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Jets will cobble together an offense against Colts, who have the league's best defense

Sam Darnold of the Jets looks to pass

Sam Darnold of the Jets looks to pass against the 49ers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sam Darnold takes the snap from Josh Andrews, fakes a handoff to Kalen Ballage, and surveys the field. Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios are covered, but Josh Malone has a step on his man and Darnold passes it to him.

Remarkably, this could happen on Sunday with these very names involved when the Jets play at Indianapolis and try to avoid starting off 0-3 for the second consecutive season under beleaguered coach Adam Gase.

The Jets are so banged up on offense that Darnold could be behind two backup offensive linemen and might be handing off or throwing the football to as many as six players who either weren’t on the team at the start of camp or had to be elevated from the practice squad due to injuries.

This is not how you want to go into any game, but especially when you’re trying to climb out of a hole and you’re playing the NFL’s stingiest defense through the first two games. Did we mention the Jets have the NFL’s worst offense?

Running down the injuries: running back Le’Veon Bell (hamstring) is on IR, wide receivers Jamison Crowder (hamstring) and Breshad Perriman (ankle) are out, Denzel Mims (hamstring) is on IR, right tackle George Fant (concussion) is out and center Connor McGovern (hamstring) is questionable. McGovern might be an in-case-of-emergency fill in.

If Darnold and the Jets ever needed to show resilience, this is the time.

"Whatever happens, we’ve just got to keep battling through," Gase said. "We’ve got to put ourselves in position when we hit the fourth quarter [that] it’s there for us either win or lose."

The Jets have not been competitive in the first two games. They’ve trailed both games 21-3 at halftime, and their red zone offense is the worst in the league.

Gase’s group has scored just one red-zone touchdown — late in the Week 1 loss at Buffalo when the game already was decided. Last week, the Jets ran seven plays in the red zone and totaled minus-5 yards against the 49ers.

Some of the Jets’ already ugly offensive stats could get uglier this week. Here are the Jets’ options on offense and who likely will be playing:

Frank Gore will start at running back, but he probably won’t get the 21 touches he got last week. Rookie LaMical Perine is healthy and in line to be a bigger part of the game plan as a ball carrier and pass-catcher. He flashed in camp before suffering an ankle injury and could provide the Jets’ offense with a much-needed boost.

"LP’s a great player," Darnold said. "He has great vision and he’s got explosiveness. He’s got the ability to take the ball to the house at any moment. Whenever you got that you’re going to be excited about it."

Gase also likes Ballage, signed last week, in the passing game. Ballage played for Gase in Miami. Practice team RB Josh Adams was the No. 2 back last week. He has the lone red-zone touchdown.

Hogan is the most accomplished receiver on the active roster and he’s been nursing a ribs injury that he suffered last week. He was signed during camp after the Jets lost receiver Vyncint Smith to a core-muscle injury and with Mims already sidelined.

Berrios, who is questionable after hurting his hamstring in practice Friday, should play in the slot again for Crowder. Berrios caught his first NFL touchdown pass last week.

Malone was signed from the practice squad to the active roster this week. He’s expected to start outside with Hogan. Malone has caught 11 passes in his career. Lawrence Cager, a 6-5 undrafted rookie free agent, was elevated from the practice squad and is set to make his NFL debut. Cager had some good days early in practice before he became sidelined by a knee injury.

The tight end group has stayed relatively healthy. Chris Herndon has another opportunity to re-establish himself after playing just one game last season. Herndon fumbled in Week 1 and dropped a touchdown last week. Ryan Griffin, a favorite red-zone target of Darnold’s last year, also could be targeted more.

On the line, rookie Mekhi Becton has been a bright spot at left tackle. He always tells Gase to run the football behind him. Left guard Alex Lewis and right guard Greg Van Roten are the other starters who are healthy. Second-year tackle Chuma Edoga slides in for Fant. If McGovern can’t play, Andrews, the former Colt, will make his first NFL start.

"Guys did a good job this week," Gase said. "It’s all about, can we take it to the field on Sunday? Can we go out there and execute against a team that’s playing well right now?"

The Jets have to execute far better against a strong front featuring former San Francisco 49er pass-rusher DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry and Justin Houston. Linebacker Darius Leonard is a tackle machine. The Colts’ secondary won’t have safety Malik Hooker (Achilles) but they’ve been good.

Indianapolis is allowing only 122.5 passing yards per game. Last week, the Colts held Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to 113 yards and sacked him three times.

"These guys are problematic," Gase said. "They’re really good up front and their linebacking core is as fast as we’re probably going to play."

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the Colts’ defense presents "an awesome challenge." He would say that regardless. It’s even more so considering the circumstances.

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