Zach Wilson and the NY Jets hope to exorcise their demons against the Patriots

Is it too early too call this game a 'must-win'?
NY Jets, Zach Wilson
NY Jets, Zach Wilson / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

A lot of what I said last week about Zach Wilson and the state of the 2023 NY Jets season still applies today. This is still a test for Robert Saleh to see if he can overcome hardship and ascend into great coaching status who gets the most juice from his squeezes. This is still a measurement of Joe Douglas’s ability to create a championship roster that can endure injuries.

And, of course, for Wilson, has he improved enough to elevate himself out of the dumpster of the very worst of the worst ‘starting’ quarterbacks in the NFL these days?

There are not a lot of funny jokes or cute puns this time around — the goal here is simple — beat the Patriots. 14 straight losses is an embarrassing stat, four of them belong to Saleh, and each of those games are serious contenders for the absolute worst game of Wilson’s career.

In both seasons of Wilson's career, the first Patriots game is the uglier one, where he throws hideous picks (four in 2021, three in 2022) and just looks completely overwhelmed en route to an embarrassing loss.

In both second games, they called much more conservative games for him, so he was able to escape without interceptions, but an injury truncated the 2021 contest, and horrific accuracy cost the Jets a win in 2022. He famously denied culpability after that loss and was benched.

So, in short — the Jets' chances of winning this game do not look great. Despite the Jets allowing 30+ points for the first time since Week 15 of the 2021 season, I still like what I’m seeing from the defense.

There is no wide receiver on the Patriots that is “CeeDee Lamb caliber” that can carve that defense up for 143 yards, even with injuries to Tony Adams and Michael Carter II.

Quincy Williams has looked great in the run as always but has thoroughly impressed me with his plays in coverage this season – he is my pick so far for the most improved.

I expect the defense to do what it has done 100% of the times that Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed have faced the Patriots — make Mac Jones look inferior and give the team a very good chance of winning.

It is entirely up to Nathaniel Hackett, Zach Wilson, and that side of the ball to do their job to ensure victory. It is that simple. It should be noted that this will be Breece Hall’s first time facing the Patriots in his NFL career — maybe they opt to use him more than four times this week?

Also, the weather won't be great! The last time Wilson played the Patriots, it was an especially windy day where he actually used that as an excuse for throwing 77 yards as if Mac Jones didn't throw 246 yards (on 85% completion) in identical conditions.

Defense Mechanisms

Are the Jets a legit defense? I mentioned how last year they had a good performance against the Bills sandwiched between a whole bunch of games where they couldn’t force middling QBs to turn the ball over.

They had a chance last week to shut me up and force a pick from the man who led the entire league in interceptions last year but instead allowed him to have the most efficient start of his career. 13 consecutive completions to start a game in which the Jets allowed the most points of the Sauce Gardner era and everything looked easy for them.

I do not think the loss was their fault, as they did actually get off the field a few times in the first half, but they were always back on the field four plays later.

Considering the situation, I think they still played above average, like they always have since Gardner and Reed have been on the team. But are they elite? Time will tell.

The defense must be the catalyst if this team has any shot at making the playoffs. The defense that knocked Teddy Bridgewater out of the game in one play.

The defense that made Aaron Rodgers (get well soon!) look like maybe he lost a step. The defense we’ve seen since Week 13 of last season (sans some dominance against Josh Allen) is not a championship-caliber defense by any means.

Seeing Gardner, a player many hyped up to be "the best cornerback in the league," drop one of the easiest pick-six opportunities you'll ever see certainly doesn't help win games.

He has missed a few tackles as well, not quite living up to that hype, but that's more of an indictment of the hype rather than the player himself. He has been good, but not anywhere near the status of justifying Reed's comments.

The Patriots threw a pick and lost a fumble in each of the two games they've played this season. If the Jets aren’t able to continue this trend, that is a sign that perhaps they are not as great as most media outlets would leave you to believe.

If the Jets walk away from this game with zero takeaways, unless they hold the Patriots offense to three points like they did for 59 minutes last year, this will be fairly indisputable proof that this unit isn't elite.  Owning Josh Allen is nice, but unless they start playing the Bills 16 times a year, that will not help them end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.

Strong Side?

The other necessity en route to a potential playoff berth is the running game, which will save them from living and dying (really only dying) by Zach Wilson’s arm every week.

In 2022, the Jets were 5-2 until Alijah Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall went down in the same game, but let’s look at it from purely a rushing yard perspective:

In the entire Saleh era (36 games), the Jets have only won once when they rush for less than 90 yards. That lone win was in 2021, a Week 4 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans, where Zach Wilson had his career high in passing yards at that time. To this day, that might be the best game he ever played.

Every other win of the last 36 games, regardless of who was at QB, came with at least 90 rushing yards on offense. In 2021, with a worse defense, they were 3-4 in such games, but in 2022, they were 7-1 in such games, and 1-0 this year for a total of 11-5 in the Saleh era.

So while this stat isn’t the end-all-be-all, it is certainly a very telling metric that shows what the offensive game plan should be each week — get the running backs involved early and often.

Bill Belichick knows this, which is why he makes a spectacular effort to completely stifle the run game. The first time the Jets faced the Patriots in the Saleh era, they erupted for 152 rushing yards, but four Zach Wilson interceptions sealed their fate.

In the three subsequent contests, the Jets averaged 57.3 rushing yards per game and had varying levels of QB play to lose by varying margins of defeat.

As much as I love the name of Dalvin Cook, the production of Dalvin Cook hasn’t even been close to the stratosphere of Breece Hall’s production in every game. It's time to start using the personnel that will improve the running game the most.

Duane Brown is playing like one of the worst tackles in football, and Laken Tomlinson is the absolute worst signing of the Douglas era — he was paid a lot of money over a lengthy (by Joe Douglas standards) period of time and has produced bottom-of-the-barrel results in every single game.

Conor McGovern was the starter when the Jets had the 11th-ranked offensive line in football in 2021 (via PFF), so I constantly came to his defense in 2022 when his numbers nose-dived off the page, but I cannot keep defending him this year.

They all need to go — and it can be argued that Douglas, the man who has been trying to beef up this unit since day one (back in 2019), has absolutely no idea how to actually accomplish this task.

With Tomlinson and McGovern struggling so badly last year, Douglas should’ve done more to improve those positions, but it looks like 2022 draft pick Joe Tippmann isn’t yet ready to take that job away. As for Brown, he actually looked decent last year despite playing with an injured shoulder.

It was wishful, yet logical, to believe that post-surgery, Brown would be able to mimic the success he had early last season, but so far, he has been the biggest liability on a line with multiple liabilities.

In closing — run Hall to the right behind Alijah Vera-Tucker and Mekhi Becton for big gains. Use Jeremy Ruckert as a blocker to ensure the Jets reach 90 rushing yards this Sunday. From there, there’s only one other thing left to ensure victory:


This term will continue to haunt Jets fans until the Jets can finally beat the Patriots. Maybe it’ll take two victories to finally put this term into the ground, but we won’t know for sure because it’s been eight years (!) since the New York Jets have been victorious against those Patriots.

I’ll state the obvious by saying that if Aaron Rodgers was QB1, I’d have absolutely no doubt that the Jets are sweeping this series with ease. Even in Rodgers’s “worst season in years,” he was able to throw for 251 yards, two touchdowns, and get a win last year against Belichick’s team.

The one interception he threw in that game was the only one he has ever thrown to the Patriots in his career. Quite a difference from Wilson averaging nearly two interceptions per game against them.

Belichick owns young QBs with his mastery in the art of confusing them with fake looks and confusing coverage that develops into something else post-snap.

For Wilson, who in two years has been one of the worst in the league at reading defenses and processing things in game speed, he has looked especially awful against Belichick’s units. In order to win, he will need to demonstrate the best field vision and processing he has ever shown to date, which could be a tall task.

This is the main reason I think Saleh traded in one friend (Mike LaFleur) for another (Hackett) at offensive coordinator. While LaFleur’s play sheet was elite, he never really developed Wilson and usually just simplified his play calls instead of highlighting (or increasing) Wilson's skill set.

Hackett is regarded as a much better teacher and an enthusiastic schemer who aims to get the very best out of the QBs he works with.

It’s up to Wilson to use the tidbits he’s learned from Rodgers, the coaching from Hackett, and his real-life game experience to make the right decisions and get his feet in the right spots to make the most accurate throws possible.

In both of his seasons so far, the first Patriots game was the one at home where he combined for seven picks compared to zero picks in those road games.

With this game at home, the first one against the Patriots this season, he has an opportunity with a new OC and the best weapons of his career (including at least one stud RB) to finally buck a horrifying trend in his career.

The obvious goal here is protecting the football, but if he can also manage over 60% completion against this unit, it will go a long way toward securing victory.

For reference, he has never had over 60% completion against the Patriots. In this year’s Week 1 win against the Bills, he had a very respectable 66.7% completion. In the blowout loss against the Cowboys last week, he had a terrible 44.4% completion.

60% completion and zero giveaways should win the game if the rushers amass 90+ yards and the defense gets takeaways. That might sound like a lot, but given the expectations and talent on this roster, these are very modest thresholds to accomplish. Let’s go Jets!