We’ve made it to Friday ahead of Week 13’s matchup against the hapless, winless New York Jets and the Las Vegas Raiders. I was able to speak with our friends over at Gang Green Nation and ask some burning questions that I thought were important to look out for in this matchup.
Thanks again to MacGregor Wells over at GGN for the time — and here’s hoping this one doesn’t go south for the Raiders.
To the questions!
S&BP: It’s not been pretty this year for the Jets, we know that just from the record of 0-11, but which players have stood out on each side of the ball this season for their solid play?
GGN: The list is pretty short. On offense rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton has been great for a rookie. I believe he’s currently one of the leading candidates for starting for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, and while he’s probably not THAT good quite yet, he has elite tools and has adjusted well to the NFL. It’s not difficult to envision Becton becoming a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle in this league. Rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims was sidelined the first six games of the year with injuries, but in the five games he’s played he has been the best Jets receiver, and he looks like he has the tools to become a Pro Bowl receiver in the future. Mims has size, speed, hands and the ability to consistently win 50/50 balls. Jets fans are excited about what he can become. Jets slot receiver Jamison Crowder doesn’t have the upside of Mims, but he has been solid, a better than average slot receiver. That pretty much is it for the offense.
On defense Quinnen Williams has emerged as a force on the interior line after a disappointing rookie year in 2019. Williams has been outstanding both against the run and rushing the passer. His linemate Folorunso Fatukasi is one of the best in the game as a run stuffer, but he provides nothing as a pass rusher. Rookie cornerback Bryce Hall missed the first eight games of the season with an ankle injury. In the three games he’s played Hall has looked solid at cornerback, unlike the rest of the Jets’ awful corners. Free safety Marcus Maye is an above average free safety, and has done his usual solid work as the last line of defense for the Jets. Lastly, rookie safety Ashtyn Davis has been good against the run, but suspect against the pass. Jets fans hope he can develop into a solid NFL starter.
S&BP: This is a side question, as in it’s aside from this game, and it is more about the Jets in general: Is it really Tank for Trevor happening up there, or is the team really as ‘bad’ as their record indicates?
GGN: I think tanking is generally something fans talk about and root for but NFL teams never really do. For players and coaches, this is their livelihood, and it can be taken away at any time. If you don’t perform, you will be replaced, and there is no guarantee any other team will give you another chance. No player or coach is going to try to lose or deliberately play poorly; their livelihood and their families’ fortunes are at stake every game, every play. Jets head coach Adam Gase’s job is hanging by a thread; he’s not going to deliberately lose, knowing he may never get another coaching job in the NFL after such a disastrous season. Every player on the team is auditioning for their jobs in 2021, if not with the Jets, then with some other team. There is no chance they are deliberately playing poorly; that could cost them their future in the league. Perhaps a genuine superstar can get away with something like that, to try to force his way out of town, knowing there will be a market waiting for them. For any other player, tanking is career suicide. Since the Jets don’t currently have any superstars on their roster, we can assume with certainty nobody is tanking.
The upshot of all this is, yes the Jets really are this bad. 10+ years of drafting worse than any other team in the NFL, plus the worst head coach in the NFL, will tend to do that to a team. Jets fans’ hopes at this point are pinned to new general manager Joe Douglas. His first draft looks better than anything Jets fans have seen in a long time, so perhaps there is hope for the not too distant future.
S&BP: The last three games have seemingly been some of the best football for the Jets this year, what do you attribute these last three performances to the most?
GGN: Well, it’s really more the two games prior to last week’s game against the Dolphins. Last week, the Jets reverted to their terrible selves, scoring just three points. You can’t win in the NFL scoring three points. The two prior games were actually very competitive, as the Jets offense looked decent for the first time all year. Joe Flacco was in at quarterback, replacing an injured Sam Darnold, and that made a difference. Flacco was simply better than Darnold has been at any time this year. The biggest difference was the Jets scored touchdowns when they got opportunities in enemy territory, instead of kicking field goals or going scoreless, as they almost always do with Darnold. Flacco pushed the ball downfield, instead of Darnold’s dink-and-dunk-and-scramble offense, which never went anywhere. Flacco was also better, timelier, and more decisive with his reads, making the Jets offense look competent for a change. He also had the benefit of the Jets top three receivers all playing together, something that had not happened all year. That helped. Flacco was far from an elite quarterback out there, but he was noticeably better than Darnold, who has been atrocious all year. The other major difference was the Jets were facing much easier opponents in the Chargers and the Patriots (feels weird to say the Patriots are an easy opponent, but in 2020, they are). That was also a big factor in why the Jets were competitive for a couple of games. With Darnold back in the lineup, and no easy opponents until the Patriots in the last game of the season, I expect the Jets to revert to being outclassed every game going forward.
S&BP: We’ve witnessed Quinnen Williams finally seem to make that leap in his professional development that got him drafted so high, what’s been the most impressive feat from his 2020 season so far?
GGN: Williams was drafted No. 3 overall as an interior lineman because he had superior strength and quickness, allowing him to penetrate and routinely make plays behind the line of scrimmage in college. That penetrating ability was almost completely absent his rookie year in 2019. In 2020, Williams trained hard to transform his body coming into the season, and the results have been superb. Williams is now doing in the NFL the things he did in college, routinely making plays in the backfield and being extremely disruptive on most plays. He now has five sacks on the year, and a ton of pressures. Interior defensive linemen that can’t consistently penetrate are a dime a dozen in the NFL. It’s the guys who consistently penetrate that are difference-makers. Williams is penetrating and that has him being talked about as one of the elite interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
S&BP: Speaking of high draft picks in the trenches, is Mekhi Becton as immovable as he was in college so far in his rookie season?
GGN: Becton has been great for a rookie left tackle. It’s a position many rookies struggle at, even the highest of draft picks. Becton has looked comfortable from Day 1. He’s playing at a high level, throwing NFL defensive linemen around like rag dolls at times, and Jets fans are hopeful he can become an elite left tackle in this league for the next decade. He’s not quite there yet, but he’s close.
BONUS: Who wins it?
GGN: I don’t know how anybody with a modicum of objectivity can ever pick the 2020 Jets against any halfway decent NFL team. There are a few teams at the bottom of the league the Jets can be competitive with, but the Raiders aren’t one of them. Of course any given Sunday and all that, but the only way to bet is a Raiders win. A Jets win here would be a huge upset.