FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The coaches were in the room, and then they weren’t. The New York Jets offense had a planned team meeting on Tuesday, and then the players asked some coaches present to leave the room. It’s not hard to understand why.
The Jets have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They rank last in third-down offense, red-zone offense and have gone 36 possessions without scoring a touchdown. They’ve been beset by penalties, turnovers, drops, play-calling mistakes and other errors all over the offense. The Jets are 4-5 and the playoffs are technically still in reach, especially ahead of Sunday’s game against a 5-5 Buffalo Bills team that just fired its offensive coordinator. As a result, the players, especially leaders like tight end Tyler Conklin and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, decided it was time to hash out some of their issues, before it’s too late. The Jets defense can carry the load for only so long.
“Players-only” meetings don’t usually happen when things are going well.
“It was good,” offensive tackle Mekhi Becton said. “We definitely needed it. Everybody gotta take accountability instead of finger-pointing and do what we gotta do to get this thing going.”
Wilson said in a radio interview on Tuesday that “guys talked and we had the floor. It was just us. We got to make sure we’re all on the same page about where we’re at and how the hell we get out of this funk, man. That was really the message of it. When it comes from one of your teammates, it always hits different.”
The hope is that it’s not too little, too late.
Jets coach Robert Saleh downplayed the significance of the meeting but did say that the best-coached teams “are the teams that coach themselves.”
“When you’re able to look at one another and hold each other accountable, it becomes even more powerful,” he said.
As Robert Saleh holds firm on Jets’ offense, players speak up: ‘We gotta do something’
Saleh clearly understands the urgency to fix what looks like a broken offense. Last week, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said the Jets were still trying to “find what we do good.” This week, Saleh promised some personnel changes and that started with the release of running back Michael Carter on Tuesday, a decision that resonated in a locker room that considered Carter one of its offensive leaders. Carter was claimed by the Arizona Cardinals on waivers.
Becton said he was “down in the dumps” after Carter’s release but added that “we know why they did it. We know what’s the situation. It’s not that big of an impact. We just gotta keep going, get our offensive situation right. … We’re not going to dwell on it. We have to go out there and perform.”
Maybe the Jets have (or will) consider releasing more players if the offense keeps performing as it has. For now, it seems Saleh’s promised personnel changes on offense will be more cosmetic than significant.
Here are some changes to expect against the Bills:
Carter is out, “Izzy” is in. Jets fans have been calling for Saleh to play rookie Israel Abanikanda all season as the running game (outside of Breece Hall) has mostly struggled to cultivate any big plays. Abanikanda has been a healthy scratch since an impressive preseason. Saleh previously attributed that to the rookie learning NFL protections and finding a role on special teams, which he’ll have Sunday. But the time is now for Abanikanda to make an impact.
He has game-breaking speed, which should bring an element to the running game the Jets were missing when Hall was on the sideline.
“We’ll see what he is,” Saleh said. “We’re about to find out for sure.”
Don’t expect Abanikanda to take on a significant role, at least not right way, as he adjusts to regular-season game speed, especially after not taking a single snap since the preseason in August. Carter had been the Jets’ third-down back, albeit not a very effective one. He also had a brutal blocking penalty against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Carter was playing only 25 percent of the offensive snaps. I’d expect Dalvin Cook to take on some of those snaps — he’s the best in protection of all three backs and has been running better lately — with Abanikanda contributing in a change-of-pace capacity.
Conklin is having a solid season (33 catches, 363 yards, zero drops) and will remain a starter. But expect C.J. Uzomah to be phased out of the rotation at tight end. Uzomah had a brutal game against the Raiders, namely via two holding penalties — one that had a touchdown called back, another that negated a Wilson catch to put the Jets in the red zone.
Uzomah dropped an easy touchdown catch in Week 9 against the Los Angeles Chargers and has not given a great return on investment on the three-year, $24 million contract he signed as a free agent last year. He has only eight catches for 58 yards and one touchdown this season. If not for his contract and status in the locker room, Uzomah might have joined Carter on the waiver wire.
Expect Jeremy Ruckert (five catches, 43 yards) to take on a bigger role, especially since the Jets often deploy two tight ends. Ruckert had played 132 snaps over the last six games, while Uzomah played 155 in that same stretch. Ruckert had been playing with a shoulder injury in recent weeks, which might have impacted his performance, though he’ll take on most of Uzomah’s snaps as a blocker.
If tight end Kenny Yeboah is activated off injured reserve this week, it wouldn’t be surprising if Uzomah were a healthy scratch Sunday.
What looked like a strength in the preseason has turned into a glaring weakness. Mecole Hardman couldn’t find a role and was traded. Corey Davis retired. Randall Cobb (20 receiving yards in 129 routes run) has been a healthy scratch for a few weeks. Allen Lazard hasn’t lived up to his $44 million contract, leading all wide receivers in drop rate (20 percent) and ranking 31st (of 33) in receiving yards among those to run at least 300 routes. Undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson has shown flashes, but he still has only three receptions and two carries since his playing time increased in Week 5.
Wilson (55 receptions, 642 yards, two touchdowns) has been a saving grace but he can’t do it all himself.
Practice squad receiver Malik Taylor played 51 snaps the last three weeks and managed two catches for 13 yards — also drawing a crucial pass interference penalty against the New York Giants.
There’s not a lot the Jets can do here since it’s past the trade deadline, so expect them to turn to another unproven player — undrafted rookie Jason Brownlee — to try and provide a spark. He made waves in training camp when a one-handed catch during practice went viral, though that never really translated to preseason performance: He had 10 catches for 102 yards in 63 passing snaps. But he has decent size (6-2, 198) and athleticism and presumably should take on Taylor’s snaps from the last three weeks.
Irv Charles has good size (6-4, 219) and will also get a shot at some offensive snaps, though his primary role is on special teams.
This group had what may have been its best performance in a while against the Raiders, holding them to two sacks, and star defensive end Maxx Crosby didn’t get either of them. Left tackle Mekhi Becton and left guard Laken Tomlinson have played every game and rookie Joe Tippmann has solidified at center.
If left tackle Duane Brown is ready to return, there might be some more shuffling — with Brown going to left tackle, Becton to right tackle and Max Mitchell back to right guard (from right tackle). Saleh indicated this week the Jets may hold Brown out one more game. Practice squad guard Xavier Newman started at right guard against the Raiders.
(Top photo of Israel Abanikanda: Perry Knotts / Getty Images)
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