EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams stood face-to-face with his position coach, yelling at him on the sideline after an all-out blitz backfired and resulted in a first-quarter touchdown. Later, in the locker room, cornerback D.J. Reed, said the defense committed an "unacceptable" number of mental errors, claiming the players and coaches need to sit down and talk through some of the on-field issues.
The season is only three games old, and the Jets (1-2) already seem to be fighting back dysfunction on the defensive side of the ball. You had Williams, arguably the best player on defense, openly questioning coaching strategy during and after Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. You had Reed, another respected leader, suggesting that maybe the coaches need to simplify the game plans.
"It's frustrating as hell," coach Robert Saleh said after another mistake-filled loss in which they allowed a previously slumping quarterback Joe Burrow to pass for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
The lasting image from the game will be that of Williams, usually mild-mannered, having to be separated from defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. It happened moments after receiver Tyler Boyd's 56-yard touchdown reception, which gave Cincinnati a 14-6 lead late in the first quarter. It should've been a short gain, but safety Jordan Whitehead missed a tackle at the 44-yard line. There was no backup help because the Jets had sent a seven-man rush, leaving no one between Boyd and the end zone.
Later, Williams said he was upset because he disagreed with the call by defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who calls plays from the booth. Since Ulbrich wasn't on the field, Williams unloaded on Whitecotton. He felt they didn't need to blitz; Williams wanted the onus to be on the front four.
"We've got dogs in our [defensive line] room," Williams said. "Everybody on the staff knows it, everybody in the organization knows it. I trust the D-line so much that, 'Put it on our back to win this game, man.' You see what I'm saying? That came out of me, to just challenge my defensive line coach, like, 'Yo, put it on our back, Coach. You know what we've got in this room. Like, four-man rush, we don't need all this extra blitzing. Put it on our back and let's go out there and rush.'"
But was that all there was to it? Williams' response sounded like a varnished company line. It’s worth noting that he spent five minutes with a public-relations official before meeting with reporters.
Interestingly, it was their first seven-man rush of the season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Evidently, Ulbrich felt they weren't getting enough pressure on Burrow with a standard four-man rush because he called for extra rushers on five of 15 dropbacks in the first quarter -- higher than their usual blitz rate. For the remainder of the game, he dialed up extra pressure seven times out of 23 dropbacks, roughly the same rate as the first quarter. But there were no all-out blitzes after Williams' sideline spat with his coach.
Saleh didn't see any reason to publicly scold Williams for his outburst.
"I love the fire. I love all of it," he said. "Obviously, we don’t need them to go jawing at each other, but he's being competitive, so he was fine.
"He was challenging us as coaches to give him his four-man rush, so he could move into one-on-one, which, deservedly, he’s not wrong."
Williams isn't a fiery player, so his sideline display probably resonated more. As he joked afterward, "I never get like that. I'm not an aggressive person, so people were like, 'Oh, snap!'" He added that he loves Whitecotton and that he talked it out afterward.
You love the passion, but it's not a good optic for the Jets as a team.
You know what's also a bad optic? Leaving Ja'Marr Chase, one of the best receivers in the NFL, wide open in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown. For the third straight week, rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner was involved in a miscommunication that ended up in a score.
The Bengals lined up in an empty formation, with running back Joe Mixon lined up wide right. He motioned into the slot, then ran his route into the right flat. Both Gardner and linebacker Quincy Williams covered Mixon, leaving Chase uncovered. It was almost identical to last week's blown coverage on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper -- a Gardner mistake.
It's Pass Coverage 101. It shouldn't be that hard.
"It's unacceptable. The mental errors are unacceptable -- for the coaches, for the players, for everybody that's part of this, including myself," Reed said. "It's unacceptable. We have to have a meeting and just talk about everything -- whether what we're doing is too much, whether we're not overcommunicating. We have to cut it out. We have to get it right."
Reed said a meeting would help because the players could share their "dilemmas, what we're struggling with, what's working, what's not working."
A year ago, the Jets finished 32nd in defense because they were shy on talent. That's no longer an alibi.