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

This is a game the New York Jets cannot afford to lose

Hot take: had Zach Wilson played against New England the way he did against Buffalo, the New York Jets likely would have beaten the Patriots in Week 8.

Non-Jets fans who watched the game cursorily on TV or saw the highlights may disagree. However, after breaking down the film from that game, I don’t think it’s all that hot of a take.

That kind of game cannot happen again in Week 11. The Jets hold a slim one-game advantage over the Patriots and have already lost once to them. Losing a second time would mean that the two teams are tied record-wise with New England holding the tiebreaker. The Jets need to widen that to a two-game advantage to put the Patriots further in the rearview mirror and keep pace in both the division and wild card.

Furthermore, the Week 8 game was a massive letdown psychologically. After the Jets’ fan base and even some players and coaches had hyped up the game, it turned into a “Same Old Jets” meltdown. Bill Belichick flicks away the Jets the way he’d squash an irksome fly: rather than just brushing it aside, he beats it to a pulp. Though 22-17 is not a blowout, the Patriots seemed to have Zach Wilson seeing ghosts in the game.

To truly make this season different, the Jets must go into Foxborough and put the Patriots in their place. Let’s discuss how they can make that happen and change things up from the first meeting.

Stay boring, Zach

If you read through Michael Nania’s article grading each Wilson throw against the Patriots, you’ll see how many times there was a receiver open early and Zach either threw an inaccurate ball, missed the read, or bailed the pocket before seeing the receiver. Additionally, watch Vitor Paiva’s film breakdown of Wilson’s performance in that game, and you’ll notice how many times Vitor points out the fact that Wilson predetermined his read prior to the snap and missed an open target as a result.

In the first quarter alone, Zach missed Garrett Wilson, Tyler Conklin, and C.J. Uzomah open. Those reads were open when his back foot hit the ground on his dropback. However, Wilson decided to go to Michael Carter before the play and thereby missed the open Wilson (and also underthrew Carter), threw the ball late and high to Conklin in what became a hospital ball, and just neglected to toss it to Uzomah for a nice gain on first down deep in the red zone.

Had Wilson played as he did against Buffalo, those throws would have been out properly and on time. As Vitor broke down, Wilson did a better job of at least peeking at other reads instead of locking in on one target. He certainly wasn’t perfect—he missed Mims coming open on a slant on the play that turned into the sack and forced fumble, and he had a few other errors—but overall, his decision-making was worlds better.

It’s easy to point out that the Patriots got more pressure on Wilson than the Bills did. However, if the ball had been out on time vs. the Patriots, the Jets’ offensive line did a fair job of keeping the pocket clean enough for Wilson to make those throws, too.

Another point some will make is that the Patriots did a good job of taking away Wilson’s No. 1 target by bumping receivers off their routes. Matt Judon did so on one particular play when he blindsided Garrett Wilson with a hit within five yards that threw off the entire play. However, if you watch the plays I’m referring to, you’ll see that the plays were set up such that these receivers should have been Wilson’s first or second read, and as I mentioned, they were open when his back foot hit the ground.

The Patriots didn’t do a great job in coverage against the Jets; it was only Wilson’s hesitancy and reliance on moving backward rather than forward that led to the disastrous results. The only aspect of the game in which the Patriots truly beat the Jets was special teams (and even with that, only the 32-yard punt return was not solely self-inflicted). Offensively, the Jets beat themselves.

Against Buffalo, Wilson was decisive, hitting his first or second read immediately when his back foot hit the ground. He also tucked it and ran a few times when he did not have receivers open. Against the Patriots, when that happened, Wilson panicked and started playing backyard football. The Patriots play aggressive man coverage, which means that the running lanes will open up at times; Wilson has the athleticism to make them pay dearly for that aggressiveness and possibly force them to play more zone looks. He just did not seem willing to do so the first time around.

Robert Saleh has repeatedly emphasized the value of Zach Wilson staying boring. Wilson appeared to heed that message against the Bills. If he can do so against the Patriots, at the bare minimum he will avoid the game-changing mistakes that he made in the first matchup. And that bare minimum has often been enough for the Jets to win.

Remain committed to running the ball

The Jets did not run the ball well against New England, gaining just 51 yards at a 3.4 yards-per-carry clip. However, the fact that they only had 15 rushing attempts the entire game leaves something to be desired. The Jets also rushed for 3.4 yards per carry against the Steelers, yet they kept going back to the well, posting 29 rushing attempts. In the end, Breece Hall squeaked through with a huge 15-yard run and a follow-up one-yard TD for the go-ahead score.

In that Pittsburgh game, Mike LaFleur stuck with the run both to ease Zach Wilson back into the lineup in his first game of the season and to mitigate the Steelers’ pass rush against the makeshift Jets’ offensive line. For some reason, LaFleur did not take the same approach against the Patriots despite starting a player they elevated from the practice squad at right tackle to face Matt Judon, the league leader in sacks.

The running game will have several key differences the second time around. Missing Corey Davis was certainly an underrated loss in the first matchup, as Davis blocks with tight end-like effort and effectiveness. Denzel Mims is a better blocker than the other Jets’ receivers, but the dropoff from Davis to Mims is significant. Having Davis back will automatically give the Jets’ running game a boost.

Furthermore, George Fant and Max Mitchell are both expected to return from injured reserve for the Patriots’ game. The Jets have a choice to make regarding their offensive line alignment, but I expect to see Duane Brown remain at left tackle and Fant take back his right tackle spot. Fant has never been known as a great run-blocker, but with his knee (hopefully) in better shape, he should be more serviceable than Cedric Ogbuehi.

A third underrated difference is that James Robinson will be three games into his Jets’ career rather than one. He likely is at least somewhat more familiar with the playbook. Although I believe Michael Carter is the more explosive runner of the two and should be given more touches, if the Jets do decide to split carries more evenly, they can hope to get more production from Robinson.

Finally, as stated before, Zach Wilson should contribute to the Jets’ running game. It can make a tremendous difference in getting the offense in rhythm. We saw what it did for the team last year against Jacksonville.

The Patriots are ranked 21st in rush defense DVOA, up from 28th from prior to the previous matchup. Christian Barmore has not played in a game since Week 7, but that did not seem to help the Jets out last time. This time, the Jets must do what it takes to get the run game going.

Get Uzomah and Moore involved

The Jets’ two most underutilized weapons need to get back into the fray.

Tyler Conklin had a strong game against the Patriots in Week 8, nabbing six balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns. You can bet that means that the Patriots will be keying Conklin in addition to Garrett Wilson. Corey Davis’s return deepens the receiving corps and makes it more difficult for the Patriots to key on one guy, and they’ll be forced to pay less attention to someone.

Bill Belichick always emphasizes making the opponent beat you with their lesser players. In this case, C.J. Uzomah and Elijah Moore have become the Jets’ lesser players – not because they lack talent but due to a confluence of sometimes perplexing circumstances.

Regardless of the reason that Uzomah and Moore have not been targeted, that should change against New England. The Jets have already thrown a couple of screens to Uzomah off play-action or RPOs. They can spring off of that to have Uzomah fake a screen and then work upfield. He has been open several times downfield, but Zach Wilson either missed him with a bad throw or did not see him. There was one beautiful throw to Uzomah against the Patriots in the first matchup. I would go back to that well.

Again, the rhetoric about Elijah Moore gets tiring. The Patriots also aren’t the greatest matchup for him due to their man coverage. However, Moore’s switch to the slot can help him tremendously in gaining leverage. Moore should certainly be part of the progression and not just a decoy in this game. If they are going to use him as a decoy in the passing game, they should try to get him involved in the jet sweep and reverse game, where he can be just as effective an open-field runner as Garrett Wilson, and perhaps even better due to decisiveness.

Avoid unforced errors

As I said before, the Jets beat themselves in the first game against New England. This happened in all three facets of the game.

On offense, all three of Zach Wilson’s interceptions were inexcusable, but there’s a hierarchy among them. The first happened due to poor mechanics, not necessarily bad decision-making, as Ty Johnson was open for the first down. The second was a horrific throwaway attempt that did not make it out of bounds and should never happen in a quarterback’s entire career. The third was Wilson deciding to play hero ball and essentially toss a Hail Mary (literally) – but with his team still in the game.

Defensively, the Jets played a decent game overall, limiting the Patriots to 13 points on drives that did not already start in field goal range. However, a back-breaking roughing the passer call on John Franklin-Myers turned what should have been a 17-3 halftime lead for the Jets into a much narrower 10-6 advantage. It was a 10-point swing.

Although you may be able to argue the call, the fact is that the Jets have been called for more roughing the passer penalties than any other team in the NFL. This comes in a season in which the number of such calls made per game is down across the NFL. It’s easy to say that you don’t want to limit players’ aggressiveness, but these penalties have cost the Jets too dearly to let them go.

Special teams was the area in which the Jets’ poor play was surprising. They were ranked third in special teams DVOA before the Patriots game and slid all the way to 10th following their performance.

The worst plays, though, were the ones by their kicker and punter. Braden Mann‘s 22-yard shanked punt set up the Patriots with excellent field position, the second shank he’s had this season. Greg Zuerlein missed a 45-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 13 and reset the momentum following the Patriots’ TD drive to open the second half. These are unforced errors, simply cases of specialists not doing their jobs.

Even against the Bills, when the Jets played a fairly clean game, Justin Hardee was called for an absolutely boneheaded unnecessary roughness penalty on special teams. The penalty pulled the Bills from deep in their territory to a more manageable starting field position, and it could have cost the Jets the game if their defense had not stood tall.

Tackle better

Rhamondre Stevenson ran all over the Jets in the previous game, most notably on one 27-yard run on which he broke tackles from both safeties. The 32-yard punt return was also a tackling issue. The Jets need to wrap up better in this game.

Getting off the field on third down and keying on Mac Jones running are other areas to focus on, but Stevenson was the biggest threat in the previous game, and I don’t expect that to change. Starting center David Andrews may be back, as well, increasing the challenge.

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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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biggestgarrettwilsonfan
biggestgarrettwilsonfan
14 days ago

I wish I understood any of this but great article nonetheless!

Jim G
Jim G
15 days ago

Very thoughtful analysis. It is nice that this season we are only talking tweaks and minor changes for the Jets to beat the Patriots instead of the past 10 years, when basically everything had to go the Jets’ way.

I agree the running game may decide the winner. Nothing frustrates Bill Belichick more than a team running on his defense. When he sneaks and extra body into the run defense is when the Jets will get their best shot for a big play.

And, of course, I agree that if Zach plays a (relatively) mistake free game, the Jets should be in excellent position to win.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
15 days ago

Based on Saleh’s presser yesterday I doubt we will see Fant this week, but Mitchell is a possibility. Truthfully, Ogbuehi hasn’t been that bad.

mlesko73
mlesko73
16 days ago

All very good points.

I’m still kind of perplexed as to why Saleh would announce the change w/ Moore moving to the slot. In a bye week it was an excellent chance to spring something new on the Dark Lord. Anyway, after that presser, I went and looked at Moore’s highlight reel from Ole Miss on YouTube. He was almost entirely a slot guy, predominantly over the middle catches w/ a fair sprinkling of “gadget play runs”. Why in the h*ll we are not using him like this is bewildering.

If ever there was a game properly called a “must-win” this is it. Go Jets

hh11212
hh11212
16 days ago

Good article, only thing I would say is Moore is not bad at defeating man coverage.

Jets71
Jets71
16 days ago

You summed it up pretty simply, now it needs to be executed. You made some great points about Robinson having time to settle in to the offense and Davis coming back. Do we know he’ll be playing for sure?

In addition to Robinson getting settled I’m hoping Moore finds his stride in the slot. It doesn’t seem like they are going to feature him and rightfully so, but he’s got the ability to be a dynamic slot receiver if he wants. I do like that they didn’t bury the hatchet then just get him the ball or get him a lot of snaps. The message he has to work his way back in is a good one in the overall picture of the team.

Even if Zach just uses his legs to pick up a 1st down or two that would be a huge improvement. He can’t be dumb. Just can’t happen.

If Davis is back who doesn’t dress?

PS. I don’t like that Rankins will be out for this one. He’s been a steady run defender for them.

Jets71
Jets71
16 days ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

The entire Jeff Smith “thing” baffles me. I never see him do ANYTHING, and by that I mean anything special that keeps him on the team. As you point out, he’s not lighting it up on special teams. He’s soft at the point of attack and has caused some picks because of it. His routes seem sloppy as well, but I don’t know as much as they do.

Admittedly, I’m a Mims fan so I have some bias but I’d like to see them continue to develop him. He’s showing improvement, and he’s got the size/speed combo you just can’t teach.

Jets71
Jets71
16 days ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I remember that article, and think we had a spirited discussion about it hahahaha. My feeling on Mims, he played in a college program that was “made for college” by a coach who struggled to succeed at installing a pro offense. It makes sense he would take more time to develop. I could be wrong but I think he could be a late bloomer to the NFL game.

GibTex
GibTex
16 days ago

“Bill Belichick flicks away the Jets the way he’d squash an irksome fly: rather than just brushing it aside, he beats it to a pulp.”
Hah! So true. This is a chance for Saleh & Co. to show what they’ve learned from the loss. I think the game is going to be a lot different, in New York’s favor.
The point about Zach Wilson going forward instead of dropping back is the key, I agree. I remember a really nice win against New England back in 2015 when Fitz just seemed to step through the pass rush. He was effective because he was not intimidated. Zach needs to put on his big boy pants this week. Should be an interesting game!

Noam
Noam
16 days ago

Nice article. Wilson taking positive yardage with his legs with the Pats in man coverage and their backs turned to him is the key to this game. Keep moving the chains and make the Pats pay for aggressive man coverage. No running backwards, get the ball out on the back step or run forwards. The easy yards are there he just needs to take them.

Noam
Noam
16 days ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Recall the last 7 games of last year Zach was using his legs a lot to not only step up in the pocket but to take easy yards by scrambling. In training camp it was reported that this running style was a big part of his game. But, after the pre-season injury we did not see it. But, Zach did say after the NE game that he notices how Allen aggressively attacks the defense with the run while he himself has been running backwards. Zach noted the big difference between the two. So he was aware. Not sure if someone told him but he was aware and maybe it will become a focus of his game again and it certainly is a way to make teams pay for aggressive man coverage.

One of the film studies, I believe it was Vitor’s, talked about how much easier it is mechanically for Zach to throw while running off structure when he is running slightly forwards vs running straigthly parrael or backwards. Stepping up in the pcoket, being aggressive, taking easy scramble yards and not running backwards would seem to make his game a lot easier.

DFargas
DFargas
16 days ago

One thing I would say in the Jets defense about the last Patriots game is that it was their first one without Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall (if I remember correctly), and they definitely seemed out of sorts. Maybe that was one reason LaFleur did not call enough running plays, since he was still adjusting to life without Hall. Plus, they seemed to be a little too amped up for the game, especially ZW. This time, with their regular RT coming back, a new RB who is settled in, two weeks to prepare, and the mistakes of the last game to remind them, I think they will play much better.