Thoughts on Protecting Sam Darnold, Freeing Up Le'Veon Bell & Frank Gore Behind the New OL Randy Lange
Let the games - and our weekly Inside the Numbers stories - begin. To get us into a regular-season frame of mind, here are several ruminations on Jets opening-day and single-season achievements the day before the Green & White get the 2020 season going with the opener at Buffalo in the recently renamed Bills Stadium:
When was the last time a Jets QB wasn't sacked or hit in an opening-day game?
Sam Darnold wants improvement in all areas in Year 3, but a lot of that depends on a rephrasing of the question for the QB and his recently assembled offensive line: Can he be kept clean against the Bills' dangerous pass rush (and beyond)? Darnold has been jostled a few times in training camp and during practices this week, but he hasn't really been hit since late December.
"It's just going to be going out there on Sunday and I think the first couple series, we'll start to get back into a groove," said Darnold, who was sacked four times and hit eight times in the season finale at Buffalo. "Especially just speaking for myself, if I get hit a couple times, I feel like I'll start to get back into it a little bit."
The answer to the original question: Since 2000, the only openers in which Jets QBs went unsacked and unhit were in two games against the Bills - 2012 with Mark Sanchez at the helm in the 48-28 home win over Buffalo and in 2000 when Vinny Testaverde led the offense in the Jets' 37-31 OT win at Orchard Park, NY.
Has the Jets' offensive backfield ever been more stats-studded than now?
This is more a rhetorical than a trivia question. The Jets have arguably never had a 1-2 backfield punch like this year's teaming of Le'Veon Bell and Frank Gore. Now if those two warhorses can revisit former glory behind the rebuilt OL. ...
Consider that Bell, despite last year's career-low rushing numbers in his season with the Green & White, still is averaging 120.1 scrimmage yards/game in his career, third in NFL history behind Jim Brown (125.5) and Ezekiel Elliott (125.4). In receptions only, Bell needs 60 catches to become the sixth RB in NFL history with five seasons of at least 60 receptions and 72 catches to become the fourth back with at least 450 receptions in his first seven seasons.
As for Gore, no offense but it seems unlikely he'll rush for 1,380 yards this season to move past Walter Payton's 16,726 career rush yards and into second place all-time behind only Emmitt Smith. But Gore can extend his league mark of 500-yard rushing seasons to 16, which, considering he's entering his 16th season, is entirely doable.
Which Jets receiver has the most receptions on opening day?
We need go back no further than a year ago to answer this question. WR Jamison Crowder was targeted 17 times by Darnold on 2019 opening day vs. the Bills at MetLife Stadium and had 14 receptions for 99 yards in the 17-16 loss.
That was the first opener in 49 seasons that a Jets receiver went for double-digit catches. The last to do it before Crowder was George Sauer, with 10 receptions for 172 yards and 1 touchdown at Cleveland in 1970 - the Jets' first regular-season game against an NFL opponent and the league's first "Monday Night Football" broadcast on ABC. Before that, Bake Turner (10-103-1) turned the trick at Boston in 1963 - the franchise's first game as Jets and not Titans.
When was the last time the Jets had the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense?
This is a natural trivia question to ask since last year the Jets had the No. 2 rush defense in both yards/game and yards/attempt and this year have returned most of their front-seven players to try to improve on those rankings. And the one major switch they've undergone - Avery Williamson for C.J. Mosley at ILB - doesn't hurt in the tackling department, since Williamson, despite missing all last season due to injury, is one of only 12 NFL players since 2014 with at least 450 tackles and 10 sacks.
As for the team rankings, the last time the Jets rush defense led the league in yards/game, it was in the AFL with an 85.4 average in 1968. The last time they led in yards/carry occurred more recently, with a 3.35 mark in 2013.
When was the last time the Jets went 7-2 in a nine-game span?
An opening-day win at Buffalo would be great all by itself. It would also extend the Jets' record since Game 9 of last season to seven wins in their last nine games. They've gone 7-2 or better many times in franchise history but their most recent 7-2+ stretches came several times in the second half of the 2010 season. So the Green & White will be attempting to do something Sunday that they last achieved almost a decade ago.