The Jets offensive line in 2016 was always a house of cards, a fragile concoction of aging players destined to crumble over the course of a grueling 16-game schedule.
As soon as ironman left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson announced his retirement in early April, forcing general manager Mike Maccagnan to trade a fifth-round pick to the Broncos for injury-plagued lineman Ryan Clady, the Jets O-line became a ticking bomb. And it was only a matter of time before the worst-case scenario turned into a reality.
The Jets’ projected starting offensive line from May — LT Clady, LG James Carpenter, C Nick Mangold, RG Brian Winters and RT Breno Giacomini — has not and will not play a single snap together in 2016, all for injury reasons. That’s led to head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey plugging in young and unproven players into crucial roles at various points this season, disrupting the chemistry for a position group that relies on connectivity and unity.
“That’s the one position where continuity and communication is vital,” Gailey said this week. “It’s not ideal.”
The Jets have started seven different offensive line combinations in 13 games this season. And with right tackle Brent Qvale battling a hamstring strain, it’s likely they will use an eighth different starting combination Saturday night when the Dolphins come to MetLife Stadium, as 24-year-old Brandon Shell is in line to earn his first career start.
The only lineman to start all 13 games for the Jets this season is Carpenter at left guard. They’ve started multiple players at every other offensive line spot.
The injuries have been relentless.
Giacomini suffered a back strain while lifting weights in June minicamp and went on to miss the first seven games of the season. He played five games before the back problem became debilitating. The Jets placed him on injured reserve this week.
Clady — who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL — made it through eight weeks before he was shut down with a shoulder injury. Mangold sustained a significant ankle sprain in Week 7 against the Ravens. He was sidelined for four games and returned against the Patriots, but suffered a setback in the loss. The Jets placed Mangold on injured reserve Dec. 8. Before this season, Mangold had missed just four starts in his 10-year career.
Winters even sat out one game because of a concussion.
In the meantime, Jets backup linemen attempted to fill the holes. Ben Ijalana and Qvale rotated at right tackle through the first four games of the season. Qvale, a 25-year-old undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, started in Winters’ place at right guard against the Steelers in Week 5. Wesley Johnson has earned time at center in Mangold’s absence, and will start the final three games of the season.
When Clady went down, Ijalana — who hadn’t started an NFL game before this season — moved to left tackle, arguably the most important position on the offensive line.
“It is difficult,” Winters told the Daily News. “People don’t realize it’s all about chemistry and gelling with someone.”
The Jets coaching staff has game-planned around a makeshift offensive front.
“You expect guys to go down during the season, so you get the other guys ready to play while the starters are playing,” Bowles said. “You just have to have a good understanding of what they do well, and try to do that as opposed to do everything.”
The results have been varied. The running game hasn’t suffered substantially. The Jets are on pace for only 86 fewer total rushing yards than last season, and they’ve trailed in a majority of their games this season.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
The true difference in performance has come in pass protection.
Through 13 games, the Jets have already allowed more sacks (29) and quarterback hits (79) than they allowed all of last season, when they finished second in the NFL in fewest sacks surrendered with 22. They allowed 71 QB hits in 2015.
When probed this week about the drop-off, Bowles blamed it on the Jets having “to throw it more this year than last year because we’ve been behind more.”
But that’s simply not the case. The Jets are on pace for fewer passing attempts this season (553) than last season (604). And through 13 games in 2016, they’re passing the ball on virtually an identical percentage of offensive plays as compared to 2015.
In 2015, the Jets passed on 57.4% of their snaps. In 2016, they’re passing on 57.3% of their plays.
“It could be. It could not be,” Winters said, when asked if the moving pieces are the reason for the regression in pass protection. “But I really can’t control what’s around me. I just got to do what I can do.”
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JETS INJURY REPORT: LB Mike Catapano (knee), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) and CB Buster Skrine (concussion) are OUT. T Brent Qvale (hamstring) and RB Khiry Robinson (lower leg) are DOUBTFUL. TE Brandon Bostick (ankle), WR Quincy Enunwa (ribs), RB Matt Forte (knee), WR Brandon Marshall (knee, foot back) and DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) are QUESTIONABLE.
JETS KEY STAT: 97.7, opposing quarterback rating the Jets are allowing this season, the fifth-highest mark in the NFL.
JETS HOT READ: WR BRANDON MARSHALL
In case you haven’t heard, Brandon Marshall is not fond of Dolphins defensive back Byron Maxwell. In particular, the Jets receiver thinks Maxwell is a serial holder and puts opposing players in danger with his style of defending. Marshall was outspoken about Maxwell leading up to the first matchup between the Dolphins and Jets in November, and he didn’t hold back this week, either. On Thursday, he pulled a yellow penalty flag out his locker and told reporters he was going to wear it on the field to help the referees police Maxwell. So fans should be in for another heated battle between Marshall and Maxwell on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. Maxwell was called for two defensive pass interference calls in the first meeting, and is fourth among defensive backs this season with 10 total flags. Marshall finished with five catches for 46 yards in the Nov. 6 game at Miami, which ended in a 27-23 Jets loss.
DOLPHINS INJURY REPORT: QB Ryan Tannehill (knee) is OUT. S Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck), T Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring, hand), T Jermon Bushrod (shoulder), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee, hand), CB Bobby McCain (hand), LB Spencer Paysinger (thigh), G Anthony Steen (toe) and DE Mario Williams (ankle) are QUESTIONABLE.
DOLPHINS KEY STAT: 4.8, yards per rushing attempt the Miami defense is allowing this season, second-worst in the league. With Matt Forte nursing a torn meniscus, Bilal Powell could be in for another big day.
DOLPHINS HOT READ: QB MATT MOORE
Ryan Tannehill avoided disaster last week after his knee injury was diagnosed as a sprain instead of a tear. But the Dolphins’ starting quarterback is still sidelined for this weekend’s game against the Jets, which means backup Matt Moore will get the nod under center. Todd Bowles is very familiar with Moore from his time in Miami. Bowles served the Dolphins’ interim head coach in 2011 after the team fired Tony Sparano. Moore started 12 games for Miami that year, including the final three games of the season when Bowles was at the helm. Moore hasn’t started a game since. “Matt’s a good quarterback,” Bowles said this week. “He can run the ball, he can throw it, he can manage the game, he can try to beat you when the team is down, he can make all the throws. You just haven’t seen him in a while. That doesn’t mean he can’t play.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News