Before we pull out the shovels, dig a ditch and craft our eulogies for the 2017 Jets offense, consider that new play-caller John Morton isn’t exactly dealing with ideal working conditions.
Sure, nothing is perfect in the NFL. Nobody’s going to shed a tear for the first-time offensive coordinator, but the inherent challenges might be too much to ultimately overcome.
It wasn’t altogether surprising that the Jets turned in their least productive yardage performance (214) in 43 games over the weekend. Only the Texans generated fewer total yards on opening weekend. Only the Browns, Bengals and Texans managed fewer than the Jets’ 3.9 yards per play.
Why sugarcoat it? That’s hideous.
Make no mistake: The Jets will be swallowed whole in the Black Hole against the Raiders on Sunday if it happens again.
The last time the Jets offense looked this anemic was when Geno Smith was masquerading as a starting quarterback in Week 6 of 2014.
Truth be told, Morton’s play-calling in a 21-12 season-opening loss to the Bills didn’t sit well on One Jets Drive, but even the ticked-off contingent privately conceded that the rookie coordinator showed some promising elements that might provide hope moving forward.
First, the cringe-worthy stuff: Morton’s debut was maddeningly conservative even though he didn’t actually run the ball very much. He rolled out a strange brew: Lots of short, safe passing. Too much, frankly.
The Jets’ first-half run-pass splits hovered between curious and really odd given the personnel at Morton’s disposal. He dialed up 16 pass plays to only five runs (excluding a kneel down) before intermission. It’s not as if the Jets were forced to play catch-up after digging a deep early hole, either. Todd Bowles’ team trailed 7-6 at halftime.
The 3-to-1 pass-run ratio in the first two quarters didn’t exactly sit well with some folks in the building. Neither did a game plan that didn’t give Bilal Powell, perhaps the team’s most versatile weapon, a touch on the first three drives.
Powell didn’t get a whiff until about four minutes left in the first half. Nobody is going to confuse Powell with Marshall Faulk, but not getting him involved until late in the first half is simply a ridiculous strategy. The Raiders only allowed 3.8 yards per rush to Titans running backs last week (and only 2.8 ypc if you take out DeMarco Murray’s long run of 21 yards).
What made the Jets’ pass-happy mentality even odder was that the Jets rarely tried to push the ball downfield. The Bills showed a decent number of split-safety looks, but Morton, whose quarterback averaged only 4.8 yards per attempt, needed to threaten the deeper parts of the field.
Todd Bowles contended that running lanes were squeezed by Buffalo’s decision to dare Morton & Co. to beat them through the air. Fine. So, why did Morton predominantly dial up a litany of underneath stuff rather than make the Bills pay by stretching the field?
It was a dink-and-dunk fest for the better part of four quarters, which drew the ire of some folks in green-and-white.
McCown was only pressured on 17.5% of his 40 drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus. His line allowed only four pressures and one sack. Part of that, of course, was a byproduct of the veteran signal caller getting the ball out quickly. But the line gave him a clean pocket more than enough times.
Morton’s decision to pass on second-and-goal and third-and-goal from the 1-yard line late in the third quarter was privately met with harsh criticism from several people on the team. McCown bailed him out by scoring on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal.
Morton, however, did show creativity with an ad hoc collection of pass catchers. And let’s not forget that this was only one game … and his first in charge of an offense.
He made good use of recent addition Jermaine Kearse, who spent 43 snaps on the outside and 12 in the slot, according to PFF. Remember: Kearse, who led the Jets in targets, catches and yards, had been with the team for about a week.
Morton also did a quality job utilizing new tight end Will Tye, who had only worked in this offense for a few days after being claimed off waivers. Tye was moved around the formation: in the slot (10 snaps), outside the numbers (2 snaps), in the backfield (3 snaps) and inline (22 snaps).
The Jets’ play-caller showed flashes of his creativity. Circumstances might never reveal how effective he can truly be this season, but there must be a more aggressive mindset this week to keep up with the explosive Raiders. Better to go down swinging than leave bullets in your chamber.
So, will the Jets offense be more aggressive in The Black Hole?
“We’re definitely going to try to be,” Bowles said Wednesday.
Morton has learned from some of the game’s best offensive minds. He has a commendable work ethic. He’s smart.
He’s waited so long for his shot. He’s got it now. There’s no time to be timid.