The Jets dropped another game this past Sunday, losing to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 31-24. The team’s rushing defense collapsed once again, allowing practice-squad call-up Duke Johnson to run for over 100 yards. It was also the sixth time in the past eight games that the Jets defense allowed 30 points or more. Bryce Hall and the secondary did their best to slow Miami down, intercepted Tua Tagovaiola twice and kept him under 200 yards passing. Yet, the rushing attack was too much for the Jets to overcome as a team on Sunday.
For the offense, it was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Jets were clicking on all cylinders. Zach Wilson was sharp on his throws and decision making, leading the team to 17 first-half points including a one yard rushing touchdown. Tevin Coleman was effective in the run game while Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios provided a safety net for Wilson in the slot.
The second half was a completely different story, as the offense fell apart around their quarterback. The offensive line was overwhelmed by the man coverage blitzes Miami consistently schemed up and could not get a push in the running game. In addition, the outside receiver combination of Keelan Cole and Denzel Mims struggled to create separation consistently. This combination caused Wilson to be stuck on an island, having to improvise in order to try to make something happen. In other instances, Wilson simply did not trust his eyes and held onto the ball too long in the pocket. This caused his performance to fall off in the second half of the game, including having a lost fumble.
Despite his struggles in the second-half, the entirety of the blame did not fall onto Wilson’s shoulders in Robert Saleh’s opinion. “It’s a collective effort. It’s receivers winning one-on-one, it’s O-line protecting, it’s the run game going… So it’s not all on Zach. It’s on all of us,” said Saleh. Yet, Saleh also said that Wilson needs to continue to work on getting into a “rhythm” on offense and delivering passes “in a timely manner” to his receivers.
Wilson said that Miami adjusted its defense from zone to man coverage in the second half, causing the Jets to have to try to beat the Dolphins’ secondary down the field. “You got to let guys try and win and give them time to win on routes, so it’s going to cause me to hitch on some. They’ll probably give up some down the field, and unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on any of those. For the most part it’s got to be earned when those guys step up like that. I was trying to be my best just sitting in the pocket and trusting the protection and just trying to give those guys a shot down the field,” said Wilson.
The rookie quarterback added that he could’ve played better in the second half of the game. “I got to throw some better balls too, get them out of my hand.”
Connor McGovern added that the main difference of the second half was that the Jets were not winning their “one-on-one” battles when Miami switched up their defense. “We kind of felt like whatever they brought to us we were winning our one-on-one matchups and we could kind of go out and do the same thing we did in the first half. Yeah, just the defense changed a little bit and then kind of had the momentum swing. We never would claw that momentum back, and everything we were trying just to get that momentum to swing our way just was a little unfortunate,” said McGovern.
Despite the negativity surrounding the second half of the game and ultimately another loss, the positives of the first half should not be forgotten. Wilson did look more decisive and quick with his throws and decision-making, and there were no egregious displays of inaccuracy. Positives even extended to the second-half, as Wilson showed the off-schedule athleticism and play-making ability that made him the second overall pick in the draft.
With three games to go in the 2021 NFL Regular Season, the main goal for Wilson and his supporting cast needs to be consistent improvement every week. While Wilson needs to keep making strides as a rookie in terms of playmaking and decisiveness, his supporting cast needs to making sure he has a fair chance to make those improvements. Players like Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole, and Connor McDermott need to step up while the regular starters deal with injuries and illness. They need to make sure their rookie quarterback is not stuck on an island trying to be Superman, just as it its on Wilson to show glimpses of elevating the team around him.
For all of the criticism of Wilson, he ultimately will be the Jets starting quarterback next year, barring an injury. He is still a rookie with less than a full season under his belt, and while criticism and frustration is warranted, Wilson is by no means a finished quarterback product. These final three games of the season will be a barometer to measure Wilson against before his second season, regardless of the supporting cast around him. More talent needs to be, and will be, acquired to ensure that Zach Wilson has the best shot to succeed at the highest level of football; unfortunately, those acquisitions will not come until next season. Until then, Wilson and the Jets offense must continue to make improvements and try to replicate the good aspects of their start in Miami.