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Finding that formula for Zach Wilson to succeed

Wilson as game manager worked pretty well

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If you’ve ever seen me working with Microsoft Excel, you’ll know that sometimes the right formula can take some time to get right. Sometimes it’s not what you thought it would be, but if it works, it works.

At the start of the season, I didn’t imagine Zach Wilson falling into a game-manager role, but here we are heading into the bye week at 6-3 with Zach 5-1 as the starting quarterback. Last week Zach fell back into some old bad habits and the Jets paid the price, this week reverted to what had served them well all season. A heavy dose on the ground and a dominant defense.

I don’t want to cap Zach’s potential but right now we need him to manage the game, we need him to take care of the football, and if he does that we’ll have a chance against any team in football, based on a dominant defense and an outstanding ground game.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because it’s the formula the Jets used back in 2009-2010 in reaching back-to-back AFC Championship games. The NFL has come a long way since then, but if you find something that works, you stick with it.

Yesterday we saw the Jets turn the clocks back, dominating the time of possession (+5 minutes 28 seconds on the Bills) and using the big fellas up front to grind out the tough yards. In total, the Jets rushed for 174 yards on 34 attempts. Keeping the Bill's high-octant offense on the sidelines was a goal, and I think we can comfortably say the goal was achieved.

The Jets have one of the best defenses in the NFL, any team that limits the Bills to under 200 yards passing and keeps Stefon Diggs out of the end-zone is doing something right. The Jets are playing complementary defense right now, the Jets pressured Allen 17 times and sacked him on 5 occasions, part of that is pure talent but part of that is the secondary holding up in coverage. DJ Reed and Sauce Gardner are one of the best if not the best tandem in football right now, having that kind of talent alters the equation.

Mike LaFleur has had to adapt and with that Zach’s had to alter his mindset as well. Yesterday we saw more simple dropbacks, quick hitters, and first-read throws. Those long-developing passing plays were all but eliminated from the playbook and while I’m sure we’ll need Zach to do more eventually, hitting those quick throws to keep the defense honest is good enough for now.

There was a key play late in the game where Zach dropped back to throw on 3rd down, the Bills diagnosed it perfectly and instead of trying to force it into the end-zone and potentially turning it over, he ate it and took the sack. Zuerlein kicked the FG and that was the winning margin. When you don’t have the pieces around you, you’re forced to take low-percentage chances. Zach has the pieces around him.

The formula for the Jets to make the playoffs is a pretty simple one:

Outstanding Defense + Running Game + Ball Protection = Playoffs.

Just because Zach is a game manager this year, doesn’t mean that’s his ceiling. It just means that he’s still learning. After missing some time in his rookie season and again this year, he’s still reading defenses and trying to work out how to work through his progressions. If the Jets were dead and buried in terms of their record I’d say open up the playbook and let him sink or swim, but when you haven’t played post-season football in over a decade, you do what you have to do to win.

I’m still not convinced that Zach is the guy, but what I do know is that the Jets have found a recipe for success and like any good meal, they should go back to it time and again until it doesn’t hit like it used to.