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The Jets and Giants Are Halfway Through a Season Full of Sadness. Who Has It Worse?

Sam Darnold is “seeing ghosts.” Daniel Jones keeps turning the ball over. And Jamal Adams is going public with his anger. It’s time for the midseason edition of the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix.

The Jets and Giants completed a trade with each other on Monday, marking the first time in the history of the two franchises that such a deal has happened. And because it involved these two franchises, it should come as no surprise that the trade was strange for both sides.

The Jets sent the Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-rounder. This must have been somewhat of a bummer for the Jets, since it acknowledged that a once-promising prospect didn’t pan out with the team. After registering a seven-sack season and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2016, Williams has been largely disappointing, failing to record a sack all this fall. Following Williams’s departure, the Jets now have zero players from their 2015 draft class, and none of their first-round draft picks from earlier than 2017.

But from the Giants’ perspective, this trade is completely baffling. They’re 2-6 and Williams is set to become a free agent after the season, and yet they gave up two draft picks to secure him for the rest of 2019 anyway. This is a win-now move, and the Giants are not going to win now: Of the 139 teams with a 2-6 record since the NFL adopted a 16-game regular season, none have ever made the playoffs. The Giants could get a compensatory pick if Williams signs a big contract in free agency and if they don’t go on to sign equivalent players, but that outcome seems unlikely. And while the Giants defense is terrible, they just used first- and third-round 2019 draft picks on interior defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill. Even if the front office was set on making a short-sighted deal, it’s unclear why it would target Lawrence over a cornerback, linebacker, pass rusher, or safety.

In August, I introduced the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix, a system designed to measure whether the Jets or Giants were being more embarrassing. My extremely scientific formula doles out Helmet Catch points for any positive development and Butt Fumble points for any negative one. However, there has been very little need for Helmet Catch points. Two weeks into the season, problems already surrounded both organizations; at the season’s midway point, the Jets and Giants are a combined 3-12. Unless a drastic turnaround happens, both teams will lose at least 10 games for the third consecutive year. For the Jets, this will mark the fourth straight 10-loss season.

While I expected both teams to struggle this season, however, I figured things would go slightly differently. I thought the Jets had a brighter 2019 outlook than the Giants did. After all, the Jets went into this fall with a developing quarterback in Sam Darnold, a new head coach in Adam Gase, and a new general manager in Joe Douglas. The Giants, meanwhile, had Daniel Jones, a rookie quarterback whose selection at no. 6 overall had been roundly panned. But through Week 8, the Jets have fewer wins and less direction than the Giants do. Despite Gase’s billing as an offensive mastermind, the Jets have the worst offense in the league, averaging 3.8 yards per play. And Darnold ranks dead last among eligible QBs in passer rating (66.2), QBR (27.4), and interception rate (5.9 percent). He would lead the league in interceptions if he hadn’t missed three games with mono.

The two New York–adjacent football franchises are halfway through a season full of sadness and failure. Let’s track the teams’ latest developments to determine which failures are more egregious.

That Trade, Let’s Grade It

The Giants get 1.0 Butt Fumble points for giving up two future draft picks to acquire a not-so-great player at a position where they don’t need help, especially when that player will probably leave after just one season. I’m closer to giving the Jets Helmet Catch points than Butt Fumble points for the deal, but it seems odd to congratulate them for dumping a former top-five pick for a third-rounder. Let’s leave their score as is.

GhostGate

In Week 3, the Jets suffered a divisional loss so brutal that most teams would’ve considered it rock bottom. About 10 days after losing Darnold to mono and a week after losing backup Trevor Siemian to a season-ending ankle injury, the Jets visited New England behind third-string quarterback Luke Falk. They succumbed 30-14, a game in which they gained 105 total yards, the third-fewest in franchise history and the fifth-fewest of any NFL team over the past 10 seasons. Their 12 drives culminated in 10 punts, an interception, and a turnover on downs. The final score was kept relatively respectable by a pair of defensive and special teams touchdowns—a Jamal Adams pick-six off Patriots backup Jarrett Stidham and a muffed punt that ended with the Jets recovering the ball in the end zone—but both were fluky and came after New England had already scored 30 points.

Yes, the Jets were pantsed by the Pats, but it happened three games into a new coach’s tenure, with a third-string QB starting his first career game. And the Jets didn’t seem to care what would happen to Falk; he reportedly didn’t even take practice snaps with the first-team offense while Darnold was recovering from mono. Falk was instantly cut upon Darnold’s return. This loss was brutal, but understandable given the circumstances.

In Week 7, however, the Jets got another chance to play the Patriots, and there were no extenuating circumstances. They were playing at home, and Darnold was healthy. And somehow they fared even worse than they did in Week 3. Their offense failed to score again, and this time allowed a safety, so really it was responsible for negative-two points. The Pats rolled 33-0, and the experience felt worse than that.

Darnold, who was missing from the first game, put forth one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen, going 11-of-32 passing for 86 yards with four interceptions while also losing a fumble. No quarterback has attempted more passes and thrown for fewer than 100 yards in a game since a 2014 outing by Andy Dalton. The last time anyone had 30 pass attempts, zero touchdowns, four interceptions, and fewer than 100 yards in a game was Rams QB Vince Ferragamo against the Cowboys in 1984. Darnold has always been interception prone, but most of the time it’s because he makes high-risk, high-reward decisions. Against the Pats, he wasn’t even trying to make tough throws. He was just trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible, and tossing it into spaces inhabited by Patriots defenders.

Making this all the more embarrassing was New England’s defensive strategy. The Pats spent most of the game lined up in Cover-0—meaning they had no safeties in deep zone coverage, just 11 defenders either rushing the passer or guarding receivers man-to-man. This approach is designed to surprise a quarterback and force a sack or rushed pass attempt, and it’s not a scheme that a defense can typically sustain for a full game. But the Pats deployed this again and again because the Jets weren’t competent enough to execute. Darnold was flustered all night, making panicked and terrible throws. In a candid moment, NFL Films microphones caught him saying that he was “seeing ghosts,” a comment that was aired on ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast.

Although “seeing ghosts” is a somewhat common phrase in quarterback lingo, a meme was born. In Week 8, the Jaguars taunted Darnold with a mascot costume and a Ghostbusters-themed montage.

After that embarrassing loss to New England, the Jets got back to work and focused on what was truly important: figuring out how Darnold’s comment made it to TV. “We’ll be looking into that pretty hard,” Gase told reporters. “It bothers me. It bothers the organization.” The coach hinted that the Jets would reconsider future mic’d up segments; running back Le’Veon Bell tweeted that the NFL “did Sam dirty as hell”; the Daily News published a full-on explainer of how mic’d up player comments are screened for airing, and examined whether any protocols were broken by allowing Darnold’s comment to be aired. Of course, any normal person would realize that the most embarrassing thing about the Pats game wasn’t Darnold making an offhand comment—it was him going 11-of-32 with four interceptions.

The Jets were given undeserved patience after the Week 3 blowout at the hands of the Patriots. They should get unmitigated scorn for an even worse performance in Week 7. I’m handing the Jets 1.5 Butt Fumble points for the humiliating loss, 0.25 Butt Fumble points for Darnold’s “seeing ghosts” comment, and 0.5 Butt Fumble points for the team acting victimized by the comment being televised, as if nobody would’ve noticed how poorly the Jets were playing otherwise.

The Danny Dimes Carousel

Our last Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix update came in Week 2. In Week 3, the Giants benched Eli Manning in favor of Daniel Jones, the quarterback the team took in the first round in spite of evidence that he shouldn’t have been a first-rounder, second-rounder, or third-rounder. (Maybe even a fourth-rounder.)

And, well, he looked great. Jones went 23-of-36 passing for 336 yards with two touchdowns in his first start, rushing for two more scores in a 32-31 win over the Buccaneers. In his four years as a starter at Duke, Jones never had a game where he threw for that many yards with zero interceptions in a victory. One reason I was critical of Jones as a draft prospect is because players typically post worse stats in the NFL than they do in college, and Jones had underwhelming college stats. Then he played better against an actual NFL team than he did against Virginia and Wake Forest.

Since that brilliant debut, however, Jones’s performances have been bleak. His second start was a mediocre showing in a 24-3 romp over then-winless Washington. The Giants are 0-4 since, with Jones turning the ball over 10times in four games. He leads the NFL with 13 turnovers and ranks second with eight fumbles—despite not starting until Week 3.

In a 27-21 loss to the Cardinals in Week 7, Jones threw an interception, lost two fumbles, and was sacked eight times. He now personally accounts for 36 percent of Arizona’s 2019 sack total and 42 percent of its turnovers.

Even as a predraft Jones hater, I have to admit that his best passes have been awesome. I didn’t think he was capable of making throws like the ones he’s delivering week in and week out. In last week’s 31-26 loss to the Lions, he threw two beautiful touchdowns to fifth-round pick Darius Slayton:

Jones also has one of two touchdowns thrown against the Patriots this season, which is more than the Jets quarterbacks can say:

But man, the turnovers. I’m awarding the Giants 3.0 Helmet Catch points for Mr. Dimes’s spectacular play in his first start and his tendency for highlight-reel throws. I’m also giving them 1.5 Butt Fumble points for drafting a guy who committed a ton of turnovers in college and then losing games because that guy can’t stop turning over the ball.

The Pissing Off of the President

I suppose it’s a good sign that the Jets considered virtually every player on their roster to be available at Tuesday’s trade deadline. (They’re 1-6! This makes sense!) Le’Veon Bell, the team’s major offensive free-agent signing? On the block. Robby Anderson, the wide receiver responsible for the longest touchdown in the NFL this season? On the block. Jamal Adams, the safety who is clearly the best player on the team? On the block.

One problem, though: Adams tweeted that he told Jets management that he explicitly did not want to be on the block:

Per reports, the Jets would have needed an absolutely massive haul to move Adams. And I’m glad they were listening to offers—if you’re 1-6, meaning you have one win and six losses, you should try to stockpile draft picks even if it means giving up good players. But the Jets management also has, like, three players it should avoid pissing off, and it managed to piss off one of them. I’m giving the Jets 0.25 Butt Fumble points for this ordeal.

The Jets’ Medical Mishaps

My primary sports rooting interests are the New York Knicks, the New York Jets, and the Northwestern Wildcats basketball program. I can tolerate losing—based on the previous sentence, I appear to have a pathological need to cheer for losers—but there are some things that I can’t tolerate.

This offseason the Jets traded for offensive guard Kelechi Osemele, a Pro Bowler in 2016 and 2017. According to Osemele, he hurt his shoulder in training camp, and yet the team assured him that he could keep playing; Osemele says the Jets gave him painkillers before their first three games. When Osemele went to see independent doctors, however, he was informed that he needed surgery because his labrum was torn off the bone. The Jets disagreed, continuing to insist he wasn’t badly hurt. At one point, they sent an independent doctor a blank MRI instead of an image of his shoulder.

Osemele, no longer capable of tolerating the pain and acting under the advice of multiple doctors, had surgery without the team’s permission. His agents said that the damage to his left shoulder was “more extensive than anticipated.” The Jets fined Osemele $579,000 for missing a game to get surgery and then subsequently cut him. According to the team, Osemele merely complained about phantom shoulder pain when he was in danger of losing his job. Osemele and the NFLPA will file a grievance in an attempt to recoup the lost game check and his salary for the rest of the year. The Jets may have done more than possibly violate the CBA, though—their actions may have violated state medical board regulations.

Osemele is not the only Jets player who has been asked to play through injury this fall. The Jets’ big defensive free-agent signing of the offseason, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, dominated the team’s 2019 season opener, returning an interception for a touchdown and recovering a fumble. Then he hurt his groin, and the Jets blew a 16-0 lead to the Bills in a 17-16 loss. That groin injury kept Mosley out until Week 7, when he returned to play in the 33-0 shutout against the Patriots. Yet watching that game, it was clear Mosley wasn’t right. Here’s a clip of him stiffly jogging as the Pats scored a touchdown that a spry Mosley might have prevented:

Mosley will now be forced to miss at least an additional six weeks. His first season in New York will see him play in maybe six games.

By itself, the Mosley injury wouldn’t be especially alarming. When viewed in the context of the Osemele fiasco, though, it seems potentially sinister. It seems like this year’s Jets care more about getting players on the field than accurately assessing whether those players are healthy enough to play.

It’s bad enough that Gase is fielding the worst offense in football despite being a so-called offensive specialist. This injury trend seems magnitudes worse. If the Jets are demanding that injured players keep playing when they should not be medically cleared—and boy, it seems like that could be what they’re doing!—that’s unconscionable.

It wouldn’t make it acceptable if the Jets were a winning team and putting players in medically compromised positions. But it absolutely makes it worse that the Jets suck and are still demanding that players sacrifice their limbs and livelihoods at the altar of garbage football. For the Osemele situation, I’m assigning the Jets 5.0 Butt Fumble points, more than I plan on doling out for any football-related development this season.

Roundup

The Jets and Giants are both deeply on the wrong side of the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix for the season. The last time we checked in, they were neck-and-neck, with the Jets at 4.25 Butt Fumble points and the Giants at 4.5 Butt Fumble points. Although the Giants have improved, they’re still embarrassing; the latest tally brings them up to 4.0 Butt Fumble points. But the Jets have catapulted into a whole new realm of embarrassment, shooting down to 11.75 Butt Fumble points.

And things for the Jets can get darker still. Their next opponent is Miami, the winless catastrophe factory that is tanking like no other team the NFL has ever seen. And the Jets could really lose this game! The Dolphins are averaging 4.3 yards per play, 31st in the league. That figure would’ve been dead last in every season from 2013 to 2018, but this year it’s second-worst because the Jets are averaging 3.8. The Jets have scored 78 points this year, a number boosted by three defensive touchdowns; the Dolphins have scored 77 points this year, all coming on offense.

The tanking Dolphins might be better than the non-tanking Jets. If that turns out to be the case, the race to be the most embarrassing New York–adjacent football franchise in 2019 will officially be over.