Simply put, Sunday did not go as planned. Week 2 saw the New York Jets get embarrassed 25-6 by the New England Patriots in their home opener. Most of the blame fell upon rookie Zach Wilson, but that doesn’t mean there were not signs of life. The following observations help shine a light on underrated performances before this weekend’s clash in Denver.
There isn’t a way to sugarcoat Zach Wilson’s performance last Sunday. The offense failed to find pay dirt, tallying six points on the day. Wilson struggled to the tune of 4 interceptions, a league-worst -0.418 EPA/Play, and a -7.2 Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE). The Jets’ biggest fears were vindicated. As consolation, they get the privilege of facing a Broncos defense that has shredded Daniel Jones and Trevor Lawrence.
Bill Belichick did what he does best and made life hell for the rookie quarterback. He looked skittish and second-guessed himself repeatedly. Facing a vaunted Patriots defense is always tough; doing so while battling yourself is toilsome at best and downright impossible at worst.
Give Wilson credit, he battled and had a handful of encouraging plays amidst his struggles. Still, it’s obvious he needs to play better. Denver poses a similar challenge, even with the loss of Bradley Chubb. Bouncing back in any significant capacity against a defense of that caliber would say a lot about the mental makeup of New York’s biggest investment.
The Running Backs
Generally speaking, Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and Tevin Coleman improved upon an adequate Week 1. The biggest takeaway, like last week, is how their snap counts illustrate the Jets’ intentions. Carter and Johnson saw 33 snaps each (45%) and Coleman saw seven snaps (10%). A contrast from the Carolina game, Coleman’s drop off is not a reflection of his play. More so, it reveals New York is willing to give looks to their young, talented playmakers when they are in need of a spark. On Sunday, that was virtually the entire game.
Carter easily looked the best out of the backfield. He showed off great contact balance throughout the game and added two catches for 29 yards through the air, along with 11 carries for 59 yards. As he becomes more comfortable in the offense, he looks increasingly similar to the quality back he was at North Carolina.
Johnson saw 12 carries for 50 yards and played much like he had in Week 1. For now, his role in the offense remains unchanged. Coleman, on the other hand, saw his snap counts plummet, though he made more noise with the opportunities he was given. I’d expect Coleman to smoothly transition into the last spot of the committee and serve as depth, rather than the workhorse as New York’s season continues.
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Week 2 offered a mixed bag in this department. Mims was notably inactive. According to Head Coach Robert Saleh, it was a matter of special teams value (or lack thereof) for that last receiver spot.
Furthermore, it was nice to see continued success for Braxton Berrios. He led the team in targets (11), receptions (7), and yards (73). Filling in for Crowder in the slot, Berrios has frequently been the hot read and has performed amply as a security blanket for Wilson. To add, his special teams play has been good, too.
Another sign of progress for the Jets was Elijah Moore. He looked much more comfortable and got twice as many looks as he did on Week 1. So far, the second round pick seems like Wilson’s favorite deep threat.
Perhaps one correlation to watch is Corey Davis and Wilson’s success. Davis was shut down on Sunday (5 targets, 2 catches, 8 yards) and made virtually no impact downfield. He was the target on multiple interceptions, including one that he probably should have hauled in. Without Davis creating separation, Wilson struggled to progress through his reads and found himself in trouble more often than not.
For what will likely be the second out of 17 times, New York’s tight ends played poorly. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin totaled 8 yards each. Neither looked particularly good in the run game, either. It’s a spot of weakness that lacks a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Offensive Line
The Jets offensive line looked better than one would expect in their first full game without Mekhi Becton. It would be a stretch to call them great, but they certainly exceeded expectations. George Fant filled in adequately for Becton on the left side. Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern played significantly better than they had in Week 1. Morgan Moses was, for the most part, fine.
The biggest issues New York faced were interior pressure and miscommunications/poorly set protections. To some extent, that was to be expected. Still, New York’s backs have to be better in pass protection. Doing so would help mitigate the detrimental play of Greg Van Roten. Overall, the unit made steps in the right direction; continuing said progress against a dangerous Denver front will be critical.
The Defensive Line and Edge Rushers
The Jets once again showcased their greatest strength on Sunday. Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and Sheldon Rankins have played well. John Franklin-Myers has arguably been the team’s best defender. They were able to put pressure on Mac Jones fairly well and did their part in the run game.
Furthermore, I was more impressed by Shaq Lawson than I initially anticipated. He had some really nice flashes of burst and bend, while also adding a couple tackles for loss. Second-year edge rusher Bryce Huff also looked explosive as he continues to carve out a role for himself.
It didn’t come without some brutal mishaps, but C.J. Mosley had possibly his best game as a Jet. If it wasn’t clear already, he is going to be a vital part of this young defense. There were additional flashes from Quincy Williams and Del’Shawn Phillips, too, especially in coverage. Williams displayed good click-and-close speed on a handful of occasions.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends regarding this group. Hamsah Nasirildeen looks unplayable two weeks into his career. New York’s linebackers were gashed multiple times in the open field by both James White and Damien Harris and struggled to consistently stop the run. The defense did not tackle well all game, and it showed.
Looking forward, these Jets linebackers will have their work cut out for them in Denver. The Broncos are not afraid to run the ball, and Teddy Bridgewater does a very good job of manipulating underneath defenders. They’ll have to step up in a big way or risk falling victim to a surprisingly good Mile High attack.
Another positive from this Week 2 massacre was that we witnessed more of the same from the Jets young corners. Like all young secondaries, they are yet to gel together, and they were not without miscommunications, but Saleh’s fingerprints are showing up in a good way.
Bryce Hall, the team’s undisputed best cornerback, looked great again. Much like Week 1, he was not tested a ton, but he’s done well to prevent targets. Michael Carter II matched his debut performance with a sequel that again saw him outperform Javelin Guidry in a similar role. The latter had been exploited during his 13 coverage snaps. Moreover, Brandin Echols seemed to improve, too, though level of competition may have played a role in that.
Denver’s offense remains dangerous, even without Jerry Jeudy. Hall and Courtland Sutton could be a litmus test for how much progress he’s made since last year. Carter and K.J. Hamler will likely duke it out in the slot, though his speed may attract Guidry. Echols could also see an interesting challenge in Tim Patrick, one of the league’s most underrated players. Leaving Denver relatively unscathed from these matchups would be the first big developmental victory of Saleh’s head coaching career.
Unsurprisingly, Marcus Maye was the best Jets safety on the field. By this point, that shouldn’t be a surprise. He was all over the place, including a couple of well-executed blitzes. His contract situation remains fluid, but as long as he’s in the green and white, expect him to perform every Sunday.
Adrian Colbert also saw significant time against New England. He wasn’t great, but virtually anything would have topped Sheldrick Redwine’s tribulations against Carolina. For now, it is simply a waiting game for Ashtyn Davis to return and allow Saleh to truly get creative on the back end.
The Special Teams Units
As a whole, I liked what I saw from this phase of the game. Matt Ammendola’s stint at punter concluded and he went 2/3 on field goals. He missed from 53 but hit both chip shots. Newly acquired Thomas Morstead was overwhelmingly fine, which is all the Jets are really asking him to be in Braden Mann’s absence. Again, Berrios looked good on his returns, as he has for some time.
In summation, this was the nightmare scenario for Wilson, and it cost New York the game. He was dreadful, and understandably so. Yet, it’s hard not to see the progress other units had made. Michael Carter (the RB) had a great day. Vera-Tucker and Moore played significantly better than they had in Week 1. The corners have been a pleasant surprise, and the interior defensive line continues to meet high expectations.
Playing in the altitude against an elite secondary, Von Miller, and Vic Fangio’s scheme will be another difficult game. Sustaining success will be difficult against such a difficult team, but is far from impossible. Of course, the biggest factor in how New York will look is Wilson’s play. If he recovers from his mess of a day, there’s a good chance the Jets remain competitive. If not, the coaching staff will be tasked with saving a roster that could quickly spiral into irrelevance.