Playing the blame game: Zach Wilson or Mike LaFleur?
One more week, one more loss.
This has been the story at 1 Jets Drive since the beginning of the 2020 season—save for a couple of outliers against the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams.
Frustration is warranted—even more so because most fans’ expectations for the 2021 season were pretty down to earth. Yet, the New York Jets underperformed reasonable expectations.
It’s safe to say that the majority of Jets fans would have been fine with a losing season (or at least a tough start to the season) if Robert Saleh’s squad showed weekly signs of improvement. If this recently-built Jets team featured competitive spirit, the youth of the squad and the inexperience of the coaching staff would make close losses a lot more understandable.
Thus far, unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.
In fact, the 2021 Jets look a lot more like a sequel of 2020 than a freshly coached squad.
This team looks a lot more like 2020, one could say, as this Jets team seems to have carried the characteristics that marked last year’s 2-14 squad:
- A drowsy offense, led by an offensive coordinator and quarterback that aren’t on the same page.
- An undisciplined defense that commits a lot of unforced penalties.
- And, on top of everything, suspect coaching.
The first three games have been hard and the young quarterback meant to be the silver lining hasn’t looked great.
It’s undeniable: It’s difficult to play quarterback as a rookie in the NFL. Just look around and see how every other first-year signal-caller performed in Week 3.
It’s that hard.
Wilson’s struggles are concerning, of course, but folks shouldn’t be worried about the No. 2 overall pick’s long-term career after these first three games. It’s hard to think of a tougher scenario for your first three games as a pro than to play against Phill Snow, Bill Belichick and Vic Fangio.
Wilson, as the object of an individual and result-driven analysis, needs more time.
When examining the Jets offense as a whole, though, the issues pile up. And the impact those issues have on Wilson is the cause for concern right now.
Going beyond the fact that playing quarterback in the NFL is the hardest job in the pro-sports world, it’s clear that Zach Wilson has started to show some bad tendencies he didn’t have in college. The BYU product continuously throws off his back foot, locks onto receivers, and hesitates for the most part—almost as if he’s afraid to make a mistake.
All of those issues, ultimately, go back to coaching and Zach’s teammates’ inability to help him.
Mike LaFleur, a young and promising offensive mind, has been taken to school (gameplan-wise) for the third consecutive week. It’s not easy for him to call plays in his first three games against Snow, Belichick and Fangio. But the plain truth is that those three defensive gurus knew LaFleur’s plan perfectly and adjustments have been a struggle.
Alongside LaFleur and Wilson, the entire Jets offense has underperformed. The execution of everything has been downright poor. Corey Davis, this offense’s biggest free-agent acquisition, has been a huge disappointment. The receiving group, to be honest, entered the season with higher expectations.
Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten didn’t get better under the new scheme, as many of the optimists expected, and are now looking like bad free agent acquisitions by Jets General Manager Joe Douglas. There are communication issues along the entire offensive line, which have led to Wilson getting constantly hit.
Robert Saleh, in his postgame presser, let the fans know that he views It the same way. The entire offense needs to be better.
“It’s at all three levels and to spread the wealth with regards to precision,” Saleh told the media following his team’s dispirited 26-0 loss in Denver. “From O Line, route running, quarterback, rhythm, and play-caller, (we have to make) sure that it’s everybody. We all have to look in the mirror, and we have to find a way to play way better on Sunday because during the week if the execution is very high, we have to find a way to bring into Sunday and execute at the high level that we’re practicing it.”
All of this has impacted Wilson. And Wilson has also impacted all of this: from coaching to his teammates’ performance.
The picture is bleak. The water of the half-full glass folks is dry.
Yet … the film is real.
Negatives: Sloppy execution, unimpressive play-calling
The Jets’ offense couldn’t help itself. It was either LaFleur calling a bad play, Wilson missing a read, or a wide receiver dropping the ball. The first part of this breakdown consists of analyzing the answer to a simple question: Who’s more to blame, Zach Wilson or Mike LaFleur?
Since neither had a good game particularly, it’s unfair to put the entire blame on one guy. But it’s fair to say that LaFleur’s inability to put Wilson in rhythm impacted Wilson’s game more than Wilson’s hesitancy impacted LaFleur’s job.
Consider this: The entire breakdown has 24 plays, 12 of which are positive plays, whereas the other 12 fall into the negative category.
How could the Jets score no points? The team simply failed to put one good play after another. Consistency is key in football, and an offense can only be consistent when the quarterback’s in rhythm.
Zach Wilson is playing tentatively and clearly needs to be put into an early-game rhythm
Surprisingly, Zach Wilson’s tape has more good plays than one would think after watching the game from the broadcast angle. Despite those, though, Wilson’s game was not one to remember.
The Jets quarterback constantly rushed throws, played hesitant at times and often lacked proper footwork. Wilson only found his groove when LaFleur’s goal was to get him in rhythm—and that didn’t last long.
- Wilson late to Corey Davis, complete but has to take Kroft in the flat.
- Wilson incomplete to Moore on a comeback, throw rushed.
- Wilson checks down to Kroft, not trusting the concept to develop.
- Wilson sacked, denies checking the ball down to Ty Johnson.
- Wilson incomplete to Ty Johnson, bad mechanics.
- Wilson intercepted, staring down Corey Davis.
Mike LaFleur needs to do a better job at getting the offense in rhythm
Imagine being a young tennis player ready to enter the pros, and your first three games are against Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. This is basically what has happened to Mike LaFleur this season.
The Jets offensive play-caller, once again, was taken to school by the opposing team’s defensive play-caller. Expecting a much more zone heavy outing, LaFleur invested a lot of his calls early in the game in zone beaters.
The only drive in which the Jets came close to scoring—a field goal wiped out by penalty—only developed because LaFleur dialed up quick-game concepts for Wilson. Zach was clearly comfortable and in rhythm—and it finally felt like the Jets offense had found its groove.
Instead of continuing this trend on upcoming drives, the Jets offensive guru did the complete opposite, abandoning the quick game strategy right out at the start of the next offensive series. LaFleur began the very next drive with a play-action shot call (sack) and a three-man vertical route concept on second down.
The end result? Punt.
It is undeniable that LaFleur has faced a tough outing of defensive play-callers in his first three games: Snow, Belichick and Fangio are no joke. Nonetheless, it’s also clear that the first-year play-caller has struggled to put Wilson in rhythm, while also failing to adjust in-game based on the other team’s tendencies.
- LaFleur calls a 4×1 concept, nobody open, Wilson incomplete to Davis.
- LaFleur’s poor play design ends up in a Wilson sack.
- LaFleur goes play-action deep shot after a good drive, Wilson sack.
- LaFleur goes verticals on second down right after a good quick game drive, incomplete.
- LaFleur goes empty and 4×1 set on third and 2, incomplete.
- LaFleur goes empty on fourth and 1, incomplete to Ty Johnson.
The Zach Wilson and Mike LaFleur positives
Sidearm Session will always end on a positive note (at least until this offense makes possible an entirely positive breakdown).
There were some good things to take away from Wilson’s tape, especially when LaFleur used his quick game concepts. Wilson is simply much more confident when he’s in the three-step drop-back game. Besides that, Wilson’s physical talent showed up again, as it always will.
When LaFleur and Wilson were in sync, No. 2 produced and put up some good film on tape.
It’s almost surprising to see a positive play chart consisting of 12 good plays, but that’s what watching the tape provides. The game of football is all about being able to string good plays together and getting into a rhythm.
Seven of the 12 plays listed below happened on the same drive. The five others were scattered throughout the game. Scoring zero points was an immediate consequence of the team’s inability to string good plays together.
- Wilson completes a shallow cross to Kroft (FG drive).
- Wilson completes a quick hitch to Davis (FG drive).
- Wilson converts 3rd down to Davis (FG drive).
- Wilson RPO flare to Elijah Moore (FG drive).
- Wilson goes touchdown/check-down, converts 3rd down to Johnson (FG drive).
- Wilson throws Texas route, dropped by Carter (FG drive).
- Wilson scrambles, dropped by Davis (FG drive).
- Wilson completes out-route to Moore, good footwork.
- Wilson, good dig to Davis, dropped.
- Wilson progresses and completes a pass to Berrios.
- Wilson good ball on curl to Keelan Cole.
- Wilson good manipulation corner to Keelan Cole.
Positive look ahead
After a rough three-game stretch, this offense will finally have some breathing room. Week 4 will be the first game of the season Wilson and LaFleur do not face a top-five NFL defense (Carolina, New England and Denver are ranked first, fifth and second, respectively, in total defense this season.
Next Sunday’s match-up against the Tennessee Titans (31st passing defense in the league), followed by a London trip to face the Atlanta Falcons should make this offense look a lot better.
If not, well … then something will have gone even more unimaginably wrong.
Both Zach Wilson and Mike LaFleur should be able to drastically improve over the next couple of weeks, which would put a shy but deserving smile on New York Jets fans’ faces.
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