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Jets' offense needs dose of creativity with Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder out

Justin Zimmer of the dives to make a

Justin Zimmer of the dives to make a tackle on Le'Veon Bell of the Jets during the first quarter at Bills Stadium on Sept. 13 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Credit: Getty Images/Timothy T Ludwig

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson made headlines and raised some eyebrows this week when he called Adam Gase "a brilliant offensive mind" and Sam Darnold "a sterling quarterback." Life comes at you fast. It’s already prove-it time for the coach and quarterback.

The Jets won’t have their two best offensive players when they host the reigning NFC-Champion San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. This is an offense that struggled to move the football and score with running back Le’Veon Bell and slot receiver Jamison Crowder on the field.

With both of them out Sunday nursing hamstring injuries, Gase will have to show he’s brilliant and Darnold that he’s sterling for the Jets to have a chance against one of the NFL’s best defenses a year ago.

"It’s not about looking at who we’ve got out," Darnold said. "It’s about who do we have — and that’s all that matters for us."

Bell is on injured reserve for at least three games. The Jets didn’t IR Crowder because they think he can return before then. But let this soak in for a second:

The Jets’ starting receivers will be Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios. The lead back is 37-year-old Frank Gore. His backups include rookie La’Mical Perine, who missed last week’s game because of an ankle injury, newly acquired Kalen Ballage and practice squad RB Josh Adams.

If there is a silver lining, there won’t be any fans permitted in MetLife for the home opener, so the Jets won’t get booed. But this collection of skill players only furthers the wide-held belief that Darnold doesn’t have enough weapons to make the Jets offense successful.

"That’s not true at all," Darnold said. "We got really good playmakers. It’s about me getting the ball in their hands and making sure they can run after the catch."

The Jets offense looked inept during most of their Week 1 loss to the Bills. Their two yardage leaders were Crowder (seven catches for 115 yards; 69-yard TD), and Bell (46 yards on eight touches). The other seven players who touched the ball totaled 106 yards.

Darnold missed a lot of throws and shouldered the blame for the offense’s overall ineffectiveness, which included three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game. Gase came under fire from fans and local and national media hosts after the dreadful display.

But Johnson gave his support to Gase and Darnold, and added that the third-year quarterback is "the best I know at turning the page. I think we’ll see an extraordinary Sam."

Teams play with what they have, but this is where Gase will have to show some creativity.

He had been hailed as an offensive genius. Yet he hasn’t had much success with anyone other than Peyton Manning running his offense.

In four seasons as an NFL coach, Gase’s teams have never finished higher than 24th in total offense or 17th in points. The Jets were last and next-to-last in both categories last year.

Gase could use more two tight-end sets Sunday with Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin. He didn’t use many multiple-tight end sets in Week 1. He also could try to include Perine and Ballage in the passing game without Bell.

Perriman and Herndon have to be more involved. Perriman, who replaced Robby Anderson as the deep threat, caught just three passes for 17 yards last week. Herndon had six receptions for 37 yards and a fumble.

"We have to do a good job of mixing it up, mixing up the personnel groupings, trying to get all these guys involved in the game," Gase said. "My concern is just the amount of bodies we have left. If it ends up being a high-play game, you start worrying about if this is going to take a toll on us long term."

The Jets struggled against Buffalo’s man-to-man defense. The 49ers play more zone coverage and won’t have cornerback Richard Sherman, who is on IR with a calf injury. This could give Darnold a little more room to complete passes, if he’s accurate.

But the offensive line has to keep ends Nick Bosa and Arik Arsmtead off of Darnold to give him time to make plays with this patchwork offense.

"We need to make sure that we understand our guys’ strengths and weaknesses and put them in situations they can be successful," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "That’s what this week’s about: Getting these guys to make plays, whoever it is."

Notes & quotes: The Jets signed linebacker Alec Ogletree to the active roster and elevated running back Josh Adams and receiver Josh Malone from the practice squad to the active roster.

New York Sports