The New York Jets offensive line is struggling beyond comprehension, forcing many to wonder just how Sam Darnold is supposed to develop.
FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY—Two offensive linemen over the recent draft history of 28 total selections. This is Mike Maccagnan’s current record as New York Jets general manager.
Only Brandon Shell’s fifth-round selection in 2016 and Jarvis Harrison the year before account for Maccagnan’s complete offensive line collection via the NFL Draft. Even during the greatest free agent fulfillment periods, 2-of-28 will never get it done on the line. It’s a position unlike any other especially by way of developing.
Oftentimes, today’s backup is tomorrow’s starter. In New York’s case, today’s NFL scraps are Jets unchallenged starters (Ryan Clady, Kelvin Beachum, Spencer Long, etc.).
The team’s offensive line performance becomes even trickier when attempting to analyze young Sam Darnold’s development. In addition, how does one analyze Jeremy Bates play-calling? Even if one is in agreeance that the overall offensive mindset is ultra-conservative—perhaps due to Todd Bowles’s influence—this bottom-feeding O-line simply doesn’t allow a play-caller full freedom to call 5-to-7-step drops when necessary.
It’s why you, the fan, tend to see so many screens and quick designed-passes.
Either way, conservative or not, this New York Jets O-line was horrid in the team’s latest 33-12 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Spencer Long: Zone Blocking
The first rushing example is a tough one for the line. On a 2nd-and-4 with a loaded box and single-high, this should be a pass all the way in helping the young quarterback find his rhythm early. Instead, a stretch to the left is attempted and the main culprit is Long finding himself pushed back too far.
Eric Tomlinson, 1-on-1, Hold / Spencer Long: Stunt
The first example comes on the Chris Herndon call-back play. On 2nd-and-6, Darnold does a tremendous job of hanging in the pocket despite a free runner coming at him.
It’s a shame, too, due to the idea this was one of Jeremy Bates’s better play-call situations. Eric Tomlinson is called for holding while Spencer Long does a terrible job against the A-gap stunt.
Spencer Long: Stunt
The next example comes out of Bates’s (already) infamous empty set. And yes, it’s another stunt right down the interior of the offense.
For those who made Wesley Johnson out to be the scapegoat of the entire offense a year ago, you, ma’am and sir, were wrong. One man only changes an entire unit if he is, by far, the only weak link among the unit. The Jets employ more than one weak link along the five-man O-line.
Brian Winters: 1-on-1, Bullied
The next example is one of those “hidden value” plays.
Darnold sails the ball and throws the pick. Yes, that’s on the kid. He can’t do that. The O-line also can’t do what it did.
Watch how far back the interior allows itself to get pushed back into Darnold’s face:
Long and Winters, especially, have serious issues in keeping one-on-one pass protection at the line of scrimmage. They each get pushed back five yards far too often forcing Darnold to not have comfortable space and time to confidently step into his throws.
The team that does this the greatest is the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. Both lines pull off terrific interior jobs that allow Tom Brady and Drew Brees to step into each’s throw.
Kelvin Beachum: 1-on-1, Quickness
Earlier in the week, we highlighted just how the fortunes of each franchise, Jets and Jags, have drastically changed since Kelvin Beachum was dropped by Jacksonville and signed by New York. The numbers are starling. Unfortunately, the film is also startling.
Here at ESNY, we love Kelvin Beachum. He’s a terrific dude who deserves everything he’s earned as a professional. In remaning fair, however, he’s simply not a starting left tackle on any NFL offense that aspires to be even “good.”
No left tackle can be beaten that cleanly to the inside.
Spencer Long, James Carpenter, Kelvin Beachum: Stunt
Just two plays later, Darnold completes a quick one to Quincy Enunwa despite another free-runner generated off a stunt.
Again, it’s Long on the stunt. Need we say more?
Brian Winters, Spencer Long: 1-on-1, Bullied
Last play of the first half finds the Jets O-line taking on a four-man rush without any possibility of extra rushers.
Brian Winters and Spencer Long are simply overpowered. There’s nothing to think about here. Those defensive tackles wanted it more than the offensive protectors.
Kelvin Beachum, Eric Tomlinson: Zone Blocking
Was there anything more predictable than the safety to open the second half?
Why not throw on the first down? That call would drop the jaws of the Jags sideline and actually instill a little respect for the opposition.
Instead, it’s the conservative approach that’s too easy to predict.
Brandon Shell: Line Call or Scheme Breakdown
This one is simply either on Brandon Shell, Spencer Long (for not calling it), or the scheme as a whole.
Brandon Shell: 1-on-1, Technique
On the following play, a three-man rush gets to Darnold and it’s completely on Shell. However, Shell doesn’t get beat physically. Instead, it’s technique.
Why in the world does he step inside when there’s a legit defensive-end presence on his outside shoulder? Unless Long made a line call that made him think inside, this is all on Shell.
Isaiah Crowell, 1-on-1 / Scheme
To allow Isaiah Crowell a shot to take on a rusher one-on-one is not a great idea. Yes, it’s not a defensive lineman who rushes, so in theory, the scheme is OK.
It’s just a terrible effort.
Brian Winters, Spencer Long: 2-on-1, Bullied
Even in a two-on-one situation, Winters and Long can’t keep the defensive tackle at the line of scrimmage. They’re pushed back so far that Darnold’s already jittery legs can’t step into the throw that’ll be a Jermaine Kearse touchdown on the seam.
Instead, Darnold breaks the pocket, delivers late and is almost intercepted.
Yes, of course, the throw is still Darnold’s fault. He can’t make that dangerous throw. But this is where that hidden value comes in via support of the young quarterback.
Brian Winters: Stunt
Brian Winters is a nice NFL offensive guard pertaining to rushing the football. When he’s forced to stand-up, however, things drastically change.
On the following play, he just flat-out misses the twist and Darnold has to run for his life yet again.
Of these five starting offensive linemen, zero NFL Pro Bowl nods have been accumulated. Worse yet, not one of the five men had legit competition in camp. This is a terrible sign considering offensive linemen thrive on competition.
For years, ESNY has been yelling about Mike Maccagnan not paying enough attention to the offensive line. With over $100 million in cap space this past offseason, it was almost unreal that the team wasn’t even “in” on possible discussions with free agents Nate Solder or Andrew Norwell. We weren’t asking them to sign both, or even one. The simple fact the Jets weren’t even discussed as possibly “interested” makes it feel like Maccagnan views this position as a “plug-and-play” NFL spot.
It’s anything but plug-and-play. In fact, the Jaguars, the Jets latest opponents, finished with the league’s top rushing attack a year ago to go along with, arguably, the NFL’s best offensive line.
What did they do? They went out and signed Norwell to the NFL’s richest offensive guard contract. Tom Coughlin appreciates the old motto that is, “It starts upfront.”
Until the New York Jets stop trying to reinvent the NFL personnel wheel and get back to tried and true formulas, the offensive line will remain horrid leading to tough developmental times for young Sam Darnold.