Despite enjoying strength in some areas, the New York Jets roster showcases just one of three NFL championship positions.
Look around the National Football League. Which position is most important as it pertains to winning the Super Bowl?
Quarterback. OK, yeah, the quarterback is No. 1 not only in the sports of football, but it’s probably the most important position in all of sports at the moment. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers—they’ve dominated the title run over the last 16 years save for a few hiccups in the name of Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco (who was downright perfect in January) and Nick Foles (again, perfect when the money was on the line).
Everybody knows this. It’s common knowledge among the gridiron onlookers.
Dig deeper. Which positions, other than the most critical position in sports, really make that championship difference?
Left tackle? Perhaps. Stud playmaker? Maybe. Elite cover corner? Not really. Safety? Actually, a strong safety like Jamal Adams who can take away those insane offensive mismatches via the tight end and running back through the air is becoming ultra important.
But still, that’s not what we’re looking for. After all, the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots had zero issues getting to the big game without a stud cover corner a year ago (or top 10 wide receiver for the matter).
The answer is quite simple. It always starts up front. The answer lies within the offensive line an entire unit and the conventional four-man pass rush—two units that hold the New York Jets back from legit contention in 2018.
Based on the successes we’ve witnessed as of late, quarterback, the offensive line as an entire unit and the four-man conventional pass rush are the three NFL championship positions.
Sam Darnold is in-house. He’s not only the future of the organization, he’s the present. This couldn’t be more evident after the trade of Teddy Bridgewater to the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday afternoon.
For the first time in a very long while, the Jets are golden at the QB spot.
They just can’t protect him.
Look at the Philadelphia Eagles title team from a year ago. Sure, Carson Wentz was stellar and Foles was other-worldly, but none of that happens if their O-line doesn’t come together as the best damn unit in the NFL.
PFF ranks the Eagles O-line as No. 1 heading into the season. Not the Dallas Cowboys brute unit or the Jacksonville Jaguars unit that led the league in rushing a season ago while adding the best guard in the league in Andrew Norwell. It’s the Eagles, the line that finished third in rushing a season ago with 132.2 yards per game.
Look at the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is only Tom Brady thanks to the steadiest five-man unit in NFL history under the brilliant O-line mind of Dante Scarnecchia. As the Giants know—in two Super Bowl performances—when Brady is hit, he automatically turns into an average quarterback.
In terms of the pass rush, again, look at the Eagles, the defending champs. The reason their defense was so good in the tournament a year ago is due to the fact Jim Schwartz didn’t have to blitz. His conventional four-man pass rush while rotating six-to-eight players usually did the job.
A non-Super Bowl success story comes in the form of the Jaguars, the Tom Coughlin old-school-led squad whose O-line is just as good as the Eagles and whose pass rush came in second in sacks a season ago. Both elements on the football field immediately jack up production at every other second-level and back-level spot.
Just look at A.J. Bouye for a moment. Bouye, 27, qualified for his first Pro Bowl in 2017 after spending four average to below average seasons in the league. In fact, with Houston, from 2013 through 2016, Bouye started just 19 games.
Why the sudden bump in stellar play? In not attempting to take everything away from the kid, it comes down to conventional pass-rush pressure. With 55 sacks a year ago, playing corner for the Jags is a breeze compared to playing the position for the Jets.
This is the stuff that PFF and the stats simply can’t account for.
And don’t confuse rushing the ball as the only element of a great O-line. Rushing the ball doesn’t mean a damn thing in today’s NFL. Eli Manning and the Giants proved that in 2011 when they took home the chip after finishing dead last in rushing. Brady and the Pats continuously prove it.
With today’s rules, the short, three-step timing passing attack is a perfectly viable sub for the rushing game. Also due to today’s rules, blitzing is nowhere near as effective as it used to be.
This is the trouble with the Jets roster.
Darnold is in-house and ready to go. The wide-receiving group is much better than people think. The interior D-line is great, the second-level backers solid, and secondary actually top-five in the league in terms of talent. All of it simply won’t be able to fully showcase its talents due to how weak the O-line and conventional pass rush plays out.
Three seasons ago, Peyton Manning was carried to the finish line by a tremendous O-line and unbelievable defense led by Von Miller and a pass rush that finished first in the league with 52 sacks. Two years before then, the Legion of Boom played their way to a chip thanks to a unit that finished eighth in the league in sacks.
The examples of the O-line and conventional four-man pass rush leading the way while beefing up the rest of the talent around it are so incredible it’s impossible to make mention.
This is why Mike Maccagnan hoping everything breaks right along the O-line just doesn’t work. Hell, the Jags own a top three O-line and still went out and signed the best guard in the league in Andrew Norwell. The Eagles own one of the best pass rushes in the NFL and still went out and drafted Josh Sweat in the middle rounds.
The teams that focus on the two most important units in football (other than QB) continue to pile on to that pile of riches. The Jets, on the other hand, stack everywhere else.
Could Mikey Mac’s group shock some people and squeeze into the AFC side of the tournament this season? Sure, it’s possible. If the O-line stays healthy and a solitary soul on the edge comes up with 10-plus sacks, it can be done. There is enough talent everywhere else.
Unfortunately, no legit contention is possible due to the trenches letting down the rest.
Until that O-line is built properly and the conventional four-man pass rush can wreak havoc, Sam Darnold and possibly the best safety duo in the NFL will have its work cut out for them.