NFL Week 8 Preview: One Last Defense of the Jets

Also, why the Panthers should turn back to Cam sooner rather than later, trade deadline madness, the Coach of the Year race, the mismatch of the decade, 10 pounds of candy corn and much more. Plus, musical guest: Sound of Urchin!
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NFL Week 8 Preview

1. When you looked at the Jets’ schedule at the beginning of the year, it was pretty obvious they were going to be in rough shape seven weeks in. And that was without anticipating the horror that was Luke Falk’s three appearances. But, in short, you had to assume they were going to lose road games at New England and Philadelphia. And of the four home games (Buffalo, Cleveland, Dallas, New England) you’d hope to get two. Instead, they got one. Oh well.

Not to get sidetracked, but remember one month ago when Kirk Cousins put up a dud at Soldier Field—his second in three games—and was unanimously declared worse at playing quarterback than anyone in the world is at anything? Since then he’s put up a 10-to-1 TD/INT ratio, 315.5 passing yards per game and a 137.1 passer rating over four games, all Vikings wins. It’s not because he rapidly improved sometime during the week of Sept. 30, it’s because a lot of quarterbacks will look bad at Green Bay and Chicago—two great defenses and two tough environments—and Cousins happened to face them in two of three weeks. Then he faced a string of much weaker defenses. And here we are.

The Jets, after the toughest six-game gantlet you could imagine, now begin a string of seven utterly winnable games, perhaps the softest stretch of schedule any organized sports team will play in 2019: two against the Dolphins, trips to Washington and Cincinnati, home dates with the Giants and Raiders. The toughest game in this stretch is Sunday, when they travel to Jacksonville.

Adam Gase is an easy target. He had a losing record in Miami and only made the playoffs once in three seasons with a rotation of quarterbacks—Tannehill! Moore! Osweiler!—who are Hall of Fame-bound as long as they find some time to get to Canton and can afford the $26 admission price. (Plus, look how good the Dolphins are now!) More importantly, Gase looked like Tigtone at his introductory press conference, and someone’s physical appearance should always be the subject of fun and the basis for judging their competence.*

Gase’s young quarterback has played three games. He was overwhelmed by a Buffalo defense that has overwhelmed every opposing quarterback to face them this year, including Tom Brady. (And the Jets would have won that game had it not been for a couple of Darnold underthrows and the decision to sign a kicker who the Vikings and Bears were both desperate to trade for in August but who turned out to be disastrous). Darnold was also overwhelmed on Monday night by a Patriots defense that has been historically good through seven games.

In Jacksonville, he’ll face a defense that is good but has a much shallower bag of tricks when it comes to blitz packages and disguised coverages—the Jaguars rely on their talent to get things done in a fairly straightforward scheme. Assuming Darnold’s brain isn’t fried—and it really shouldn’t be, he’s proven resilient throughout his collegiate and professional career—the Jets have a great chance to steal a win against a Jaguars team that just traded its best player and was in a dogfight in Cincinnati last week until Andy Dalton started shaving points late.

Being without C.J. Mosley is going to be an issue, as is the fact that they could end up moving a few key players. But this is a team with a chance to start stringing together wins. Like, a lot of wins. I’m not saying the Jets are definitely going to win the Super Bowl. But let's just say that the Jets are probably going to win the Super Bowl.

*—Yes, I realize the absurdity of criticizing those who made fun of Gase’s physical appearance while also comparing him to a visually bizarre cartoon, so don’t bother pointing that out. Also, Tigtone is a pretty great show.

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2a. Speaking of the Jets, the temptation to move Robby Anderson is understandable considering the market for wide receivers. Mohamed Sanu (second-rounder) has a reasonable contract that runs through 2020, and Emmanuel Sanders (third- and fourth-rounders) has an expiring deal but also has some juice left and plenty of familiarity with Kyle Shanahan’s system in San Francisco. But neither has the pure talent that Anderson has. He’s a true No. 1 once it’s all said and done, even if he is on an expiring deal.

The Jets have cap room on account of a run of terrible drafts that preclude them from having to give second contracts to their own players. Building an Anderson-Darnold connection should be a focal point for the franchise in the near- and long-term.

2b. Washington refusing to trade Trent Williams, who might return just in time to accrue the season but may not suit up for a game after he does, is pretty dopey.

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3. I’d like to bestow professional football’s highest honor upon Kyle Allen in light of his 5-0 record as a starter: A “kudos” in this column. Now, as to why Cam Newton should take back his job if he’s close to healthy.

Of the Panthers’ four consecutive wins this season, there’s really no reason to think they wouldn’t have won all four had it been Newton under center. They ran for 173 and 285 in victories over Arizona and Jacksonville, respectively. The defense held Houston to 10 points as the Panthers had to overcome three Allen giveaways. And in their last game, in London, the defense took it away from the Bucs seven times—they didn’t have a single takeaway against Tampa in Newton’s last start, a 20-14 defeat to the Bucs on a Thursday night when Christian McCaffrey couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 from Tampa’s 2-yard line in the final moments.

The point Todd Bowles made in a production meeting before the London game—to paraphrase, that when Newton is in the lineup 85% of the Panthers offense is the mesh point between Newton and McCaffrey—carries some validity. But (1) Newton looked mostly sharp running a forward-thinking Norv Turner offense in the first half of 2018 before his shoulder gave out. And (2) Say all you want about the predictability of read-option plays built around McCaffrey and Newton, it’s still really difficult to stop because they’re both exceptional with the ball in their hands. (Randy Moss used to run a lot of 9 routes; just because you expected it doesn’t mean it was easy to defend.)

The question is how healthy Newton will be once he’s “healthy.” His body won’t allow him to do what he did in 2015. But there’s no reason he can’t get back to the form he showed in early 2018. Allen has done a great job keeping this offense running on schedule, but the challenges have been few and far between. A guess: The Niners pass rush gives Carolina’s offensive line fits and bothers Allen all day on Sunday, spoiling the perfect record. If that happens, it empowers Carolina to go ahead and put the best quarterback on the field in the second half of the season.

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4. A quick note on the current conversation surrounding the 2019 Coach of the Year so far . . .

If you feel the Coach of the Year award should go to the coach who gets the most out of the talent on his roster, the award would go to Sean McDermott. If you think the Coach of the Year award should take into account development that happened in past years, the award would go to Sean McDermott. If you believe the Coach of the Year should go to the candidate who is simply the best head coach in the NFL in 2019, the award would go to Sean McDermott. I don’t have anything else to add, so I’ll just . . . trail off . . .

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5a. For every Dolphins fan celebrating the most cynical, least creative, and most morally bankrupt roster build in NFL history, be sure to tune into Jameis vs. Mariota II when the Bucs visit Nashville. Because those two franchises were in much better shape when they selected their can’t-miss quarterbacks of the future than Miami will be this spring.

5b. Also, an officially certified Football Things Kudos to Seahawks GM John Schneider for landing safety Quandre Diggs—even if he’s a rental—at incredible value (a 2020 fifth-rounder going to Detroit with Diggs and a 2021 seventh-rounder coming back). Then factor in the acquisition of Jadeveon Clowney—who, of course, had a chance to join the Dolphins but did not want to be part of the open sewer of a rebuilding process the Dolphins are undergoing. Seattle spent a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to acquire two quality veteran starters. They also continue to be one of the best programs in football when it comes to developing their own young talent, which is how you actually build a winning franchise.

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6. Last weekend, I watched as a hawk perched itself upon the shed in my backyard. It was scanning the area for the chipmunks that sometimes pop out of the tunnels they've dug in the back. After a few minutes, the hawk spotted its prey and suddenly swooped down. It spent the next few minutes going in and out of a full-body flex, squeezing the life out of the rodent. It was brutal to the point that I felt the urge to intervene—but then, this is nature, and who am I to play God? That said, it was less of a mismatch than Aaron Donald going up against the Bengals’ interior line, which the city of London will witness on Sunday an might never be able to unsee.

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7. The good people at Brach’s were thoughtful enough to package their candy corn in 2.5-pound bags this year, assuring that I’d be able to easily track and meet my annual Halloween season goal of 10 pounds of candy corn. (I ate five bags, because I can’t trust the good people at Brach’s factored in the packaging in that 2.5-pound measurement, and I wasn’t going to risk eating 9.9 pounds.) I’ve now built up the tolerance to eat my annual 20 pounds of candy corn between now and Thanksgiving.

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8. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Sound of Urchin!

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