The New York Jets offense has more problems than total yards, and it all revolves around two people
The New York Jets have a seemingly endless list of problems to solve after dropping to 1-2 in embarrassing fashion. But two positions are bigger concerns than any other: quarterback and offensive coordinator.
The Zach Wilson optimism is over
While the stats didn’t show it, Zach Wilson did show legitimate (albeit very small) signs of promise throughout the preseason and the first two games of the season. All of that optimism evaporated in Week 3 as Wilson reverted back to his old habits and had one of his worst games in the NFL, which is a tough bar to clear.
Completing 50% of his passes, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt, and posting a 17.5 QBR, Wilson was flat-out horrendous. Wilson lacked confidence all game long as he missed open receivers left and right, be it through poor accuracy or simply not seeing his teammates running wide-open.
It’s no longer possible to feel good about Wilson’s previous glimpses of slight progress considering how severe his regression was in this game. We’re in Year 3 of the Wilson Project and he is still putting out reps like this.
Great protection and Allen Lazard wide open on 1st & 10 to start this Q4 drive down by five pic.twitter.com/oJJAdTzeWi
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 24, 2023
Robert Saleh claimed the Jets still believe in Wilson, but trust me, when he watches the film tomorrow, he’ll realize he is kidding himself. For all of the faults around Wilson (and there were many, as we’ll get into), an average quarterback still would have scored somewhere from 17-20 points in Wilson’s shoes, winning this game for the Jets without much of a sweat. Plays were there to be made, but the easiest aspects of the QB position continue to be Herculean tasks for Wilson.
It’s hardly even worth discussing Wilson with much nuance anymore. What more is there to be said? There’s no solution the Jets can come up with that will make him look good. He’s a bad NFL quarterback and that’s all there is to it.
As long as Wilson is under center, the Jets will have to be perfect in every other facet of the game to win. That was the case two weeks ago when it required four takeaways, five sacks, a missed field goal, one of the greatest catches in Jets history, and a punt return touchdown just to squeak by in overtime. And it was the case in 2022 when the Jets won five games with Wilson under center despite him averaging 169.4 passing yards and 0.4 passing touchdowns in those wins.
Wilson is not the Jets’ franchise quarterback of the future, nor is he an ideal backup quarterback of the present behind Aaron Rodgers – just as we feared coming into the season. It’s over. Done. Finished.
The Jets will move on to another quarterback before this season is over, benching Wilson for the third time in two seasons. The only question is when.
That doesn’t mean Nathaniel Hackett is off the hook, and the first issue is his baffling snap deployment
Before we start ripping Nathaniel Hackett, let’s reiterate this important fact: an average quarterback scores at least one more touchdown in this game and gets the victory. I don’t know if any offensive coordinator in the NFL today can work around Zach Wilson. Hackett deserves a little slack because of what he is dealing with at quarterback.
With that being said, Hackett cannot be excused for a litany of awful decisions in regard to his snap deployment and play calling. These blunders have nothing to do with the quarterback and fall completely on Hackett’s shoulders.
The main issue is that Hackett continues to egregiously misuse the talent at his disposal. He refuses to stop over-relying on veterans who are struggling mightily and seems to enjoy watching perfectly capable young backups collect dust on the bench.
C.J. Uzomah played 27 snaps (44%). Jeremy Ruckert? One snap.
Randall Cobb played 44 snaps (72%). Mecole Hardman played two snaps. Xavier Gipson played zero.
Saleh said earlier in the week that Ruckert “needs to get on the field more.” Well, so much for that.
What is going on? Why do the Jets keep playing favorites to overpaid, unproductive veterans? What’s more important: winning football games or keeping the veterans happy? The Jets need to show some accountability and play the players who are earning it.
Ruckert was the Jets’ third-round pick last year and has blocked wonderfully when given a chance. In the season opener, he threw the key block to spring Breece Hall’s 83-yard run. Meanwhile, Uzomah has been blowing blocks on a frequent basis ever since he signed with the Jets, and he is a non-factor as a receiver. There is no reason Uzomah should be playing over him. If there is one, the Jets are yet to give it to the media.
Cobb has one reception this season on 89 offensive snaps this season. What exactly does he bring to the team? He also isn’t a good blocker (there was a play late against New England where he got beat on a block and allowed a potentially huge Garrett Wilson screen to be held to nine yards), dropped an easy underneath catch against New England, and missed a pretty good chance at securing a miraculous Hail Mary to win the game.
Hardman has been successful against the Patriots in the past (he scored a TD in each of his first two games against them) while Gipson has flashed excellent playmaking skills on seemingly every one of his punt returns this year. Both players need to be on the field for an offense that has shown very little explosiveness this season.
What is there to be lost by playing these two guys over Cobb?
Lastly, it might be time for the Jets to admit defeat with the Dalvin Cook experiment. The 28-year-old back looks washed up and is bringing nothing of value to the offense. Sure, it’s only three games, but the early results are nothing short of pitiful.
Cook seems to have lost the special athletic traits that made him a superstar in his prime. He lacks explosiveness, often looking a beat late to hit the hole. All of his quickness and shiftiness seem to be gone when he tries to cut or juke. He also doesn’t finish runs with much forcefulness, often getting brought down right at the point of contact without falling forward for extra yards.
Against New England, Cook consistently failed to make plays in one-on-one situations. There were multiple situations where it felt like Cook should have gotten more yards than he did. Just about all he does right now is take the ball and rumble forward until he runs into someone and falls.
The numbers back up Cook’s ugly performance against the Patriots. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Cook generated negative RYOE (Rushing Yards Over Expected) on all eight of his carries. On the year, he is averaging -1.8 RYOE per carry, which ranks 35th out of the 35 running backs with at least 25 carries (as of the late afternoon Sunday games).
In fairness to Hackett, he actually has been working Cook out of the offense. After playing 50% of the offensive snaps in the opener, Cook dropped to 36% in Week 2 and 26% in Week 3.
But if the Jets are serious about winning rather than justifying a flashy signing, they’ll keep pushing that number down. If the Jets don’t want to overwork Breece Hall just yet, they can give more reps to Michael Carter, who is demanding more snaps with his excellent effort as a blocker. Every touch given to Cook feels like a waste.
It’s time for the Jets to be honest with their self-evaluation and give reps to the players who deserve them. That ultimately falls on Hackett. What more does he need to see from his current lineup before he realizes it’s time to try something different?
Nathaniel Hackett’s predictable and safe play-calling is also problematic
The second issue with Hackett on Sunday was his wildly predictable and harmfully safe play calling. Hackett did exactly what we at Jets X-Factor implored the Jets not to do: predictably run into loaded boxes on first down all game long.
To run the ball successfully against New England, it was clear the Jets had to throw the ball on first down to make the Patriots back off and lighten the box. Only then could the Jets run the football successfully. Until that point, the Patriots would just sell out to stop the run and dare Wilson to beat them. In a projected bad-weather game against a struggling quarterback whom they have always dominated, why would the Patriots do anything else?
Hackett did not take our advice and instead played right into the Patriots’ hands.
The Jets ran 12 plays on first-and-10 prior to the fourth quarter (when the score/clock situation forced them into obvious passing mode). Of those 12 plays, 10 were runs (83%). That is painfully predictable and the exact opposite of what the Jets needed to do.
Lo and behold, those runs went nowhere, combining for 19 yards – a glorious 1.9 yards per carry. Way to go, guys. Those 1.9 yards will sure go a long way to help set up your struggling quarterback for success on second and third down.
Yes, Zach Wilson is bad. I understand the Jets don’t trust him. But the Jets had to live and die with Wilson in this game.
Everyone and their mother knew how the Patriots were going to handle this game defensively. If the Jets tried to hide Wilson, they were destined to run into walls all afternoon and go nowhere offensively. That’s exactly what happened. Their only shot was to give Wilson chances to throw on first down and live with the results. Hackett opted for the scared route and the Jets paid the price. How Hackett didn’t see this coming is beyond me.
On the CBS broadcast, Tony Romo was making the same point all game, practically begging Hackett to call some play-action passes on first down. As Romo pointed out, passing on first down would have given Wilson chances to throw from comfortable situations where the defense was not necessarily expecting a pass.
Instead, by continuously running into walls on first down, the Jets were forced to have Wilson throw from far too many second or third-and-long situations. Those types of predicaments only further emphasize Wilson’s woes. If you don’t trust a guy, you should be primarily asking him to throw when you at least have the leverage to fool the defense into thinking run. Asking him to throw when the defense knows he’s throwing is the worst thing you can do.
This is also unfair to the Jets’ offensive line, which debuted a new combination on Sunday and deserved more efficient play calling to help them get off on the right foot. Running the ball when the defense has more defenders in the box than the offense has blockers is going to make the offensive line look bad when there is really nothing they can do to create a hole. It’s tough to judge the Jets’ run blocking in this game considering how unfavorable the numbers game was.
The Jets’ offense is averaging 12.0 points through three games. While Hackett is not entirely at fault, he certainly deserves a lot of the blame for his mind-boggling snap deployment and predictable play calling.
I believe Hackett would have done a solid job with Aaron Rodgers. The two seem to have a tremendous relationship and it feels as if Hackett was building an offense that would have perfectly suited Rodgers’ preferences. It’s unfortunate that Hackett did not get a chance to show off what he was cooking up with Rodgers.
However, Hackett’s career resume as an offensive play-caller outside of his years with Rodgers is highly suspect – and we’re starting to see why.
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