After a surprising but understandable decision to bench a healthy Zach Wilson for Mike White, the New York Jets were vindicated in their decision when White won an unexpected quarterback duel against Trevor Siemian and the Chicago Bears, 31-10.
Siemian held his own until Darnell Mooney’s injury in the third quarter ended a lot of the opportunities that the Bears would have had to mount a comeback, which at that time, was a 14-point deficit. As a result, the Jets are just one game back in the AFC East Standings with an even divisional record. The Bears are now 3-9 on the season.
White finished the game 22 for 28 for 315 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 149.3 and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 12.69. Before Mooney’s injury, Siemian threw for 9.4 yards per attempt, completing 8 of his 12 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, resulting in a passer rating of 129.5 and ANYA of 10.76.
It helps that both offenses were run-heavy units before their backup quarterbacks came into the picture, but neither Wilson nor Fields had this kind of impact despite Fields’ recent uptick in play.
Jets Benching Zach Wilson for Mike White Impacts Wilson’s Development
It’s difficult to say what the eventual impact Wilson’s benching will have on his development. The Jets, for their part, don’t think this is the end of Wilson’s story in New York. After seeing how the story has developed with Geno Smith many years later, it’s difficult to say that they’re completely wrong.
But it very much seems like they might be looking for a medium-term solution that will result in Wilson’s improvement while still in a Jets uniform. They’re concerned that Wilson has developed a mental block, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport – a player whose nervousness has resulted in degrading mechanics and a tendency to opt into runs when given the option, even against clear pass looks.
Rapoport and fellow NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo also reported that Wilson might be overworking himself, something that we don’t see often accused of quarterback. Whatever it is, the Jets think there is an accuracy issue but not an ability issue, whatever that means.
That may just be smoke the Jets are blowing in order to salvage what they can out of Wilson, who they drafted second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Or, it could be their genuine belief. The good news is that it seems to be the correct move regardless of the long-term impact on Wilson’s development.
Justin Fields Absence From Chicago Bears Resurfaces Concerns About Running Quarterbacks
As for Fields, his absence from the lineup has reinvigorated discussions about the viability of running quarterbacks in the NFL, largely for injury reasons. This is an old canard, but there’s significant evidence that this is an overrated concern.
It’s easy to remember the running quarterbacks that lost time due to injury –- players like Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Robert Griffin — are memorable for being runners who had careers shortened or seasons limited by their injuries.
But there’s not much said about the likes of Chad Pennington, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub, Andrew Luck, and others in the NFL who have a similar playing style. Tom Brady famously missed an entire season due to an ACL injury, and Matthew Stafford was slapped with the “injury-prone” label early in his career. The most dramatic recent injuries in the NFL — Alex Smith and Teddy Bridgewater — were both pocket quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has only been the picture of health while Lamar Jackson has rarely missed games due to injury-related reasons -– instead, being sidelined more by COVID than by the concussion he suffered early on or the ankle injury that forced him to miss the final four games of 2021.
Studies on quarterback injury rates tell us that running quarterbacks are not actually at that much risk of injury when compared to their less-mobile counterparts and, in fact, may see a good deal of less risk.
More to the point, this is a particularly poor discussion for Fields. At this point in his development and in his career, there’s little reason to play Fields if you ask him to limit his running upside. Only after the Bears more intentionally committed to the threat of the quarterback run did Fields see improvement in his play — either he plays as a running quarterback or he is a liability.
Even after we see big performances from players like Siemian, there’s not much reason to think that he is going to turn into a high-level passer in this particular environment. The Bears need Fields healthy, even if they can get some good spot performances from their backups.
Luckily for the Bears, it doesn’t matter this season. They can be careful with Fields at the moment without having to worry too much because they’ve already been mathematically eliminated from the division title and are not far away from being eliminated from playoff contention entirely.
Mike White Might Put New York Jets Into Playoffs
The Jets are in the thick of the playoff race, and it might be Mike White who leads them there. All the talk about how the Jets can’t keep this pace when it comes to winning games in unusual ways with their liability at quarterback doesn’t quite go away with White under center, but it could be a good deal quieter.
White has had five games with over ten passing attempts in a Jets uniform. In three of them, he’s ended up with a passer rating better than 100, while the other two saw passer ratings below 70.
That kind of volatility might be what the Jets need. Getting a mediocre passing performance to lose a game isn’t much different than getting an awful passing performance to lose a game when it comes to the standings. Instead, the upside of high-end production might be worth the risk of a game-losing performance because of how close the division is.
The Jets have a fantastic roster, with players like Garrett Wilson, Quinnen Williams, and Sauce Gardner all playing like stars, supplemented by great position players like Elijah Moore, D.J. Reed, and John-Franklin Myers. Having someone who can take advantage of that to produce wins in a crowded AFC East could be enough to put them into the playoffs.
In this game, rookie receiver Garrett Wilson finished with 95 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie corner Sauce Gardner largely had a good game despite a highlight catch for Chase Claypool on a back-shoulder throw. The running back stable finished with 152 yards on 25 carries and got some additional support from receiver runs on top of that.
That kind of offensive support will be critical for the Jets going forward, even without star rookie running back Breece Hall. And after the season is over, we might want to evaluate White’s fit as a long-term starting quarterback more than Zach Wilson’s.