MacGregor Wells of Gang Green Nation, Acme Packing Company’s New York Jets sister site, was able to answer questions about the surging Jets this week. What are we getting in quarterback Zach Wilson? Can they pull the upset? Wells answers that and more.
Acme Packing Company: Robert Saleh went 4-13 in his first season with the Jets but has them at 3-2 to start 2022. What’s the general feeling around your second-year head coach?
MacGregor Wells: Heh. I think the general feeling swings wildly based on whether the Jets win or lose each week. Right now the Jets are on a 2 win mini-streak, so for now most Jets fans are giving Saleh the benefit of the doubt. If the Jets sink back into their prior losing ways I think Jets fans will have Saleh on a very short leash. 6 wins or less by the Jets this season and I expect Jets fans to be calling for his dismissal at the end of the season. 9 wins or more and Jets fans will be feeling we have the head coach we need to turn this ship around. Personally, I just want to see a disciplined, competitive team that makes good decisions, seems to show up prepared mentally and psychologically each game, doesn’t blow games against teams that seem to be less talented, and appears to make appropriate adjustments to what is happening in-game. I’m not sure Saleh is there yet, but I think he’s making progress and growing into the position.
APC: Much like his head coach, Zach Wilson didn’t really set the world on fire in year one. He’s been hurt a bit in his second season, and Joe Flacco seems to have played reasonably well in relief. What’s your take on Wilson and the state of the Jets’ QB room?
MW: I’m not sure I agree with your take on Flacco. Flacco had one really good drive at the end of the Cleveland Browns game to score a wildly unlikely comeback victory. Outside of that one drive he was pretty consistently mediocre or worse. He had a lot of passing yards, but only because he set an NFL record for passing attempts in the first 3 games of a season. I think Flacco’s time as an adequate starting quarterback in the NFL has long since come and gone.
As for Zach Wilson, it’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions. He still has only 15 NFL starts under his belt. He was pretty awful early in the 2021 season, injured his knee, then was a bit improved, while still not being very good, after he came back from the injury.
Wilson reinjured the same knee in preseason this year, raising concerns about the long-term durability of that knee. When he came back two weeks ago he was mediocre for 3 quarters against the Steelers, then had a brilliant 4th quarter to lead the Jets to a comeback from double digits down for the victory. Last week Wilson was decent. He played mistake-free football for the most part while the Jets’ running game and the defense did the heavy lifting. So far we have seen progress this year from a year ago but Wilson is still a long way from being a top quarterback in this league. For now, I’m pleased he seems to be making steady progress and improving in those areas in which he was woefully deficient last year. Pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and quickly getting through progressions all seem to be improving. When and if Wilson not only plays largely mistake-free but also is able to carry the team on his back for several games as the top quarterbacks do, then and only then will I be convinced the Jets have their quarterback for the long-term future. Until then I’m in wait-and-see mode and enjoying the ride.
APC: The Jets’ defensive numbers don’t really seem to stand out anywhere, but they’ve done enough to get the Jets three wins. What have been the strengths and weaknesses of the Jets’ defense so far? Where would you attack?
MW: The strength of the Jets defense lies in the two outside cornerbacks, D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner. They have arguably been as good as any outside cornerback tandem in the NFL. The Jets’ pass rush has also come on of late, and they have been putting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, although the sacks are still not showing up in bunches.
The biggest weakness of the Jets defense is in the middle of the field. The Jets don’t have any linebackers or safeties that are really good pass defenders, and most of these guys are quite the opposite. Opponents who have good pass catching tight ends, backs, and slot receivers should be able to exploit the Jets on short routes in the middle of the field without much difficulty.
The Jets have also at times struggled to stop the run, so I think you might have good success running the ball.
APC: Big names are always easy to find, but I’m always interested in the guys that only those who are closely acquainted with a team would know. Who are some under-the-radar players on both sides of the ball that we should know about?
MW: On defense, D.J. Reed is playing extremely well at cornerback. He can shut down a lot of NFL receivers, but I don’t think a lot of NFL fans are that familiar with him yet. John Franklin-Myers on the defensive line is also quite good. He moves around the line, playing inside and on the edge, and he can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
On offense, 2nd year offensive lineman Aljiah Vera-Tucker has done a great job filling in wherever needed for a banged-up Jets offensive line. He was a guard going into this season and played there this year until multiple injuries thrust him into service at left tackle. He did a great job there under the circumstances for one game, then he was switched to right tackle last week after left tackle Duane Brown came off the IR list. So AVT as we call him has played three different positions on the line in the last three weeks and done well at each spot. He has solidified what had been a very suspect Jets offensive line.
I don’t know if Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson qualifies as under the radar. He was the Jets’ pick at #10 overall in the 1st round of the 2022 NFL draft. That probably makes him not exactly under the radar, but Wilson has surprised with how quickly he has ascended. Going into opening day Wilson was still being listed at WR4 on the Jets’ depth chart, but he quickly established himself as the most gifted receiver on the Jets, and I would consider him WR1 at this point. If you liked him coming out of the draft then what he brings to the table won’t be a surprise, but if you’re not a big draft guy, then you might be surprised just how good this guy is so early in his rookie season. He’s really, really good at quickly creating separation and at gaining YAC.
APC: What’s your call for Sunday? Will the Jets, who are 7.5-point underdogs on DraftKings, pull the upset?
MW: Well, I want to pick the Jets. My heart says to pick the Jets. But it’s just so hard to justify picking against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau. I know Rodgers is having some trouble adjusting to life without Davante Adams, but let’s be real here, who are you gonna choose, Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau, regardless of receivers, or Zach Wilson on the road? I know football is a team game and it’s not solely about the quarterbacks, but man I just don’t know about picking against Rodgers at Lambeau. So I’ll go with the Packers in a tight one, maybe the Jets beat the spread.