FLORHAM PARK, NJ — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Snakebite? In what has become an all too familiar position, the Jets will go into the offseason staring into the quarterback abyss — a dark place for any franchise. So many questions: Can Zach Wilson be salvaged? Do they re-sign Mike White? Do they chase a veteran free agent such as Jimmy Garoppolo?
After two years on the job, coach Robert Saleh still doesn’t have a concrete answer at quarterback. And that has to be disconcerting.
“It is, because you know the quarterback is the head of the snake,” Saleh said. “You want the head of the snake to be stable, and we just haven’t been able to. I’m responsible for it too. It starts with me.”
The Jets have developed a nice roster over the past two years, but that has been mitigated by the struggles at quarterback. They’ve scored 17 or fewer points in 16 of 32 games under Saleh, as Wilson has failed to show any progress. Saleh has used five quarterbacks in two years, as if trying to strike it rich with scratch-off lottery tickets.
Wilson, drafted second overall in 2021, was supposed to be the golden ticket. To say it hasn’t worked would be an understatement. Truth be told, the organization had serious questions about Wilson before Thursday night’s debacle, a 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that played out on national television. Wilson was 9-of-18 for 92 yards and a QBR of 5.2 before being replaced in the third quarter by former practice squad QB Chris Streveler. It’s hard to imagine Wilson, booed off the field, coming back from that.
“We’re not going to quit on him,” Saleh insisted.
But here’s the thing: Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, ending their second year together, will be under pressure to break through and make the playoffs in 2023. The Jets are on the verge of their 12th straight non-playoff season — a franchise record. Ownership’s patience is being tested. Saleh and Douglas know that, and they will do everything they can to upgrade at quarterback.
They can’t afford to roll another snake eyes.
2. Zach vs. YesMarcus: Wilson’s slow start to his career has resulted in unflattering comparisons to another quarterback: former Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. On Thursday night’s Prime Video telecast, former player-turned-analyst Richard Sherman referred to Russell and Wilson as “some of the biggest busts in the history of the game.”
3. Unhappy alums: A couple of high-profile former Jets chimed in with their takes on Wilson and the quarterback situation:
zach wilson has lost the trust of the Jet fanbase. I’m not saying it’s impossible. it will be very hard to regain their trust again. i witnessed these same boos when brett farve was under center.
— Darrelle Revis (@Revis24) December 23, 2022
— Victor Green (@victorgreen2121) December 23, 2022
4. Old ghosts reappear: Wilson’s flameout has overshadowed the team’s December collapse — 0-4. In Week 10, the Jets had a 73% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN analytics. Now it’s down to 5% (before Saturday’s games).
“We were riding pretty high there for a while and feeling pretty good,” center Connor McGovern said. “I guess we didn’t manage it the way we needed to. We got knocked off that horse and really need to evaluate.”
This ranks as one of the worst collapses in recent team history. Consider some of the others:
2011: The Jets were 8-5, then dropped the last three, including the infamous Victor Cruz game on Christmas Eve. It wound up costing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer his job.
2008: Brett Favre, the old gunslinger, started firing blanks and the Jets dropped four of their last five, finishing 9-7. Coach Eric Mangini was fired.
2000: They were 9-4 but ran out of gas and dropped the last three under the demanding Al Groh, who might have been fired if he hadn’t left to coach his alma mater, the University of Virginia.
1997: Even the great Bill Parcells couldn’t stop this tailspin, as the Jets dropped three of the last four to finish 9-7. Does Leon Johnson ring a bell?
1994: Dan Marino’s Fake Spike started a five-game losing streak for the Jets, who went from 6-5 to 6-10. Pete Carroll was fired.
Next Sunday, the Jets will meet up again with Carroll, who is battling for a playoff spot with the Seattle Seahawks. That’s a weird kind of symmetry.
5. It’s on the line: Priority No. 1 in the offseason — well, other than quarterback — is fixing the offensive line, which has been running on “E” for a few weeks. The injuries started in training camp (see: Mekhi Becton), and they’ve hit hard, especially at tackle with six different starters.
Of the current five starters along the line, the only lock to return is left guard Laken Tomlinson. McGovern, tackle George Fant and guard Nate Herbig will be free agents. Tackle Duane Brown, 37, almost certainly won’t be back for the final year of his contract. (Oh, by the way, the Jets will get hit with cap charges of $6.3 million in 2023 and $4.7 million in 2024, per Over the Cap data.)
The good news is that Alijah Vera-Tucker, who can play guard or tackle, will be back healthy in 2023. The Jets still need two or three starters, depending on how they view tackle Max Mitchell (non-football injury list). Becton, given his history with injury and weight issues, is such a wild card. Can they really count on him?
They have to solidify the center position; every good line requires a rock in the middle. McGovern admitted his play has faltered.
“There are guys playing really good football and there are guys who have wavered a little bit, myself included,” he said.
Due largely to inconsistent line play, the running game has screeched to a halt. In the past three games, the Jets have rushed for only 192 yards and 3.0 yards per carry.
“Putrid,” Saleh said.
It’s a cruel irony that Douglas, who places a premium on offensive line play, is faced with another rebuild on the line.
6. Nonfactor: Another move that hasn’t worked out is the trade for running back James Robinson, a healthy scratch in four of eight games since arriving from the Jaguars for a conditional sixth-round pick. Some Jaguars folks were surprised the Jets made that deal knowing he was dealing with a knee issue. Robinson’s lack of explosives has been apparent.
7. Kryptonite: The secret is out on how to beat the Jets’ defense. Two words: Think. Dunk.
Continuing a recent trend against the Jets, the Jaguars were successful with short passes, especially crossing routes. In the past four games, the Jets have allowed a 78% completion rate and 91.2 QBR on passes under 10 air yards, compared to 71% and a 69.1 QBR in the first 11 games, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
The defensive philosophy is built on limiting explosive pass plays. The downside to that is they’re willing to concede the short stuff. Patient offenses can be successful, but defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich says he believes their way will prevail more often than not. He admitted, though, the team can play tighter man coverage to stop it.
“It’s the negative of the style we play at times,” he said.
8. Did you know? Wilson went 8-for-8 against the Jaguars when his receiver had at least 3 yards of separation, per NFL Next Gen Stats, but he was 1-for-10 when a defender was within 3
yards of the target. Wilson has been the worst in the NFL on those throws this season, completing 44% of his attempts.