In the Jets’ 19-14 Week 1 loss to the Panthers, the team had their fair share of struggles. The defense gave up 381 yards of total offense and struggled with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, D.J Moore, and Robby Anderson. Yet, most of the yards and points came in the first half; the Jets defense adjusted well to Carolina’s scheme and only allowed three points in the second half.
The more glaring struggles for the Jets in their first regular season action came on the offensive side, though. Mainly, the team’s offensive line was an abject disaster in the first half of play before showing some improvement in the second half. Zach Wilson was hit 10 times and sacked six times while the rushing attack only combined for 45 total yards on the day.
Robert Saleh said that there are “a lot of things” involved when looking at pass protection. “I’m never going to just blame the offensive line, especially when you look at the first half when a lot of those breakdowns happened- there’s route running, there’s quarterback getting rid of the football. There is protection, obviously, and then there’s credit to those guys,” said Saleh.
Even with Saleh saying that the struggles fall on the entire team, he did acknowledge that further evaluation is needed to determine how to improve the offensive line play. “The answer is- one answer that we first have to look at is can we be better at our technique? Can we be better at our communication?… My guess is going to be that there’s a chance for us to not only be better as coaches and the way we coach it, but can we be better as players and execution,” said Saleh.
Despite their first half-struggles against the Panthers, Saleh, LaFleur and the rest of the staff were able to make adjustments on the offensive end in the second half. Wilson had cleaner pockets and was able to throw his first two career touchdown passes to Corey Davis. The few run plays behind the left-side of the line, something the team did surprisingly little of in the first half, went for positive yardage.
Wilson said that the adjustments the team made were based on “settling in” to how the NFL game plays. ” Every series is a new series. A new game almost. Even early on when things were struggling I felt like we were so close to having that play or one guy does this. Get that out a little bit faster. Throw a better ball here we were going to be going. I feel like it was really settling in. Honing in on the details and then just focusing on the execution,” said Wilson.
With the Jets moving onto their home opener against the Patriots, it is very important to remember how young and inexperienced they are. The team boasts a first-year head coach and offensive coordinator who are implementing a new scheme. There are new additions all over the offense and the majority of the back half of the defense are late-round or undrafted rookies. The Jets are going to have massive growing pains throughout the season; the offensive line will need time to mesh together while the defense will take their lumps against more talented offenses. Wilson echoed this sentiment in his postgame press-conference, saying that he needs to “keep learning” and that the team is “going to make it work.”
Yet, the loss of Mekhi Becton, who suffered a knee injury in the game, has only made the development of the offensive line unit more difficult. This is a unit that is vital to Wilson’s development, as they are the difference between him making 17 starts and him getting knocked out due to injury. The ability and potential of Wilson as a player and of LaFleur as an offensive play-caller was on full display in the second-half of this game, offering a glimpse of what the Jets are capable of. But if the struggles on the offensive line are not corrected or schemed for, then this vital season of development for the Jets could go south very fast.