As the start of another season nears, Jets coach Todd Bowles has set the bar very high for his team.
“Our goal is to take one game at a time and get to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, and that’s our expectation,” Bowles said. “That’s what it was last year. Going into Week 1 is no different for us.”
The Super Bowl champion Eagles kick off the NFL season Thursday night against the Falcons. The Jets play Monday night in Detroit in one of the most significant season openers for the franchise in years.
Rookie Sam Darnold, the player the Jets hope someday will lead them to that Super Bowl that has eluded them for 50 years, will be the youngest Week 1 starting quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Bowles isn’t trying to put any more pressure on Darnold, and he isn’t one to make outrageous statements. But the feeling throughout the Jets' facility is that they have more than enough talent to end a seven-year playoff drought.
You might think differently when you consider the Jets have a 21-year-old rookie leading them, an offensive line that is considered a weak link and no real edge rusher on the roster. But Bowles isn’t settling for mediocrity, which would be an improvement after back-to-back 5-11 seasons.
“I like our team right now,” Bowles said. “We haven’t played a game yet. We are still jelling. The chemistry is still coming together. The key to the first four or five weeks of the season is to win while you’re trying to jell. I like what we have, and I like where we are going.”
Bowles, however, wouldn’t say that he believes his team is closer to reaching the playoffs than in years past.
“We haven’t played a game,” he said. “We’re still jelling. We put our head down and work. I’m not here to make predictions, I’m here to play football games and win football games, and you can only do that by playing.”
The players had the day off Wednesday, but the coaches and front office were putting in work. The Jets reportedly worked out former Cowboys defensive end Charles Tapper and Saints end Hau'oli Kikaha, former Buccaneers defensive back Josh Robinson, former Browns offensive lineman Nate Orchard and kicker Roberto Aguayo.
The Jets clearly aren’t a finished product, but no team is at this point.
Their hope is to win some games early — amid a tough schedule that features three games in the first 11 days and three of the first four on the road — and keep progressing. That’s the expectation for Darnold and the team as a whole.
Other than health, two key factors will be the protection the offensive line provides for Darnold and how much pressure the defense can put on opposing quarterbacks. The Jets had only 28 sacks last season, which ranked 28th out of 32 teams.
The Jets haven’t really addressed the need for an edge rusher after determining the price to acquire Kahlil Mack was too high.
Defensive end Leonard Williams is looking to rebound from a disappointing two-sack season. But the Jets' outside linebackers — Josh Martin, Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland — are not disruptive pass rushers. Recently signed Jeremiah Attaochu showed flashes two seasons ago, but he’s battled injuries the past two years.
Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers will have to be creative and more aggressive than in past years with their blitz packages. They could let loose safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye this season after signing cover cornerback Trumaine Johnson to play alongside Morris Claiborne.
“You have to generate it however you can get it,” Bowles said. “It’s not just the outside backers. We have to get it from the defensive line, the inside backers and the DBs, so stress is not really on the outside backers. It’s for us to come up with a game plan.
“You’ve got to disrupt the quarterback. You don’t have to hit him all the time. You’ve got to disrupt him.”