I still can’t believe its come to this point. The Detroit Lions were dead in the water six weeks ago. Now every game counts in their quest to do the near impossible. They’ll have a tough challenge on the road in New York on Sunday with a tough Jets defense.
This Jets team is interesting. While their defense is good and they’ve shown promise as a team, it seems like they’re a key piece away from being a perennial playoff team. Unfortunately for them, that missing piece is at quarterback.
We wanted to know more about the Jets and what to expect from them in this game, so we reached put to MacGregor Wells from Gang Green Nation to get the scoop. Here’s what he had to say:
1. The Jets seem like they’re just a quarterback away from being a perennial playoff team. Is that accurate?
“Well, I think this is more than a simple yes or no answer.
“What quarterback are we talking about here? If the quarterback is a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes … you get the drift. If we’re talking that level of quarterback, then sure, the Jets are a quarterback away from being a perennial playoff team. But that, it seems to me, can be said about all but the least talented teams in the NFL. Quarterbacks that great don’t have a lot of losing seasons. But that makes the question uninteresting. So let’s not talk about that kind of quarterback. Let’s talk about just your run of the mill above average but not great quarterback. Say, I don’t know, Kirk Cousins or Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo. If you don’t think that’s the right list of a little above average quarterbacks, let’s not get lost in the details here. You can pick your own guys that fit the bill. Quarterbacks somewhere in the 12th to 16th ish best range in the NFL. Let’s talk about those guys.
“Are the Jets one of those type of quarterbacks away from being a perennial playoff team? I think the answer is, probably not. That isn’t so much a knock on the Jets’ talent as it is on how difficult it is to be a perennial playoff team without a hall of fame type quarterback. The problem is, the slightly above average quarterback can’t be relied on to carry a team to the playoffs year after year, so the surrounding cast has to do a lot of the heavy lifting. And the surrounding cast is just such a revolving door on every NFL team from year to year. Guys get injured on every team every year. If they’re the best guys on the team very few NFL teams without an elite quarterback can overcome that, and the team has a down year. The salary cap basically makes it impossible to keep all your star players for very long. If you have a talented team you have constant attrition on the roster as guys get too expensive to keep everyone. If you have a good general manager you replace the guys you lose with shrewd draft picks or free agents or trades, but even the best general managers are nowhere close to perfect with these decisions. So you end up having a couple of poor drafts or some free agent busts and suddenly your team is not nearly as deep or as good as it used to be. Players grow old and decline. Players get disgruntled and ask to leave. Players get in trouble and get suspended. Players fail to develop and regress. So many things are largely out of your control on a constantly changing roster. Virtually every team in the NFL will have so much turnover on the roster that in four years the team will be barely recognizable from what it was four years prior. That’s a long way to say, I’m not sure any team in the NFL that doesn’t have a hall of fame type quarterback is set up to be a perennial playoff team. The Ravens have been able to stay at that level for a long time, most of the time without a stud quarterback. I’m not sure we have too many other examples of a team managing it.
“So, am I excited about some of the young talent on the Jets? Yep, I sure am. Is the Jets’ talent currently a quarterback away from being capable of a deep run in the playoffs? I think it is, largely because the Jets have a really good defense that is capable of keeping them in any game. Add in a quality quarterback with some of the Jets’ pieces on offense and I think this Jets team would be formidable. But without the quarterback I think it is just too dang difficult to be a perennial playoff team. Basically every other part of the roster has to be operating at a high level every year. The Jets aren’t there yet, but I think very few teams ever are. Specifically for the Jets, the offensive line needs some work, they need a better tight end, they could use another wide receiver, they’re going to need at least one new safety and linebacker next year. It’s a work in progress. It’s fun to see the progress after an atrocious decade plus of Jets football and I’m excited to see what comes next, but like almost every other team, we still need the right quarterback to make this a long term thing, and I’m not too confident that quarterback is currently on the Jets’ roster.”
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this team?
“On offense there aren’t a lot of great strengths right now. The quarterback position is a problem. Starter Zach Wilson has been benched for ineffective play and backup Mike White is now the starter. White has been OK, but nothing special. I’m not too confident he’ll ever be anything more than adequate. The offensive line has been devastated by injuries, playing backups and backups to backups. The running backs were a strength earlier in the year, when Breece Hall was looking like an early frontrunner for offensive rookie of the year. But Hall is out for the year with an ACL tear. Recently rookie undrafted free agent Zonovan Knight has looked quite good replacing Hall, so that’s an unexpected boost on offense. The less we say about the Jets’ tight ends, the better. The receivers when healthy are a strength of this team. Rookie Garrett Wilson is contending for offensive rookie of the year and he is almost certain to surpass 1000 yards on the season, with an outside chance of doing it as early as this coming Sunday against the Lions. Wilson looks like he can become a legit #1 receiver in this league, something the Jets have for the most part lacked for decades. Corey Davis is a fine #2 when healthy, but he has had trouble staying healthy and may miss the game against the Lions due to a concussion. Elijah Moore rounds out the top three wide receivers, with Denzel Mims at #4. As a group these guys are young and talented, but Moore has disappeared at times this season, and Davis may not play on Sunday, so I’m not sure how much of a strength the position is currently.
“On defense the Jets feature arguably the best outside cornerback duo in the NFL in Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed. Gardner is the name a lot of people are familiar with, and he’s in the running for defensive rookie of the year. By some metrics Gardner is already playing at an All Pro level. He’s great. Reed is no slouch either. He’s been a revelation this year for the Jets after he signed as a free agent in the offseason. Reed is a legit #1 cornerback in the NFL if he weren’t playing opposite Gardner. Rounding out the cornerback group is Michael Carter in the slot, who has had an excellent season as well, though he struggled last week against the Bills. The Jets cornerbacks are the biggest strength of this team, and though the Jets have faced a number of top wide receivers in the NFL this year, few have had big days against the Jets. The safeties, on the other hand, are fairly pedestrian. Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead have been OK. While they aren’t a huge weakness, they are also not a strength, and opponents are wise to try and run their passing game with matchups against the safeties rather than the cornerbacks.
“The Jets’ linebackers are pretty good against the run and pretty terrible in coverage. If you want to beat the Jets’ defense, run your passing offense in the middle of the field, with running backs, tight ends and slot receivers isolated on the Jets’ safeties and linebackers every chance you get. Avoid the cornerbacks as much as possible.
“The Jets’ defensive line is almost as much of a strength for the Jets as the cornerbacks. When healthy the Jets have a deep rotation on the defensive line that does well stopping the run and puts a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is having a monster year, All Pro caliber. Unfortunately for the Jets Williams hurt his calf last Sunday against the Bills and his availability for this week’s game against the Lions is uncertain. Edge rushers Jonathan Franklin-Myers, Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff are very effective getting pressure on the quarterback, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has also done a nice job this year next to Quinnen Williams. One weakness of the Jets’ defensive line that can be exploited is the wide 9 system the Jets use, which opens up gaps right up the gut that opposing running backs can run through.”
3. What under the radar player should the Lions be looking out for?
“I’ll give you one on each side of the ball. On offense Zonovan Knight is far from a household name, but he has been doing good things at running back lately for the Jets.
“On defense watch out for Bryce Huff. He is strictly a pass rush specialist, so he isn’t on the field all that much. But when he’s out there he is lightning quick around the edge and he puts a ton of pressure on quarterbacks.”
4. The Jets are -1 point favorites in this game. Are you taking that bet?
“This line seems to be shifting back and forth regularly. Seems like bettors view this as basically a tossup. The Lions have been red hot lately, and they have been great at winning the turnover battle over the last half dozen or so games. That’s a formula for victory in the NFL. If that happens Sunday the Jets will lose. But I think the Jets’ defense is going to give the Lions’ offense some problems as well. I’ll take the Jets giving 1 point at home. I’d probably take the Lions if the game were in Detroit.”
5. Who’s winning this thing?
“Well, I guess I let the cat out of the bag with my answer to the last question haha. Give me the Jets. No doubt Lions fans are saying ‘Give me the Lions.’ Should be an interesting game.”