Adam Gase’s offense can’t afford to have many quick, ineffective series this week.
Gase wants to keep the ball out of quarterback Lamar Jackson’s hands as much as possible when the Jets play the Ravens in Baltimore on Thursday night. If the Jets sputter offensively — as they have so many times this season — they will give the ball to the most unstoppable player in the NFL.
“It’s just one of those things where we have to play well as an offense,” Gase said on a conference call Monday. “We can’t go three-and-out and give them more opportunities than they’re already going to get.
“That’s the hardest thing about calling plays. You feel like every play is valuable. There’s no throwaway plays, there’s no ‘let’s try this.’ You need to be on it. You have to make sure you do a good job of moving the football, converting on third down and scoring in the red zone.”
Jackson is the top candidate for NFL MVP. He has thrown a league-high 28 touchdown passes and run for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Ravens (11-2) own the No. 1 rushing offense (200.9 yards per game) and are the highest-scoring team (33.1 points per game).
The Jets have been the opposite. They have the second-worst running game and have been in the red zone only three times in the last two games.
In Sunday’s 22-21 win over the Dolphins, the Jets had a second-and-1 from Miami’s 14. They failed to get one yard on the next three downs against the Dolphins’ porous defense.
They didn’t have running back Le’Veon Bell, who was out with the flu, but indications are that he will return for Thursday’s game.
According to Gase, Bell was contagious and not allowed to be around the team during the weekend. Gase said he’s “pretty close to 100 percent” now and that he would be in the practice facility Monday night for the team lift.
“The fact that they’re letting him back in the building is a positive,” Gase said. “Hopefully everything should be lined up to where he can play on Thursday.”
That would be a positive for the Jets, who could be without No. 2 back Bilal Powell. He injured an ankle against the Dolphins and is dealing with his own illness, Gase said.
But the offense also has stumbled plenty even with Bell. If the Jets do that against red-hot Baltimore, it could be a very, very long night.
The Ravens have won nine straight games. Five of them have been by at least two touchdowns. During this stretch, the Ravens have scored at least 30 points five times and more than 40 three times.
The Jets need to have long, sustained drives and hold on to the football much longer than they have. They totaled 87 yards on their first four second-half drives against the Dolphins, including two three-and-outs.
“We definitely got to be better than [Sunday],” Sam Darnold said. “But ultimately it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We just got to do our job every single game, every time we go out there and play.
“If we go out there and play our style of ball, we’ll execute and we’ll make things happen.”
The Jets have won four of their last five games, but those wins were over the Giants, Redskins, Raiders and Dolphins, who began Monday a combined 23 games below .500. The loss was to the previously winless Bengals.
These final three games are a jump in class for the Jets, who also will play the Steelers (8-5) and Bills (9-4). But the Ravens have been in a class of their own this season and Jackson has made defenses look silly.
“How they’re running the football right now is as good as a lot of us have ever seen as far as running backs and quarterbacks being able to run the football,” Gase said. “The play-action pass off of the run game, when you watch tape, you see guys running wildly. They’re getting guys sucked up in the line of scrimmage.”
The Jets will need Gase to call a great game and the offense to execute much better than it has this season to keep that from happening again.