The Jacksonville Jaguars will compete against the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football tonight at 8:15 p.m. Eastern Time on Amazon Prime Video. The weather could get nasty with rain and high wind gusts expected.
To learn more about New York ahead of the matchup, we spoke with MacGregor Wells of Gang Green Nation — SB Nation’s home for all things Jets.
What is the Zach Wilson experience like for Jets fans? How is Robert Saleh doing as a head coach? What makes New York’s defense so tough? MacGregor answers these questions and more.
1. What is the Zach Wilson roller coaster ride like? Do you believe he can still have a successful career? Is Mike White (when healthy) the better option?
MacGregor: For the large majority of his brief NFL career, Zach Wilson has not operated at the level of a competent NFL quarterback. His mechanics are a mess, he takes way too long to process what is in front of him, he too often declines to take the easy gains to try for difficult long passes that just aren’t there, his accuracy is terrible, he does not read defenses well, he does not have good pocket presence, and he often fails to step up into the pocket, opting instead to try to spin out of pressure, and ending up being sacked. Essentially, other than having a strong arm and a quick release, Wilson is doing very little at an acceptable NFL level. Sure, there have been brief stretches, sometimes a quarter of a game, where Wilson looks good, but for the most part he has been anywhere from mediocre to embarrassingly bad.
It remains to be seen what Mike White can develop into, but for now he is at least able to throw the ball with accuracy, get the ball out quickly and make the right decisions most of the time. That lets the Jets offense function the way it’s designed most of the time. For now nobody’s talking about Mike White being a top NFL quarterback, but at this point he is at least somewhat competent, which is more than we’ve seen from Wilson for the most part.
Can Wilson still have a successful NFL career? Sure, but it’s not the way to bet. I think with any highly-drafted young quarterback the natural response of fans of the team is to be in that guy’s corner and cling to hope well past the point when realistically the guy’s probably a lost cause. Nobody enjoys coming to the conclusion your team once again has failed at drafting and/or developing a quarterback, and it’s back to square one.
I personally like to see what the historical record says about quarterbacks who begin their career in similar fashions. In Wilson’s case, it isn’t pretty. There are perhaps one or two notable exceptions, but quarterbacks coming back from where Wilson is now and becoming long-term answers at the position are so exceedingly rare I think it’s time to move on. Can he improve? Sure, it’s not impossible. But I think that we as fans often get stuck on asking the wrong questions. To me, the question isn’t, is it within the range of possible outcomes? The question is, what is the opportunity cost of continuing to try to develop Zach Wilson at this point, and is it more likely that a guy with Wilson’s track record in the NFL eventually pans out, or is it more likely the team can find a better solution at the position with other options through trades, free agency or the draft?
The sunk cost of a high draft pick and $30 million in cap space is already gone; nothing can be done about that now. The only question is what can be done about the quarterback position going forward, and is continuing to invest in Zach Wilson giving the team the best chance of success? I think continuing to invest in Wilson probably does not give the Jets the greatest odds of success going forward, even if there is still some non-trivial chance he eventually develops into something valuable at the quarterback position. Others certainly disagree with that conclusion, and of course, there is no way to prove it one way or the other.
2. How do you evaluate head coach Robert Saleh and his staff thus far? Do you believe this is the right staff to lead the team in the future?
MacGregor: In my opinion, Saleh and his staff have done a reasonably good job thus far. The Jets are competitive in virtually every game. They don’t have many games where they inexplicably just don’t show up or seem unmotivated. In the few games where the Jets clearly outclass their opponents, the Jets take care of business. In short, the Jets have become a well-prepared, well-motivated team under Saleh. There are certainly specific issues that need work. Clock management can be bad. The Jets rarely seem to come out of the gate and dominate any games early. I’m not sure we’ve seen a lot of examples of the Jets having a superior game plan than the opponent. Developing a quarterback is obviously a sore point for now. So there are issues. But big picture, the Jets are better prepared and more consistently competitive on a weekly basis than any time in the last decade, so that seems like a good foundation to build on. Hopefully the finer points will be addressed as this staff grows into the job.
3. The Jets rank third in the NFL in total defense (305.4 yards allows per game). What does the unit do well and who are the players to watch on that side of the ball?
MacGregor: There are two big strengths to the Jets’ defense. The cornerbacks are superb. D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner are arguably the best tandem of outside cornerbacks in the NFL, and slot cornerback Michael Carter is also having a very good year. The three of them have combined to make passing against the Jets a difficult proposition. Star receivers are routinely limited against the Jets, and almost no quarterbacks have had a big day against the Jets all year.
The other big strength is the Jets’ pass rush. The Jets have a deep and talented cadre of pass rushers, led by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who arguably is having the best year of any defensive tackle in the NFL this season. Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Sheldon Rankins and Jermaine Johnson can all also get after the quarterback. The Jets keep them all fresh by rotating them frequently, and it pays off late in the game, when the Jets’ pass rushers are fresh playing against a fatigued offensive line.
The combination of a good pass rush and excellent cornerbacks makes passing the ball against the Jets a difficult proposition, and that has led to the Jets fielding one of the best defenses in the NFL.
4. Offensively, what does the team do well and what does it need to improve upon? Is there an under-the-radar player that Jaguars fans should keep an eye on Thursday night?
MacGregor: What do the Jets do well offensively? Umm… they do a great job getting 11 players on the field on every offensive play, lol.
Seriously, the Jets are an offensively-challenged football team. They are missing their two best offensive linemen in left tackle Mekhi Becton and right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, both out for the year due to injuries. That has left the Jets playing all year with a makeshift offensive line that gets no push in the running game and does at best a mediocre job protecting the quarterback. The Jets are also missing Breece Hall, their best running back, also out for the year. Corey Davis, the Jets’ second best wide receiver, has also missed several games. And of course the elephant in the room is Zach Wilson, who has missed time with injuries and also has been benched due to ineffective play.
With Wilson arguably providing the worst starting quarterback play in the NFL, a makeshift offensive line, and several missing weapons, the Jets struggle on offense. Rookie Garrett Wilson has been a revelation and is a budding star at wide receiver. Undrafted free agent rookie running back Zonovan Knight has done some good things, showing surprising burst, vision and power. But big picture, the Jets’ offense stinks right now. Knight would be your under-the-radar guy on offense. If he’s healthy enough to play, Knight will likely be the Jets’ lead running back, and in what looks to be terrible weather, the running backs may play an outsized role in determining the outcome of this game.
5. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Jets are currently 2.5-point favorites and the over/under is set at 37. Will New York cover, are you taking the over or the under and what is your final score prediction?
MacGregor: I have no idea what to expect here. In good weather I see this game as a tossup, with the Jets having a big advantage on defense and the Jaguars having a big advantage on offense as Trevor Lawrence quickly is developing into a top quarterback. The horrible weather expected, with drenching rains and howling winds, is going to have an impact. Will it help the Jets by limiting what Trevor Lawrence can accomplish on offense? Will it help the Jaguars because the Jaguars have the better running game? Will it be a total wild card, creating game-changing turnovers at random? Who knows?
Since I can’t get a good read on this game, I’ll just put on my homer hat and take the home team. I’ll take the Jets to cover. I’ll take the under because of the bad weather. Final score: Jets 16, Jaguars 13.
Thank you to MacGregor for his very thorough and thoughtful analysis. For more on the Jets, follow Gang Green Nation on Twitter.