CLEVELAND — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Will players have his back? Coach Robert Saleh’s “taking receipts” comment made headlines and enraged an already frustrated fan base, but it didn’t surprise one of his former players.
“Not at all,” former cornerback star Richard Sherman told ESPN.
Sherman, who has known Saleh for more than a decade, said his old coach was simply showing faith in his players by standing up for them in an adverse time.
“I don’t bet against Robert Saleh. I wouldn’t bet against him — ever,” Sherman said. “I don’t care what the circumstances are, I don’t care where the chips are falling, I don’t care what the odds are, because I know the kind of human being he is. I know he’s going to fight.”
Sherman, now an analyst for Amazon’s Prime Video, has been through good times and bad with Saleh. They won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks (2013) when Saleh was a quality-control coach and they won an NFC Championship with the San Francisco 49ers (2019) when Saleh was the defensive coordinator. They also experienced 4-12 and 6-10 seasons with the Niners.
He knows Saleh’s coaching style better than most, and he’s convinced the Jets’ coach has the mettle to turn around the perennial losers. He believes Saleh’s perpetual positivity — criticized in some quarters — is actually a strength.
“That’s the best coaching philosophy to have, I think — at least from the coaches I’ve dealt with,” Sherman said. “There’s enough negativity in the world, enough people telling you, ‘You suck. You’re not going to be able to do it. You can’t do it.’ You need somebody, even when the chips are against you, to show you, ‘Hey, here’s the way to get out of this. You can do it, you can get out of this hole.’
“If he can get his team to match his commitment, it’s going to work out for him. I have total belief in that.”
The players say they have Saleh’s back. We’ll find out Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
2. Short leash? Saleh made the right call by sticking with Joe Flacco — it would’ve been a knee-jerk reaction to bail after only one game — but his conviction will be tested if the Flacco-led offense sputters against the Browns.
Would he insert Mike White in the second half, looking for that proverbial spark?
Saleh said, “No, Joe’s our quarterback.” But how could he ride with Flacco if it’s a repeat of last week? At some point, a coach has to try something.
Flacco played fairly well in a clean pocket, completing 31 of 43 passes for 278 yards (one touchdown, one interception) when he wasn’t pressured. No doubt, that factored into Saleh’s decision to start him again.
The flip side: Flacco was poor under pressure (6-of-16, 31 yards), and there figures to be plenty of pressure facing Browns defensive end Myles Garrett & Co. White has limited experience, but at least he’s not a statue in the pocket and he does bring a certain energy.
It could be the story of the game.
3. Did you know? Big game for the Jets. Since the NFL expanded to a 14-team playoff format in 2020, no 0-2 team has gone on to make the playoffs.
4. Imperfect 10: One of the big questions going into Week 2 is receiver Garrett Wilson‘s playing time. The rookie played only 38 of 79 snaps, including just six in the first half, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He was the 10th overall pick in the draft. What gives?
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said Wilson must learn to master two positions (slot and flanker), not just one. He said the rookie is a dynamic player in the passing game, but suggested he needs to improve on non-passing plays. Wilson’s “operation” on running plays and fake jet sweeps “needs to get to 100 percent, and he knows that,” LaFleur said.
Presumably, LaFleur was referring to more than the first game because only three of Wilson’s 38 snaps were running plays. If that trend continues, it will make the offense predictable. In this week’s “Flight Deck” podcast, former Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said Wilson is ready for a bigger role.
5. Extra Sauce: Rookie Sauce Gardner is a pure cover corner whose rare size (6-foot-3) allows him to cover fleet-footed tight ends. You saw it in the opener. He had 24 coverage snaps, including a handful against the Baltimore Ravens‘ tight ends. That can be a valuable chess piece on defense.
6. Lacking 2020 vision: Last week was rough for the 2020 draft class, and it probably won’t get better in the coming weeks. Only three of the nine draft picks were in uniform, and their contributions were minimal.
Combined snaps on offense/defense: five
Combined snaps on special teams: 28
7. Kick this around: Greg Zuerlein‘s shaky debut was a painful reminder of how the organization has botched the kicking position in recent years. Try to wrap your brain around these two factoids:
Brant Boyer, in his seventh year as special teams coordinator, is on his 11th kicker. He’s a good coach but he hasn’t been able to solve the kicking riddle.
Fittingly, a former Jets kicker will be in the broadcast booth Sunday — Jay Feely (2008-2009), color analyst for CBS Sports.
8. Kick this around, part two: Meanwhile, the Browns couldn’t be happier with their kicker, rookie Cade York, whom they drafted in the fourth round. His 58-yarder last week was the longest game-winning field goal in Browns history. The Jets passed on him twice in the fourth round, but they weren’t looking for a kicker after doling out a combined $1.7 million in guarantees for Zuerlein and Pineiro.
9. A Hardee homecoming: Special teams captain Justin Hardee grew up in Cleveland, about 15 minutes from FirstEnergy Stadium. He went past the stadium all the time and played a high school game there in 2011, but this will be the first NFL contest in his hometown. It’s a special moment for an undrafted player who came up as a wide receiver, switched to cornerback and carved a niche on special teams.
“It’s going to be a dream come true,” said Hardee, who expects to have at least 40 friends and family members at the game. “I’ll be like a kid living his dream, seeing it come to life.”
10. The last word: “When you run the ball for 250 yards (actually, 217), you don’t need to do anything as a quarterback. He could’ve not played and they would’ve won that game. But, no, Jacoby [Brissett] is a great player. When they need him to pass the ball, he’ll pass the ball.” — DE John Franklin-Myers on Brissett’s 147-yard passing day in Cleveland’s win over the Panthers