Robert Saleh, Zach Wilson
Robert Saleh, Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Tennessee Titans, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Zach Wilson and Mike LaFleur discovered the New York Jets’ correct prescription

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—If the New York Jets had a fever, their fans suffered from a prolonged stomach bug. No touchdowns since the second half of Week 1 down in the Carolinas represented just one of the many symptoms.

Robert Saleh‘s rookie head coaching woes served as the dizziness, while Zach Wilson‘s unimaginable professional beginnings capped daily reminders that leaving the house just isn’t in the cards.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to leave the house for a night of fun—Jets fans included? But when aches, pains and chills rule the day (weeks, months, years), hanging close to the home base that provides easier emergency access is the only correct call.

Perhaps that’s why MetLife Stadium was far from a full house on this early October day.

However, as is the case with any fever-driven nightmare that causes even the calmest of the bunch to toss and turn, an ending is sure to arrive.

After opening the season in dreadful 0-3 fashion, the youngest team in the NFL finally found the prescription it sought—and it contrasted with Saleh’s extremely public words for his rookie quarterback a mere two weeks ago.

Instead of “boring,” Wilson’s high-flying antics against the Tennessee Titans propelled the Jets to their first victory of the season.

“I wouldn’t say that some of the off-schedule plays that we had necessarily (represent) trying to do too much,” Wilson said after his team’s 27-24 victory over the now-2-2 Titans at MetLife Stadium. “That was just the part of the game I feel like I have that comes naturally to me was being able to do things off-schedule.”

And boy did he perform off-schedule.

Wilson, 22, is the anti-boring quarterback. From devastatingly low-moment throws that leave the onlooker scratching more than one’s head, to a flick of the wrist while on the run and in trouble, the BYU product lit up the swamps of Northern New Jersey to a degree that hasn’t been witnessed at the position in quite some time.

First, No. 2 broke the ice with an on-the-run beauty to Keelan Cole down the right sideline in the third quarter.

Then, Wilson picked up a fumble prior to calmly delivering a deep crosser to the returning Jamison Crowder. The impromptu play set up the Jets’ second touchdown of the game—yet another Wilson-to-Crowder connection for three yards.

The capper came in the form of a 53-yard backyard strike to Corey Davis that put the Jets up 24-17 with 9:06 to go in regulation.

While Wilson certainly didn’t look lost in the pocket while moving through his progressions, things positively took off the moment he decided that overthinking things in a “better safe than sorry” mode on every down was better left for the 1980s-style quarterbacks mirroring BYU alumnus Jim McMahon.

What he saw on that Davis bomb to get MetLife rocking was exactly what everybody saw in the building: another one-on-one situation ripe for the picking.

“Corey was actually not really part of the read there,” Wilson admitted after the victory. “He did a good job showing up across the field. They gave us their two inverted look, (as) the corner had played Keelan (Cole) over there on the sideline and essentially their deep post-safety kind of ends up being a cut player, so he’s running on Corey’s butt across the field, and there’s no one deep. So, right there I just kind of say, ‘Hey if the corner wants to play soft and take away Keelan on a route, if I can just push Corey down the field, I thought we had (a) chance for a big play there.’

“I feel like that’s part of my game as far as just reacting and definitely needing that in situations like that.”

After a shaky start, Davis finished with a team-high 111 yards and that monstrous touchdown on four receptions. Crowder chipped in with 61 and his flat-route score on seven grabs.

Although the Jets’ defense couldn’t prevent the Titans from tying up the contest at 24-all, Jeff Ulbrich’s unit kept the team in the game. They sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times, two of which were tallied by Quinnen Williams.

A nice blend of a lagged quarters defense (when appropriate) and man-to-man press with Cover 0 pre-snap looks kept the Titans guessing at times. Derrick Henry did rumble for 157 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries, but the pass rush and excellent coverage from the young cornerbacks did more than enough.

Bryce Hall may have been the Jets’ best player. The second-year Virginia product tallied five tackles, 0.5 sacks, three passes defended and two quarterback hits. Time and again, New York asked him to get the job done in single-coverage and he repeatedly delivered.

Interestingly, what could be labeled aggressive on defense could be tagged oh-so correct offensively.

Late in regulation with the Jets up seven points, Mike LaFleur dialed up a play-action pass on second down and another five-step concept on third. The second-down boot resulted in minimal yardage. The third-down concept featured Wilson off the mark on an out-cut via Davis.

Although both attempts landed the unsuccessful column, the evidence that Saleh—a defensive mind, first and foremost—understands today’s chunk-taking NFL has become that much more apparent.

“I thought Mike (LaFleur) called a spectacular game. Mike was aggressive in his play-calling,” Saleh said after the game. “There were certain shots where Mike was going for the jugular the entire game.”

Good NFL teams don’t choke on the ball late in games. Good NFL teams in 2021 don’t play Rex Ryan-esque conservative ball.

Apparently, neither does Saleh.

The Jets’ rookie head coach even told the press that he planned on going for the walk-off touchdown on fourth down had the Jets not lost yardage on the prior play—a Wilson play-action boot that saw him go out of bounds. Instead of two rush attempts from the 1-yard line, Saleh allowed LaFleur to let it ride in the air with the young quarterback.

Asking a defense to get it done in today’s discriminatory NFL is a foolhardy notion at every turn. Despite the fact New York was forced to settle for a Matt Ammendola overtime field goal (the game’s final points), this is yet more evidence that the team’s newfound prescription flawlessly cured recent ills.

Anti-boring. Anti-conservative. Anti-hope the defense wins it in miraculous fashion.

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Coaching? Check. Defense? Check. Quarterback? Well, we’ll see.

As is the case for any rookie signal-caller, ups and downs will show face. On this day, however, Zach Wilson wiggled out of his overthinking funk by letting it rip. The youngster allowed his natural talents to be showcased in effortless fashion—one that often divides the really good NFL quarterbacks from those who simply create special plays when nothing’s there.

In spite of the ecstatic feeling of the night, Wilson still has work to do as it relates to reading certain things and progressing from the professional pocket.

“For Zach, it’s just letting the game come to him. He didn’t make any mistakes,” Saleh added. “The interception was unfortunate, but he made the right reads. He put the ball where it needed to be. He was aggressive when he needed to be.”

And while the raucous crowd and onlookers from home would disagree, Wilson’s head coach believes he delivered on his extremely “boring” assignment dished out a couple of weeks ago after Bill Belichick taught a master class in man-to-man coverage.

“Believe it or not, he was boring when he needed to be. (I) just thought he did a really, really nice job playing this game,” Saleh said.

Perhaps boring is the New York Jets’ appropriate prescription, after all. Maybe Zach Wilson’s “boring” is set to redefine the word as it’s viewed across the National Football League.

The New York Jets sure hope so. So do their fans—the tried, tested and loyal bunch that finally basked in the glory of a much-deserving home victory.

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, developer and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor | Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (sold in 2020). SEO: XLM Email: robby.sabo[at]
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2 years ago

So help me out here. If we’re all singing the praises of Wilson and his freelance play making ability, why is it so important that a 6’3″ receiver with good hands, good YAC capability and 4.3 speed ride the pine while he learns all three route trees?

2 years ago
Reply to  Robby Sabo

In a way you’ve sort of made my point. If the team has the luxury of three capable slot receivers on any given Sunday, this whole “Mims needs to learn the slot” argument is garbage. If the coaches don’t want him active, that’s one thing. If the coaches don’t want him active and come up with a BS reason why, this is what is causing the pro-Mims fans to lose their water. And if your QB is going to sling it off-schedule, give me the 6’3″ guy who can snag contested balls…

2 years ago

Quietly Special Teams excelled, Beginning to believe in Amendola. Crowder & Cole provided some Offensive consistency, are viable alternatives to Corey Davis. Running game is coming, AVT had a good game. Jets are a terrible short yardage team, it’s well known, possible reason for the ill fated bootleg.
Could the Jets have three players with double digit sacks this year ?

2 years ago
Reply to  JetOrange

I’m still taking it cautiously with Amendola. I like him and am very hopeful he’s the answer but I have noticed he tends to pull to the left and we’ve yet to see him in a pressure situation. Of course being a Jets’ fan I fear the worst…he yanks a game winner left.

2 years ago

Yep! First W today, hopefully this is the turning point.