The list of culprits in this Jets debacle is a long one.
You can start with head coach Adam Gase, if you like, and it now feels inevitable that he will pay with his job at some point. You can cast blame on owner Christopher Johnson, who picked or stuck with the decision-makers who got the Jets to this point. You can blame quarterback Sam Darnold for continuing to look like he is spinning his wheels and not progressing. You can blame former general manager Mike Maccagnan for being terrible at procuring talent. You can blame the players for playing dumb football.
All of that is fair.
Just don’t forget one person who has largely escaped blame this season, but deserves some — Joe Douglas. No one expected Douglas to work miracles when he was hired in June 2019. Douglas has a long-term rebuilding project on his hands. He got a scholarship year last season because he was hired after free agency and the draft. This year, the expectation was for moderate improvement to the roster, filling some of the holes on the team and putting together a respectable group.
The early returns have not been good.
Douglas’ rebuilt offensive line does not look better than the group that played in the second half of last season. On Thursday night, Darnold was sacked six times. The Broncos entered the game with four sacks in their first three games. Beyond the pass protection, there are no holes for the running backs. If you remove Darnold’s rushing yards, the Jets averaged 2.5 yards per carry Thursday.
Douglas took a calculated risk in free agency this year. He stayed away from the big-money players, choosing instead to shop for discounts to stock his offensive line. He signed George Fant, Greg Van Roten and Connor McGovern at discount prices. Douglas’ philosophy is one he took from his mentor, Ozzie Newsome, with the Ravens — “right player, right price.” It means rarely spending big. It is a sound strategy that creates cap-space flexibility in the future, but you had better get your player evaluations right. At the moment, it feels Douglas overestimated on the line, particularly with Van Roten and McGovern.
Then, you look at wide receiver. Douglas let Robby Anderson walk in free agency, which has really hurt Darnold and the offense. No one is confusing Anderson with Jerry Rice, but he is an effective receiver who rarely misses games. Anderson already has two 100-yard receiving games for the Panthers, who signed him to a reasonable two-year, $20 million contract. That is a deal the Jets should have matched. Instead, they signed Breshad Perriman on the cheap ($6.5 million) and they’ve gotten what they paid for, because Perriman has missed two games and most of a third. He has just five catches so far.
Another of Douglas’ free-agent signings who had an eventful night Thursday is cornerback Pierre Desir, whom the Jets signed for $3.75 million. Desir allowed two touchdowns and had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Despite those plays, Desir has been a liability in coverage so far.
These roster shortcomings have left the Jets with no margin for error. They need to play near-perfect football to win. If they commit too many penalties, as they did Thursday, they’re doomed. If they drop passes, they’re screwed. If they stall in the red zone, it will bite them in the butt.
No one is arguing that Gase is doing a good job. But anyone looking at this objectively can see he has been entered into a gun battle with a water pistol. Gase was asked Friday if this team has enough talent. He said he expects a lot of players back from injured reserve this week to help.
“And our guys, they have to do a good job of sticking together and blocking out any outside noise and getting better every day in practice,” Gase said. “I talked to all those guys today about [how] fracturing is not an option. We’re four games in, we’ve got to do a good job of putting our head down, going to work, correcting the mistakes, fixing the stuff that’s absolutely non-talent based and doing those things right first, and then your outcome is going to be different.”
Plenty of people have their fingerprints on this 0-4 start, from the players to ownership and everyone in between — including Douglas.