ESNY’s Michael Nania picks out studs and duds from the New York Jets’ disappointing loss to the Houston Texans.
After leading a road comeback in the cold against a great defense, Darnold came home to go toe-to-toe with Deshaun Watson and another solid defense in the Texans. Houston presented a strong run defense and pass rush, but holes in the secondary.
The Jets entered the Houston game ranked second-worst in the NFL in avoiding runs of no gain or less on first and second down — and they were even worse in that category when Darnold started versus when Josh McCown started. Those early down run game struggles have been a major, major contributing factor to the tough situations Darnold has been put in — no quarterback in the league has had to make a higher portion of his plays from either third or fourth down and ten-plus yards to go (13.3 percent).
Predictably, the Texans run defense clobbered the Jets’ sans-Isaiah Crowell rushing attack, and Darnold was put in even worse situations than the usual league-worst level he was used to. Houston stuffed a whopping 32 percent of the Jets’ early-down runs, 7 percent above their already terrible average of 25 percent. In turn, Darnold had to make 14.6 percent of his total passing plays from third or fourth down and ten-plus, also above his season’s average.
It didn’t matter. Darnold. Balled. Out.
Pressure was in his face all game. Third downs were long. Passes were dropped. Extra points were missed. And in spite of it all, Darnold still gave the Jets the lead late in the fourth quarter against one of the best teams in the NFL.
His trademark scrambling ability was on full display. Darnold got outside of the pocket and dropped touch dimes left and right. He also used the middle of the field quite a bit — something he has failed to do often enough this season.
As has been the theme for most of this season, just about everything Darnold did was self-made. Scrambling for firsts. Escaping sacks and throwing darts into tight windows. Little was schemed for him. Robby Anderson and Chris Herndon in particular made some great catches — but they were perfect balls from Darnold.
Ultimately, it was the perfect outcome for the Jets. Their franchise quarterback was magical, and the team lost a close game to propel themselves closer to the top of the draft.
Robby Anderson failed to haul in a contested fourth and 14 pass from Darnold that hit both of his hands, but it doesn’t cancel out the great game he had beforehand.
The best factor of Anderson’s performance in this game was versatility. He caught a season-high seven passes for 96 yards, doing it in all sorts of ways. For the second straight week, he caught a red zone touchdown on a scramble drill, after having no red zone catches over the first twelve games of the season. He hauled in curls, comebacks, slants, everything.
Anderson might not be a true number one, but he is a quality NFL wide receiver. As he hits restricted free agency, the Jets would be smart to slap either a second or first round tender on him. He and Darnold are developing great chemistry. Keep a solid weapon around for Sam, and give Anderson 2019 to reveal his longterm price tag.
Herndon caught three passes for 53 yards, each of them going for a first down. Two of them were very tough grabs as Darnold made beautiful touch throws on the run.
It was Chris Herndon’s fourth 50-plus yard game of the season. It’s tied for the eighth-most 50-yard games by a rookie tight end since the turn of the century. That total would be the same amount as Rob Gronkowski had in his rookie year, and more than Zach Ertz, Antonio Gates, Jermaine Gresham, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, George Kittle, and Dustin Keller, among other eventual stud tight ends.
A whopping 3.0 sacks for Henry Anderson against sack-happy Deshaun Watson and the poor Houston offensive line. He was an inch away from another one, and lived in the Texans backfield all game.
Anderson has 6.0 sacks on the year, doubling the career total of 3.0 he carried into New York from Indianapolis. Mike Maccagnan’s trade of a seventh round pick for Anderson has gone down of one of his best moves this offseason.
The Jets have the most expensive cornerback room in the NFL. Their secondary as a whole is the fourth-most expensive in the NFL.
Trumaine Johnson in particular had caught fire recently, but it was against Marcus Mariota and Josh Allen. A challenge against Deshuan Watson and DeAndre Hopkins would be a much better test.
Everybody who got a chance to line up against Hopkins was toyed with. Hopkins compiled 10 catches on 11 targets for 170 yards and two touchdowns. That was the third-best yardage total of Hopkins’ career.
The Jets did not invest this much money into the secondary to allow opposing star receivers to have career days. Morris Claiborne’s struggles have lingered for a very long period now, and as an impending free agent, his days as a Jet might be numbered.
That’s not the case for Johnson, who will be in Florham Park in 2019. He badly needs a turnaround over the final two games.
Kearse’s decline has been one of the biggest reasons for the Jets’ struggles this year. He was a liability against Houston — gaining only nine yards on five targets.
He’s averaging 4.39 yards per target on the season, worst (by an extremely wide margin) among the 73 wide receivers with at least 50 targets this year.