The composition of the Jets' wide receiving corps this season has changed from week to week, game to game, making production and continuity elusive.
While QB Sam Darnold has collaborated with an ever-changing cast, his go-to receiver -- Jamison Crowder -- has been the subject of heightened attention from the opposition. Even with the return of Breshad Perriman and the development of Denzel Mims, opposing defenses know that two of the keys to corralling the Jets' offense are pressuring Darnold and clamping down on Crowder.
After a fast start this season –Darnold and Crowder collaborated on a 69-yard catch-and-run play for a TD in Week 1 -- injuries (Crowder has missed four games; first with a hamstring injury, then a groin issue) and more robust defenses have made it more difficult to revive that QB/WR connection.
Through his first four games this season, Crowder had 46 targets and 29 receptions for 383 yards. He had 100 yards receiving in each of his first three contests played, tying for the longest streak in the league this season. His 7+ receptions in five straight games from Week 16 of 2019 to Week 6 of 2020 marked the longest streak in franchise history. But in his three games before last week against Las Vegas, Crowder had 11 targets and 6 catches for 73 yards.
"I think there were weeks I didn't get a lot of targets but BP [Breshad Perriman] and [Denzel] Mims were having good games," Crowder said. "It's just how things go. Last Sunday was just one of those days. The ball came my way. When I get my opportunities I try to take advantage of it. I hope it can keep going this week and going forward."
This week the Jets travel to Seattle and Mims, the rookie second-round draft pick, will not be available. He traveled home to Texas on family business and won't be eligible due to league's testing protocols during the coronavirus pandemic. That again leaves Head Coach Adam Gase and Darnold to adjust to a changing cast of receivers.
"It sucks to not have Denzel and what he brings to the game," Darnold said. "But it's the next-man-up mentality. We have guys to step in and make plays and they will have the opportunity to do that."
Mims' absence put the spotlight back on Crowder, and put pressure on Mims' potential replacements including Jeff Smith, Braxton Berrios and Vyncint Smith. In addition, missing one of the team's three starting WRs means the running game, which produced 206 yards last week, will be counted on to share the workload.
Against the Raiders last week, Crowder was targeted 7 times, caught 5 passes for only 47 yards -- but caught a pair of TD passes from Darnold in the red zone. Crowder leads the team with 5 TDs; the two thrown by Darnold last week were his first scoring passes since the Week 3 game at Indianapolis.
Against Miami a couple of weeks ago, the Dolphins defense mostly double-teamed Crowder and forced Darnold to find other options.
"Miami doubled him on about 16 of the passes that were plays designed for him," Gase said. "They had a guy inside and outside. It looked like early in the game there was single coverage, then he made a couple of catches and that was the last time he saw one guy."
Now in his sixth season in the NFL, Crowder, like his teammates, is having to deal with a winless season, thus far, and the stress and strain it puts on individuals and the group.
Asked if he can stay motivated, Crowder said: "It's tough. You have got to come in and get ready for the next opponent. It's tough not winning, but you still have to come in and understand that it's your job. You try to go out there and put good stuff on tape week in and week out.
"Things happen. It's a game, you have to move on."