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After a disappointing start to the season, the Jets vowed to work towards improving matters coming out of the bye week. They made two lineup changes - one enforced due to injury and one that was apparently a coach's decision - but it didn't seem to help as they gave up a season-high 10 sacks in the loss to the Eagles.
In his appearance on ESPN Radio's Michael Kay Show on Monday, Adam Gase stated that the team is going to work some different combinations of players in practice to try and figure out which lineup works best. They will be keen to be competitive over the next few weeks to try and turn the season around, but with Sam Darnold returning to action on Sunday, protecting their prized asset becomes their number one priority.
Despite the gaudy sack numbers, was the offensive line really any worse on Sunday? A breakdown of the film reveals that only one of the sacks was registered within 2.5 seconds, as stand-in quarterback Luke Falk was slow to process, didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough, and didn't do a good job of moving around to extend plays.
For context, over a quarter of the sacks on Darnold last year came within 2.5 seconds. Generally speaking, if the offensive line can hold their blocks for that long, it gives the quarterback a chance to anticipate and either get rid of the ball or attempt to elude the pressure.
So, before we even think about making changes on the line, there's already hope that Darnold's return will lead to an instant improvement in terms of the number of drives that get stalled by a sack. Also, his ability to make plays on the move and go "off-script" should mean that some of those plays end up being positive plays, thereby providing a lift to the passing game.
There's also the hope that the communication up front will be better with Darnold back in there, which might help to prevent some of the confusion that has led to unblocked rushers getting into the backfield at times.
In terms of the running game, Le'Veon Bell was once again held to less than three yards per carry and made plenty of yards after contact, so that number could have been even lower. The struggles on the offensive line have been ongoing all season, but opposing teams will hopefully be less inclined to stack the box once Darnold returns, so those yards per carry numbers could begin to climb over the next few weeks.
In terms of the changes they made on Sunday, Alex Lewis stepping in for Kelechi Osemele seemed to work out quite well. It's unclear how long Osemele will be out with the shoulder injury he suffered in practice last week, but Lewis seems to be an adequate replacement as he made some good blocks in space and didn't have many negative plays.
Rookie Chuma Edoga was also inserted into the starting lineup as Brandon Shell was benched. Edoga gave up two sacks and got blown up on a short yardage play that got stuffed as he still looks a little out of his depth. Nevertheless, whether or not he starts more games, it will have been good experience for the youngster, who has some real potential based on his college career and measurables.
In retrospect, making a second change on the offensive line may have been a step too far, especially since the starting unit had been trying to establish some continuity and cohesion. Shell had struggled in the New England game but was far from the main problem in the other two games. However, we don't know why he was benched. Perhaps he is struggling more than the other starters to get to grips with Frank Pollack's system.
Further changes could be afoot, but if the team is making so many unit-wide errors in terms of passing off assignments to one another or picking up rushers, chopping and changing the lineup too much is only likely to set them back. Some have suggested Jonotthan Harrison could start for Ryan Kalil at center, but Kalil seems to be gradually settling into his role. Apparently, Tom Compton has also been seeing additional practice reps, so perhaps Brian Winters will be the next starter on the chopping block.
With a versatile group of players and a few experienced reserves, the Jets are well-equipped to make changes if required due to injuries or a drop in form. However, with Darnold set to return, it would arguably make more sense not to upset the applecart too much. It would be encouraging to see Darnold's return provide an initial boost, from which the team could generate some healthy competition for reps in practice.