Jets’ ‘unacceptable’ red-zone development is troubling

The good news is the Jets don’t seem to have a kicker problem anymore. Sam Ficken is 8-for-8 on field goals this year, including 5-for-5 in Thursday night’s loss to the Broncos. The bad news is you’re seeing a lot of Ficken.

The Jets’ list of problems is a long one at 0-4, but one of the more troubling developments has been their struggles in the red zone. The Jets have scored just two touchdowns in nine red-zone trips this season, the worst percentage (22.2) in the NFL entering Sunday’s games.

“It’s unacceptable,” quarterback Sam Darnold said after the team went 0-for-3 in such situations in its 37-28 loss to Denver. “We’ve got to score when we get down there.”

In nine trips, the Jets have kicked six field goals, scored two touchdowns and had an interception.

It is hard to pinpoint one thing that is causing the problem. You can question head coach Adam Gase’s play-calling, but if you rewatch the plays, there have been scoring opportunities the Jets have just blown.

A few examples: Chris Herndon dropped a sure touchdown against the 49ers. Darnold was intercepted on first-and-goal in Indianapolis. Darnold also missed a wide-open Chris Hogan on third-and-4 against the Broncos, choosing instead to throw to a covered Frank Gore on a wheel route.

The Jets have a near-even split between pass (10) and run (9) calls in the red zone. Darnold has gone 3-for-9 for 22 yards with one touchdown, one interception and one sack. Gore has carried the ball eight times for 17 yards and Josh Adams has one carry for 2 yards and a touchdown.

In Thursday’s loss, the Jets had third-and-4 twice in the red zone. That is a down-and-distance on which the Jets have to convert. If they had come away with touchdowns there, they might have won. Instead Darnold threw two incomplete passes. The second one was when he did not see Hogan running open in the middle of the field. The third red-zone possession barely counts. They had a fourth-and-1 at the 19 and kicked a field goal.

“We had a couple of opportunities that we missed,” Gase said. “[Denver] has been a good red-zone team since [head coach] Vic [Fangio] got there. He’s always had a good red-zone [defense]. We had one down on each attempt where it’s like, ‘We have to make that play because that’s how we’re going to get in.’ We didn’t make that play.”

The two red-zone drives the Jets had in Week 2 against the 49ers may have been their most frustrating. In the first quarter, they managed to drive down the field on their second possession of the game. They had first-and-10 on the 18 and the 49ers had just lost defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas to injuries. Knowing there were backups playing on the San Francisco line, Gase called a run. Gore got stuffed for a 2-yard loss, though. Then, on second-and-12, they had to pass. Darnold ended up getting sacked for a 6-yard loss. On third-and-18, Gase ran a give-up draw to Gore that gained 3 yards and on came Ficken.

Their other red-zone possession in that game came after a Pierre Desir interception gave the Jets the ball at the 49ers’ 22. A 12-yard reverse by Josh Malone got them to the 10 and into the red zone. The first play was a 2-yard gain by Gore. On second-and-8, they ran a Darnold rollout to his right and he threw to Braxton Berrios, who ran his route short and only gained 1 yard. On third-and-7, Herndon dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Darnold and it was Ficken time again when Gase opted against going for it on fourth-and-7.

There is some help on the way. Both Breshad Perriman (ankle) and Denzel Mims (hamstring) are expected back this week. They can be strong red-zone targets for Darnold. Le’Veon Bell (hamstring) also should be back, and he could give the offense a needed boost.

“We’ve just got to find something to put points up, get in the end zone,” wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “We can move the ball. We’re getting into the area we need to be, but instead of coming out of there with field goals, we’ve got to get six points.”

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