Isaiah Crowell was stuck in the mud on Sunday in Chicago. On carries 7 through 12, stretching from the first to third quarter, his rushing production looked like this:
0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0.
Dude got wiped by the Chicago Bears.
On Monday, New York Jets coach Todd Bowles was asked why the team struggled to move the ball on the ground. Bowles, who rarely criticizes, offered a brutally frank assessment.
"That's a good question," he said. "I don't think it was good at all. I thought they beat us up front and they beat us to the punch. I thought we missed some assignments that we have to correct. We have to keep grinding at it. We can't be up and down."
The Jets' 24-10 loss shined a light on an issue that needs to be addressed in the offseason: the offensive line. Truth be told, the entire offense needs to be overhauled, and it will be. With close to $100 million in projected cap space, general manager Mike Maccagnan has the flexibility to tear down and rebuild around quarterback Sam Darnold, who, like most quarterbacks, needs a strong line.
No matter what, the front office can't make the same mistake the Indianapolis Colts did with Andrew Luck, who nearly lost his career because he was battered behind a second-rate offensive line. Now led by a different regime, the Colts decided to protect their most valuable asset -- what a concept -- and they are starting to see positive results.
The good news for the Jets is they have the ability to start over on offense. The only player with guaranteed money in 2019 is Darnold, meaning nothing is nailed to the floor. Four starters are headed to free agency -- wide receivers Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse, running back Bilal Powell and left guard James Carpenter. Maccagnan can replace as many players as he wants, and he needs to start by rebuilding the foundation, which has decayed over the years. He has picked only two linemen in four drafts.
In Chicago, the Jets' coaching staff showed no confidence in the line. Instead of running the ball out of heavy packages, the Jets decided to employ three wide receivers for most of the game. It was a curious strategy because it was an injury-ravaged receivers group, yet the Jets concluded the "best way to attack was to spread them out," according to Bowles. Eric Tomlinson, their best blocking tight end, played only six snaps.
Maybe they were swayed by what the New England Patriots did the previous week against the Bears; they averaged more than five yards per carry out of three-receiver packages. However, Bowles didn't mention that as a reason. He did say the Bears do "some things with a lot of people in tight that requires a lot of work. They make it difficult for you." Wait, were these the '85 Bears?
The Jets never adjusted -- not before the game (when they found out linebacker Khalil Mack was inactive) and not during the game, when their struggles were obvious. They stuck to the plan, but managed only 55 yards on 22 rushes with three receivers on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You can question the strategy, but the big-picture takeaway is that it showed a lack of confidence in the offensive line. Center Spencer Long didn't play, but it's hard to believe the Jets' game plan was dictated by one missing lineman.
Let's not be naive. Injuries to Robby Anderson and Enunwa at wide receiver probably had a trickle-down effect on the line's performance, but here's the reality: This was a work-in-progress offense before players started getting hurt.
Anderson, perhaps not a good fit in Jeremy Bates' scheme, hadn't been producing the way he did last season. He'll be a restricted free agent, so the Jets can keep him at a fixed salary. Enunwa got off to a terrific start, but started to fade as opponents adjusted their coverages. He's a team captain, which shows how much Bowles values him. Do they want to commit long-term to a player who's had injury issues?
They should be fine at tight end as long as rookie Chris Herndon, who has scored in three straight games, continues to develop. At running back, they probably will move on from Powell (neck surgery), especially with Trenton Cannon and Elijah McGuire waiting in the wings. But can they count on Crowell as a No. 1? His 219-yard rushing day against the Denver Broncos was an aberration. In the other seven games, he gained only 265 yards on the ground. Maybe Maccagnan will try to make a big splash in free agency, chasing Le'Veon Bell. He certainly seems intrigued by the unsigned Pittsburgh Steelers star.
The No. 1 objective is to surround Darnold with as much talent as possible. Otherwise, his development will be stunted. The fans should send a bulletin to Maccagnan, because Sunday's loss was an S.O.S.
Save Our Sam.