The overlooked plays that should have Jets excited about Zach Wilson

The Jets notched their first victory of the season on Sunday, a dramatic 27-24 overtime upset of the Titans. Here are some thoughts and observations from the game:

1. Zach Wilson had a few highlight throws in the win over the Titans, and those should get fans excited. But I’m going to guess what had the coaches happiest after this one was the throws he made in rhythm. Wilson seemed to find a comfort level in the second quarter, and began to anticipate throws and get the ball out quickly.

The game really turned for the Jets on the series after Wilson’s interception. He found Corey Davis for a 13-yard completion on third-and-10, and then the Jets started to look like an NFL offense. He followed that up with a 30-yard pass to Davis. Mike LaFleur then called a hurry-up. I have been a proponent of the Jets using some tempo to help Wilson get a rhythm going, and it seemed to work. He hit Ryan Griffin for 8 yards and Ty Johnson for 6 yards two plays later. You could see LaFleur starting to feel it, too, calling a run to Braxton Berrios for 9 yards. The drive ended with Michael Carter scoring from the 2 as his teammates pushed him into the end zone. Wilson said you could feel the tension lift after the touchdown.

This was a huge development for the Jets to see Wilson growing and getting comfortable in the offense. Even the interception was a positive to me. He anticipated where Davis was going to be and got the ball out quickly. If Davis had not fallen down, that could have been a nice gain.

Zach Wilson throws a pass against the Titans on Oct. 3, 2021.
USA TODAY Sports

Look, the improvisational throws and magic to his game are going to be what makes Wilson fun to watch, but the Jets can’t rely on that. Wilson has to be able to operate the offense and make throws from the pocket as well as do all the off-schedule things. Sunday was a step in the right direction in that regard. Now he has to build on it again against a Falcons defense that is not going to scare anyone. 

2. Joe Douglas has rightfully taken some heat for the 2020 NFL Draft class and how little it has contributed this year, but you also have to give Douglas credit for finding some players on the waiver wire and through post-draft free agency. This season, the Jets have gotten good production out of waiver claims John Franklin-Myers, Quincy Williams, Braxton Berrios and Ty Johnson. Undrafted free agents Bryce Huff, Javelin Guidry and Isaiah Dunn also have roles on this team. 

Franklin-Myers has become a beast up front for the Jets. They claimed him off waivers from the Rams in 2019. He recorded his third sack of the season on Sunday. Williams, the older brother of Quinnen, was all over the field against the Titans with 12 tackles and a sack. The Jets claimed him from the Jaguars last month. Berrios, a 2019 waiver claim from New England, had a limited role on Sunday, but has been a productive receiver this season with Jamison Crowder out. Johnson, a waiver claim last year from Detroit, is the team’s third-down back. 

John Franklin-Meyers sacks Ryan Tannehill on Oct. 3, 2021.
John Franklin-Meyers sacks Ryan Tannehill on Oct. 3, 2021.
USA TODAY Sports

Huff had 1 ½ sacks on Sunday. Guidry made a huge tackle of Derrick Henry in overtime. Dunn has become a player on special teams.

While some of Douglas’ big acquisitions have been slowed by injury or are having trouble getting on the field, his less-heralded moves are having a positive impact on the team. He deserves some praise for that. 

3. The Jets defense is the surprise of the season. The unit has played really, really well despite having young players all over the lineup. The defense have kept the Jets in games when the offense is struggling. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich deserve a lot of credit … but (you knew that was coming) for this defense to be an elite unit, they must start taking the ball away. They have two takeaways, both fumbles, and one was a botched handoff. They have no interceptions. They are doing a lot of good things on defense, but to be a great defense, they need to start getting their hands on the ball and setting the offense up with good field position. 

4. The offensive line took a lot of heat after Week 1 when Wilson was hit nine times and sacked six times. They have played better since, and the pass protection was strong on Sunday. They allowed just one sack in the game and one quarterback hit. Wilson deserves credit for getting rid of the ball quicker and receivers were open more. 

But as strong as the line looked in pass protection, they struggled to open up holes in the run game. The Jets had 66 rushing yards on 25 carries (2.6 yards per carry) with a long of 13. The unit clearly misses left tackle Mekhi Becton in the run game. They would be lining up to run behind Becton early and often if he were in there. Give credit to LaFleur for sticking with the run. Now the line has to reward his faith in them.

Revealing stat

If you just looked at the box score, you would not believe the Jets won this game. The Titans had more yards, more first downs, won the turnover battle and led in time of possession. One of my favorite stats to look at is total plays run. The Titans dominated the Jets, 93-60. They ran 33 more plays and lost! I looked up (on Pro Football Reference) the other times a Jets opponent had at least 90 plays and they had 60 or fewer. This was the third time it’s happened, and get this – the Jets won all three. Weird. The other times were a 42-14 win at Minnesota on Dec. 26, 1982, and a 23-15 win at Chicago on Nov. 16, 1997.

Surprising snap count

Safety Sharrod Neasman played 74 snaps in the game, a high amount for someone coming off injured reserve. Neasman had a strong training camp before getting sidelined with injury. He could have a big role on this team going forward. 

Game ball

Robert Saleh gets the game ball after his first win. Saleh has struck the right notes when the team struggled early on. He seems like the same guy day after day and was not fazed by the early panic over the way his team played. Saleh has a very young team and coaching staff. This won’t be an easy year for him, but he seems up to the challenge so far. 

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