The New York Jets are grappling with how to proceed.
It’s like that when a team loses its starting quarterback — particularly for the Jets, who spent their offseason emphasizing the tremendous importance of Aaron Rodgers. The coaches stated Rodgers’ importance in meetings. (We saw it again and again on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”) The front office indicated Rodgers’ importance with his salary and trade value. The Jets made it abundantly clear they needed Rodgers.
They lost him to an Achilles injury in Week 1. And then in Week 2, the Jets took a 30-10 drubbing by the Dallas Cowboys. There wasn’t much working for the Jets. Not their defense. Not their offense. On offense, the Jets couldn’t get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.
At least one of them wasn’t happy about it.
“I mean, I only had four touches,” running back Breece Hall said Sunday after the game. “That’s why we struggled. But it is what it is. We just got down early today and kind of just abandoned the run. I feel like with any team, that type of stuff happens. That’s how it is. You feel like you’ve got to get back in the game and stuff like that. It just slips away. So that’s what it was.”
If there’s any consolation, it’s that Hall’s comments point mostly at himself. He wants to do more for the team. But of course, who’s getting in the way?
Well, that’s more complicated: his coaches, his quarterback, his defense.
Playing from behind, the play-caller (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett) needed to call passes. The quarterback kept throwing interceptions. And the defense couldn’t stop the Cowboys.
It was a cycle that kept the ball away from Hall.
And there’s another layer. Last week, coach Robert Saleh said Hall was asking for more touches in Week 1. Saleh told the media that Hall’s competitiveness — his fire to make more plays for the team — was exactly why the running back was on a snap count. It limited his load, even when he wanted to do more.
Hall recently returned from an ACL tear that he suffered in Week 7 last season. He rejoined the team at practice during training camp, but the Jets are taking his recovery slowly. New York signed four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook as a complement to Hall. In Week 2, Hall had four carries for nine yards, Cook had four carries for seven yards, Michael Carter had two carries for eight yards.
That wasn’t just load management for Hall, who had 10 carries for 127 yards and one 20-yard catch in Week 1. The small workload in Week 2 was a matter of the game getting away from the Jets.
“Shoot, I’m frustrated, but I don’t think it was intentional,” Saleh said Monday when asked about Hall’s comments. “We didn’t get him the ball because they weren’t on the field. He was on the bench because we couldn’t get off the field on defense.”
Saleh empathized with Hall’s frustrations. But does that solve the problem in New York?
What’s to stop this from happening again — both the Jets struggling on the field and the players showing discontent off the field?
New York’s offense isn’t built to stage a comeback — not without Rodgers. Zach Wilson did an adequate job managing the game until Dallas began to get ahead. Then the third-year Jets quarterback began forcing downfield throws. He was inaccurate and made bad decisions often enough that he finished the game with three interceptions. With every turnover, Wilson took the running game out of play even more. Because the more the Cowboys surged ahead, the more the Jets needed their passing offense to get them back into the game.
As Saleh noted, his vaunted defense didn’t help out Wilson or Hall. It’s tough to expect any team to limit the Cowboys’ scoring abilities, given what they’ve done in the first two weeks. But that was the Jets’ only hope of staying in the game: Keep it low-scoring, similar to what they did against the Bills in their overtime win in Week 1. New York held the Cowboys to three yards per carry, but receiver CeeDee Lamb took over the game with 11 catches for 143 yards. Dallas possessed the ball for 42:15 minutes, with 26 first downs to the Jets’ 12.
Wilson wasn’t good. Nor was Hall. The offense didn’t stand much of a chance.
“From the outside looking in, it’s easy to play the quarterback blame game,” second-year receiver Garrett Wilson said after the game Sunday. “Honestly, that’s the world we live in, where you look at the top man — the head man, the quarterback, the one who makes the money — and then point the finger. But all of us internally know that we all have to take the right steps and get better.”
That’s the kind of comment that will steer the Jets back in the right direction. That’s the kind of comment that’ll keep the media from jumping further on the Jets as a team that’s not mentally strong enough to win without Rodgers. That’s solid leadership.
Garrett Wilson is the bona-fide leader on offense. He’s trying to lift the Jets back to a level of competency where they can win games. In the meantime, the Jets need to be careful about what they say. Everyone’s watching. Everyone’s scrutinizing. And a comment like Hall’s — as innocuous as it might be — can mess with the delicate situation New York is managing.
The Jets don’t stand much of a chance to stay playoff-relevant. But if they start turning on each other and openly questioning their coaches, they’ll enter a crisis of leadership. And then everything will unravel quickly.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.
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