By Steve Bellew – New York Jets Writer
Normally, when a team draws an early bye week in the NFL, it’s met with collective groans from the players and fans alike. Normally, a team wouldn’t need a bye just four weeks into the season and would be frustrated at being kept out of action before the end of September. But the 2019 New York Jets aren’t normal and the collective sigh of relief coming from Florham Park going into the bye could be felt right across the league.
Unfortunately for the Jets (0-3), just like their start to the season, the bye week didn’t go as planned. Bruised and battered after their worst start in a generation, Gang Green had hoped to line up at the Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) on Sunday with a refreshed group of starters back from illness and injury. However, after a week in which Sam Darnold’s spleen got more column inches than any other Jet, the starting quarterback was finally ruled out on Friday due to the effects of mono. Linebacker CJ Mosely (groin), pass-rusher Jordan Jenkins (ankle) and offensive lineman Keleche Osemele (shoulder) look certain to miss the game as well.
Injuries are part and parcel of life in the NFL as the Eagles and the Jets have found out this season. The Eagles are desperately thin at defensive back with no fewer than three regular starters injured, leaving only two healthy corner backs on the roster. Defensive lynchpin Fletcher Cox continues to struggle with an ankle injury, wideout DeSean Jackson remains out and Alshon Jeffery only returned last week in the Eagles’ impressive 34-27 win over the Packers in Lambaeu Field.
So it’s not just the Jets who have been affected so badly at this early stage of the season. But make no mistake, this fanbase was excited about the new start in 2019 under Head Coach Adam Gase and General Manager Joe Douglas, as well as high profile free-agency signings such as Le’Veon Bell, Mosely and Jamison Crowder. A return so far of three defeats in three games with just one offensive touchdown in 12 quarters of football has upset fans and players alike (see Jamal Adams). So while any reasonable fan would accept that it’s hard to win in the NFL when you are down to your third-string quarterback (Luke Falk) and are shorn of several key players on both sides of the ball, it still hurts that the start to the season has been THIS bad. Especially when we’ve seen teams prosper and look better with back-ups under centre (Gardner Minshew and Daniel Jones to name just two standouts).
However, anyone who has watched the Jets closely this season wouldn’t have been counting solely on Darnold’s return to fix their offensive woes. The real problem for the New York so far has been the performance of the offensive line – it’s been utterly brutal. While Gase has quite rightly received criticism for the lack of creativity on offensive, it’s tough to get creative when your quarterback is hurried on nearly every play. Especially when your quarterback is Luke Falk. The Jets have to get better up front to salvage any respectability on offence. Gase said in a conference call on Monday that they have spent most of the week trying to fix the offensive line and it sounds like positions are up for grabs.
“All those guys know that we’re coming in this week, we’re competing and we’re going to put the five guys that we think give us our best chance out there – not really sure who that’s going to be yet.”
There was some good news for the Jets this week on the injury front with defensive end Quinnen Williams, the No.3 overall pick in the 2019 Draft returning from an ankle injury he suffered in the Jets home opener against the Bills. Williams was highly touted during the draft and the Alabama product will be looking to kick-start his season and career with the Jets here. So far this year the Jets defensive front has been OK against the run but feeble when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Williams’ return will hopefully add some much needed pressure up the middle.
There’s no doubt that the Eagles are clear favourites here and would have been even if Darnold and Mosely had returned. The faint hope for the Jets is that they can take advantage of the beat-up Eagles secondary and the dynamic Bell has a break out game for the Jets in the running game – if he can get some help from his line. The Eagles have generally struggled on defense this season, conceding an average of 26 points per game. Another offensive blank here for the Jets would cause serious concern.
On the other side of the football, the Jets defense under defensive co-ordinator Greg Williams has held its own despite being almost constantly on the field in those first three games. The Eagles run game was impressive in Green Bay last Thursday, Jordan Howard ran for two touchdowns and caught another one behind Philly’s dominant offensive line and this presents a serious challenge for New York on Sunday. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who has his share of critics in Philly, threw for three touchdowns and a 113.2 rating last time out in Green Bay and has a rating of 108.9 in his last seven home games. Like the Eagles, the Jets have their own problems at corner-back and I would expect Wentz to go big to receivers Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery all day. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert had big games in Green Bay and will be confident of a repeat on home turf at Lincoln Financial Field.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Jets 14
According to the bookies, the Eagles are 14-point favourites and that’s exactly how I think it will go on Sunday. I like the match-up for the Jets receivers against the depleted Eagles secondary and after a tough game last time out against the Patriots, I expect Bell to bounce back here. However, unfortunately from a Jet perspective, I don’t think it will be quite enough and expect to see Carson Wentz and Jordan Howard to lead the Eagles home comfortably to go 3-2.