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NY Jets baffled by their third-down woes: ‘I don’t have an answer’

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, HC, Coach
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ league-worst third-down struggles continued in Week 8 against the Giants

Coming into Week 8, the New York Jets were the worst team in the NFL at third-down conversions, moving the chains just 25% of the time on third down. After going 2-of-15 (13%) on third downs in their 13-10 overtime win against the Giants, Gang Green’s third-down conversion rate dropped to 23%, which remains at the bottom of the league.

Despite the woeful conversion rate, the team doesn’t seem to have any answers to fix it.

“It’s not good. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” said Robert Saleh when addressing the Jets’ third-down issues to the media after Sunday’s game.

“[It’s a] lack of execution from a players’ standpoint. Can we be better as play-callers? Obviously. There’s always going to be things we can be better at. It’s a universal thing, it’s not one thing. It’s not the quarterback, it’s not the O-line [and] it’s not the receivers. It’s not the tight ends or running backs or play-caller. It’s everybody taking turns at not being very good at football on third down and we’ve just got to figure it out.”

Saleh’s comment sounds more like word soup than an actual answer for the Jets’ woes. Tight end Tyler Conklin didn’t help matters when talking to the media about the team’s third-down struggles.

“I really wish I had an answer for you,” said Conklin. “Whatever it is, we need to figure it the hell out. I don’t think we got a first down until Zach scrambled for that first down. I don’t have an answer but it’s something we’ve got to fix. Today was tough. A game like today you have to be able to run the ball a little bit. We didn’t do good running the ball, which put us in a tough situation dropping back in that weather. I don’t really have an answer why we’re struggling so bad on third down at the moment.”

To be fair, the Jets aren’t just bad at converting third downs. They’re bad at getting first downs (and scoring) in general. The Jets have the fewest first downs of any team (102) and are tied with the Giants for the fewest offensive touchdowns (8). It’s not just a third-down problem.

The offense is not playing well, and there are plenty of culprits. But a large portion of the blame should likely fall on the most important position in football: the quarterback.

It’s hard to win games in the NFL when the quarterback’s performance is as poor as Wilson’s has been in 2023. Whether it’s first down or third down, Zach Wilson continues to find himself at the bottom of the totem pole.

This chart displays where Wilson ranked in early-down EPA (expected points added) per dropback and third-down EPA per dropback – prior to the Giants game.

Quarterback Efficiency, Zach Wilson, NY Jets

This post seems to have taken an anti-Wilson turn, but he’s not the only player responsible for the team’s lack of production.

The oft-injured and makeshift offensive line hasn’t done the Jets many favors this season. The team remains only ahead of the Giants in composite pass protection ratings. This chart is also from prior to the Giants game – the numbers will likely worsen after that display.

Pass Protection Composite Rankings, NFL, NY Jets

Maybe Robert Saleh’s word soup wasn’t word soup after all. The team continues to struggle on first and third downs, and it’s something that will hinder them throughout the season. If the Jets want to be true contenders, they need to find an answer for their offensive struggles – and fast.

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