Although few believed the New York Jets head coach, Robert Saleh has been adamant in his support for Zach Wilson
Heading into the Jets-Chiefs game, I already had my day-after column partially formed in my mind. ‘Robert Saleh Continues to Gaslight Jets Faithful’ was my working title. After all, as an analyst, I felt gaslit. What I heard from the coach and what my eyes saw did not match. Here was the head coach insisting that my eyes were wrong.
After watching Zach Wilson play against the Chiefs, though, it’s plausible to me that maybe Saleh wasn’t gaslighting. Maybe he had some real reason to believe a performance like this lurked.
Saleh explained as much in his day-after press conference.
“You know, when he’s throwing those back-shoulder throws — again, I know it’s practice — but it’s what we see when no one else is looking, and he’s throwing those back-shoulder throws, and he’s being aggressive in the utilization of his arm talent, it’s what we’ve been seeing all offseason, for him to just let it rip,” Saleh stated.
“He’s done it a couple of times in the game, I think he had a couple in the Buffalo game, he did some good things in the Dallas game, but yesterday, I thought, especially coming out in the second half to start the third quarter, hit a couple of them.”
Saleh had made vague statements about Wilson’s confidence before, but they seemed dogmatic. A coach can go only so long telling the media and the fans that he’s seeing great things in practice when they’re not translating to the field at all.
Seeing Wilson put together a performance like he did against the Chiefs is at least a piece of evidence. It’s still not entirely believable considering the reports of mutiny from inside the Jets’ locker room. Still, at least it means they’re not just sticking with Wilson because he was the No. 2 overall pick.
Stacking positive performances
There is still work to do. As Robby Sabo explained before the Chiefs game, the Jets were coaching Wilson to play scared. They were trying to avoid interceptions, thereby epitomizing the maxim, “He who is afraid to make a mistake is the most likely to make one.” James Wighaus further noted that the Jets’ play-calling was making Wilson look even worse.
Against Kansas City, Nathaniel Hackett started with a play-action pass on first down. When the Jets found themselves in a 17-0 hole, he ditched the last vestiges of fear, dialing up motion, play-action, and some deep shots.
One performance does not a career make. Wilson could lay an egg against Denver. But at least there’s something recent to point to and say, “Zach, look what you did here.”
There are many starting quarterbacks who do not read defenses well. Even the ones who appear to are often buoyed by simple systems and elite surrounding casts. Why can’t the Jets do the same for Wilson? They have enough offensive talent to put him in a better position to succeed.
Obviously, Wilson’s floor is lower than that of every other starting quarterback in the NFL. But maybe the Jets can raise it to a playable level?
In 2022, the Jets came out against Buffalo in Week 9 and played the ultra-conservative, keep-away offense. They eked out a victory on two Josh Allen gift interceptions and one long drive of run plays. Still, that blueprint is toast at this point. If the Jets run only three-yard out routes, screen passes, and inside handoffs, their results will be exactly we saw through the first three weeks.
But what if the Jets can force teams out of press, single-high blitz looks, as they did against Kansas City? What if Wilson can do that, given the right framework?
That Zach Wilson likely wins 9-10 games with the Jets in 2022. If that Zach Wilson showed up against New England, the Jets would have won the game comfortably, Bill Belichick’s defense be darned. What can he actually do?
All this being said, I still do not believe in Wilson. He missed enough hot routes, even in this game, for me to question whether he can keep his wits about him enough to play quarterback in the NFL. On his fumbled snap, he admitted that the pressure up the middle would not have come had he properly adjusted the protection. He averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, which would rank 25th out of 32 passers so far in 2023 and 32nd out of 35 qualifiers in 2022.
My purpose with this article is twofold: to give a framework that could possibly work so that all hope is not lost, and to rebuild some confidence in Saleh and Hackett. If I’ve criticized them for being unable or unwilling to correct mistakes, I need to give them credit for having a process and making adjustments.
Heading into Week 5, at least, there shouldn’t be calls for Trevor Siemian to start. (Be the backup? Maybe. How much worse than Tim Boyle can he be?) Wilson earned that much. It may last only one quarter against Denver, or it may build into something that’s at least playable.
I’m skeptical — I explained that — but sans Aaron Rodgers, a confident Wilson, like the one who played against the Chiefs, is still by far the best option the Jets have at quarterback. Maybe Saleh had a point when he insisted that was the case.
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