Nobody wants to hear it, but patience is still the New York Jets’ key
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Not like this. Not against Bill Belichick. Not against the New England Patriots. Not against a Pats team with Tom Brady long gone and currently torturing the NFC South.
Especially not while Sam Darnold is slinging it in his second life down in the Carolinas.
Although it’s happened quite frequently over the last decade, the New York Jets’ home-opener simply shouldn’t unfold with the most rabid “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” chants coming from the swamp-backdropped North Jersey parking lots at noon ET.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened in New Jersey’s green professional team’s 2021 NFL season home-opener at MetLife Stadium—a 25-6 shellacking at the hands of the AFC East’s kingpins (until the Buffalo Bills officially rip that title away for certain).
Make it 11 straight for the Pats and another young quarterback putting up a stinker.
Ghosts: not required.
Zach Wilson‘s four interceptions put his team in a near-impossible situation this past Sunday—an unusual 180-degree turn from what the Jets produced in Week 1’s 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers when the kid quarterback had to fight through a poor team performance.
At least Wilson said the right things following the disaster. The kid realizes just how disappointed Jets fans were and should be.
“They should be, right? They should be disappointed,” Wilson said following the Jets’ home-opener. “I thought our defense played well and they deserve to see good football. We work our butts off to be able to come in here and play well, so it’s tough when you don’t do that.”
While the outcome is bad news for the state of the fresh-faced franchise quarterback, legitimate positives are present as it relates to the team-building goal as a whole.
It’s why “patience,” as painful as it is when uttered, heard aloud or pondered silently, remains the New York Jets’ appropriate present-time calling card.
Week 2’s contrasting output subtly features impressive positives
The offensive line played very well
In Week 1, Zach Wilson fought through horrid performances around him. Starting terribly in his NFL debut, Wilson rebounded once Mike LaFleur abandoned his hardheaded rushing mentality in the second half. (Sure, the Jets still ran the ball, but it didn’t equal the “let’s impose our will against any defensive look” mentality showcased on the team’s first few drives.)
The Jets ran the ball on each of their first seven first-down situations in Carolina. It’s usually foolhardy to point to the final run-pass tally as evidence of a balanced or imbalanced offensive play-calling attack. Instead, effective play-calling is about forcing the defense into uncomfortable situations—getting ahead of the defensive play-caller in a strategic manner.
A predictable first-down attack leads to poor second and third-down situations—if the defense is expecting and playing first-down run on a consistent basis (loaded boxes, linebackers on their toes and safeties driving down post-snap). That’s exactly what this tremendous Panthers defense did early in the game.
The second half featured more of a balance on first down, as the first eight first-down situations yielded an even 4-4 rush-to-pass attempts. Eventually, the Jets finished 4-to-8 in that category as logic called for the pass (down points in the second half).
The play-calling wasn’t great and the offensive line was even worse. And still, the rookie impressively fought through—something that never materialized vs. New England.
Actually, the opposite took place: The Jets had to fight through Wilson’s poor play.
New York’s yards per attempt on the ground improved from 2.6 to 4.9. LaFleur’s five-man unit sans Mekhi Becton moved the Patriots front nicely, especially the interior of the line, namely Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern. PFF ranked them third on the ground out of 30 offensive lines (not counting Monday Night Football).
The Jets defense improved signficantly
Defensively, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s unit also played well. Instead of vanilla fronts that relied too heavily on winning one-on-one battles, a more defined strategy materialized from the get-go.
New York used more stunts, slants and blitzes while playing a more bend-but-don’t-break style of coverage on the backend. In fact, Ulbrich alluded to this mentality in his usual media spot last week when asked about the backbreaking Robby Anderson touchdown in Week 1.
“The first day I took this job, he (Saleh) put a poster up in my office that says, ‘Eliminate Explosive Plays,’ Ulbrich said. “So, that’s definitely where we all land. Now, we can play tighter to backs, we can eliminate some of the leaky yardage. We don’t have to give up a 100 and a 100 to a back, and we’ll do a better job at that. But, at the same time, our commitment is to absolutely eliminate explosive plays.”
Post-Anderson touchdown in Week 1, the Jets defense morphed into a more lagged style of coverage before our very eyes. That mindset carried over into Week 2, and for the most part, it worked.
New England gained just 260 yards (to the Jets’ 336). Mac Jones played an efficient brand of ball, but it’s one that wouldn’t beat an opponent unless the turnover margin flipped the field to an extreme degree.
Moreover, those aforementioned stunts and exotic blitzes created more-than-acceptable pressure: three total sacks. Sound arguments exist that injuries and poor field position held the unit back from eyebrow-raising excellent results. And don’t forget about the young cornerbacks that are playing extremely well in the face of disastrous expectations coming into the season.
All told, the Pats game oozes improvement across the board. Both the roster as a whole and the coaching staff improved sufficiently. Of course, production coming from the most important position in all of sports is what stings the most.
More than two games are needed to sort out Zach Wilson vs. Sam Darnold
Who would have thought it? Both Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence are struggling while Mac Jones thrives up north. It’s almost as if the top-two picks were sent to poor situations.
It’s almost as if football is actually the ultimate team game.
Through two games apiece:
1. Trevor Lawrence (0-2): 42-84, 450 YD, 4 TD, 5 INT
2. Zach Wilson (0-2): 39-70, 468 YD, 2 TD, 5 INT
15. Mac Jones (1-1): 51-69, 467 YD, 1 TD, 0 INT
Double-check the numbers, but the point still holds true …
Football: The ultimate team game.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) September 19, 2021
Then there’s Sam Darnold, the former Jet who led his team to an overwhelming 26-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Although the film still needs examination, Darnold’s Week 2 performance appears far better than Week 1.
His 305 yards and two touchdowns to one interception on 26 of 38 passing sparkles in the box score. Then again, this was the Panthers’ second-straight home game to start the season—one that welcomed a team dealing with a severe COVID-19 situation.
Eight Saints coaches missed the game. Along with defenders Marshon Lattimore and Kwon Alexander—who missed the contest with injuries—New Orleans looked like a bottom-feeder without a huge chunk of its coaching staff.
There’s no denying the idea that Darnold can put up good statistical seasons in this free-flowing, pass-heavy league, but more than two games are required to issue a final verdict on Joe Douglas’s massive quarterback decision this past offseason.
Unfortunately, Wilson produced a game that offers up the fanbase’s worst fears: indecision.
One of the attributes most appealing about the BYU standout was his short memory, his non-overthinking nature. The kid’s “mental horsepower,” as the Jets brass has described it, usually places him in a spot to react naturally on the field without overthinking the situation.
Against Belichick, Wilson did anything but react positively.
Wilson allowed himself to get enter his own head—a dark place for an athlete, especially a quarterback. It’s concerning, for sure, yet it’s also not the end of the world.
He was in his own head at this point. Not reacting, rather overthinking—the last thing #Jets fans wanted to see.
Mental mistakes via decision-making will happen to all rookie QBs, but Zach Wilson allowed his brain to get fried in this one. Not end of world but concerning. https://t.co/4lbpBexmYO
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) September 21, 2021
These games will happen for rookie signal-callers in this league; it’s just that simple.
Turning the page is key
Sure, reviewing the film is always essential in this sport. It “can’t not” happen. At the same time, understanding when performances are crucially compromised is also key.
This wasn’t Zach Wilson out there; it was a rookie quarterback completely fouled up for a myriad of reasons, some of which are unknown, and some of which are Belichick-related.
Although Belichick’s defenses often don’t showcase exotic behavior, there’s much more than meets the eye at play. Using Carolina’s aggressive, stop-the-run mentality from Week 1, he focused on first stopping Wilson early.
It’s a strategy few recognize. Belichick often plays off of the previous week’s opponent. If that opponent shows one thing (aggression), he’ll bet the house that the offensive coordinator will learn his lesson and reverse course, only for the Pats defense to anticipate that new route.
Plus, New England’s man-to-man coverage offers only subtle distinctions in its brilliance. How each cover defender shades or brackets certain routes in certain looks is always the key.
Wilson obviously couldn’t overcome it.
Utilizing a short memory in order to flip the page onto Denver is the first critical key. The good news is Robert Saleh already understands that piece of the puzzle as it relates to his young quarterback.
After the game, Saleh told Wilson to “believe in himself and shake this one off.” He also “promised him that it would not be the hardest game he’s ever played (and to) pick himself up and get ready for the next one.”
Upon first broadcast glance, Wilson failed to execute what Jones easily could—taking what the defense allowed. Jones graciously accepted the underneath stuff, whereas Wilson often looked for the home run ball.
Of course, the Jets’ zone-heavy and lagged defense allowed that much more than the Pats’ man-to-man looks that subtly dominate thanks to offensive play-calling, game-plan and quarterback tendencies.
When asked what went wrong, Wilson cited execution.
“Yeah, probably a little bit of trying to do too much; I would just say a lack of execution,” Wilson said after the game. “It’s tough to not have any rhythm when you’re not doing well overall as an offense, just to keep saying next play, next drive. We’ve got to do a better job of that. I’ve got to do a better job of that.”
Next up? Denver. Another tough defense on the road and way up there in the elevated Rocky Mountains.
Yes, patience is still key; but another “completely fouled up” Zach Wilson performance is most likely unacceptable. Patience stretches only so far with just 17 games on the season’s slate.
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