The ugly defeat came on the heels of an exhilarating 22-16 overtime win in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills last week. In that one, Wilson replaced Rodgers, who sustained a ruptured Achilles, and helped lead the comeback victory.
Against the Cowboys, though, there was little magic from Wilson. He connected with wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a 68-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. But there weren’t many other highlights as the 24-year-old finished 12-of-27 for 170 yards. He was intercepted on three straight drives in the fourth quarter as the Jets desperately tried to rally against the stout Cowboys defense.
"Up until we had to force it, I thought he did a really nice job"
Robert Saleh talks about Zach Wilson's play today: pic.twitter.com/Bfq4EZweVi
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) September 17, 2023
There were some positives from Wilson, however. He led the Jets with 36 yards on five carries, helping set up a late first-half field goal with his legs on several scrambles. He also stepped up in the pocket and threw the ball decisively and with good mechanics, a clear improvement over last season.
So, the results looked a lot like 2022 for Wilson, when he was twice benched as the Jets starter. But this one wasn’t really his fault. There were other far worse culprits in New York’s first loss of the season.
Let’s examine the Jets most to blame for the 30-10 loss to the Cowboys.
3. Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Listen, it’s not easy to plan all offseason to have Rodgers as your starting quarterback and then have to adjust and dummy down your playbook because Wilson is now the guy. Nor is it easy to gameplan against Micah Parsons and the ferocious Cowboys defense.
Micah Parsons absolutely lights up Zach Wilson 🦁 pic.twitter.com/USWw1y3sJm
— ✭Cowboys News✭ (@DemBoyz_News) September 17, 2023
But Nathaniel Hackett could have done a better job and been more creative in trying to buy Wilson some time and get the offense going Sunday.
There were no planned rollouts to get Wilson on the move and be proactive against a wicked pass rush. Instead, time and again Wilson dropped straight back and absorbed one hit after another. He did scramble out of trouble at times, but more often was running for his life.
The tight ends were not used effectively enough as blockers in either the running or passing games. No chipping on the edge, for example. And specifically, New York’s best blocking tight end, Jeremy Ruckert, did not play enough snaps. Tyler Conklin did lead New York with five receptions.
Breece Hall believes the Jets abandoned the running game too quickly. He had only nine yards on four carries. Dalvin Cook also had four carries, for seven yards. And Michael Carter had eight yards on two carries.
MICAH PARSONS 🦁🦁🦁 pic.twitter.com/cL0kawUFRQ
— ✭Cowboys News✭ (@DemBoyz_News) September 17, 2023
Not pretty but Hackett needed to dial up some running plays that had a chance Sunday. Or quick hit throws to move the chains. New York had the ball for only 46 offensive plays totaling 17:45 and was a pitiful 1-10 on third down.
Ultimate, players need to make plays. But Hackett did Wilson and the offense few favors Sunday.
2. The Jets defensive line
The Cowboys had the ball for 42:15 and converted on 50 percent of their third downs (9-18). Dak Prescott picked them apart with quick decisions and accurate throws (81.6 percent completion percentage). Plus, the Jets had no answers for wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (11 catches, 143 yards).
Dak Prescott to Jake Ferguson for the TD to cap a perfect opening drivepic.twitter.com/Vo4I4tI3T2
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) September 17, 2023
“We couldn't get off the field,” coach Robert Saleh lamented postgame.
The defense as a whole did not play exceptionally well and there’s blame to be shared (see: Sauce Gardner dropping a sure interception and possible pick-6). Injuries to safety Tony Adams and nickelback Michael Carter II in the first half didn’t help. Neither did a pass interference penalty by Brandin Echols in the end zone nor a pair of roughing the passer calls.
But ultimately, the Jets were pretty much manhandled at the line of scrimmage. New York was a step late in pressure all game and sacked Prescott once (Solomon Thomas), on an extended scramble. Carl Lawson, who sat out the opener to rest a sore back, was a non-factor. But outside of Quinnen Williams (five tackles, two for a loss), that could be said about most of the defensive line.
It was a big letdown after a strong showing in Week 1 against the Bills.
1. The Jets offensive line
Speaking of being manhandled, New York’s offensive line was outclassed at every turn by the Cowboys defense. Parsons was an absolute game wrecker that the Jets had no answers for and could not effectively block all game. But it wasn’t just Parsons, perhaps the best defensive player in the NFL.
Wilson was pressured on nearly 70 percent of his dropbacks. He did hold the ball too long a couple times but was under siege nearly all game. That the Jets couldn’t open holes in the run game altered their strategy and put Wilson in harm’s way until it all broke down in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line was the Jets biggest concern ahead of the 2023 season and it remains that way two weeks in. This game was lost at the line of scrimmage.