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NY Jets’ QB question appears to have a resounding answer

Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Bench, Mike White, Patriots
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

There is only so long that one can ignore their eyes

The National Football League can be divided into two categories: teams that have their franchise quarterback and teams that are searching for one.

To be consigned to the latter is often the depths of NFL purgatory; the endless cycle of draft QB, sit him or start him, hope he’s the answer, give it a few years, replace him with a bridge quarterback, then rinse and repeat.

This cycle has several variations, including “draft a guy, have him get off to a hot start and think he’s the answer, then have it all come crashing down” (Eagles), “trade for a so-called star quarterback and have him implode” (Broncos), “get stuck in the cells of somewhere-above-mediocrity” (Vikings), and others.

Unfortunately, the New York Jets have been stuck in this cycle for over half a century, with few pockets of stability. Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, and Chad Pennington have had more-than-short tenures as the Jets’ so-called “franchise” quarterback, but none was ever good enough to have staying power as anything more than steady. Vinny Testaverde had a too-brief period of career resurgence before blowing out his knee.

Then there are the draft picks. Oh, the draft picks! Following Joe Namath, the Jets have drafted every manner of quarterback imaginable. Todd is best remembered for his three-pick debacle in the Mud Bowl. O’Brien, whose career was not bad, will forever be remembered for who he was not: Dan Marino, the guy the Jets could have gotten. Browning Nagle came and went. Pennington could have been something more if not for persistent injuries, but he’s probably been the best of the bunch.

In this millennium, besides Pennington, the Jets have drafted three other quarterbacks in the first round and another three in the second. Mark Sanchez was the headliner, preceded by Kellen Clemens and followed a few years later by Geno Smith, then Christian Hackenberg (who really doesn’t deserve a mention), and then Sam Darnold.

The star of the show, though, was supposed to be Zach Wilson. He was going to be the savior.

Never have the Jets had a quarterback with the raw physical traits that Wilson has. His arm had scouts salivating; his ability to flick his wrist and toss the ball 50 yards in the air from any arm angle was tantalizing, reminding teams of Patrick Mahomes.

Then Wilson actually saw the field. In 2021, the Jets’ signal-caller endured one of the worst rookie seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. Give him time, said the supporters. He has no team around him. He looked better towards the end of the season when he didn’t turn the ball over.

2022 became the Year of the Zach. The most crucial question for this season was whether Zach Wilson could be the Jets’ franchise quarterback. How to answer that question? Not by seeing Wilson ascend to stardom in Year 2, although that would have been wonderful. No, all we needed to see from him was competent quarterback play. Play like Jimmy Garoppolo with the occasional splash play thrown in. Keep it safe, take the plays that are there, don’t put the ball in harm’s way, and run the offense.

It’s safe to say now that the question has been answered. At some point, when a person must twist themselves into a pretzel and do mental gyrations just to find the slimmest ray of optimism, they need to step back into their intellectually honest side and remove the wishful fan or ardent supporter rose-colored glasses.

Zach Wilson is not the answer for the New York Jets at quarterback.

He is certainly not the answer for 2023, when the Jets should have a roster otherwise ready to compete for a championship with the return of their young stars and likely the augmentation of some other pieces.

He may not even be the answer for 2022. It may have reached that point.

True, the Jets do not have any other quarterback who truly deserves to see snaps. To turn the offense over to Mike White would essentially be an admission of defeat. To return to Joe Flacco would be laughing in the face of most Jets fans and analysts from the first three weeks of the season. To go to Chris Streveler would be fun, but it’s not something the Jets will ever realistically do.

However, we saw far more than just a quarterback who struggled against the Patriots: we saw a quarterback who completely lost the backing of his teammates.

Zach Wilson stood at the podium and was asked point-blank if he feels that he let his defense down. Ordinarily, after such a poor offensive performance behind a sterling defense showing, various offensive players will take the initiative in blaming themselves for the failures. Just two weeks ago, Josh Allen used an expletive to refer to the way he played against the Jets and said that it’s difficult to win when your quarterback plays like that.

Here, Wilson did not offer it up, but the question was dropped in his lap. There was only one correct answer: “Yes.” The defense played their heart and soul off against New England, missed tackles notwithstanding. They did not allow the Patriots to get into the end zone, and the defensive line ate the Patriots’ lunch.

Instead, Zach quickly responded, “No.”

Instead of referring to his own responsibility, he used collective terms in referring to the offensive futility. This may have been a concerted 180-degree turn from the angry, edgy Wilson who faced the media after his three-interception debacle in the first New England defeat, but it was certainly still a defiant Zach.

However, the only way a player can make a poor performance worse is to refuse to take accountability. It has been reported that many in the Jets’ locker room were unhappy with Wilson’s response, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Garrett Wilson did his best to indicate that his frustration was self-directed, but if you read between the lines, it’s clear that he knows what’s going on. He reacted angrily to a pass that did not go his way when he was open on a slant. Other Jets’ pass-catchers were more subtle, such as Elijah Moore and Tyler Conklin when Wilson missed them wide open on several throws. (Denzel Mims also made an angry gesture, but we’ll ignore that one because Mims has no business blaming someone else for making mistakes.)

John Franklin-Myers and Sauce Gardner liked the above tweet referring to Josh Allen’s accountability in comparison to Wilson’s deflection of responsibility. Justin Hardee blamed himself as the special teams captain. Other players tried to cover the tracks and talk about their own roles in the defeat— exactly what the QB was unwilling to do.

But it was telling that when asked if the quarterback held back the offense against the Patriots, Robert Saleh responded, “I don’t know.” That’s the closest Saleh has ever come to blaming Wilson. Before this, when Zach has struggled this season, Saleh went out of his way to defend his QB, calling him a “young pup” and saying that they have to put him in better situations to succeed. He did still say that in his postgame press conference, but the tone was different.

Although Saleh claims that a quarterback change is the farthest thing from his mind, it darn well should not be. It’s hard to imagine that Bill Belichick would have left Mac Jones in the game in a similar situation.

Speaking of Mac Jones, this game is even harder to stomach when comparing Wilson’s performance with the Patriots QB’s. Jones had been struggling mightily this season, but he played a strong game overall, while Wilson blamed the wind for his futility.

So Mac Jones’s noodle arm was able to throw for 9.1 yards per attempt (often aided by YAC and poor tackling by the Jets, but nevertheless), while Zach Wilson’s cannon managed 3.5 YPA and two yards of total offense in the second half?

Something does not add up here, and it’s easy to see what it is.

If you want to make excuses for Wilson, you sure can in this game, just like in every other. Rarely is one player or individual solely responsible for the outcome of a game.

However, there is no game in Wilson’s career that sits more firmly on his shoulders than this one, and that includes his previous three-interception showing and the four-pick output last season.

Mike LaFleur’s play-calling was disastrous in this game… but that had largely to do with the fact that he could not trust his quarterback to throw the ball one yard down the field. Watch the broadcast views—forget about the All-22 film—and you can see how many wide-open receivers Wilson missed once more.

Watch this reel of Wilson’s plays in the game.

You can blame LaFleur all you want, but ultimately, if Wilson made the easy throws, the Jets would have won this game handily.

Consider this tweet by ESPN’s Rich Cimini:

Three yards of separation is wide open in any league. If you can’t hit your receiver when he’s three yards open, you’re not an NFL QB. The only other QB below 50% on such throws in a single game this season? Trey Lance in the mud and sludge against the Bears.

Here is the list of the bottom-of-the-league quarterbacks on throws with 3+ yards of separation this season:

30. Baker Mayfield (77.8%)
31. Carson Wentz (77.6%)
32. Cooper Rush (75.0%)
33. Joe Flacco (75.0%)
34. Zach Wilson (73.9%)

The league average is 83%. That’s all you need to know right there, but here’s another stat for you.

Furthermore, supporters of Wilson have pointed to his non-pressure numbers as a reason for optimism. In this game, that totally evaporated. In addition to the four sacks Wilson took, several of which occurred only after he held the ball for over 3 seconds, here were his stats when he was not under pressure:

The Jets’ offensive line put forth a miserable performance in the run game, but they once again held up decently in pass protection, sacks notwithstanding. Wilson had both the time and the open receivers. He just missed them. The lack of picks is a hollow victory when two were right in the defensive backs’ hands and were dropped.

Joe Douglas has done a good job as Jets’ general manager, but his most important pick appears to be a swing-and-a-miss. At this point, there’s not much he can do about it. But Jets fans had better hope that he can make as ruthless decisions about his own draft picks as he did about Mike Maccagnan’s.

Can he admit defeat and move on after this season, or at least bring in someone who can legitimately win the starting job from Wilson? If not, despite all the good work he has done, Douglas’s seat will be hot pretty soon.

Meanwhile, Saleh has a decision to make. Does he continue to play Wilson and risk further alienating his players? His defense is livid that their efforts are so thoroughly wasted game in and game out. His receivers are going out of their minds. His running backs can’t find an ounce of space because defenses are not afraid that they’ll be made to pay for playing so close to the line. His offensive linemen are sick of being charged with sacks when they blocked perfectly fine.

Saleh has done a great job turning the culture around in East Rutherford. The Jets have been a fun team to root for this season—until now. It looked like they were going to be the destination to hit this offseason, and they still could be… if they find a competent answer at quarterback.

After all, who would want to join a team that’s hamstrung by its QB, no matter how talented the supporting cast?

This is a team that Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady would be thrilled to join, chock full of talent at all levels (not that the Jets would want either guy right now). Geno Smith could thrive in this offense. Derek Carr could bounce back. Heck, even Teddy Bridgewater could probably fill in capably.

Saleh does not want to have a team of malcontents and drive free agents away. People like playing for him because he’s a players’ coach. Now, he has a decision to make: one player or all the rest?

It’s highly unlikely that Saleh makes a move this week, as he already said as much. But if Wilson doesn’t bounce back in a big way against the poor Bears’ defense, that could change in a hurry.

One way or another, the Jets are stuck with a terrible quarterback situation once more. If they do not want to waste the most exciting young core in the NFL, they need to take a look in the mirror and make some tough decisions.

Though the team still has a chance to make the playoffs, even a playoff victory or two would represent a hollow victory in the big picture.

Instead of talking playoffs, it’s back to the drawing board for the Green and White.

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Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

I am very disappointed and understand why you’re where you are, but I’m not there.

I give no stock in anything said publicly. It may or may not be a reflection of what people say in private, and it may or may not be a reflection of what people feel after some time to consider. Post-game pressers are worthless and stupid.

Putting aside the post game, there is the actual game to consider. Zach was indecisive again. It seems to me his only problem is being indecisive. I know there’s mechanics and hero ball and more, but those things only appear when he’s indecisive. Indecision is the sickness, the rest of them are symptoms.

The good news is we’ve seen him decisive, so we know he can be. The bad news is small things seem to interrupt him mentally. He’s not mentally tough.

Can he become mentally tougher? I don’t know, but I’m willing to wait a few weeks longer.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord


A three-letter retort might be funny if not for the lengthy comments that follow

I guess I’ll go point-by-point and try to stay under 5,000 words, with the initial caveat that all I’m really saying is you’re almost certainly right but I’m not convinced yet…

I didn’t watch the prior presser either (see: worthless and stupid) but I am sure you are right. It’s not surprising to me that a 22 yo needs to feel his way through media exposures–I’m amazed many athletes actually do it well.

Maybe he is unaccountable and spoiled, which will certainly serve as a hurdle, but maybe not an insurmountable one. This coaching staff already has a good record of dealing with that, but of course a lot of it rests with Zach. What he says to his teammates and coaches privately is what matters. I’ll add that you don’t really need to look very hard to see what he and his coaches focused on from week to week. Even when he plays horrible you can see where his priorities for a game lie. It implies to me that he does take coaching to heart, which is good.

I regret saying indecisiveness was the sickness; not understanding what he is seeing is the sickness, with indecisiveness being the result. At that point everything speeds up, he feels flustered, and his brain shuts down (aka he panics). So I think we agree: his primary problem is identifying the right play before panic sets in.

We somewhat disagree on the importance of mechanics, though. I don’t know much about football mechanics, but I actually know quite a bit about baseball mechanics, and in particular pitching mechanics. There is a difference between bad mechanics and unorthodox mechanics. While Zach’s toe doesn’t point at his target, his thigh pad does–he plays pigeon toed. Theoretically that really shouldn’t affect his accuracy, although he does have to compensate to get over his front foot, which explains the wide base. I think that base allows him to maintain balance through a throw in which he is not moving forward. The ball comes out crisply and he can be very accurate, so all of this is to say I think it works for him provided he is not panicked. The problem is at some point he panics and rarely ever seems to calm down.

I understand I’m arguing for an outlier, but with reason. To believe in an outlier there has to be some reason to discount a bulk of the evidence against. In this case we’ve seen Zach play exactly as we want on an NFL field against top quality competition. The majority of the data points against him come from players that had no success at all, simply because they were not physically capable of playing the position. That’s not Zach. Zach doesn’t need to learn to play, he needs to learn to play consistently. The key to that is to play calm. If he were ever to do that, we might find there is a new key to address for success, but we also may find that panicking is the only key difference between Zach vs NE and Zach vs Buffalo.

In short (too late I know) we’re watching a Jeckyll and Hyde player and we can often pinpoint the exact moment when he transforms…and never recovers. We can all see that and it’s really not more complicated. Post-game press conferences are not relevant (or not highly relevant) and mechanical issues and whatnot were more or less baked-in when he was drafted. The easier-said-than-done first step is to learn to play calmly, because there is a realistic scenario in which he’s a very capable NFL quarterback just by doing that.

Jim G
1 year ago

Well, you were right and I was wrong.

A few weeks ago I said Zach needed more time to develop and I referenced Eli Manning. You responded that Eli was much more “pro ready” when he was drafted and showed upside very early on. Then Sunday happened …

Zach’s analytical skills were poor and his leadership skills non-existent. I don’t ever recall a QB shrugging off such a poor performance. Then you brought up the JaMarcus Russell comparison …

On NFL radio, Rich Gannon said Zach’s situation is crying out for discipline so he would sit Zach for a week, tell him he is running out of time, things better change and his performance must improve or else. He also said Zach appears to be ill-prepared once he hits the field. He puts none of the blame on coaching and all on Zach.

You were right, the Jets have unlimited upside potential and they cannot waste the talent they have on a wing and a prayer that Zach will develop.

1 year ago

Great analysis Rivka, and well written. Bravo.

1 year ago

I’d like to see White start with a wildcat/trick play/rpo package for Strevs. Like Brad Smith back in the proverbial day. That would have scored at least 6 points in NE and would beat da bears too.

Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
1 year ago

I like Streveler. I say give him a chance against the Bears. The locker room Respects what he did during the preseason and it seems that kind of boost is what is needed after Zach’s Attitude. We benched Moore. Why not Zach? They Can’t let themselves Self destruct. Lots of building up to this point and buying in has created a culture that can’t be sacrificed for one player. I hope they make the right call in this situation because it can all come crashing down quick.

1 year ago

I too am a “give him more time guy” and have found reasons for him to stay in there, including it’s not a one man show. The frustration is palpable, and after watching the full view it’s clear he’s in the mental tank. Add to it, the last couple of weeks he’s been a bit salty and entitled.

I doubt they start White this week, but I do think the door is now open for a change. I’m also not of in the “if they bench him his career is over” camp. Letting him know he’s got to step up by way of the bench isn’t a bad thing, nor is it career ending.

Garrett’s comments were interesting, because it seems to me, he’s indicating things are are being let go in practice that shouldn’t be. I also feel they are still trying to recover from the Gregg Knapp loss. This is not an excuse but with LaFleur still a young coordinator (who I think has a future) and Calabrese is also young, they need an “adult in the room” not named Joe Flacco.

I don’t know that this is something that just “clicks” for him or not I really don’t. I do like the idea of Carr. He could be the guy they need, to bridge this gap a bit while trying to groom a long term QB.

Joe and Saleh are the right guys for this job, and I don’t think their fate is based on one player. This defense was the absolute worst in the league last season. They also gave up more points then and Jets team in franchise history. I’m hitching my wagon to them regardless of what they decide.

1 year ago

I was a “give him more time” guy. No more.
Saleh MUST make a move to show the rest of the team he cares about winning and cares about them. Pro Bowl accolades, playoff bonuses, and the sheer joy of winning are on the line. Zach gets one half this Sunday to look composed and efficient. If not run through our options starting w/ White.
If Zach can somehow get us to the playoffs so be it. Long term, “franchise” fantasies are gone. We must make hard runs at the QB FA’s this off-season.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I’m out on the West Coast, haven’t seen the presser yet (working, air quotes).

1 year ago

I think you are right. I will always lean moreso giving players too much time then not enough. But the performance was atrocious and the attitude after is what makes it worse. If you don’t think you’re the problem, why would you change anything?

I would give him the rest of the season but it would take something massive from Zach for me to not bring in a starter level player next year.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I should clarify by saying I wouldn’t give him the rest of the year if we had a viable back up. I just don’t think Flacco or White give you anything more.

Streveler idea could be fun but don’t see that happening at all. And besides, it would solve the players getting target issue you laid out.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

“Streveler could hit a wide open receiver two yards downfield.”

So can White, and it’s not as if Wilson’s big arm is making throws downfield.

I think White deserves a shot, and the message will be sent. People like a manager who deals with poor performers, and the opposite is also true.

Jonathan Richter
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Messages can be sent verbally, not just symbolically. I think Saleh and MLF have told Zach at this point that unless they see something better in the 1st half against Chicago, expect to be pulled from the game. Saleh sticks by the management golden rule that you praise in public and criticise in private.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jonathan Richter
Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I agree, Give Streveler a shot against the Bears.