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Jets D, Wilson Receive Rude Wakeup Call In Cowboys Rout
Take your time, Aaron Rodgers. Allow that Achilles repair to heal properly and try to come back next season.
This idea fomented by some media experts that because the Jets’ Great Hope of a quarterback’s surgery protocol included some modern technique to supposedly speed recovery times will allow him to return in time for this postseason is beyond fantastical. I heard one outlet actually debate whether Rodgers should even get the starting job back if Gang Green broke a 12-year playoff drought.
Cue the Jim Mora clip: “Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!”
The 30-10 trouncing the Jets took from host Dallas on Sunday may have counted as just one defeat from a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but it should serve as a wakeup call on two fronts:
A) The Jets defense, while very good, is not elite. It’s really a bend-but-don’t break unit which, in this league’s era, should be enough to get you where you want to go—except…
B) Zach Wilson remains the roadblock. Anyone who thinks he has played well since coming on for Rodgers after just four snaps during last week’s opener is delusional. Say what you will about New York’s offensive line issues, which are real and scary, but serviceable QBs know when to get rid of the ball to avoid negative plays. Wilson, in Year 3, still doesn’t, and it impacts what Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett calls and how Head Coach Robert Saleh approaches each game.
In his postgame comments, Saleh talked about how a few defensive plays—cornerback Sauce Gardner’s drop that had pick-six written all over it, not recovering a fumble forced by Gardner, a third-down pass interference foul committed by cornerback Brandin Echols in the end zone, etc.--could have altered the contest’s outcome. In reality, it only would have delayed the inevitable.
The Cowboys offense toyed with New York’s so-called vaunted defense to the tune of 382 net yards on Sunday. The Jets D did wear down and were unfairly subjected to short fields in the second half following four New York turnovers, but what was the excuse for the first half? Quarterback Dak Prescott was rarely threatened all day (by the way, did anyone file a missing person’s report on Jets edge rusher Carl Lawson, who took rookie first-round pick Will McDonald IV’s spot on the active list yet was invisible on the field, even if credited with participating in two tackles?) and Dallas gained a ton of yards on the ground before contact. That’s not elite.
Much was made of the field position flip when Saleh opted to punt on a fourth-and-inches late in the first quarter and Dallas pinned deep. Like his defense would save the day. Only this is the NFL, and one pass later to wide receiver Cee Dee Lamb, who got open all game by finding mismatches versus New York’s zone, for 31 yards and the Cowboys were on their way to a field goal to go up, 10-0.
Yet Saleh feels he has to play this way because he can’t trust his QB. Though his fake punt call on the prior series of downs in that possession was well-crafted, he still thinks he can win games playing the equivalent of Stone Age football. Well, enough games to matter.
Sorry, but handoffs into loaded boxes and then relying on Wilson to extend drives with third-down conversions is a losing formula. Down by multiple scores in the fourth quarter and forced to let Wilson loose, three consecutive Jets drives ended with Cowboys interceptions.
I gagged every time someone said/wrote that Wilson “played ok” or “wasn’t the problem” in the loss. Going into the Sunday night games, Wilson posted the lowest expected points added per play and completion percentage over expected of any of the week’s QBs, per rbsdm.com. I mean, by a lot. In the site’s composite graph of the two stats, there’s Wilson in the bottom left corner all by his lonesome like a child on a timeout, with Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, whose poor performance versus defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City was most likely an outlier, quite a ways up and over.
Even if you just go by the first half, which included the 68-yard catch-and run (mostly running) touchdown connection to wide receiver Garrett Wilson that got Gang Green back in the game at 10-7, want to know where Zach Wilson ranked among the 27 QBs in the EPA-plus-CPOE composite metric? 25th.
That explosive play did little to juice New York’s defense, as Dallas embarked on a 13-play 75-yard touchdown drive abetted by Garnder’s drop, a questionable roughing-the-passer call on John Franklin-Myers on a crucial third down, and Echols’ DPI. Though third-down conversion percentage isn’t always a telltale stat, Dallas’ 9-for-18 versus New York’s 1-for-10 accurately portrayed how this contest went.
And it could easily go the same way next week when New England invades MetLife Stadium. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has a knack for screwing with young Jets quarterback’s heads, including Wilson’s. Saleh/Hackett will likely respond with a similarly conservative plan of attack and, while the Pats aren’t as skilled as Dallas, Belichick won’t let his QB Mac Jones beat himself the way Buffalo’s Josh Allen did in Week 1.
The bottom line is that the Jets gambled that Rodgers would correct all of last season’s failures. It sucks that it didn’t pan out. But forget about him coming back as a savior.
Wake up, people.
Photo by Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports