggressive game plan, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has that potential, and he should look to try to catch Las Vegas sleepwalking by amping up the pressure early.

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Jets are the league’s second-least successful team in zone coverages this season, allowing a ridiculous 73.6 percent completion percentage and 9.04 yards per pass attempt. Hard to believe that a team that generates no pass rush from its front four and relies on linebackers with the speed of Neville Hewitt to cover wide receivers across the field and tight ends deep down the middle seam would struggle so mightily in these schemes, right?

In man-to-man settings, the Jets are more of a middle-of-the-road team, with a still-high 70 percent completion percentage allowed (four teams are worse) but only 6.46 yards per pass attempt, which has them ranked them 12th in the league. Take away recently waived Pierre Desir’s 180 yards surrendered on 15 targets in man coverage, and it gets a whole lot better.

Yet, despite the numbers, New York has lined up in man-to-man coverage on about 40 percent of their pass coverage snaps this season. That ratio, though, is starting to change, with Williams dialing up more aggressive schemes in Gang Green’s last two games.

Now, it hasn’t been all that successful, with the Chargers and Dolphins each racking up the passing yards in jumping out to multiple-score leads by halftime. However, in both cases, Williams used the time in the locker room to make adjustments to the pass rush, and the bleeding eased quite a bit thereafter.

Last week, the Jets had three sacks and 15 pressures in Miami’s 20 dropbacks in the second half, where they went to man coverage on the majority of the snaps. The ancillary benefit from those pressures was the diminished stress on the three rookies in the secondary (cornerbacks Bryce Hall and Lamar Jackson and safety Ashtyn Davis), who weren’t as susceptible to big plays over their heads.

Hall in particular looks the part of a shutdown corner, even if Miami’s DeVante Parker got him for four catches and 58 yards (all good for first downs) on six targets. The Jets’ fifth round pick, who missed the first eight weeks of the season recovering from an ankle injury, should get better with more reps.

It's clear that the Jets defense has been playing this season with a “bend-but-don’t-break” mission. However, like the offense, it has often looked just as broken. Opponents have punted just 31 times this season, tied for the second fewest in the league.

If you want the Jets to win, root for Williams to man up.

Onto other matters: as the Jets wind down this debacle, speculation as to who will be their coach in 2021 will soon be at the forefront of the Jets media coverage. We know it won’t be Gase; other than that, it’s anyone’s guess, which made me wonder about another underachieving coach this season – one with a 2018 Super Bowl ring on his finger.

I’m referring of course to Doug Pederson, who might be put out along with the dumpster fire in Philadelphia following a season where everything has gone off the rails. The Eagles are 3-7-1 and only in the hunt for a fourth consecutive playoff berth because they’re laying eggs in the NFC East, where six wins (or less) might earn a division title.

Rarely has a coach seen a fall this precipitous, as it wasn’t that long ago when Pederson was in the vanguard of coaching innovation. He went for it on fourth downs, tried two-point conversions at the mathematically appropriate times, and his play-calling featured wrinkles on read-options and trick plays (i.e., ‘The Philly Special”). Unlike Gase, he REALLY was coaching where football was going.

Whereas Jets fans would sacrifice one down year to bask in such success, Eagles Nation isn’t the most stable bunch. There’s no denying that quarterback Carson Wentz is regressing before their eyes (not to the level of Darnold, of course), prone to turnovers and sacks, and their rage is further fueled by Pederson’s game management blunders and a general sense that the team doesn’t know what they’re doing on any given play.

Joe Douglas obviously knows Pederson well, as he was the Eagles’ V.P. of Player Personnel prior to signing up for the Herculean job as Jets general manager – maybe well enough to know where things went wrong (like, say, the departure of offensive coordinator Frank Reich?) after the title year.

Knowing how the Jets pick ‘em, I feel they could do worse than Pederson. Let the games begin.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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