Heading into their bye week at 1-4, the New York Jets and QB Zach Wilson need to find a way to fix their slow starts to NFL games and do so quickly. With the Jets yet to score a single point in the first quarter, they are finding themselves in a hole early and putting more pressure on Wilson and the offense to chase the game.
Zach Wilson has led this offense to just 13 first-half points in 2021
New York’s issues are not just limited to the first quarter — the entire first half has been a problem. Just 13 of their league-worst 67 points have come in the first 30 minutes. If we total up all their first-half performances, this is the line we are left with: 124 plays, 396 yards (3.2 yards per play), 14 punts, 1 touchdown, 2 field goals, and 6 interceptions.
There is no way to sugarcoat it — those numbers are a major problem for the Jets’ offense heading into their bye week. Only one of those interceptions has come when the Jets are trailing by more than a touchdown. Therefore, it is not as if Wilson is desperately trying to make plays chasing the game. He is just making bad decisions, as well as getting some bad luck along the way.
Against the Falcons in London, you could feel the desperation when Wilson turned the ball over. Once again shut out on two first-quarter drives and having gone down 10-0, Wilson tried to force the ball to Keelan Cole and was picked off by Jaylinn Hawkins. Fortunately, Wilson’s defense bailed him out by forcing a fumble, but it was a clear sign of frustration from the young QB.
Both Robert Saleh and Wilson acknowledged the issue in the postgame press conference
Unsurprisingly, the first-half struggles were a big feature of the postgame press conference for both Saleh and Wilson. When questioned about the play-calling in the first half, Saleh pointed towards the game situation more than the plays being called.
“There are some shots down the field, but you can only take what the defense is giving you, which leads to checkdowns which leads to the intermediate stuff.
“Credit to their defense,” Saleh said. “They play a lot of two-high, which does not warrant shots over two-high safeties. But when they got a little bit more aggressive in nine coverage, the shot allowed you more. It’s all based on what the defense is willing to give you and I thought we did a good job.
“We just couldn’t get momentum going and we couldn’t convert on some third-and-shorts, and defensively we just couldn’t get off the field. So there was no chance for anyone to get into a rhythm in the first half, and then the second half it started to pick up. Defense gets the stop and offense starts moving the ball, and too little, too late.”
Signs of encouragement for the Jets’ offense once again in the second half
Wilson also acknowledged the concerns and pointed to how the offense needs to take encouragement from what they have been doing in the second half.
“I really think it’s the way we’re starting. I don’t know what it is. We have got to figure that out over this bye week, how to fix that. I’ve got to play better at the start as well.
“It’s interesting, in the second half, right, every single game, we have looked really good and we know what we’re capable of and we were able to show it there at the end. I just think we have to get a good rhythm going, some flow. Starting three-and-out isn’t the way to do it, sitting on the sideline.”
Wilson also defended the offensive play-calling and the preparation that they are getting with the coaches.
“So I’d say that’s what we have to get better at, because we have the tools. Coaches are putting us in a good position and obviously we’re able to move the ball down the field. And it’s interesting because in those two-minute drives, I feel like confidence for everybody is higher than ever so we have to start the game that way.”
Could the Jets look outside the organization to kick-start their offense?
While Wilson defended the coaches and Saleh defended the play-calling, the Jets may need to start self-scouting their offensive coordinator. Mike LaFleur has spent time working under Kyle Shanahan since their time together in 2014.
In San Francisco, LaFleur was the passing game coordinator for four years. He was also the wide receivers coach for two seasons. However, Shanahan always retained the play-calling duties in San Francisco. Therefore, this is really LaFleur’s first exposure to making calls on the field during a game. That responsibility could be part of the problem for the first-time offensive coordinator.
The scripted plays have simply not worked. Interestingly, that is the element that LaFleur probably did have a hand in with San Francisco. However, once the Jets get deeper into the game, the flow seems to improve. The solution might be as simple as LaFleur needing to trust himself more to move away from the script earlier.
If there are concerns around LaFleur’s game management, the Jets may need to turn to an experienced offensive coach to help them. For example, we saw Gary Kubiak step into an offensive advisor role in 2019 to support Kevin Stefanski in his first year as Vikings OC.
Could the Jets turn to a somewhat familiar face to help LaFleur and Wilson?
The Jets might be wise to look at something similar themselves. The most obvious name would be Mike Shanahan. Having worked with Kyle in San Francisco, LaFleur would have plenty of concepts Mike Shanahan is familiar with.
At the age of 69, could the Jets talk Shanahan into providing some mentorship to their young OC? It would be an intriguing move to make during the season. Nonetheless, with a young QB in his first year in the NFL, New York’s front office should at least consider proposing the idea to Saleh and LaFleur.
The problems are not all on the play-caller, to be sure. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson has the third-worst differential between expected completion rate and actual completion rate this season at 7.3%. He is making mistakes and they are costing his team.
However, that comes back to the experience of the coaching staff. Do they have a person on staff to help them develop Wilson’s skills? If not, someone with that experience could be the difference between Wilson succeeding or turning into yet another failed Jets QB prospect.