To list all the problems that plagued the Jets last night would be futile and time-consuming. That laugh-track loss to the Patriots, which snuffed out any cautious optimism that might have flowered from last week’s promising win over the Cowboys, speaks for itself. But going forward, the overarching concern has to be about head coach Adam Gase. He was brought to Florham Park because of his alleged ability to wring as much as possible out of quarterback Sam Darnold. Last night was the clearest sign yet that Gase might ruin him instead.
As the rest of the chattering class is saying right now, the Patriots’ defense is performing historically well—and not just to the detriment of the Jets, though they’ve certainly smacked the Jets rather hard. “Well, we’d be one of seven teams that’s had trouble—I guess, six, since we played them twice,” Gase dejectedly told reporters after the game, long after most Jets fans had probably knocked back a shot of cyanide before turning in. “We didn’t pick anything up right, we screwed up some of the mike points, we didn’t honor some of the mike points, they got there a little quicker than we got rid of the ball. I mean, we just didn’t do anything right.”
Chief among those problems was Gase’s inability to scheme up anything to counter what the Patriots were doing—even when it was obvious:
A lot of those New England blitzes were of the Cover Zero variety, which is exactly what it sounds like: Each cover defender was in a one-on-one situation with no help over the top, which freed up everyone else to simply get after the quarterback. ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky explained in very simple terms why this worked so effectively, and so often. Basically, the Pats often brought more pass rushers than the Jets could block, and they did enough to disguise who was coming from where to confuse the Jets’ offensive line:
Blitzes happen, though. Teams don’t do it with such abandon because there are any number of ways for offenses to beat them, from screens to pick plays to route combinations that include checkdowns. And then there’s play action, which play-callers around the league are using more and more to get defenses to hesitate, or to get linebackers in the middle of the field to take a step or two forward. According to Pro Football Focus, nine QBs used play action on at least 35 percent of their dropbacks in Week 7. Yet Darnold, with all that pressure coming from all those extra pass rushers, used a play fake on just five of his 33 dropbacks, or 15.2 percent.
Yet even as the Patriots consistently harassed Darnold, pressuring him on a whopping 16 of his 33 dropbacks, per PFF, Darnold was consistently placed in situations that called for him to hold the ball. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Darnold’s average intended air yards was 12.5. In his two other starts this season, against the Cowboys and Bills, Darnold’s IAY were 8.6 and 5.6, respectively. This was his passing chart last night. Notice that just 10 of his 32 attempts were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Also notice that seven of them were complete, which means he was 4-for-22 on any throws beyond five yards:
A lot of this should have been easy for Gase or Darnold (or Gase’s offensive coordinator/caddy Dowell Loggains) to diagnose and adjust against. That didn’t happen. This is what Darnold was looking at just before Patriots DE John Simon strip-sacked him on the second play of the second quarter. That’s man coverage against all four receivers, with no safety in the middle:
It didn’t matter that the Pats dropped three potential blitzers into coverage; the Jets had no idea where the pressure was coming from. This was a first down, so the throw didn’t have to get to the sticks. Still, only one of Darnold’s receivers is even looking back at him by the time Simon takes him down:
On this third-and-6 situation in the third quarter, notice again that there’s no safety help as the Pats again appear to be ready to bring the house:
Again, all three pass catchers took too long to get into their routes. Darnold was a sitting spleen:
Yes, that was an ill-advised throw off his back foot, and Darnold had way too many sloppy and forced passes when he’d have been better off taking a sack. The QB should not be absolved from blame here, but Gase did him no favors by failing to give him quicker reads against so many blitzes and blitz-like looks that produced such relentless pressure.
When he coached the Dolphins, Gase could explain his lack of success on consistently having to work around an injury to his starting quarterback, even as his elusive quest to supposedly establish a better culture alienated several veteran players. Darnold has missed three games and wasn’t quite himself for a fourth, and his backup Trevor Siemian went down for the season in the first game of Darnold’s absence. Gase was thus reluctant to allow Luke Falk or David Fales to take any chances, even as inexperienced QBs like Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew, and Devlin Hodges have filled in to win games elsewhere. Now what? Gase at least appears to be focused on what’s important:
Darnold’s solid outing against Dallas eight days earlier portended a turnaround, a fulfillment of interim owner Christopher Johnson’s plan to marry a young franchise quarterback with a purported offensive innovator, just as the schedule, post-Patriots, is slated to ease up. Gase worked with late-stage Peyton Manning on the Broncos and coaxed a solid year out of Jay Cutler on the Bears in his climb up the coaching ranks. He still hasn’t revealed much in the way of creativity, and the Jets are 1-5. These next 10 games ought to tell us if Gase is the right man for the job, or just another hard-ass with a hollow résumé.