Sam Darnold provides hope for future, but Jets' present is bleak

Sam Darnold has a league-worst 14 interceptions, but the Jets see glimpses of the quarterback he can become. Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets reached the NFL's midpoint with a 3-6 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:

First-half rewind: So predictable. The Jets have been impressive at times, scoring at least 34 points in each of their three wins. Other times it has been ugly, as they failed to crack 17 points in any of their six losses. Such is life with a rookie quarterback. They signed up for this when they decided to start Sam Darnold, who is gaining valuable experience and will benefit in the long run. Darnold has special traits and a high ceiling, but he's still learning the nuances of the position. (He leads the league with 14 interceptions.) When he sputters, the rest of the offense isn't good enough to pick him up -- the sign of an incomplete team not ready to contend. Grade: Below average

What needs the most improvement? Let's start with the roster. The Jets are in Year 2 of a massive rebuild, expecting to make big moves in 2019. The plan was to get Darnold acclimated to the NFL and develop the young players this season and then add to the foundation next offseason. With close to $100 million in projected cap room, the Jets should be able to plug a few holes. The offense, hurt by spotty drafting in recent years, could use an extreme makeover. They need a couple of wide receivers, a breakaway running back and help on the line. The biggest need? No doubt, it's an edge rusher. General manager Mike Maccagnan hasn't been able to solve that riddle.

MVP: Not a lot of strong candidates here, but let's go with safety Jamal Adams, who has emerged as the defensive leader in his second season. He's the primary energy source, flying around like a Tasmanian tackling machine. He's a force as a "box" safety, with seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack. When opposing coaches are asked about the Jets' defense, the first name they mention is Adams. With the season going south, he will be looked upon to carry the team through the adversity.

Biggest surprise: The pass rush doesn’t stink. Despite the absence of a quality edge rusher, the Jets have produced 21 sacks (18th in the NFL) so far, only seven shy of last season’s total. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins leads with 4.5 sacks, a career high. Brandon Copeland, a bargain-basement free agent, has surprised with three sacks. But do not believe for one second that the problem is solved. This is smoke-and-mirrors stuff more than anything.

Hurdle to overcome: They have no identity on offense. Oh, sure, they say they want to be a run-oriented, ball-control team, but there are too many weeks when they fail because of personnel deficiencies or a pass-happy game plan. Either way, it puts too much pressure on Darnold, who is 0-5 when he attempts more than 30 passes. This is a transition year on offense -- new coordinator, new quarterback, new system -- so growing pains were inevitable. But 33 points in the past three games? That’s unacceptable. If Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates don’t get Darnold fixed, they will be out of jobs, with an offensive-minded head coach coming in.