New York Jets: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Preseason
As the long month of August wears on, there seems to be an increasing amount of uncertainty surrounding key positions on the Jets. Injuries are piling up in the secondary, complicating their mission of starting the regular season with the roster operating at full capacity.
The Jets are now also confronted with some "good" problems, including a quality competition at left guard and a running back rotation that flashed a ton of potential in Saturday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here is what we have learned about the New York Jets after the second week of preseason.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
Secondary Situation Has Reached DEFCON 1
Before camp even began, it was no secret that the Jets' secondary was going to endure some rough moments this year—but not even John Idzik himself would admit to anticipating the situation in the defensive backfield getting this ugly in just the second week of the preseason.
Without Dee Milliner, the Jets made the Bengals' new $115 million man look underpaid. Andy Dalton connected on all eight of his passes, one of which included a long pass to Mohamed Sanu over slot cornerback Kyle Wilson. He finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
For his first start, Allen did an admirable job covering one of the top receivers in the game. Still, the fact that the Jets made Dalton look like a red-headed wizard has to draw a serious amount of concern, preseason or not.
Ryan can talk about how confident he is in his defense all he wants, but the fact that he has already made some eyebrow-raising personnel changes, such as converting Antonio Allen to cornerback, outlines their desperation.
It is certainly feasible that Ryan has a few schematic tricks up his sleeve he is waiting to deploy when the season starts, but these past two games will have all eyes on the secondary for the rest of the preseason.
Defensive Line Is Sharing the Blame
As bad as the secondary has the potential to be this season, they have not been getting the help they need from their supposedly dominant defensive front all preseason. It is easy to overlook how average the pass rush has looked so far this preseason.
Asking Antonio Allen to cover A.J. Green for any amount of time is a risky proposition. Asking him to do it for more than three seconds is just asking to get beat. On Saturday, Dalton had plenty of time to go through his progressions and find his open receiver in systematic fashion, play after play.
The Jets simply have too much talent on the defensive line to be anything less than stellar up front this year. With their lack of talent and surplus of injuries in the secondary, the Jets defense will fall into obscurity if they are anything less than a top-five unit.
In particular, the Jets need more production out of Quinton Coples, who has yet to produce like his pedigree as a former first-round pick suggests he could. Coples received a significant cut in playing time on Saturday according to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News—perhaps the Jets are trying to send their talented linebacker a message:
Jason Babin played in 31 defensive snaps compared to Quinton Coples' 15. #nyj— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) August 17, 2014
Coples is not the only one to blame for the lack of production. None of the defensive starters recorded a sack during the game—a trend that must change when the games count.
Running Game Starting to Live Up to Potential
While the defense had its fair share of struggles, the offense is starting to show much-needed signs of life, particularly in the running game. Without Chris Ivory to carry the load, the Jets still managed to put up 125 yards on the ground with the combination of Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell—in the first half.
As strong as Powell looked on his 32-yard gallop, it is the performance from Johnson that is most exciting to the Jets. His 6.3 yards-per-carry average (on 10 carries) gives them some assurance that their second-biggest offensive addition could pay huge dividends for them this year.
What was more promising was how well the line blocked for these two backs. As the second-worst run-blocking team in football last year, according to Pro Football Focus, there is plenty of room for improvement in this makeshift line. One of the differences was the addition of Oday Aboushi in the starting line, Rich Cimini of ESPN notes:
It will certainly be interesting to see who the Jets go with at left guard in next week's glorified rehearsal against the New York Giants, especially how both players have had a strong preseason.
Backup Defense Shows Up
The starters were unable to slow the Andy Dalton-run juggernaut that is the Bengals' offense, but the Jets did flash some depth with some strong performances from their backup defenders.
Sixth-round pick Ik Enemkpali had his first professional sack, while fellow rookie linebacker Trevor Reilly forced a fumble (as did Nick Bellore). The only pass rush the Jets generated was from their backups, with Leger Douzable and Tevita Finau recording sacks.
Overlooked cornerback Darrin Walls continues to play well in his limited opportunities, recording an interception. Based on the play of the starting secondary, he should get serious considerations to crack the starting lineup.
Of course, they were not playing against the Bengals' regular starters, but the Jets are starting to flex their newfound depth thanks to their large draft classes as of late.
Calvin Pryor Is Catching Up
Hampered by an early-camp concussion that caused him to miss the first preseason game, Calvin Pryor has quickly emerged as one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise beleaguered secondary.
The "Louisville Slugger" led the team with seven tackles (four solo) and two passes defended. His most impressive play of the game was on this Jadeveon Clowney-esque tackle for loss:
Calvin Pryor is laying that WOOD!! https://t.co/fcUQgGsqKV— Contrl the narrative (@_bigchee) August 17, 2014
Pryor was still a part of a secondary that was carved up by Andy Dalton, but at this point, the Jets will take any kind of playmaking ability from their back four defenders. Pryor was the only starter in the secondary who had a positive impact on the game, Pro Football Focus notes.
Jets rookie SS Calvin Pryor was all over the field last night, 49 snaps, +5.5 overall, +3.3 of which came as a pass rusher. Active debut.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 17, 2014
Pryor will make occasional mistakes in coverage, but the Jets can live with that as long as he makes tone-setting, game-changing hits on a regular basis.
Jace Amaro Developing All-Around Game
It has not been an easy transition for second-round pick Jace Amaro in his first training camp, but he is finally starting to show signs of turning the corner. Amaro started the game in relief of the injured Jeff Cumberland and fared rather well, particularly as a blocker.
A glorified receiver in a tight end's body at Texas Tech, Amaro is not necessarily unable to block—he was simply not asked to do it much in college, especially as a traditional inline blocker.
In his first outing as a starter, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showed no bias in keeping Amaro in his usual receiver role. According to Pro Football Focus, Amaro actually spent more time as a blocker than a receiver (19 to 17 snaps).
He did allow a quarterback hurry, but he was otherwise a serviceable blocker in both the running and passing game—which is all the Jets can realistically ask for at this point. With more experience, Amaro has a chance to turn what used to be a weakness in his game into a positive.
Tajh Boyd Is Fading into Obscurity
Headed into training camp, sixth-round rookie Tajh Boyd had at least a good chance to usurp Matt Simms as the No. 3 quarterback. Boyd is young, has upside and is a personal favorite of the Ryan family.
However, Boyd seems to be playing himself out of a job. In his first live action on Saturday, Boyd was tough to watch. He completed just one pass for six yards to draw disappointment from his head coach (h/t Chris Lopresti of WFAN).
Rex on Boyd last night: "Dang, Tajh. You're a better player than that...come on, kid. I've seen you play way better than that." #NYJ— Chris Lopresti (@CLoprestiWFAN) August 17, 2014
Even being just two games into the preseason, Boyd's chances of making the final roster appear bleak at best. Simms has been the far superior player all along, and Boyd has shown no reason to suggest that he is ready to break out at anytime soon.
At this point, the best Boyd can hope for is a spot on the practice squad to spend the year developing his skills, then he can come back and try again next summer.
Still No Clarity in Receiver Battle
Having now breached the midway point of the preseason, the Jets are no closer to naming a starting outside receiver opposite Eric Decker than they were at the start of camp.
Simply put, no receiver (not named Decker or Jeremy Kerley) has shown enough to run away with the job. Greg Salas has been arguably the most impressive player of the group so far, but that isn't saying much. He led the team in receiving against the Bengals with 31 yards on two receptions.
Stephen Hill has showed signs of improvement with his 17-yard grab on Saturday, but he has yet to begin producing up to his potential. David Nelson is trying to regain the momentum he had gained after becoming a starter last year.
The closer we get to the start of the regular season without a clear-cut starter, the more apparent it becomes that the Jets are destined to use a committee approach to fill the open spots. The varying skill sets of Hill, Salas and Nelson makes it logical for the Jets to use them in favorable situations instead of pegging one player into roles that are better-suited for someone else.
For example, Hill and Nelson can handle the red-zone duties with their size advantage, while Salas and Kerley do the grunt work on the middle part of the field with screens and short-to-intermediate routes.
A.J. Edds Is Beating the Odds
After using a fifth-round pick on linebacker Jeremiah George, the backup linebacker group was all but set headed into training camp—or so we thought.
A fourth-round pick from the 2010 draft, A.J. Edds has crept up the depth chart to find himself knocking on the door of an unlikely roster spot. In Saturday's game against the Bengals, Edds was running with the second-team defense alongside special teams ace Nick Bellore.
Edds totaled five tackles in 28 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus—not a bad production ratio by any means. He was even more productive last week against the Colts to put him in the favorable position he finds himself in now:
One guy I was impressed with: LB A.J. Edds. 8 total tackles, game-sealing fumble recovery _ and did it despite breaking a finger. #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 8, 2014
George, on the other hand, was given just 16 snaps with the third-team defense.
It would be unusual for a team to replace a fifth-round rookie with an unproven journeyman, but Rex Ryan is clearly impressed with what he has seen from Edds so far based on the playing time he has received.