The New York Jets must face the reality of Rodgers’ absence when choosing personnel
When the New York Jets’ Week 2 inactive list came out, one name stood out as a surprise: Will McDonald. Although Carl Lawson returned to the lineup, the assumption when the team picked McDonald was that they would go with a 10-man defensive line rotation.
Meanwhile, Mecole Hardman saw no offensive snaps in Week 1 and 14 in Week 2, while Randall Cobb had 22 in Week 1 and 23 in Week 2. Robert Saleh waved away Hardman’s absence from the win over the Bills by saying that the Jets used a lot of 12 and 13 personnel once Aaron Rodgers left the game. Comparing Hardman’s snap count to Cobb’s exposes that as a lame excuse.
The Jets’ decision-makers seem to be in a state of denial in their 2023 plans. Saleh insisted after Rodgers’ Achilles tear that people should stop writing the obituary of the Jets’ season. On one hand, Nathaniel Hackett has clearly pared down his playbook with the fall-off from Rodgers to Zach Wilson. Still, there are many inconsistencies in the Jets’ personnel and decisions that need to be resolved sooner rather than later.
2023 was supposed to be an all-in year, but it no longer is. Wilson has proven in pretty much every way possible that he is not a viable NFL quarterback.
NFL first-round picks have nine lives. Wilson will always have his defenders who wear green-colored blinders (or are simply too obstinate to admit that they whiffed on his evaluation). Still, with No. 2 at the helm, the Jets are going nowhere fast. Even if their defense rebounds from a shaky Week 2 performance and plays at an elite level, today’s NFL rarely allows teams to succeed without at least average quarterback play.
Therefore, the Jets should be pivoting toward 2024 as their all-in year, at least conceptually. That does not mean giving up on 2023. It just means playing with the long game in mind rather than only one season. That’s what they did in both 2021 and 2022. It also means getting a good, hard look at the talent that will or can be on the team past 2023 rather than sticking with those who most likely won’t.
The second-round pick may not have been a Day 1 starter in front of Rodgers, but what are the chances of a serious downgrade at this point? Whether he replaces Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, or Duane Brown (assuming Alijah Vera-Tucker moves to left tackle) in the lineup, all three players have been so bad to start the season that even an early drop-off in play is worthwhile to see if the rookie can learn the ropes.
Additionally, as Michael addressed, playing C.J. Uzomah is asinine. Uzomah may be a great veteran in the locker room, but he is a major liability on the field. That was evident in 2022, and it’s been even more apparent in 2023. Uzomah is holding back the talent that the Jets have in the backfield. It is often his blown block that prevents Breece Hall or Dalvin Cook from getting loose. The Jets have a promising alternative in Jeremy Ruckert, but they’re acting as if they still must abide by Rodgers’ preference for veterans.
While Hardman is not as big of an example, even he should be getting more of a look. He has plenty of shortcomings, but the Jets need a legitimate speed threat on the field. They should be using chicanery and decoys to take some pressure off the running backs. Instead, Rodgers’ preferred option is still playing a far bigger role. While playing Cobb over Hardman may have made sense with Rodgers, it doesn’t with Wilson.
If they’re not going to play Hardman anyway, how about giving Xavier Gipson some looks in the slot? Gipson has good speed and tremendous shiftiness. He likely can also take some gadget plays and is a weapon with the ball in his hands. Why not try to develop him rather than turning to the 33-year-old Cobb?
Getting back to McDonald, the equation is obvious. The Jets reduced Lawson’s salary rather than cutting him outright because they hoped he could still contribute to a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That is almost certainly out the window in 2023.
Jermaine Johnson is not rushing the passer well so far (6.3% pass-rush win rate, 48th of 62 qualified EDGE) despite a major playing time increase (he’s played 69% of the Jets’ defensive snaps). Why not give at least some of those snaps to McDonald while still allotting Johnson a nice chunk? The rookie didn’t record any pressures in Week 1, but he won’t be facing Dion Dawkins every week.
It’s been only two games, and perhaps the Jets’ coaching staff is still figuring out how they want to play the season. Maybe their Week 1 victory gave them false hope that they could still make a legitimate playoff run in 2023. Still, they need to learn their lesson quickly and pivot toward the players who will matter the most when it matters the most.
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