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5 questions with Gang Green Nation

We spoke with Michael Nania this week from about this weeks’ match up between the Denver Broncos and the NY Jets.

NFL: New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

1) Everyone was pretty excited about Sam Darnold after week 1 and since then the sentiment has cooled a bit. But what do Jets fans think about him so far? Is he learning? Does he look like the kind of guy who is going to be “The Guy” in a year or two?

Sam Darnold has frankly played bad football over the last two weeks, greatly hampering the offense. But that is 100% OK. We knew Darnold was going to have his bumps, just like every rookie quarterback in the history of football. He was very solid over the first two games, posting efficiency numbers that have rarely ever been seen so early in a quarterback’s career. Keep in mind that through all of this he is a young 21, as the youngest starter in the history of the pro game.

Darnold thrived over the first two games playing safe football, getting things going in the intermediate range, but over the last two weeks he’s faced very tough matchups facing the Cleveland and Jacksonville defenses on the road. Those teams have stacked the box and taken away the underneath game, dominating the Jets offensive line and putting Darnold in extremely tough positions. He’s been forced to work downfield a lot more than he was earlier in the year, and he’s had to do it under extreme duress behind a below average offensive line.

Against Cleveland in Week 3, Darnold was ultra conservative and made a lot of poor decisions as he missed open receivers downfield and elected for shorter, more tightly contested throws. Going into Jacksonville, you simply wanted to see Darnold get more aggressive even if the results weren’t going to be there with such a mismatch against that star studded defense. He did that - getting much more aggressive attacking downfield. He was mostly inaccurate on those throws - but he was very close on most. He also threw a few dimes on scramble drills, which is one thing he has done every game. On the negative side, he had an interception wiped out and two dropped.

He’s progressing. Mentally, he’s special. He is never too high or too low and is an all-football kind of guy. He really showcases an off-field persona that gives you the confidence he is the kind of worker who is going to do whatever it takes to get where he wants to be. On the field, while he is still getting used to some of the complex things NFL defenses throw at quarterbacks, he has certainly looked like he belongs even if the rookie valleys have been there.

Jets fans are confident he’s going to be great. It doesn’t seem he’ll have one of those rare Pro Bowl-caliber rookie seasons, but that is 100% okay.

2) Both of our teams have young head coaches with questionable resumes to date. Tell us what you see in Todd Bowles. Does he do anything well? Where are his problem areas?

Todd Bowles’ stock probably has not dropped lower following a game than it has this past Sunday against Jacksonville. It was a pathetic coaching effort as all of his criticisms came together in a perfect storm that now has just about every Jets fan in unison hoping he is eventually canned.

The Jets allowed over 500 yards of offense to Blake Bortles and a Jaguars team that scored 6 points the previous week. They lost by 20 despite winning the turnover battle 3-0: teams that win the turnover battle by 3+ without turning the ball over once typically win 94% of the time. Bowles made two atrociously conservative calls, kicking a field goal in the red zone in the fourth quarter when down 3 scores (22 points) that cut to 19 - still three scores. He also punted when down two scores on a 4th & 6 with about 5 minutes left. Both of those calls have only been made about 5% of the time in similar situations over the past couple of decades - that’s how conservative he has been. In fact, in terms of the field goal decision, Bowles is the only coach to make that move since he was hired by the Jets in 2015 - and he’s done it twice.

The Jets were getting beat by the same exact routes time and time again as Dede Westbrook ran free underneath uncovered. They never. Adjusted. They ran so many defensive plays in this game where defenders were bunched up in zone coverage or inexplicably doubling receivers while leaving areas of the field wide open. It was miserable.

Since his breakout 2015, Bowles has not been able to build a high quality defense with a myriad of high priced talent and first round picks. He has made foolish and ultra-conservative game management decisions that at times were simple sacrifices of whatever small chances at winning games remained. His “culture” movement has yielded an 11-26 record over his past 37 games. His teams consistently commit post-play penalties.

It’s hard to find something he does well. Most fans, me included, think his days *should* be numbered unless he miraculously pulls out a playoff berth. Will the organization agree? I think 7 wins is the number. If he can get that with a rookie quarterback, it might be enough to convince management.

3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of your defense? Denver needs their offense to step up, so what is the best way to attack the Jets?

Slot corner Buster Skrine is the guy to target. He has flashes of great plays (pass breakup, forced fumble, a couple tackles underneath last game) but is consistently the team leader in yards and first downs allowed as he struggles in zone coverage and sees his technique worsen the further down the field he travels. He’s also penalty prone. Go at him.

Don’t be afraid of Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has a decent year as the #2 corner but seems overdue for a good beatdown. Johnson has had a very disappointing year. He allowed 92 yards and 3 first downs last game, including a 67-yard burn courtesy of Donte Moncrief. Get these guys in 1-on-1 situations outside. Look to beat Claiborne with out routes and curls, and beat Johnson with the go route (a supposed strength of his that has been a weakness so far) and digs/routes towards the middle of the field.

The Jets run defense is pretty good. ILB Avery Williamson is a tremendous run stopper and the Jets have a bunch of good run stoppers up front. They’re inconsistent, though. Don’t be afraid to run the ball outside of the tackles or towards the B gaps. The Jets have had stretches where they’ve been susceptible to poor 1st down run defense setting up 2nd/3rd & shorts.

The Jets’ zone defense has been eaten alive for two straight weeks. Against Cleveland, it was the middle of the field, against Jacksonville, it was the shallow crossers. Dial up traditional zone beaters and make inside linebackers Darron Lee and Avery Williamson work in zone coverage. Lee has had a strong season in coverage defending running backs in the flat but both he and Williamson have been shaky in zone.

Jamal Adams is an absolute force. He’s lining up and thriving everywhere. He’s an effective blitzer. He is a great downhill run stopper. He delivers crushing hits in coverage. He’s locked down tight ends in man coverage, a major weakness last year that is now a strength. In zone, while imperfect and susceptible to make some late decisions, his recognition is usually exceptionally quick while his closing speed is special. You have to know where he is at all times - he’s a dangerous playmaker whose versatility can confuse and befuddle an offense.

4) Tell us about two young players we haven’t heard of that are making an impact for the Jets this year.

Offensively, I’ll go with a few blockers. I’ll start with right tackle Brandon Shell. He had a very solid first three games before absolutely falling apart against Jacksonville’s great front. On the season though, he has been the team’s best run blocker and was arguably the best pass protector for 3 games as well. He is big, long, and athletic, but susceptible to refined tacticians who can work the inside spin, use bend, and power right through him. On the whole though, he is the most talented offensive lineman on this weak unit.

Second-year TE Jordan Leggett and rookie TE Chris Herndon have been rocky but have flashed as blockers in separate ways. Leggett has made some really nice run blocks over the past week, assisting on first downs against Myles Garrett and Calais Campbell. It’s weird, since coming out of college he was a receiving prospect who was considered lazy and a poor blocker. Herndon has struggled in run blocking but has been trusted a lot in pass protection and has not allowed a pressure across 11 blocking snaps. He struggled early on as a receiver, dropping an easy 30-yard gain, failing to get out of bounds on a 2-minute drive, cutting some routes short, and failing to push a ball over to the goal line. That frustrated a lot of people - he was frankly as bad as a receiver can get. But he flashed in the last game with an amazing circus grab that was wiped out and a street-ball over the shoulder catch down the field. He has a lot of upside. Leggett also scored his first career TD last game, coming in the red zone. Both of these guys have plenty of potential and are slowly finding ways to contribute.

Defensively, my guy isn’t exactly “young” at 27, but it’s only his 4th career season and he is an under the radar stud. Henry Anderson. He is a former Colts defensive tackle who the Jets picked up for a 7th round pick. He’s been a steal. Playing only about half of the defensive snaps, second among D-linemen, he has racked up 2.5 sacks, 2 additional QB hits, 3 run stuffs, and 3 pass deflections. He has such a high motor, is a great user of hands, and has the quickness to slip through gaps on the interior to make himself a quality inside pass rusher. He is a lot of fun to watch and a great impact player up front.

5) You are home against a team that is faltering with what is likely a worse head coaching situation than your team’s. How do you see this game going and what is your final score prediction?

It’s been hard to be confident in this team this year but I can see them winning this game. The Jets have typically been one of the league’s biggest beneficiaries of playing at home. The Broncos are crossing over two time zones, also an extra advantage for the home team. Case Keenum has been much worse playing outside throughout his entire career. I think the Jets defense matches up well with this Broncos offense (though they won’t beat anybody with the effort they put forth last week). I think the Jets will win an ugly grinder - and I only really think that buoyed by the fact that you Broncos fans seem less confident than we do.

The Broncos could easily win this game. The Jets have been a bad first half team this year and do not have the quarterback (Yet) or offensive line to dig themselves out of holes. Their pass rush could decimate this Jets offense - Denver should have no problem holding the Jets under 20 points in this game. On the offensive side, the Denver run game is a weapon and Case Keenum seems overdue for a good game. The Broncos have a solid wide receiver core and the Jets have a struggling #1 corner.

Denver could easily win this game. But I think the Jets will avoid falling to 1-4 and 0-2 at home, and balance things out a bit. I’ll go 19-17 Jets.