Dan Leberfeld's Blog

No excuses, no explanations acceptable – just fix the darn thing 11.16.21

There is no way to spin what’s going on with the Jets’ defense.

They have been historically bad in recent weeks, and it must change.

As Tony Dungy always said when coaching: “No excuses, no explanations.”

No Jets fans want to hear any spin on this like “they’re young” or “there were some good stretches.”

None of that matters. Just say, “We’re playing terribly and it must change.” No words are necessary beyond that. No long explanations.

As Elvis Presley once famously sang – “A little less conversation a little more action.”

Everyone involved needs to take ownership and do something about this – the status quo isn’t going to cut it.

All those involved must do their jobs better. That is the bottom line.

We will see if they can moving forward.

But there is absolutely no way to spin what’s going on.

None.

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Rex is wrong about this 11.15.21

The Jets have a lot of issues, but this isn’t one of them.

“This team doesn’t want to play with any damn heart,” said the team’s former head coach Rex Ryan on ESPN.

Ryan was mostly focused on the team’s defense in his comments on Monday, blasting the team’s current head coach, Robert Saleh. He had a lot more to say than just the quote above.

Not sure this particular quote is entirely on the mark. The Jets play very hard and with “heart.” They are just, too often, not playing very smart. There’s a difference.

It’s not an effort or toughness issue, but more related to some players lacking ideal instincts, some being rushed into action before they were ready, and also a defensive scheme that is perhaps too predictable at times.

But the defensive players are flying around out there playing with a lot of effort and toughness.

“Heart” is not the problem.

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Jets brass should pick the brains of these two defensive players 11.15.21

These two players came from solid programs with good defenses.

The Jets need to meet with these two savvy veterans and get their input on how to improve their struggling defense.

Talking about linebacker C.J. Mosley, who used to play for Baltimore, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who came over from New Orleans, both winning programs with strong defenses.

It’s time for a long meeting between the Jets’ defensive brass and Mosley/Rankins, two very good players, who are both extremely bright and insightful men.

Ask them – “What would you guys do to improve this defense?”

A no holds barred meeting. Let Mosley and Rankins speak their peace behind closed doors.

The more ideas the better!

The status quo isn’t working.

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Jets have major crisis, and the coach needs to fix it 11.14.21

What is going on is clearly unacceptable, and something needs to be done about it ASAP.

The Jets have allowed 45 or more points in three of the last four games. What is Robert Saleh going to do about it?

“Obviously, it’s not good enough,” Saleh said. “It always starts with me. We have eight games left and we have to figure it out.”

Saleh got the Jets’ job based on his work as the San Francisco defensive coordinator from 2016-20, so fixing this should be in his wheelhouse.

“Ever since that bye week, we haven’t been nearly as good as we have wanted to be,” said Saleh. “We have eight games left and from coaches to players, we have to find a way to get better every day. Otherwise, you’re selling yourself short.”

So it’s clearly time for lineup changes and to tweak the scheme.

Shake it up!

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Major changes needed at this position – it was a bad plan 11.14.21

There has been so much focus on the quarterbacks, but at this point . . .

the focus needs to go squarely on the Jets’ defense, which is the worst in the league.

Heck, it might not even matter who the quarterback is, because when you give up 45 points in each of the last two games, and 54 in another recent game, not many quarterbacks on the planet will be able to lead you to wins?

Yes, the Jets’ run defense isn’t very good, but it’s been good at times this season. The pass defense has been bad all year, and is the biggest problem with the 2021 New York Jets.

You might want to cut them a little slack at safety because they lost both veteran starters for the season. However, the plan at cornerback was ill-conceived.

Bryce Hall looks like he could be decent, but the rest of the players are a bunch of late-round picks and undrafted free agents, and there were reasons they were late-round picks and undrafted free agents. Now you know why there’s always a run on corners early in the draft, because guys with elite cover skills are pounced on by teams, hoping now to miss out on them, because it’s very hard to find answers later in the draft and with undrafted free agents.

Look, all these players are giving it their best shot, but it would be hard to find a scout, in the entire league, that would have told you, before the draft, that Brandon Echols was a rookie starting candidate. A sixth-round pick out of Kentucky, he was clearly a developmental prospect, maybe even a player who should have spent this season on the practice squad. To start him is unfair to him and the team.

And then to put him on an island against Stefon Diggs today, before Echols left the game with an injury, was patently unfair to the player.

So with all the Jets’ problems right now, you can put their pass defense at the top of the list, including a deep safety who doesn’t make plays on the ball.

In a passing league, when you play pass defense this bad, it’s hard to win games.

The Jets must have a better plan next off-season at cornerback.

Including not waiting until Day 3 of the draft to address the position.

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Will Jets be able to fix things during ‘mini-bye?’ 11.11.21

Even though players generally don’t like Thursday Night Football due to the short week, one positive is the

ten days after the game to get healthy and fix things strategically.

And we know the Jets have a lot to fix on defense coming off a very poor performance in a 45-30 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts amassed 532 yards, including 260 yards rushing, and scored on seven of 11 possessions.

How much will the Jets be able to fix on defense during their “mini-bye” coming off Thursday Night Football?

Perhaps some things, but remember, after their real bye-week, they came out in Week 7, and gave up 54 points in New England, allowing 551 yards.

Saleh thinks the defensive staff and players are “doing a real nice job.” He feels it was just two bad days at the office against New England and Indianapolis.

“The staff is doing a really nice job, the players are doing a really nice job – we just had two bad games against two pretty good offenses,” said Saleh.

It will be interesting to see what Saleh and Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich are able to fix with 10 days to prepare for Buffalo.

But perhaps some of the fixes will have to come in the off-season in the draft and free agency.

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Robert Saleh explaining his decision in today’s press conference 11.10.21

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Starting quarterback?

Robert Saleh: Mike is starting, Mike White.

Hughes: What went into that decision, can you just elaborate on that?

Saleh: Same thing. We had a feeling on Monday with Zach’s knee that he’s not fully ready to go. Mike, obviously, got all his strength back. He feels good, no residual effects from Thursday, so we’re going with Mike.

Hughes: With Zach not all the way back, could that potentially linger into next week as well? Or do you guys feel really confident about next week?

Saleh: We’ll see. It is a two-to-four-week injury, obviously. He’s trending in the right direction. We’ll see how he practices this week, which was always the goal, and see how he feels coming out of this week.

Brian Costello, New York Post: What will he do, Robert, in practice? Zach?

Saleh: Everything. Individual, he’s going to run the show team, he’ll take reps with the offense, basically a normal practice for him.

Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Will he be activated? Will he be your backup this week, or do you just have to wait to see?

Saleh: Probably going to roll with Joe Flacco on this one.

Bob Glauber, Newsday: Do you feel like things will sort themselves out in terms of the quarterback, longer term, two-three weeks that you’ll know what to do and you’ll know what’s right? Or might things get a little weird if Mike continues to do well and Zach is ready?

Saleh: So, I think it’s going to happen organically. If Mike does phenomenal like we think he’s going to do, that’s not weird, that’s awesome to me, in the sense that quarterback is a precious commodity in this league, and we feel like we’ve got four really good ones. To answer your question, I think it’ll all take care of itself, we just have to let it play out.

Iannazzone: How do you handle that in terms of, everything has been about Zach for the most part, his development. But if Mike gives you the best chance to win, how do you handle that going forward?

Saleh: First, you handle the things you’ve got control over and you just have to be cognizant of the entire organization. Joe (Douglas) and myself are committed to doing whatever is best for this entire organization and that includes every player in this organization. There’s always that commitment. There are 52 players on the roster, or 51 other players on the roster, and then practice squad and all that stuff. So, always sitting down, taking a deep breath, ignore all the outside noise and make the decision that’s best for the organization moving forward and the development of the entire team.

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If he’s healthy, the Jets need to promote this guy 11.10.21

The Jets’ 32nd-ranked defense has allowed over 500 yards in two of the last three games. They also lead the NFL in points and yards allowed.

They clearly need to make some personnel changes.

And one new addition to the lineup should come from their practice squad.

It’s probably time for them to elevate defensive end Ronald Blair and get him into the defensive line rotation.

He played for Robert Saleh in San Francisco when the Jets’ coach ran the 49ers’ defense from 2017-20.

“If you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair,” Saleh said in 2019. “If you don’t like winning, you don’t like him. I love him to death. He can do no wrong in my book.”

Knee issues sidelined Blair in 2020, but if healthy now, the Jets need him on their defensive line.

Blair was a 2016 fifth-round of the 49ers out of Appalachian State. In 47 games, he’s recorded 13.5 sacks, 27 QB hits and 88 tackles.

“He’s your lunch pail, gets things done, makes things work, get people lined up – he does it all,” said Saleh in 2019.

Sounds like a guy who could help the Jets.

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Excerpt from Mike White’s Post-Game Presser 10.31.21

Q: Did you ever think the fans would be chanting your name today?

Mike White: No, I did not. Going out and watching film on them to begin the week and see what they did on defense, I knew there’d be completions out there and I knew it was just a matter of making the right decisions and guys running great routes and tight turns and catching the ball and getting those extra yards and that’s what we did out there. I think that’s what led to the success of the offense.

Q: Did you guys plan on throwing a lot underneath a lot?

White: Yeah, I think that’s according to what the defense plays. They play a lot of zone and they don’t like to let guys get behind them. I know we got behind them one time with Elijah (Moore) and I missed the throw and there was a holding penalty, but I think we did a great job of taking what they gave us and executing the play calls and executing the plan that (Mike) LeFleur drew up for us and I think with this offense, you’ve got to execute within the offense and stay in those third and manageables and first down, second down, third down, and that’s what the result can be.

Q: What can you say about Mike LaFleur’s game plan?

White: Mike came to me on Saturday and called me and said he was going to let it rip to start the game because he thought that with a backup getting his first start and they would be tight and not let us run the ball, so I think that was awesome. We were able to soften them up and we got our run game going and screen game and when they were getting real soft we’d check it down and Michael Carter and Ty Johnson were making great runs after the catch. I think the decision to cut it loose early kind of caught them off guard and we were able to execute the offense from then on.

Q: What happened on the play you got hurt?

White: Yeah, someone hit me from the back and my head ran into someone else and my neck was just a little sore but that was pretty much it. We put some Tiger Balm on it and I was ready to roll.

 

 


Mike White Post-Game Comments 10.24.21

Q: Mike, what was the moment like when you saw Zach Wilson go down?

Mike White: First you worry about your friend on the ground, worrying about his well-being, how he was faring. Now you realize, All right, it’s my shot to go in there, help execute the offense. I told myself not to do anything out of the ordinary, just play within the system, complete the balls, get the balls to our play-makers and kind of go from there.

Q: Did you talk to Zach at all?

White: I didn’t get a chance to talk to him on the field. I just spoke to him in there. He’s in good spirits. He congratulated me. He was good. He was good.

Q: Did the touchdown pass maybe settle you down a little bit?

White: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, it helped me settle down a little bit. Still, I mean, kind of all happened so quickly. You get to the sideline, then you realize. We start talking about what we’re thinking, things of that nature. I think the more drives I got, the more completions I got, I started to settle a little bit more into the game.

Q: How do you feel you played overall?

White: I think overall personally there are things to build on. I think we did some good things as an offense. We executed, moved the ball downfield. As in any game there’s going to be plays you want back. I think the most important thing is going into the film room tomorrow and correcting those things, building upon it, not letting today beat us twice.

Q: Are you confident if Zach is out for any amount of time you can lead this team?

White: I think once we figure out what’s going on with Zach – cross that bridge when we get there sort of deal – yeah, I’m confident in myself. I’m mostly confident in the guys we have in that locker room, the leaders we have. The coaching staff, too. Have to make the corrections necessary and keep going and being professionals and working our tails off and trying to get this thing going.

Q: How beneficial has it been to have Josh Johnson on the practice squad? 

White: Josh has been awesome. I think the QB dynamic that we have in our room between myself, Josh, Zach obviously, Coach Cavanaugh, LaFleur, Rod, everyone brings a different thing into that room. We work real well together. I think Josh was awesome on the sideline for me today. Anytime you’re playing, you want to look to the player’s aspect to get a different point of view on the game. And Josh was awesome.

Q: Any one particular pass that stands out you wish you had back?

White: Yeah, there was a couple. I think the one to Ryan Griffin over the middle. I haven’t been able to watch the film yet, but it felt as if it came out kind of high and hot. Those are something you want back. That’s just off the top of my head.

Q: We saw the work you did in training camp. We don’t watch practice during the regular season. How much work have you gotten with the ones?

White: In the regular season Zach will get all the one reps and I’ll get the scout team. Still working on football mechanics, pocket movement, might be other team’s offenses. At the end of the day a curl is a curl and a slant is a slant. It’s definitely different, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make any excuses for myself. Every other backup goes through the same thing.


So how is late addition Matt Cavanaugh melding in? 10.22.21

In late August, the Jets hired Matt Cavanaugh as a senior offensive assistant.

He was brought in to help fill the void after passing game coordinator Greg Knapp was killed on his bike by somebody texting and driving.

I asked Jets coach Robert Saleh today about the impact of Cavanaugh so far.

“Cavanaugh, he’s been fantastic,” said Saleh. “He’s been everything that we wanted. G0d rest his soul with Knapper (Greg Knapp), the idea with Knapper, former coordinator, quarterback coach, kind of can be that old soul for the quarterback and for Mike (LaFleur), who’s also a first-time play-caller. We took time in thinking about how we wanted to fill that role and it was not easy, obviously. Cavanaugh was a name that continually popped up from a lot of people around the league who I trust dearly and he’s very similar in that role.

“He’s a former coordinator, old soul, has a lot of experience with quarterback play, played the position. So just to be that presence in the room. He’s been awesome, he’s been everything that we wanted and couldn’t be happier to have him.”

After playing in the NFL as a reserve QB from 1978-91, Cavanaugh has served as a QB coach and/or offensive coordinator on both the college and NFL levels since 1992.

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Tough balancing act for Jets 10.20.21

Is it hard to do both? I asked Robert Saleh that on Wednesday in his press conference and here is what he said:

Dan Leberfeld, Jets Confidential: Coach, how do you balance working in young players and them taking their lumps on the job while they learn and try to win?

Saleh: It’s the same. We believe that this group can win. It’s an exciting group that we’ve got. They’re not being thrust out there because there’s nobody else, these are really good football players and they’re going to figure it out. You’re always trying to win football games and you understand with this youth that you can cost yourself sometimes. There’s a lot of fear, I’m probably rambling, but there’s always fear with playing young guys, that young guys probably lose you more games than you win. But at the same time, when they figure it out and they learn how not to lose football games, you’ll see the swing and you’ll actually be able to feel it, even from the outside looking in.

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It’s pretty apparent what the Jets are doing this year 10.12.21

The Jets’ plan for 2021 is becoming pretty clear.

They are using this season to develop a rookie QB, Zach Wilson, on the job, and if they win along the way, that’s gravy.

Of course, they want to win games, but if you are using the season as a petri dish at the QB position, it’s probably going to be hard to win a lot of games.

“It’s not easy being a rookie quarterback, it never will be,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “It never has, it never will be.”

True, so some teams let them sit, like Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes in 2017. Others use a season or two to let the kid learn on the job, and it can impact your chances of being successful while you’re doing that.

‘It’s a rollercoaster ride,” Saleh said. “You’re going to take the good with the good, the bad with the bad, but find ways to get better, and he will.”

So now we have a clear picture of what the Jets’ mission is this year.

To develop Wilson.

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‘Settled his mind and heart rate’ 10.03.21

*Q)What did you think of the game Corey Davis had?

Robert Saleh: For Corey, he’s had a couple of games where he knows he has more in the tank. For him to settle his mind and slow his heart rate down and play the way he did – especially against his former team where a lot of times, guys kind of (try to) do way too much – shows his professionalism and the resolve that he has. He was lights-out today.

Q)What was the effect of having WR Jameson Crowder back today?

Saleh: You guys saw it. He’s a security blanket. That big third down conversion in overtime that I thought was going to end up getting us that win. He’s a reliable one-on-one separator. When you have one of those security blankets and you know where he’s going to be, those guys are priceless.

Q)What will this win do for Zach Wilson moving forward?

Saleh: We’ll see, right? There are going to be a lot of things that he will need to take from this. Just like I said, just as losing a game doesn’t define you, neither does winning. You have to stack these things up. You have to stack up great days and continue to get better. We have a really good opponent coming up in London. We have to do our best to find ways to get better and not read our press clippings.

Q)What was the defensive game plan like?

Saleh: On third down, it was going to come down to getting off the field and playing man coverage and doing everything we could to make Tannehill’s life miserable. They were 5-of-19 on third down and we had seven sacks. I feel like (Jeff) Ulbrich did an unbelievable job preparing and the players did an unbelievable job executing.

Q)What areas did you see Wilson improve from last week?

Saleh: For Zach, it’s just letting the game come to him. He didn’t make any mistakes. The interception was unfortunate, but he made the right reads. He put the ball where it needed to be. He was aggressive when he needed to be. Believe it or not, he was boring when he needed to be. Just thought he did a really, really nice job playing this game.

*Excerpts from Robert Saleh’s post game press conference following the Jets win over Tennessee.


This is never easy 09.27.21

Perhaps it’s not ideal to have this combination.

The Jets have a rookie QB (Zach Wilson) and rookie offensive coordinator (Mike LaFleur).

LaFleur isn’t new to the league, but was never an OC on the NFL level.

JC asked Robert Saleh in Denver about the challenge of having so much NFL inexperience in this all-important combination.

“You want to say it shouldn’t be tough,” said Saleh. “You do want to see growth, day in and day out, you want to see the entire offense, you want to see that growth, you want to see that communication, you want to see the precision as we go. I think we’ll see.”

In fairness, the Jets had hired veteran QB coach/offensive coordinator Greg Knapp to be LaFleur’s first lieutenant, and passing game coordinator, but he was killed while biking by a man texting and driving.

However, there is no way around the fact the team has a rookie head coach being led by a rookie offensive coordinator.

Some might argue this isn’t the best case scenario.

However, to add context, Saleh pointed out the incredible challenge this duo, and the Jets’ newfangled offense, faced in the first three weeks of the season.

“To the naked eye, we played three really good football teams (Panthers, Patriots and Broncos) and three really big defenses,” Saleh said. “Carolina’s undefeated and Denver’s undefeated. All three of them have top five defenses, so this has been a rough indoctrination for quarterback in our offense but at the same time we do expect plays to be made and progression to be made.”

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This Jet looks like he could be a good one 09.24.21

While there are no moral victories in the NFL, from a developmental standpoint, this Jets’ player took a big jump in their Week Two loss to New England.

Talking about Jets left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was a little inconsistent in the Jets’ opening day loss to Carolina, but was much better in Week Two.

Here are three plays of note from the former USC star, who the Jets picked with the 13th pick of the 2021 first round:

In the first quarter, on a 13-yard run by Michael Carter off left tackle, Vera-Tucker had an excellent block on LB Ja’Whaun Bentley to open the hole.

In the second quarter, on a Tevin Coleman gain of 17 up the middle, Vera-Tucker pulled right and took out defensive Deitrich Wise.

In the fourth quarter, on third-and-two, Carter had a 14-yard run to the left side, and Vera-Tucker helped pave the way, taking out defensive tackle Christian Barmore.

You get the sense that this guy, if he stays healthy, could be a dominating player for Gang Green.

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