Blanket Coverage: Todd Bowles should not be blamed for Jets' failures this season

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How NFL linemen get away with holding
1:32 | NFL
How NFL linemen get away with holding
Thursday December 8th, 2016

There are few things as predictable as a New York team getting blown out in a late-season game and the fire-the-coach screaming that ensues. Before the Jets’ 41–10 loss to the Colts was even finished on Monday night, Gotham’s tabloids were calling for the firing of second-year coach Todd Bowles and lining up possible replacements.

Memo to owner Woody Johnson: that would be a mistake. You’re the Jets, which is it’s own punch line. Do you want to be like the Browns, and be compared to completely clueless owner Jimmy Haslam? Didn’t think so.

The problem with the Jets isn’t a coaching problem, it’s a personnel problem. And there’s no other option for the team but to take its medicine this season and hope that some draft picks start to make impacts.

Let’s recall how the Jets got here.

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After wandering around the NFL woods aimlessly for years (keeping GM Mike Tannenbaum too long, pairing Rex Ryan and GM John Idzik together), Johnson finally got his act together when he hired Mike Maccagnan as GM in early 2015, and then inked Bowles (it would have been better to hire Maccagnan and give him greater influence on picking the coach, but baby steps with Johnson).

The Jets were coming off a 4–12 season and the team was at a crossroads. With many holes to fill, Maccagnan had two choices: add to the core through free agency, or stay the course and rebuild through the draft. He chose the more aggressive approach.

Thanks to Idzik’s skimping to get the Jets’ cap back in line after the Tannenbaum era, Maccagnan went on a shopping spree, trading for WR Brandon Marshall and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and signing CBs Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine and Antonio Cromartie, safety Marcus Gilchrist, and guard James Carpenter.

It all worked in 2015, with the Jets getting to 10–5 before imploding in a win-or-go-home finale against Ryan and the Bills.

A year later, that approach looks like a mistake because Revis and Skrine have regressed—but was it? For the first season, it was hard to quibble with any of the moves that Maccagnan made (and the Jets had to spend to get to the salary-cap floor or risk sending that money straight to the NFLPA). I mean, Revis and Skrine were widely viewed as good signings. How was anybody to know that both were going to fall off the map after just one season?

And because the Jets’ drafting was so poor for so long at certain positions, the Jets didn’t have any ready-made, in-house replacements at cornerback, quarterback, offensive tackle, receiver and edge rusher; holes on a roster do not come any bigger than those positions. More importantly, signing all of those free agents did not negatively impact the Jets’ rebuilding process. If they didn’t sign free agents, the Jets would have been terrible last year and this year—they wouldn’t be any better this season if they had just gone young in ’15.

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Maccagnan attempted to bridge the gap for two years while he restocked through the draft. It worked reasonably well for one season, but Fitzpatrick, Revis, Skrine, LT Ryan Clady (needed because D’Brickashaw Ferguson surprisingly retired) and WR Eric Decker (injured) didn’t play up to their expected level for one reason or another this year, and the bottom fell out.

Which brings us back to Bowles. How can one man go from being a genius last season to a fireable dunce one year later? He hasn’t been perfect, but the personnel has let him down. Bowles can’t execute the defense he wants because the cornerbacks aren’t good enough. What offense can execute with a slumping quarterback and bad offensive tackles? The Jets just aren’t that good, and that’s because of past sins, not recent ones. Have some members of the Jets not given their full effort this season? Yes, and that showed against the Colts. But that’s not a reflection on Bowles—it’s a testament that the program is not yet where Bowles and Maccagnan want it in not even two full years. If there was a problem with the Jets’ coaching, a player like Marshall wouldn’t be afraid to say it. But when he spoke on Wednesday, it was clear to him that change wasn’t needed.

“Sometimes you blow up stuff and you feel like that’s the answer and it’s not,” Marshall told reporters. “That’s one of the reasons football is so terrible in the NFL these days is because there’s so much turnover. … People expect guys to win right away. You bring in a new regime and they say you have a year or two to do it. You need time to build things.

“I’ve been in a locker room in 2014 [with the Bears] in the same exact situation and it was 100 times worse because the locker room was divided. There was a division between players, a division between players and coaches and we don’t have that. We’ve had some tough conversations, we’ve held each other accountable but we’re still together and that’s promising.

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“That’s why we’re still together because [Bowles is] real. He tells it like it is and he’s a man of his word. … The best way that I can describe coach is he’s a mix between Bill Parcells and Lovie Smith. … Total opposite ends of the spectrum from the outside, but great guys to play for.”

Jets fans are frustrated, I get it. You see your team so close to the playoffs last year, and now it seems like they are years away from competing. Would it have been easier on everyone if the Jets were 2–14 in 2015 and 4–12 this year? Maybe, but they’d still be in the same place. Not because of problems with Bowles and Maccagnan, but because of the poor decisions made before they arrived (QB Geno Smith and the fact that from 2007–14, Jets drafts produced just five starters that have remained with the team: LB David Harris, DTs Muhammad Wilkerson & Sheldon Richardson, G Brian Winters and S Calvin Pryor).

Any team lacking a superstar quarterback would hit rock bottom at some point. This is it for the Jets, and it was not unexpected. Bowles and Maccagnan should be allowed to continue the work they were hired to do.

Blanket Report

Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing NFL storylines this week:

Go crazy, folks

Hope the Bears are telling the truth: Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune wrote that there are strong rumors that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be leaving the Bears at the end of the season due to philosophical differences between Fangio and coach John Fox. Both offered denials this week, with the straight-shooting Fangio coming out very strong. Let’s hope they’re telling the truth because Fangio is one of the best in the business; you cannot blame the Bears’ 3–9 record on his scheme and play-calling. Before Fangio’s arrival, Chicago was 30th in yards allowed; they’ve improved to 14th and now seventh. But if Fangio is done with the Bears, expect him to be in demand.

Rams offense is awful: In this week’s edition of “How does Jeff Fisher keep getting extensions?” we have the Rams’ offense. Watching them against the Patriots was a tutorial in how not to develop a rookie quarterback. The Rams, at this point, can’t execute very much, whether it’s on the offensive line, tight ends making trap blocks, Todd Gurley running into the backs of blockers, or receivers catching the ball. In that environment, offensive coordinator Rob Boras (whose only playcalling experience came from 2001-03 at UNLV), decided to drop back QB Jared Goff in a spread offense with multiple reads across the field. That’s not a path for success. The Rams need to watch some Dolphins films to see how Adam Gase has managed Ryan Tannehill, with half-field reads, rollouts and designed shot plays. The Rams’ playbook should be about a dozen plays that can be quickly (three-step drops, ball comes out) and well executed (though, to be fair, the Rams had a couple of basic plays that were there, but Goff didn’t pull the tigger). Do those things well, then you can expand. Of course, this is all Fisher’s doing because he doesn’t know how to pick coordinators. Before Boras, it was Frank Cignetti (not even a full season) and Brian Schottenheimer. Fisher’s last decent coordinator was the late Mike Heimerdinger with the Titans (2008-10), but Fisher also hired the forgettable Norm Chow.

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Slow your roll

Little things, like dress codes matter: Nobody knows (yet) the real story behind Cam Newton being benched for the first series against the Seahawks, but don’t minimize the importance of little things like dress codes in a team environment. As Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegam points out, when the Cowboys were in the midst of their 4–12 season a year ago, coach Jason Garrett released cornerback Corey White and running back Christine Michael, in part, because they didn’t wear a suit on a road trip. If players can’t, or won’t, follow simple instructions like what to wear on a road trip, that can trickle down to other aspects of the delicate team environment. One day you let the dress code go, the next day players are walking in late to meetings and practice, and then guys are freelancing on defense. Discipline, when it comes to football, is an all-the-time thing.

League should be in no hurry on Aldon Smith: Raiders OLB Aldon Smith’s year-long suspension is over, and he’s applied for reinstatement. But that doesn’t mean that commissioner Roger Goodell has to make a decision, nor should he. Smith has three DUIs, and the third (also a hit-and-run) resulted in the year-long suspension. As Goodell has said previously, playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. Smith needs to prove he’s truly turned a corner and earned that privilege. The NFL shouldn’t make a decision on Smith until after the season. If he gets to that point, and stays clean throughout the offseason, then he’s proven himself.

10 THOUGHTS ON WEEK 14

1. The key to tonight’s big Chiefs-Raiders matchup will be how Oakland’s defense adjusts from their Week 6 game (Kansas City won 26–10). Everyone is waiting to see how the Raiders’ defense will do in a big spot against a good opponent, and we’ll get to see how much progress they’ve made tonight. In the first matchup, Chiefs RB Spencer Ware carved the Raiders on the ground and Alex Smith hit short passes with great efficiency. Kansas City took advantage of the Raiders’ lack of discipline with a lot of pulls and counters in the running game, and play action and rollouts in the passing game. This time around, Oakland must play disciplined D.

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2. More on the Chiefs-Raiders matchup: QB Derek Carr’s worst game of the season so far was their previous matchup with Kansas City—Carr had two fumbles and an interception on a sloppy field, struggling with foot mechanics and inaccuracy. RT Austin Howard must play better in this game, especially with OLB Justin Houston back.

3. With the multitude of injuries plaguing the Texans (RB Lamar Miller, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, CB Jonathan Joseph, WR Braxton Miller), it would take a special kind of a coaching performance to repeat their 26–23 overtime victory over the Colts again. If Clowney and Joseph don’t play, it’s hard to see the Texans stopping Andrew Luck enough given the Texans’ issues on offense.

4. The Dolphins’ issues in the secondary were finally exposed against the Ravens. Miami will need a huge game from its pass rush to keep an improving Carson Palmer and his weapons from doing worse on Sunday. This is a 2015 Palmer/Bruce Arians kind of game where it should be bombs away.

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5. If the Packers rely on their vertical game (post, go’s, back-shoulders) against the Seahawks, they’re going to be in for a long day. Likely the best way for Green Bay to move the ball against Seattle is by using Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery on crossers and short play action. Of course it would help if WR Davante Adams can own CB Deshawn Shead, but that’s a tough matchup.

6. When the Cowboys visit the Giants on Sunday Night Football this week, expect a completely different game than the one we saw in Week 1—QB Dak Precott’s and RB Ezekiel Elliott’s NFL debuts, and Dallas’s only loss this season. New York had a tough time stopping the run against Pittsburgh, so Elliott should have no problem bulldozing right through. And with DE Jason Pierre-Paul out for the season, backup Kerry Wynn will be exposed.

7. QB Eli Manning has to stop relying on WR Odell Beckham Jr., and coach Ben McAdoo has to get more creative in his personnel usage (he loves one back/three receivers). If both don’t break from tendency in this game, Cowboys coordinator Rod Marinelli will have his troops ready.

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8. The Titans are built perfectly to control the ball against the Broncos’ defense because they rely on the run, have a good offensive line and like to stay in base personnel. Denver has had a lot of trouble against offenses that keep them in their base 3–4 because they struggle on the line and at inside linebacker. DE Jared Crick, NT Sylvester Williams and LB Todd Davis need to play very well or else the Broncos will get upset.

9. Buy your tickets right now to watch the matchup between Ravens WR Steve Smith and Patriots CB Malcolm Butler on Monday night. Both are of similar size and makeup: they love to play with physicality and talk a lot of trash. Look for Smith to try to fool Butler on a few double moves because he has taken the bait at times.

10. The Patriots could have some problems on offense against the Ravens because TE Martellus Bennett has had trouble blocking and running routes due to shoulder and ankle injuries the past few weeks. They need him to work the middle of the field to keep Baltimore’s safeties occupied. And watch for the matchup between WR Julian Edelman and rookie CB Tavon Young. The youngster had really come on, and Edelman hasn’t shown his true burst in weeks. If Bennett and Edelman can’t get loose, Patriots will have trouble moving the ball. 

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