Last week, Rex Ryan publicly chastised Robert Saleh and the job he’s done thus far in New York.
“Don’t ever compare this guy to me, this Robert Saleh to me,” Ryan said on ESPN’s local New York radio show, implying that his coaching prowess with the Jets far exceeds Saleh’s.
Ryan has since walked his comments back, and rightfully so given the harsh and premature beratement. Still, his words echo with a shred of truth. Saleh is not Rex Ryan. At least, not yet. Because as much as Rex tended to stick his proverbial foot in his mouth, his teams played hard, relatively mistake-free football from the jump.
Saleh might get there, but it’s clear he has growing pains with which Jets’ fans will have to be patient. Those have reared their ugly head the past few weeks, and Sunday was no exception.
“90 percent of games in this league are lost, not won,” Saleh said after the 24-17 defeat at the hands of the now 4-7 Miami Dolphins. “This one was lost.”
Miami marched down the field on the opening drive, seemingly catching New York off guard with the same brand of football they’ve played all season long. The Jets were late to close gaps in the middle of the field, and even slower to set the edge, allowing Jaylen Waddle to walk in for a rushing touchdown.
That makes three straight weeks the Jets have given up a touchdown on the opening possession. They’ve given up points in six of the last seven games on such drives. Simply put, the Jets’ aren’t prepared on defense to start games and it shows.
The defense has also failed to get stops at key junctures of the game. Down one score and needing to hold Miami midway through the fourth quarter, New York gave up a 12-play drive that took seven minutes and iced the game.
Pundits will say that the Jets don’t have enough talent to get stops and win games. For the most part, they’re right. This is not a talented football team. But that doesn’t mean it's a bottom three football team. Saleh has continued to preach the minute difference between what he calls “Player A” and “Player Z,” which comes down to coaching and opportunity. If that’s your mantra as the man in charge, there can’t be finger-pointing when a team with a few too many “Player Z’s” continues to fall short.
And fall short they have. The Jets have given up 199 points in the last five games, an average of 39.8 per contest. Seven of those on Sunday came on a 65-yard touchdown to Mack Hollins, who found himself wide open behind the defense due to a busted coverage. Two plays before that, the defense blew the same coverage and allowed Albert Wilson to leak out unguarded, only for the 34-yard passing play to be called back due to a penalty.
Some of that stems from a lack of pressure, exposing corners when they do make mistakes. This is to be expected when the Jets rotate their defensive linemen as much as they do. For a team whose supposed strength is on the defensive line, there shouldn’t be any first-quarter snaps with Ronald Blair, Nathan Shepherd, Sheldon Rankins and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. as the front four. Yet those were the four guys trying to get to Josh Allen as he bought time and fired a touchdown to Matt Breida on the opening drive a week ago.
It’s unclear how much influence Saleh has over the defense. After all, Jeff Ulbrich is the coordinator and he calls the plays. But one of two things is true. Either Saleh is far too hands off for a “defensive guru” who has watched his unit of expertise get slashed week in and week out, or he has been sharing defensive responsibilities and has been largely ineffective in righting the ship.
Like the young players on this team, Saleh’s performance should improve with time. His mistakes are those of inexperienced head coaches that are too busy grappling with a big picture rebuild to fine-tune some of the details. But those will have to change just like the roster does.
The Jets continue to commit costly penalties at some of the highest rates in the league. New York leads the league in roughing the passer penalties with six. They’ve committed 20 such penalties over the course of the past two years. No other team has committed more than 11. The latest sealed their fate on Sunday, as John Franklin-Myers’s hit on Tua gave Miami a costly first down.
“Pressing to try to make a play resulting in a personal foul because you’re so desperate to make a play and you want to change the game that it backfires on you,” Saleh said. “These are things that good teams, teams that win don’t do.”
Burning two timeouts in the span of 30 seconds in the third quarter—both coming off clock-stopping penalties—can’t happen as a head coach. Those timeouts are crucial late in the ballgame, and the Jets continuously don’t have them when they need them.
“As far as the substitution errors or the two timeouts that we had to burn just from a substitution standpoint, that’s coaching,” Saleh said. “That’s something we’ve got to get fixed.”
Saleh’s ability to accurately diagnose his team’s shortcomings is key. It’s what will allow him to progress and what will allow his team to get better in the process. Saleh is still figuring out how to juggle the responsibilities of being a head coach in the National Football League. He’s not immune to the mistakes and he’s not immune to the blame.
Long term, the Jets believe he is a huge part of the solution, and for good reason. Right now, though, he’s part of the problem, and that needs to turn around.
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