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Know Thy Opponent: Q+A with Gang Green Nation

Tennessee Titans v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Michael Nania of Gang Green Nation (the Jets SB Nation affiliate) was kind enough to answer a few of our questions regarding this week’s opponent, rethe New York J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS. Here are his answers. You can find the Q and A that I did with GGN here

1. There were rumblings that the Jets have begun to quit on Todd Bowles several weeks ago during the Bills game. Has the effort level on the whole changed from that dismal loss or is it more of the same?

MN: There are a lot of things to critique Todd Bowles on. A. Lot. However, in spite of the team’s pathetic level of performance recently, I’m not sure effort is one of them. As bad as this team is playing, I’m not sure it’s a product of this team phoning it in as much as it is the team just getting consistently outcoached and outplayed. The Jets are a decent “effort” team, the problem is, they just stink. They get a pass for playing with a rookie quarterback (followed by a backup who has been terrible), but they have very little at other key spots such as the offensive line and the pass rush.

The Jets are not a team that will be beaten because of a lack of effort, but they most certainly are a team that will get beaten because of a lack of talent and a stubborn staff that never adjusts in-game and makes curious schematic choices on each side of the ball.

2. Is Coach Bowles pretty much gone at the end of the season or can he save his job with a win streak to close out the season?

MN: Before the season, I would’ve thought Bowles was safe if he could eke out 7+ wins with a rookie starter. The door is still open for that final total, but I think the hole has been dug too deep at this point. While a five game win streak under Darnold against a tough schedule would be impressive, ultimately bringing the team at or near .500 despite all they’ve been through, I just can’t see him returning. The writing is on the wall, and the buzz has come from every which way that it is a given the Jets are cleaning house on the coaching staff following the year. It would be overly reactionary to pivot based on how the team does over this meaningless final stretch, even if they look great. Bowles has had four seasons to steer things in the right direction but instead has continued to battle the same issues. He should be gone and I think he will be even if the team wins out, which feels decidedly unlikely anyway.

3. What are Jets’ fans thoughts on rookie QB Sam Darnold so far? Has he lived up to his high draft status or has been a rookie trying to correct the negatives on his scouting report while learning on the fly?

MN: It’s tough to judge him based on all of the nonsense that has transpired around him, but I think fans are mostly pleased with Darnold in spite of his lackluster production. He is the youngest starter in NFL history playing under a defensive head coach, an offensive coordinator that has been out of the league for years, and with a well below average talent level on offense, especially up front. All those things considered, it was always going to be tough for Darnold to have one of those Dak Prescott or RGIII type rookie seasons where he lights the world on fire - and he most definitely has not done that. The rookie downs you’d expect have been there. He’s had four games where his struggles were the primary reason the team lost, as he struggled with field vision, deep accuracy, and interceptions, mostly late in games and due to decision-making rather than accuracy.

However, I believe he’s played more decent-or-better games than bad ones (5 to 4). Six weeks into his career, before this tailspin began, he was doing all sorts of things that previously had never been done or only been done by few. He joined Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Carson Wentz as the only rookies with 3 wins and 8 touchdown passes over their first six weeks in the league. He owns the two youngest performances of a 110+ quarterback rating in NFL history. He’s the only rookie to throw for 2+ touchdowns and 9+ Y/A three times in his first six games. His ability to improvise and work outside of the pocket is perhaps his best ability. He has great touch in the medium range, and has been very reliable in the short ranges. While still inconsistent with it, he’s flashed some veteran savvy with his ability to move defenders with eyes and scan the field.

Since then, everything has collapsed. The receiving core has been banged up and Darnold has been forced to deal with the Jets’ lack of depth at the position. The one debacle that has hurt him the most is almost completely unfathomable - snapping issues. Center Spencer Long has battled injuries all season. Starting against Minnesota in Week 7, the beginning of this losing skid, Long made life very tough on Darnold with a myriad of ineffective shotgun snaps. After missing the next game, Long returned in Week 9 against Miami. This time, he launched 15 bad snaps in the second half. 15! Darnold’s effectiveness was greatly reduced on those plays, and Long’s incompetency played a major part in Sam throwing four picks. Long was clearly hurt, but a stubborn Bowles left him out there for most of the game until finally making a switch late to a fully healthy backup in Jonotthan Harrison. It seemed that Darnold ended up suffering the injury he is currently dealing with on a badly snapped play (though he finished the game). He’s questionable to make his return to the lineup this week after missing the last two games.

So, the highs have been high, and the lows have been low. Considering his rawness, youth, and the situation around him, this isn’t unexpected at all. His talent has brightly flashed frequently enough to where it is clearly visible that he has the ability to be a star in the league. Looking past the help he has gotten, he certainly is not there yet even independent of his surroundings, but if the Jets can build around him correctly (big “if”), then it seems like Darnold has what it takes to be great.

4. The Titans will be facing several familiar faces in receivers Rishard Matthews, Deontay Burnett and linebacker Avery Williamson. How have they performed for the Jets?

MN: Matthews has been completely invisible. The Jets could really have used him with the injuries at wide receiver, but he has barely even been targeted while on the field.

Burnett has not seen much playing time but has made a few flashes here and there.

Williamson is a very good player, probably one of the three best on the Jets this season. His run defense is great, as expected. The question was always whether or not Williamson could handle expanding to a three-down role with the Jets. For the most part, he’s done very well. He looks improved in coverage, mostly playing shallow zones and positioning himself smartly enough to limit targets. However, he has still struggled a bit when teams have painted the bullseye on his chest. This past week against New England was the most glaring example. Williamson allowed over 80 yards of receiving in total and his first touchdown of the year, to Rob Gronkowski. The Pats made sure to look in his direction, and Williamson made some mistakes getting locked on to the quarterback.

Overall though, he is a quality player and clearly a great locker room presence. He’s been a rare useful free agency pickup for general manager Mike Maccagnan.

5. What are the Jets’ strengths and weaknesses? How can they exploit the Titans and where do they need to hide their weakest links? The Titans have a liability big money cornerback in Malcolm Butler, has the Trumaine Johnson signing worked out better than the Butler one?

MN: I’ll start with Butler / Johnson comparison. It’s interesting, I actually wrote an article just before the free agency period highlighting three big name free agents the Jets should avoid. All three will be playing in this game - I singled out Johnson, Butler, and Dion Lewis.

Turns out I was right. As disappointed as you guys might be in Butler, we are probably even more down on Johnson. He’s missed a few games with injury, and when on the field, has been nowhere near what we expected to get. He was never a speed guy, but his speed has seemingly evaporated to the point where he can’t keep up. In turn, he’s compensating by playing far off most of the time, taking away his best ability - press coverage. Johnson was good as a Ram, but not top-3 good like he’s being paid. The Jets, and the fanbase, understood that, but hoped for top-15 or top-20 play to upgrade a weak position. Instead, he’s been a downgrade. He’s been highly disappointing. Your speediest receivers should have a lot of fun matching up against him.

For the Jets offense, I......... wow. What should you try and stop? This is a team that hasn’t hit the 20-point mark since October 14th and hasn’t scored more than one touchdown since October 21st. I would focus on receivers Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson. While their production stands out as bad this year, these are two guys who each possess 1-2 high quality tools. They’re good players, whose production has been hurt by scheme and quarterback play. Make sure to take away Anderson’s deep ball. He won’t hurt you as long as you shade safety help his way and take away his short curl. His speed is unreal and his deep tracking ability elite, but the Jets, between Darnold, McCown, and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, have not proven they are able to take advantage. Enunwa is a YAC monster. He is a downhill running back with the ball in his hands, running over defenders with ease, probably too many for his own good health-wise. Enunwa proved he can win with the deep post in 2016, but the Jets haven’t looked at him deep much at all this year. Be fully prepared for screens in Enunwa’s direction.

Attack that interior offensive line. Frankly, it stinks. Spencer Long has moved to left guard and is just as bad. Jonotthan Harrison at center cannot handle stunts. Right guard Brian Winters is hit or miss - he’s got to be among the leaders in the amount of defenders he has put on the ground, but he also has some very bad pass protection games now and then.

Defensively, look for Williamson in coverage, attack Trumaine Johnson deep, and look to exploit fellow outside corner Morris Claiborne on intermediate curls and comebacks. He plays to take away the deep ball and force short throws (he’s a quality tackler), both of which he does fairly well, but will trade that for intermediate production. Don’t be afraid to run it straight up the middle - the Bills and Pats both picked up over 200 yards on the ground against the Jets in their two most recent games.