On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns continue at home as they face the New York Jets. To help preview a few topics from the Jets’ perspective, we reached out to Michael Nania from Gang Green Nation and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “I'll be honest: heading into the season, I assumed the Jets were the worst team in the NFL and would be in a tank mode of sorts. Was that your general impression? Has the 2-2 start stunned Jets fans?”
Michael: “There's no doubt that most thought this was going to be a "tank" type of season. The Jets rid themselves of numerous veterans, such as Eric Decker, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, David Harris, and Darrelle Revis among others. They made few moves in free agency to make up for those losses. Then, after giving their two young QBs a shot at the starting job, they ended up settling on a QB who has led his team to a top two pick in each of the last three seasons. So, yes, this had the looks of a rocky year.
While I'm not sold yet that this team is anywhere near a playoff contender, there is definitely an upbeat vibe among the fanbase. As I mentioned, expectations were very low for this team. Some might have thought 2 wins wasn't even plausible for the entire year. For them to be .500 at this point is quite surprising to a lot of people. Does it mean they're a wild card dark horse? At this point, absolutely not. They beat Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles. Past this Sunday's game, they'll have an eight game stretch featuring six teams that currently have a winning record in addition to the Patriots. If they're anything real, we'll see it then.”
Chris: “Former Browns QB Josh McCown is now with the Jets. Even though he couldn't win as a member of the Browns, I will tell you this: most Cleveland fans respected the hell out of him. What is your assessment of his play through four games, and what is the team's outlook on the position for the future?”
Michael: “I think the Jets have gotten just about everything you could hope for out of McCown. However, considering they're averaging only 18.8 points a game, McCown's best just isn't much. One positive for him was that, until this previous Sunday, he kept the mistakes to the minimum. He had only two turnovers in the first three games (both in desperation time against Buffalo). That changed against the Jaguars. He had a lateral pass returned for a touchdown, two additional fumbles that were both recovered by the Jets, an interception (was not his fault though), and at least two more dropped picks. Those things obviously cannot keep happening if the Jets are going to be a real contender.
Though his gaudy completion percentage is mostly due to a conservative West Coast attack, McCown has had a few solid moments throwing the ball. He's unlocked deep threat Robby Anderson over the past two weeks with a pair of well-placed downfield throws. He is also an underrated runner of the ball. Still, McCown takes far too many unnecessary sacks and doesn't have the arm talent to lift an offense.
Long term, the answer most likely is not on the roster. The Jets gave Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg every chance to win this job. Hackenberg had an awful preseason, while Petty had one good performance that the team clearly didn't see as enough. McCown is not a very good quarterback. If the team thought one of the younger guys was better, they would start him. Clearly they did not believe that. The Jets need to get a quarterback to build around in next year's draft. Most thought they'd be bad enough to have their pick of the litter, but if not, a trade up might be a possibility. Nobody wants to see another stopgap.”
Chris: “Based on statistics, the Jets' offensive line seems to be doing great in run blocking but not-so-good in pass blocking. Which player is the Jets' top offensive lineman, and likewise who is the worst starter?”
Michael: “The top lineman on the Jets is probably left guard James Carpenter. He won't make any Pro Bowls, but he is very consistent and makes few mistakes in comparison to the rest of the line. Carpenter is impressive in pass protection, and solid if not dominant in the run game. Rookie right tackle Brandon Shell has also had promising moments in his second year, including a standout game against Khalil Mack, but missed last week's game and was poor in Week 3.
The worst starter is a tossup between left tackle Kelvin Beachum and center Wesley Johnson. Beachum was a Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh before suffering a major injury. He wasn't the same in Jacksonville last year, and hasn't been much better as a Jet. As one of the tiniest left tackles you'll see, he isn't quite the same player without his old athleticism. Beachum has been beat in pass protection at a rather alarming rate. Johnson was promoted to replace Nick Mangold, and simply isn't an impact blocker. It's rare to see Johnson contribute a pounding, key block to facilitate a big play.”
Chris: “The Jets took a pair of safeties in the draft, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. How have they performed to start the season? And what do Jets fans think of former Browns CB Buster Skrine?”
Michael: “Adams and Maye have lived up to their draft slots and then some. They are not just promising young players. These two have been arguably the team's best and most consistent players. Both are highly interchangeable. Adams has lined up at every position outside the defensive line. Maye has made some bone-shattering hits coming downhill, but is also very sound in coverage. This pair is the most formidable unit on the team already.
As for Skrine, he is one of the most scrutinized players on the team. His speed is evident, and he has had some impact plays as a blitzer. As a cover guy, though? Ouch. Going back to his first year in New York, Skrine has been eaten up routinely. He just doesn't flash much competent coverage ability. He doesn't get his head turned to the ball and is a penalty machine.”
Chris: “Statistically, the Jets have not done well against the run this year. Where do you attribute the problem laying with the team's run defense?”
Michael: “The run defense has shored up the past two games, but over the first two weeks it was a joke. Clearly, the reason was the inside linebackers, Demario Davis and Darron Lee. Their gap-filling and discipline was hard to watch. The middle was open for business nearly every snap. The Jets have consistently been an elite run-stopping team, so it was surprising to see them get run on that badly. The unit was clearly missing the experience of the often underappreciated David Harris.
Over the last two weeks, things have been shored up. Davis in particular has played much better and that has allowed the defensive line talent to flash. I think the Jets defense will only be as good as Lee and Davis let them be. Their level of play in Weeks 1-2 was embarrassing and takes away any chance of a team having success. Over the last two weeks, they've been far more competent, and it has allowed everyone else to shine.”
Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to answer my questions.