Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

The offense came alive when it mattered most and the defense did its part in the clutch

The New York Jets have a .500 record.

They have not been able to say such a thing this late in the season since they were 3-3 through six games in 2018.

After another comeback victory, the Jets have once again positioned themselves to build some momentum. They have traversed the competitive AFC North and come through, if not unscathed, then at least inspired. Head coach Robert Saleh is collecting some more receipts.

A team that has lost five offensive tackles this season and has had its point of focus, the run game, largely nullified has still managed to pull through. They survived three weeks playing a backup QB and saw their starter return to play an uneven game but come up aces in the clutch.

Without having even watched the condensed game, no less the All-22, it’s hard to give any in-depth analysis of what flipped the switch for the Jets. But we can still give some knee-jerk reactions to the Jets’ victory and describe the possible momentum-builders.

Zach Wilson: A tale of different quarters

No one was sure what to expect in Zach Wilson‘s 2022 season debut. He assured the media of his full health, but his in-season readiness after missing seven weeks of preaseason and regular-season play was in question.

Zach didn’t have the strongest game of his life, going 18-for-36 (50%) for 252 yards with one TD, two picks, and one receiving TD. His quarterback rating of 59.0 indicates the shakiness of his game.

However, considering how much he got hit, just his mobility gave the Jets a chance in this game. He was sacked only once despite facing pressure on over half of his dropbacks, sometimes almost immediately after taking the snap.

Starting from the end of the first half, the game appeared to fall apart for Wilson. After a reasonable start which included a field goal and touchdown on the Jets’ second and third drives, respectively, Wilson had a chance to add points before the half. Just protecting the ball on third-and-11 would have given the Jets a chance to kick a 46-yard field goal and extend their 10-3 lead. Instead, Wilson threw a poor pass to Jeff Smith, and the Steelers’ Cameron Sutton made a great play to come off his receiver and intercept the ball.

Following an inexcusable (albeit possibly controversial) Carl Lawson roughing the passer penalty, Chris Boswell hit a 59-yard field goal to make the score 10-6 at the half. Wilson’s pick resulted in a six-point swing, one which could have come back to haunt the Jets later in the game.

In the third quarter, Wilson appeared to unravel at the seams. He certainly wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped several catchable passes. The worst was an interception to Minkah Fitzpatrick that went right off the hands of Tyler Conklin. The ball was high, but Conklin should have caught it.

Following Kenny Pickett’s interception to Jordan Whitehead on his first NFL pass attempt, the Jets had the opportunity to settle in and expand their cushion. Instead, the Steelers got the ball at the Jets’ four and cashed in with Kenny Pickett’s first career rushing TD, giving them the lead, 13-10.

On the following drive, the Jets started to get a little momentum, riding an 18-yard catch-and-run from Wilson to Conklin to get a first down near midfield. However, a false start penalty on Conor McDermott turned a manageable third-and-five into a third-and-long, and the Jets had to punt after a Wilson incompletion to Breece Hall. Pittsburgh marched the ball down and scored a touchdown, giving them a 10-point lead and leaving little reason to believe that the Jets could rally.

However, Zach found his Superman cape in the fourth quarter. He executed his own 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis, who became his favorite receiver late in the game. On that drive, he was 5-for-7 for 71 yards, aided by a 35-yard catch-and-run to Garrett Wilson on third-and-six that took the Jets from their own 23 to the Pittsburgh 42.

Following a Michael Carter II interception on the next drive, the Jets got the ball at their own 35 with 3:34 remaining and a chance to come down to tie the game with a field goal. Wilson drove the Jets down the field, completing notable plays to Corey Davis for 15 and 17 yards and Michael Carter for 11. After a Breece Hall seven-yard run brought the ball down to the Pittsburgh two, Hall cashed in the TD on second-and-goal with 16 seconds remaining.

Overall, on the Jets’ last two drives, Wilson was 11-for-14 for 128 yards and a touchdown. He made quick decisions and sharp throws to redeem himself and send the Jets to an emotional victory. This was the Zach Wilson who played down the stretch of last season. Now it’s up to Mike LaFleur and Wilson to capture that magic through four quarters.

Safety play turnaround

Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead had to be taking some receipts on the incessant criticism of their play. However, all the talk was warranted, as both had played horrible coverage and missed tackles left and right. They were the biggest culprits in the Jets defense’s inability to get off the field on third down.

Joyner and Whitehead rebounded today. Joyner recorded four passes defensed, including a one-on-one downfield breakup against the 6’4″ Chase Claypool. He also had two interceptions, one off of Mitch Trubisky on a pass deflection from Sheldon Rankins and another on the game-ending Hail Mary lob by Kenny Pickett. He also recorded the tipped pass on Whitehead’s pick.

We’ll need to break down the tape to see their tackling, but the two were much better in coverage today. For the Jets, having their safeties play competently in coverage can be a huge boon to their defense, which already features a top cornerback trio in Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II.

Corey Davis: most clutch game as a Jet

Corey Davis has been much-maligned among the Jets’ fan base after a drop-filled, injury-riddled, underwhelming 2021 season. Through the first three games, Davis had been relatively quiet, with 10 receptions for 187 yards that were stat-padded by a 66-yard touchdown on a blown coverage.

In this game, Davis caught five balls for 74 yards and a touchdown. Although those numbers don’t pop off the page, his receptions were clutch, especially in the fourth quarter. On the Jets’ final two drives, Davis caught three balls for 54 yards and a touchdown to bring the game within a field goal. Davis’s biggest play came on a 4th-and-7 on that touchdown drive, a critical 22-yard reception to extend the drive and give the Jets a fighting chance. He snatched a bullet pass from Zach Wilson with his hands and held on.

Although Davis was also called for an illegal block in the back on the last drive, his ability to get open and hold on helped the Jets to victory. On his touchdown, the whip route that he ran was as sudden as you’ll see for a 6’3″ receiver. Give credit where credit is due: Corey Davis came through today.

Offensive line woes continue

The Jets did not announce this week that they were going to start Alijah Vera-Tucker at left tackle. In fact, the CBS lineup had Conor McDermott listed there. Still, the Jets clearly determined that their best chance at keeping Zach Wilson on his feet was to move their 2021 first-round pick outside.

Vera-Tucker played all over the offensive line in college, and though guard is his ideal position due to shorter-than-average arm length, he held his own today. It may have been a different story with T.J. Watt on the field, but for all the pressure Zach Wilson faced, most of it did not appear to come from Vera-Tucker’s direction. AVT may well be the Jets’ best player right now.

However, the Jets went down another tackle in this game, with rookie Max Mitchell sustaining a knee injury in the second quarter. He was carted off the field and ruled out not too long after, an ominous sign for the Jets. Mitchell joined the growing list of Jets tackles to sustain injuries, following Mekhi Becton, Duane Brown, and George Fant. McDermott then had to replace Mitchell, and the heat continued on Zach Wilson to the tune of 22 pressures, four quarterback hits, and one sack. It would have been even worse if not for Wilson’s elusiveness.

However, it was in the run game where the offensive line was truly putrid. Breece Hall and Michael Carter combined for 81 rush yards on 26 carries, a 3.1 yards-per-carry average that is actually better than the holes they had. Both backs consistently faced multiple Steelers defenders the second they received the handoff. They lost yards on five rushes, a number that is that low only because of their elusiveness.

Mike LaFleur clearly wanted to run the ball to take the pressure off Zach Wilson and ease him back into the offense. LaFleur called run plays even on the Jets’ drive when they were down 10, trying to get something going. However, a Steelers defense that had struggled against the run feasted on the Jets line, not allowing any push.

With Mitchell on crutches in the locker room and the status of Duane Brown unknown, the Jets need to find answers to give their backs room and protect Zach Wilson better. Recently-signed Mike Remmers and Cedric Ogbuehi may be part of the equation.

Defensive line play

Carl Lawson finally generated a sack on a decisive pass rush win, also getting a tackle for loss and two QB hits. Bryce Huff generated push outside in his 2022 season debut. Quinnen Williams recorded a sack, a tackle for loss, and two QB hits, continuing his strong 2022 season. Jermaine Johnson had a sack, TFL, and a QB hit.

The Jets also inserted a wrinkle with their line at one point, dropping Sheldon Rankins into coverage. Rankins promptly tipped a Mitch Trubisky pass, which was picked on the slide by Lamarcus Joyner.

Though the rush wasn’t as consistent as the Jets would like, it was a step up from what we saw in previous weeks. They had three sacks and six QB hits total. It’s a start for a defensive line that had been woefully underperforming.

Meanwhile, Najee Harris found some holes to run through, and the Steelers rushed for 119 total yards. Still, they averaged 3.8 yards per carry, and the front seven did enough to prevent the huge plays.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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Jim G
Jim G
1 month ago

Very good analysis of the game. At the end I was left thinking “what did I really see from Zach Wilson?” Until the 4th quarter, only a few good passes and the rest mediocre. He was great the last two drives, but I would like to see more consistency.

I’m glad you focused on some of the other players. I was so focused on blocking & Zach’s play I didn’t really pay attention to how the others were playing. And, of course you’re right, if we are going to shade players when they play badly, we should at least praise them when they play well, particularly when they change the outcome of the game.

Richard Hausig
Richard Hausig
1 month ago

I thought Zach played really well once they were able to protect him in the 4th Q and thats no small thing. His throwing mechanics were good, his decisions were excellent and he led the comeback. Thats progress. The first step in becoming a good QB is executing when the plays are there, he hasn’t done that before but he did it yesterday.

The WRs got wide open too, when was the last time we saw that? The Steelers are terrible so lets keep things in perspective but for me it was a huge positive at QB, lets see if he can move it forward.

Barry Bryant
Barry Bryant
1 month ago

Maybe in a future post you could address the issue of a quarterback’s ball being easy or hard to catch. I always thought it was simply a matter of how hard it was thrown, but there is obviously more to it. The quarterback we had years ago from University of Louisville, can’t remember his name, but he famously threw the ball too hard and didn’t last long. Remembered, Browning Nagle (sp?). Is this something that is fixable, or part of the quarterback’s nature?

Barry Bryant
Barry Bryant
1 month ago

Great summary, hit everything with economy. But oh the tackles, what are we going to do about the tackles!

DHB
DHB
1 month ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

In fairness to McDermott I felt he played better than he has in the past. Not that I watched him too closely but he often stands out for the wrong reasons.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
1 month ago

I think Wilson had a better game than being given credit for.
First game back. He was pressured or sacked on half the plays and a few times looked more agile getting out of big losses than Maholmes.
One terrible throw in the flat is something he’s had issues with and one if not both interceptions went through the receivers hands.
Certainly Conlins. I think the double clutches were quick plays that weren’t open.
The receivers have to get accustomed to the darts Wilson throws compares to the softer Flacco throws.
There were some tight window throws that had to be thrown like a bullet to get through coverage.
Zack came up huge at the most important times. I was very happy with his game one but I hope and expect him to continue to get even better.
BTW: Flacco would have been destroyed today

DHB
DHB
1 month ago

We’re tied for the fourth best record in the AFC (with almost half the conference)! Definitely taking that a month ago.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
1 month ago

Good article. Nice to see Joyner and Davis have big games after that article about JDs free agents not playing up to par. Still waiting for something from Uzomah, though.

Psi
Psi
1 month ago

I was one giving Ulbrich and Saleh all kinds of grief last week, so I will tip my hat to them for much better play on defense this week. Hopeful with repetition they’ll continue to improve. Zach imo played way better than his stats considering the layoff. The pick late in the first half was his worst play. However, after wondering all off season which Zach would show up in 2022, today was a promising start. His first real game with offensive play makers around him. The OLine notwithstanding, Breece Hall should realize in this league, he needs to hit the hole faster. You can see he’s going to be an asset regardless.

DFargas
DFargas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I would add that one reason Wilson was able to make “big throw after big throw” in the fourth quarter is because he had a clean pocket to throw from most of that final drive. I actually couldn’t believe my eyes after what we saw most of the game. The Steelers’ pass rushers most likely ran out of gas after rushing hard all afternoon, but it was still a very gritty performance by the patched up offensive line. Those guys deserve a lot of credit for somehow holding it together. If the Jets can build a top OL in the coming years, I think the sky is the limit for Wilson.

Jets71
Jets71
1 month ago

Certainly an up and down game, I wouldn’t say Zach was unraveling at the seams as much as losing another OL, lack of run game, and consistent pressure started to take it’s toll. I give credit to LaFleur and Zach that they hung in. They found a way.

Overall, you’re right the stats don’t jump off the page but it’s the “non-statistical” things that impressed me today. He looked like a pro. They all have tough moments during games and tough games but he didn’t have a complete mental melt down.

He indeed looked in command as they have been saying about him all summer. He also delivered some terrific balls. Considering his 46 ish day layoff and the moving parts on the OL I’m very happy with Zach today. Room for improvement? Sure. I see that happenings.

I almost fell over with a heart attack as I watched the safeties making plays. I had to double check to box score to see if there was a line-up change. I have to give credit after slamming Joyner but he was there for them today. Whitehead also made some plays. It would be nice if that continued.

The DL woke up for sure and needs to continue to trend in that direction. The stupid plays and dropped/tipped passes just need to stop. They players need to own this, someone or a group of “someone’s” need to light up some people.

I would like to see MC get a few reps, maybe a series or two, then switch to Hall. I think the switching play after play makes it tough for those guys to get some flow. Overall, I like the offense, and they are still learning each other. I think they can improve.

This is what we all wanted from this team right? Competitive games, Zach improving, and a chance to win. If they hit 6-6 they will have a shot at a winning season. It’s been far from perfect but if we all look back at what predictions were prior to the season 2-2 would probably have been the most popular choice.

Lots of work to be done!

Jets71
Jets71
1 month ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I did see some of the double pumps, and wondering if it was more a quick clock thinking he wanted to go to another option but wasn’t sure about time or if it was a timing/window issue. I think that’s the rust.

You make a good point about the confidence seeping out a bit, things did seem rough for a bit. I think they needed to settle in with that OL group.

I couldn’t agree more about the “ball that’s easy to catch” drops have been a season long issue. I wish I had an answer.

I’m not a McGovern fan, I think he’s serviceable but I wouldn’t say he’s “good” at this point. I think that interior OL can and will improve.

Ironically I had them at 3-1 after 4 games.