3 things I'm looking at in the Jets vs. Cowboys game

The season seemed lost, has it been found?
NY Jets, Zach Wilson
NY Jets, Zach Wilson / Al Pereira/GettyImages

I won’t even harp too much on what happened last week — Aaron Rodgers didn’t make it to the fifth snap of the season, Zach Wilson had a typical Zach Wilson stat line (140 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), and the defense abused Josh Allen en route to the Jets beating the Buffalo Bills on primetime.

I've spent this week much more focused on harping on the future — who will the Jets bring in to play QB? Will Rodgers ever come back to play? How can the coaching staff make the most of a championship-caliber roster? I looked up and down and saw a lot of names that made me hurl and then a few others that made me ponder.

If you’re wondering, I would’ve preferred (in order) Gardner Minshew, Sam Darnold (can you believe that!?), Jameis Winston or Davis Mills above all of the others, but apparently the Jets are handing the keys to Zach (again).

This is year three of the Robert Saleh regime, where there is a public belief that it was playoff win or bust for this coaching staff. Rodgers’ injury definitely grants them an excuse, but does it buy them time?

Kyle Shanahan lost his first and second-string quarterbacks to season-ending injuries and still made it all the way to the NFC Championship with a rookie QB who was literally the last pick in the 2022 NFL draft. John Harbaugh also lost his starting QB but was able to clinch a playoff spot with backup QB Tyler Huntley, who hilariously went to the Pro Bowl last year.

The truth is, great coaches still get the most out of their teams and find ways to win. 4-13, even with Zach Wilson at the helm, would be inexcusable and very much a fireable offense, in my opinion. Perhaps this isn’t Saleh’s choice, and it’s GM Joe Douglas who is forcing Saleh to endlessly support his failed No. 2 overall draft pick who has made misstep after misstep since Day 1.

Either way, it’d be up to Woody Johnson to assess whether the hypothetical promise of 41-year-old Rodgers coming back after the worst injury in sports is worth putting up with a regime that has zero playoff appearances or winning seasons in three tries (4.5 tries for Douglas).

This next test certainly won’t be easy — Dallas played at Jetlife Stadium the night before and scored more points themselves than the Jets and Bills did combined the next night. They took a team that went to the playoffs last year and beat a 13-win team and just obliterated them 40-0. Utter domination.

The Jets should still be looking to take advantage of this very short window of opportunity and trying to win with this current roster before it blows up to smithereens financially after 2025. If they truly believe Zach Wilson is the best option to help them do that, then let’s give it a shot — the third time might be the charm, right?

Back So Soon?

It is simply not possible to overstate how bad Zach Wilson has been in the NFL so far. There are so many names synonymous with the ‘bust’ label in the NFL, but no player in the 103-year history of the NFL has ever been dead-last in passer rating for two consecutive seasons ... besides Zach Wilson.

This stat is even more embarrassing when you consider Zach had the 11th-best offensive line in the league protecting him in Year 1 and then had the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as a top weapon in Year 2. Josh Rosen would’ve loved to have Garrett Wilson out there when he was throwing more touchdowns than Zach did en route to the same record (3-10) as rookies.

After 22 starts in the NFL, it still cannot be objectively said that he’s had a good game. He has never thrown for 3 TDs in a game, has only thrown for 300 yards twice (in both games they were desperately trying to make a comeback but lost), and almost every time he has ever thrown more than 34 times in a game he has had at least one interception.

For reference, just in Week 1, 15 QBs threw 34 or more attempts and 5 of them were able to not throw an interception. This includes Texans QB C.J. Stroud, who was literally playing in his first-ever NFL game. In the 8 games he has thrown 34+ times, Zach has thrown 11 interceptions and the Jets have gone 2-6.

In the other 14 starts of his career, he threw less than 34 times and has only thrown 8 interceptions in those games with a record of 7-7. Case and point, the Jets do not want him throwing the football. This fact was evident during the Jets’ miraculous win at Jetlife on Monday Night.

When the Jets caused a fumble from Josh Allen and got the ball on the 21-yard line they had the chance to go up by 7 points at a critical juncture of a divisional football game. Saleh chose to run the ball seven consecutive times because in his eyes it was better to have the safe 3-point opportunity than to even try one time to throw the ball and risk an interception. That speaks volumes to how much this staff trusts  Zach’s on-field ability.

And yet they want us to believe he’s the guy! I admit I’ve never been in the Jets locker room or participated in a practice so I am not privy to the same information the coaches have. If there is something they are seeing in him that I have missed I will give them the benefit of the doubt this one final time.

The Cowboys have an elite defense so I’m not expecting this to finally be the game he has an efficient 300-yarder or three touchdowns but this stretch before the Week 6 bye should be Zach’s last opportunity to show that he is actually worth the incessant coddling that front office has done since before he even got drafted.

Can he show me something? Has he improved enough? This stat is a huge one, if he has truly fixed his yips with the easy passes, then it's on Nathaniel Hackett to call the right plays to take advantage of this newfound accuracy. However, if that was just a lucky night for Zach, then buckle up boys and girls, this ride will be bumpy and it may come with front office changes.

For Sunday in Dallas, it looks like 34 attempts is the threshold to lookout for.

Ain’t Over Till It’s (Turned)Over

If I have your cellphone number, then you are undoubtedly aware of my thoughts on the Jets' defense of 2022. They beat up on Mitch Trubisky, Brett Rypien, Skyler Thompson (only once out of two attempts) and were able to rack up incredible stats against lesser opponents en route to being one of the more overhyped units in football.

In the last several weeks of the season, they had the lowest turnover rate in the entire NFL – unable to make Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, or Geno Smith cough it up despite their issues with turnovers both directly before and after playing the Jets.

After losing Breece and AVT and finishing 2-8 after starting 5-2, the lone game that Zach Wilson won was against the Bills – due in large part to the timely turnovers the defense forced and gave Zach the ball in favorable territory. After that, it was downhill from there.

Those sentences are the exact reason why I’m hesitant to anoint this year’s Jets defense as any better than last year’s. Perhaps they just have Josh Allen’s number. The Browns have Burrow’s number yet Burrow is still great and the Browns are still unproven. Perhaps Josh Allen is still great and the Jets are still unproven.

This Sunday is a bona fide opportunity to shut me up, as they face a guy who led the league in interceptions last year despite only playing in 12 games. Dak was turning the ball over at a prolific rate, and although he didn’t throw any picks against the Giants in that 40-0 massacre, he only completed 54.2% of his 24 attempts for a passer rating of 72.

For reference, Zach Wilson, the guy I was just dragging through the mud for an entire section of this article, completed 66.7& of his 21 attempts for a passer rating of 81.4. Dak was bad on Sunday.

Jordan Whitehead, someone the fanbase accused of robbing the franchise of money, was spectacular on Monday night. He finally has proved his blood relation to Darelle Revis, especially with the vision and the agility to make that third interception possible.

Sauce, unfortunately, seemed to trend in the opposition direction by missing tackles and allowing more yards than normal (59 certainly isn’t terrible) but D.J. Reed continued his run as the most reliable entity in the secondary with some big plays late. C.J. Mosley, who I said lost a step last year, almost had an incredible interception and looked great in coverage all night.

It looks like everyone is more comfortable in this system now that they have played a full year together as a unit (some of them have been together even longer) but I cannot tell which of the production from last week is real and which of it is due to the Josh Allen thing. Carl Lawson also makes his 2023 debut this year - giving the Jets their scariest front four possible.

This Sunday, we find out what's real because any great defense should be able to force multiple turnovers from this leaky offense. Finishing this game with 0 would be a valid indicator that maybe this defense will need the help of facing Brett Rypien again (or Josh Allen every week) in order to match last year’s early success.

Special Attraction

The two most spectacular special teams plays of Week 1 in the NFL happened at the same stadium, but not at the same game. The Cowboys blocking the Giants’ first field goal attempt and running it back for a touchdown completely depleted all of the momentum those Giants built up with what was a great drive.

They were eight yards away from the end zone before two consecutive miscues led to the field goal attempt that Dallas turned into an opportunity. Even though they missed the extra point (I guess not so special), the momentum was theirs and they never looked back.

As for the Jets, we know all too well the devastation of losing a close game on a last-second punt return touchdown. That literally happened last year versus those dastardly Patriots and the repercussions of that game still reverberate around that locker room to this day.

It was so nice, dare I say refreshing, to return the favor to another division rival and keep Josh Allen winless in overtime games. If you watched Hard Knocks or literally any Jets preseason game, you’d be quite familiar with Xavier Gipson who literally wasn’t even on the radar to make the team but has now given the Jets an iconic memory for years to come.

He was electric all preseason, and it was such a nice change of pace from Braxton Berrios calling fair catches all the time. “Oh Wudi, stop being so dramatic!” Welp, I’m not – look it up – Berrios literally led the entire NFL in most fair catches called last year.

Even this year on the Dolphins he’s up to no good, being one of only six players in the NFL to already have called two or more fair catches this season. Gipson is younger, faster, hungrier, and wasted no time showing us that those conservative fair catch calls are a thing of the past.

In a game where I predict both offenses to struggle due to elite defensive play, it’s the special teams units that can really make the difference in this game. Greg Zuerlein remains perfect within 40 yards during his Jet tenure.

The Cowboys on the other hand are one of only 4 teams in the entire league to not be kicking 100% on the extra point attempts. Complementary football is one of the most fundamentally sound ways to win a game – using one facet of the game (offense, defense, special teams) to enhance the opportunities of another facet. What will Brant Boyer’s unit do to give NY the edge?! Let’s find out! Go Jets