The New York Jets did not fix all their problems on offense simply by replacing Zach Wilson with Mike White at quarterback. Their offensive issues run much deeper than one player or one position.
In the words of coach Robert Saleh, their running game has been “putrid.” Games are being lost at the line of scrimmage where Jets lineman are not winning nearly enough battles.
“It all starts up front,” Saleh said Wednesday.
It sure does.
The offensive line is not opening holes for the running backs, and the pass protection has been so bad that White looked like a piñata against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14. White sustained fractured ribs in that game. That led to Wilson returning to start the past two weeks. Wilson was not good, but the line did him no favors either. Plus, Wilson would not have been playing in the first place had the line sufficiently protected White.
Mike White gets some work in at Jets practice: pic.twitter.com/TAGboNs5Oq
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) December 28, 2022
Injuries on the line have played a major role in its struggles. But that’s no excuse for their big-ticket free agent guard Laken Tomlinson, who has been healthy all season, to have a 46.3 run-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus. Or for center Connor McGovern to have allowed 10 QB pressures the past two games.
“The O-line as a whole doesn’t feel great,” McGovern said after their 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday. “We all know it’s on us to perform better.”
Running game holding Jets back
There’s no question the dynamic of the Jets’ running game changed when Breece Hall tore his ACL in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos. The rookie was a home run threat, as advertised, averaging 5.8 yards per carry with four touchdowns in seven games.
The Jets were 5-2 with Hall in the lineup and are 2-6 without him. They’ve rushed for 100 or more yards three times since his injury, including in each victory. But the past three weeks have been the worst. The Jets rushed for 76, 50 and 66 yards, respectively, over the last three games. Last week, backup QB Chris Streveler accounted for 54 of their rushing yards. New York ran the ball five times, in poor weather conditions, in the first half.
The Jaguars, and other teams, are loading up near the line of scrimmage daring the Jets to beat them through the air since they’re so sure they can stop the run.
“For sure, teams are stacking the box and are daring us to throw it and beat them that way,” Saleh explained. “You’ve got to earn the right to back them off … you’ve got to be able to run the football.”
"You've got to earn the right to back them off"
Robert Saleh talks about teams stacking the box to stop the Jets' running game: pic.twitter.com/Kx6jBRVMNe
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) December 28, 2022
The Jets haven’t been able to do that recently. Undrafted rookie Zonovan “Bam” Knight has gotten away from being the punishing north-south runner who was having success after Hall’s injury. Michael Carter has been a big disappointment. He’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season and in his past five games has 66 yards on 25 carries. James Robinson has contributed nearly nothing since being acquired from the Jaguars, while Ty Johnson is an afterthought.
New York’s success early in the season was predicated on a shut-down defense and strong running game on offense. The former is still in play. The latter has vanished.
Furthermore, relying on a package of plays built specifically for Streveler to awaken the run game is not the answer, either.
Need positive plays on first down
Erratic quarterback play by Wilson, a stagnant running game, penalties and sacks have too often put the Jets in terrible down-and-distance situations. During their struggles, the Jets have been brutal on first down. That has swung the advantage to the opposing defense because New York is far too often in second- or third-and-long.
“Negative plays on first down are backbreaking,” Saleh explained. “It’s not impossible to get out of that but … it’s been a common theme for us … you’re putting yourself at such a disadvantage.”
The Jets are 28th in the NFL in third-down conversions (34.1 percent) and 26th in total first downs. They had only 10 first down against the Jaguars. In Week 11, they managed six against the New England Patriots.
One of the reasons for that is the Jets are too often facing third-and-long situations.
It’s impossible for the Jets to fix all that ails them offensively. Yet, if they can find some traction with White returning to the lineup this week against the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets can still make the playoffs. Win out the final two weeks and have the Miami Dolphins defeat the Patriots this week and, incredibly, the Jets are in.
Their season depends on the offense holding up its end of the bargain.