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Adam Gase’s future with Jets hinges on whether he can repair broken offense

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — For the first time since 2016, the New York Jets will go into an offseason knowing they will have the same offense and same playcaller for two consecutive seasons. In their world, that is known as continuity.

Jets coach Adam Gase will have an opportunity to build on what he started, although it’s certainly fair to wonder how much of a foundation was actually built in 2019.

While Gase did a commendable job of coaching the team to a 7-9 finish after a 1-7 start, he failed to improve the offense — the main reason he was hired last January. The Jets finished last in total yards, and if you think that’s just a “Jets” thing that happens to every coach … well, you might be surprised to learn it has occurred only twice for the franchise in the past 48 years.

The Jets placed 30th out of 30 teams in 1995, Rich Kotite’s first year. He was their last offensive-minded head coach before Gase, which means they’re 0-for-their-past-2 in quick fixes on that side of the ball. The Jets’ other last-place finish was 1971, when quarterback Joe Namath started three games and the Jets landed 26th out of 26 teams in total yardage.

When Gase retreats to his bunker in the offseason, he needs to take a hard look at his offense. No one expected a top-10 unit in his first season, but they actually regressed from last season — fewer points, fewer touchdowns and fewer yards than in 2018, when the Jets had a rookie quarterback and an offensive coordinator (Jeremy Bates) who hadn’t called a play in eight years.

If Gase wants to succeed in this job, he will have to win people over with his brain — i.e., his offensive acumen. It won’t be with his quirky personality, which turns off the fan base.

He didn’t display his guru reputation this season, although let’s be fair: The injury situation on the offensive line (nine different starting combinations) forced him to adjust on the fly, changing run-blocking schemes based on the weekly personnel. That’s a tough deal.

But as Gase said after Sunday’s 13-6 ugly win against the Buffalo Bills: “No one cares if you get injured or not. You just have to figure out a way to win the game.”

Perhaps Gase’s best accomplishment was solidifying a strong relationship with quarterback Sam Darnold, who made modest improvement in Year 2. He called Gase a “great dude,” adding, “We’ve grown so much and I just love playing for Adam. I just know that he’s going to put us in a really good situation.”

The data doesn’t support that opinion. Neither does the eye test. The only players on offense who exceeded expectations were wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Ryan Griffin, who was rewarded with a contract extension. The most accomplished player, running back Le’Veon Bell, suffered through his worst season as a pro, posting historically bad numbers for a running back.

Except for a stretch in November, when they scored 34 points in three straight games against lousy defenses, the Jets were anti-explosive. They finished 31st in scoring at 17 points per game, but that number was inflated by six defensive touchdowns. The reality is, they were 32nd in offensive scoring at 14.5 points per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Forget the stats; the most damning trend was how the Jets went through an entire season without forming an identity. What were they? A physical running team? Not really. A quick-strike passing offense? Hardly. A controlled passing team? Maybe on a good day.

While no player has publicly criticized Gase, whose grip on the team was strengthened by ownership’s vote of confidence at midseason, there’s some sentiment in the locker room that he could have gotten more out of the offense even with the injuries. His decision on the opening drive to kick a field goal (no good) on a fourth-and-2 from the Buffalo 33 prompted some head-scratching. And it wasn’t the first time this season.

No doubt, Gase had to adjust his playcalling to account for New York’s limitations on offense. Wisely, he managed some games around his defense, knowing it would keep them close into the fourth quarter. It was ugly, but they squeezed out a few wins. It shows he can see the game through a wide lens. At the same time, let’s be real: No offensive playcaller goes into a game looking to score 14 points.

If you want to take a pro-Gase stance, divide the season into two parts. The team functioned much better when Darnold returned from his three-game absence due to a bout with mononucleosis — a 7-5 record. The offense improved, but not by much, ranking 29th in total yards and 26th in scoring offense over that span.

It’s a glimmer of hope. Optimists can bet on Gase and believe, with a new offensive line, a more experienced Darnold and continued improvement by wide receiver Robby Anderson (if he re-signs), the offense will emerge from the dumpster in 2020.

Cynics will look at Gase’s history. In four seasons as a coach, the first three with the Miami Dolphins, his offenses ranked 24th, 25th, 31st and 32nd, respectively. Like it or not, he will get another shot with the Jets. There’s no place to go but up.

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