Sports

Zach Wilson encounters another New York Jets castoff on his path to ‘boring’

DENVER — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. A quarterback carol: Zach Wilson is in the midst of the Charles Dickens part of the Jets’ schedule, encountering ghosts of quarterbacks past — Sam Darnold (Carolina Panthers) in Week 1 and Teddy Bridgewater (Denver Broncos) on Sunday.

Darnold and Bridgewater are a combined 5-0, with seven touchdown passes and only one interception.

Bridgewater never played a regular-season game for the Jets, but he was on the roster from March to August in 2018, ostensibly one of three quarterbacks in competition for the starting job. He outplayed Darnold and Josh McCown, but the regime at the time never viewed Bridgewater as anything more than a trade chip. He was the odd-man out, dealt for a third-round draft pick, because Darnold was the golden rookie.

Three years later, the Jets are pitting their new golden rookie against a rejuvenated Bridgewater. It’s an interesting matchup. Check this out: Wilson and Bridgewater are the two most-pressured quarterbacks in the league and they’re the two quarterbacks who hold the ball the longest, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. They’re also among the leaders in most air yards per attempt.

So, basically, they’re playing under similar circumstances, and yet the results couldn’t be more different. Bridgewater is having a career start, with a 77% completion mark, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Wilson, coming off a four-interception nightmare, is suffering acute growing pains.

Obviously, Bridgewater’s experience is the big difference in this comparison, not to mention a better supporting cast. The statistical snapshot illustrates the importance of decision-making at the quarterback position. Wilson is finding his way, learning the balance between playmaker and game manager.

The topic came up the other day in a conversation between coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas. They were talking about Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, and how everybody celebrates their spectacular, off-schedule plays. Saleh noted, “What gets lost in translation is their ability to just play boring football.”

The Jets want Wilson to play that way — safe over sensational — but that’s not his style, and they knew that when they drafted him.

2. Crowder and crowded: The Jets already have one dubious situation at wide receiver (Denzel Mims in the dog house) and you can see another forming on the horizon. What happens at slot receiver when Jamison Crowder (groin) returns? His status for Sunday is doubtful.

It’s clear from listening to Saleh that he really likes Braxton Berrios, who has filled in admirably. As for Crowder, the Jets like him so much that they made him take a $5 million pay cut. You can bet Crowder hasn’t forgotten about that.

You can see where this is going. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they trade Crowder by midseason.

3. The wire: Give general manager Joe Douglas props for using the waiver wire to his advantage since 2019. Consider:

The Jets’ leading receiver (Berrios, 124 yards) was a waiver claim. So was their co-leading rusher (Ty Johnson, 65 yards) and their sack leader (John Franklin-Myers, 2 sacks).

4. All in the family: Michael Carter is only 5-foot-8 and 201 pounds, but the guy can break tackles. He showed it last week, accumulating 26 yards after contact. His father, who played running back at South Carolina State, taught him the importance of YAC.

“I grew up with a whole bunch of running backs,” said Carter, who has two brothers who played the position. “You were made fun of if you were tackled by the first person.”

Carter had 13 touches and 33 snaps last week. Look for those numbers to remain consistent, and don’t be surprised if Tevin Coleman‘s role starts to shrink.

5. Hey, Madden! One early bright spot is the play of linebacker C.J. Mosley, who reinvented himself after missing 30 of 32 games due to injury (2019) and a COVID-19 opt-out (2020). He’s a svelte 231 pounds after dropping 15 or so in the offseason, and it’s clear that Mosley 2.0 is quicker than the old version. After a quiet opener, he responded with 10 tackles and one pass breakup last week.

“It’s been two years and I finally put some good stuff on tape,” he said.

Mosley said he feels faster, half-joking that he’d like to see that reflected in an adjusted Madden rating. For the record, his rating (83 overall) is third on the team, behind defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Marcus Maye. Mosley made a career choice in the offseason: To keep up with the program, and to be a factor in the new 4-3 scheme, he had to drop weight.

“That’s one of the things I knew I had to do to be great in this defense and to be a leader for this team,” he said. “It’s hard to lead on the sideline, it’s hard to lead when you’re tired, it’s hard to lead when you can’t run around and make plays. That’s something I knew I had to do to be right for this team.”

6. Real or mirage? The young cornerbacks, perceived as the weak link, are holding up surprisingly well. The Jets have allowed only 232 receiving yards to wide receivers, the third-lowest total in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That number is deceiving because 57 yards came on a play in which a safety got beat — Robby Anderson‘s touchdown in the loss to the Panthers.

They haven’t faced any Pro Bowl receivers or quarterbacks, so this is very much a wait-and-see situation. The first big-time test will be next week against the Tennessee Titans, when receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones come to town.

7. Dead ends: When was the last time the Jets got an explosive play out of a tight end? Johnny Mitchell? Mickey Shuler? Just kidding, of course. Ryan Griffin made a few plays in 2019, but you get the point. It’s pretty much the same old, same old. In case you’re wondering, Chris Herndon has done zilch with the Minnesota Vikings.

8. Zach & Mike: The offseason plan was for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur to call plays from the coaches’ booth. That was his preference. Then he experimented in the preseason, working from the sideline, and that’s where he has remained. Why?

“The quarterback likes him down there, which is most important,” Saleh said.

Wilson and LaFleur have a practice routine where they review the play script after each series, and the idea is to have them side-by-side so they can simulate that during games. To have that setup, Saleh said, is “gold.”

The results haven’t been gold — or silver or bronze, for that matter — but it’s important to remember this is the early stage of a growing process for players and coaches.

9. Did you know? The Jets are trying to avoid their third straight 0-3 start, which would be unprecedented in franchise history. Think about that for a second.

10. The last word: “She’ll probably kill me, God bless my mother. [She speaks] broken English, doesn’t even know how many yards it takes to get a first down and she was coaching me up on what we should tell our receivers. … You take it with a grain of salt, but I’m not afraid to absorb all the information because you never know what you might find. All of it’s worth something.” — Saleh on last week’s loss

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