Over the last few years I have done my best to eliminate the phrase “rock bottom” from my vocabulary when I have been talking about the Jets. There have been so many low moments that it has been difficult to tell which is the worst. You also never know when things can get lower.
I would need to put a lot of thought into it to tell you exactly where today’s 30-9 loss to the Saints stands in the pantheon of recent Jets futility. What I can say with confidence is it feels like any number of the emotionally gutting moments Jets fans have had to suffer through.
Two weeks ago when the Jets were down 14-3 to the Texans I felt like the Jets were heading toward the type of existential loss that would make you question everything about the franchise’s direction. Losing to a team as bad as Houston would make it very difficult to argue in any way that what the Jets were building looked like it was moving in the right direction.
Of course the Jets came back to beat the Texans. After that win you couldn’t be definitively convinced the franchise was moving in the right direction, but there was at least a plausible avenue to make that argument.
It turns out the Texans win only provided a two week reprieve. The existential loss came today against the New Orleans Saints. The Jets were not competitive against a team that was essentially running a high school level offense.
At the very top of the list of concerns has to be Zach Wilson.
Last week against the Eagles, Wilson’s performance was mixed. Here is what I wrote after the game.
I am sure you have your own takeaway. Mine is we saw more good than bad and a clear positive trajectory. That said, what comes next will do a lot to shape my viewpoint of the context of this performance. If this is a springboard to consistent improvement, this game might be remembered as a powerful positive first step. If Zach regresses going forward, it will be a footnote.
I think it is safe to say that any baby steps from that game were either obliterated by this performance or a mirage to begin with.
There are rookie struggles for a quarterback. You expect there to be points where any first quarterback looks overwhelmed. What we saw today and have seen from Zach Wilson for much of the season goes far beyond that.
Right now Zach Wilson looks like he is in completely over his head. He is on the Paxton Lynch/Dwayne Haskins/Josh Rosen level of looking unplayable. The most basic elements of playing the position seem to be beyond him. He has debilitating inaccuracy on short passes, a lack of pocket presence, and major issues reading coverages. I understand the concept of letting a young player make mistakes and learn from them, but Wilson’s problems are so deep that I’m no longer certain playing him is in his best interest right now. At the very least it seems like Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, the front office, and the coaching staff, made an enormous misjudgment about how ready Wilson was to start on day one.
You can point the finger at drops, and to be certain Wilson was hurt by drops. Of course some of these drops were caused by Wilson’s inaccuracy making the catch more difficult than it needed to be. Beyond that, it’s difficult for me to point the finger at the receiving targets. Guys like Ty Johnson and Keelan Cole are not going to be major parts of the Jets’ offense going forward. They weren’t even supposed to be major parts of the offense today. They are depth players thrust into starting roles because of injuries. Their failures aren’t relevant to the future of the franchise. Zach Wilson’s are. If you take all of the drops out, you would still have a dismal quarterbacking performance. I’m not sure I can think of a single redeeming factor in this performance. At a point of the season where you would like to see tangible progress, Zach Wilson isn’t showing any.
Prior to this game my general view was that Wilson had struggled so much that you had to have some degree of concern. At this point I think you have to be very worried about Zach Wilson.
Of course Wilson was not the only culprit in the loss. The Jets defense, which has been arguably the worst in the league, turned in a performance that was dismal even by its standards.
The Saints had a quarterback in Taysom Hill who had an injured finger and major issues throwing the football accurately. He completed only a single pass that traveled more than 10 yards through the air. The average depth of his passes was 4.3 yards according to NextGen Stats.
The Jets somehow allowed a team with this shell of a passing game to run for 203 yards. Beyond that, Hill went 15 of 21 for 175 yards (a robust 8.3 average per attempt) in a passing attack that was limited to screens, checkdowns, dumpoffs, and quick passes to the outside. If Wilson’s performance creates questions around the young franchise quarterback, the defensive effort raises just as many questions about the coaching staff.
If the Jets can’t stop this offense, I’m not sure what opponent in the NFL they can stop going forward.
Four games remain in the 2021 season. Perhaps the Jets can get onto a roll before the end of the season, but this week felt like it might be a point of no return.
Measuring success this season was always going to be tricky and subjective, but at this point it is difficult if not impossible to see where progress has been made. The Jets aren’t improving, and nowhere is that more evident than the most important position on the field.