The Jets came off their bye week determined and hopeful they could turn their season around, but that optimism was tempered by the sobering news that they might be without linebacker C.J. Mosley for Sunday’s divisional clash in New England. Mosley was eventually listed as inactive after missing practice all week due to a hamstring injury.
Although they had lost four of their first five games, the veteran has shown that he is clearly indispensable to the defense. Based on how Sunday’s game transpired, we may have underestimated just how indispensable.
With Mosley out, the Jets put rookie Jamien Sherwood in charge of the headset, which meant he would be relaying calls from the sideline to his teammates and tasked with getting everyone lined up correctly. It was a baptism by fire for the 21-year old, who only wore the headset briefly in preseason when working with the second unit.
New England’s offensive approach was very straightforward, as they ran the ball down the Jets’ throats and attacked the linebackers with a mixture of short passes and misdirection plays. Running back Damien Harris averaged almost eight yards per carry, as Sherwood and his fellow linebackers struggled to find ways to get off blocks at the second level, leading to big chunks of yardage on almost every run.
In addition, the Jets left receivers wide open on several blown coverages including a 24-yard pass to Hunter Henry in the first quarter and a 28-yard screen pass to Brandon Bolden in the second. Bill Belichick is renowned for exploiting young and inexperienced players, including in 2019 where he famously had Sam Darnold “seeing ghosts."
New England’s offensive gameplan was able to exploit Sherwood’s inexperience in a similar fashion, as he was completely fooled by misdirection a number of times, leading to him running himself out of the play and giving the Patriots a numbers advantage with their blockers in space.
Quincy Williams had been making some impact plays alongside Mosley the past few weeks, but he was reduced to a non-factor alongside Sherwood. It’s never a good sign when your two leading tacklers are your starting safeties and that was the case on Sunday as Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis combined for 23 tackles while no linebacker had more than six.
Without Mosley, the linebacker unit drastically lacks physicality, especially with Jarrad Davis – who was expected to bring that to the group this year – still on injured reserve. Sherwood, a converted safety, was twice knocked out of the game due to injury; something which has happened a number of times since preseason. Williams and Blake Cashman were also knocked out of the game, forcing the Jets to give extended playing time to Del’Shawn Phillips and Noah Dawkins.
Of course, Mosley wouldn’t single-handedly have been able to prevent all of the damage inflicted by the Patriots' offense, but they definitely wouldn’t have had as many bad run fits or blown coverages with him in the game and would have found it a lot easier to get off the field. That’s before even taking into account any plays Mosley himself would have made because the veteran is averaging nine tackles per game.
When these teams met in Week 2, the Jets held New England to four yards per carry but that included Harris’ 26-yard touchdown run where several players missed tackles one play after a demoralizing Zach Wilson interception.
Aside from that play, they were held to just over three yards per carry. A similar outcome on Sunday would have forced Patriots quarterback Mac Jones into more passing downs and made his job much harder.
The Jets have been hopeful that Mosley’s hamstring injury will be a short-term issue and he might even have played this week had the team not been wary of bringing him back too soon in light of what happened when the Jets did that in 2019 -- Mosley re-injured his groin causing him to miss the rest of the season. They also expect to have Davis back soon. This should immediately improve matters, as they’ll instantly have a more experienced and more physical group.
This has to also have the Jets thinking ahead, though. Davis is only on a one-year deal and Mosley has a massive cap number in 2022. While the Jets remain hopeful that Sherwood, Williams and perhaps also Hamsah Nasirildeen could be the future at this position, it’s clear they have a lot to learn and probably need to bulk up a bit too to improve their durability.
It seems obvious the Jets can’t rely on these youngsters yet, so they’ll clearly need to bring Davis and/or Mosley back next year, or spend serious assets on a viable replacement.