There is no sugarcoating it, the New York Jets offense is one of the worst in the NFL at the moment. Statistically, the unit coordinated by Mike LaFleur and led by first-round rookie quarterback Zach Wilson ranks at or near the bottom of the league in most major categories.
The Jets offense is dead last with an average of 13.4 points scored per game, a scoring percentage of 22.8 per possession, and yards (23.4) as well as points (1.18) per drive. Its expected points added (-0.176) also have the unit ranked 32nd.
The issue is not just tied to Zach Wilson and his 57.3 percent completion rate as well as 4-to-9 touchdown-to-interception rate either. New York also has struggled to move the ball on the ground as well, with the unit gaining only 370 yards on 104 carries — ranking 31st in both statistics and 30th with a per-rush yardage gained of 3.6.
Numbers can be misleading, but the fact remains: through five games — the Jets are coming off a bye — New York’s offense has been bad with Zach Wilson at the helm. One of those bad performances came against this week’s opponent: the Jets were blown out 25-6 by the New England Patriots in Week 2. Wilson threw four interceptions that day.
New York’s offense is certainly no pushover that can be taken lightly, but it could give the Patriots a good opportunity to find some defensive momentum again after back-to-back disappointing outings against the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys.
Play tight man-to-man coverage
The Patriots did not do anything fancy against the Jets in Week 2, and yet they were still able to pick Zach Wilson off four times. The rookie did throw for 210 yards — 24 more than his New England counterpart, Mac Jones — but his turnovers on a 57.6-percent completion rate killed any momentum the New York offense might otherwise have been able to build.
So, what happened? Frankly, the Patriots were able to win their one-on-one man coverage matchups on a consistent basis to force Wilson into throwing tight-window passes. The youngster has a tremendous arm but at this point in his career is struggling with consistent accuracy and decision-making, a bad combination against a defense playing that way.
Take the following play which resulted in an interception by J.C. Jackson (#27):
Wilson knew the Patriots were in man coverage as soon as cornerback Jalen Mills (#2) followed Braxton Berrios (#10) on his motion across the formation. The question then became which matchup was the most favorable from his perspective — a decision that had to be made in a split-second.
In hindsight, Wilson made the wrong one. He tested the Patriots’ number one cornerback, who went up against wide receiver Elijah Moore (#8). Jackson is a physical press man corner, but he did not challenge the rookie on the line of scrimmage. Instead, he waited for Moore to make his move and then play him in a trail technique.
This would have given Wilson an opportunity to hit Moore down the field, but the pass needed to be perfect — towards the sideline in front of the receiver — in order to have a chance to succeed. As noted above, however, the youngster lacks the ability to consistently fit throws into NFL-size windows yet; this one was no exception and it was just underthrown enough for Jackson to be able to make a play on the ball and come away with the interception.
Having a comparatively clean pocket against New England’s four-man rush, Wilson trusted his arm to make the play. On this occasion, though, he simply could not do it.
Would Wilson have been better off targeting somebody else on this particular play? That is hard to tell given that the Patriots were playing tight man-to-man coverage across the board. He might have had more time to make a decision, but the window was there against Jackson — the throw simply had to be on-point and it was not.
From New England’s perspective, however, that has to be the goal in Week 7 again: force Wilson into attempting such low-percentage throws into tight windows. And if that happens...
Go for the ball
Only one team in the NFL has yet to lose a fumble this season, and it is the Jets. Despite that impressive feat, the team is still among the leaders in giveaways for one simple reason: Zach Wilson’s league-high nine interceptions. Granted four of those came in Week 2, but Wilson is prone to throwing bad passes that give the defense an opportunity to come away with the interception.
Too often the rookie is trying to play “hero ball” and go for the big play instead of trusting his reads and showing the patience needed to succeed at the pro level. In turn, defenses have to be aware that chances will come their way if only they react properly.
The J.C. Jackson interception above is a perfect example for that. The fourth-year cornerback turned his head at just the right time to be able to pick off Wilson’s low throw; had he focused too much on the receiver he was covering and not the ball, he might not have been able to register the turnover.
While there is a fine balance between going for the ball and properly carrying out one’s assignment, New England’s coaches will likely hammer home the point that Wilson is throwing his fair share of inaccurate passes. Being able to take advantage of those — be it through pass breakups or, even better, interceptions — could make a big difference in the game. It certainly did in the September matchup between the Patriots and Jets
Contain Zach Wilson
The Jets’ rookie quarterback might have had his fair share of issues so far this season, but it cannot be denied that he is an immensely talented player who fits the mold of the modern NFL quarterback: Wilson does not just have a very good arm, he also is able to extend plays with his legs. This combination makes him a challenging player to defend, especially if he starts operating out of structure.
Obviously, woking within the structure of an offense is among the most important traits for any quarterback regardless of arm talent or the like. Wilson is no exception, but some of his best plays of the season have come either when he moved out of the pocket by design or by his own reaction to what is happening around him.
Either way, the youngster is a dangerous player when moving out of the pocket; not so much as a runner — although he can do that as well — but more as a hyper-talented passer who can make pin-point throws both on the move and off an unconventional platform.
The following play against the Atlanta Falcons is an example of Wilson (#2) finding his way out of the pocket and delivering a strike:
The play ended up as an incompletion because the pass was dropped, and one can also question Wilson’s decision-making on the play given the situation (it was a 3rd-and-2 and he could have run for it instead of attempting a pass). What cannot be denied, however, is that he threw a laser despite being on the move.
Wilson was able to do all that because the defense gave him an opening. Falcons outside linebacker Steven Means (#55) was originally aligned as a 9-technique end, going up against stalwart left tackle George Fant (#76). Initially trying to attack Fant over his inside shoulder, Means was unable to get any penetration with his attack. Instead of moving back outside to go for the contain, however, he moved further towards the middle of the field.
This, in turn, allowed Wilson to escape the pocket and make a play on the move.
Possibly his best throw of the season was also made under similar circumstances, albeit as a designed roll-out rather than a scramble drill. Nevertheless, the problem from a defensive perspective was a similar one: Wilson was not contained by the Tennessee Titans defense and therefore able to showcase his strengths as a passer on the move.
The play saw Wilson fake the hand-off to fellow rookie Michael Carter (#32) and then roll out to his right. Tennessee rushed four at the snap and weak-side edge Denico Autry (#96) did react quickly. However, he was effectively disrupted by tight end Tyler Kroft (#81), who pull-blocked across the formation to take the defender out.
This was all it took for the play to break down from Tennessee’s perspective. After all, the team did not have any second-level defenders ready to put pressure on Wilson once he left the pocket: all of them guarded the underneath zones, which gave Wilson the time to set and deliver a deep throw to ex-Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (#84) for a 53-yard score.
The gist remains the same. New England needs to be able to keep Wilson in the pocket to take away his abilities as a performer on the move, either outside of structure or on designed roll-out plays.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke earlier this week about what the Jets are doing well on offense. While his effusive praise of upcoming opponents is well documented by now, one aspect of the press conference still stood out when it comes to the matchup between the New England defense and New York offense.
“I think their backs have done a good job,” Belichick said. “Ty [Johnson] and the rookie has done well, [Michael] Carter. They’ve got good speed back there and break a lot of tackles. We had trouble tackling those guys in the first game, so that’s something that’ll be a challenge for us. These guys break tackles against everybody. It’s a good group. [Tevin] Coleman’s got a lot of speed. It’s an explosive group of backs as well.”
Finishing tackles was indeed a problem for New England in Week 2. In total, as charted by Pro Football Focus, the Patriots missed 11 tackle attempts against the Jets; eight different players missed at least one potential takedown.
The Jets offense as a whole might not have been overly potent so far this season, but all it takes is one broken tackle to turn a short play into a touchdown — something the Patriots themselves have seen in their Week 5 game against the Texans: a comparatively short pass was turned into a 67-yard touchdown when safety Devin McCourty missed a tackle after the reception.
McCourty took an overly aggressive angle that put him out of the play and allowed Houston wide receiver Chris Moore to break free for a score. The Jets are certainly able of taking advantage of any bad angles or insufficient tackling technique as well; the Patriots therefore need to be better in this area than they were earlier this year.