JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
New York Jets senior reporter Eric Allen on the Jets' matchup with the Jaguars at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday at 1 p.m.
Question: The Jets, under first-year Head Coach Robert Saleh, are 3-10 with three consecutive losses. What is the state of the Jets entering Sunday?
Answer: Saleh was asked this week, "How much do you guys need a win?" He talked about winning always being first, but he doesn't want to put the whole cart in front of the horse, meaning he wants to keep the main thing the main thing. For him, that's finding teachable moments with a young team whether that means winning or losing. Saleh has said, "I want to win these [final] three games more than anybody," but at the same time he wants this young group to experience different teachable moments down the stretch. He should get just that, not just facing the Jaguars – but then against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and [quarterback] Tom Brady [in Week 17] and against a Buffalo Bills team [in the regular-season finale] that could be playing for the AFC East title or to stay alive in the AFC playoff race.
Q: The Jets selected quarterback Zach Wilson No. 2 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Where does quarterback stand for the Jets right now?
A: Two of the past three games, the Jets have come out smoking out of the gates. That speaks to development not only from not only Wilson but the offense and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Early in the season, the Jets weren't getting anything going in the first quarter. We've seen glimpses from Wilson of what he can be. I think he would be the first to tell you he hasn't put it together for four quarters this year. Wilson has had an up and down year. He was hurt for four games with a (posterior cruciate ligament) sprain and came back in the lineup. It has not been a steady road, but I don't think he or the Jets expected that.
Q: And overall, they feel good about Wilson?
A: Yes, I truly believe that. He's 22. He came out after his junior year at Brigham Young. He had the PCL sprain. The numbers aren't off the charts, but he's a bright kid who's soaking it all up. Sometimes the result isn't there, but they see things on the practice field. They love his approach. That's something Saleh has reiterated throughout the year – that he (Wilson) gets it in terms of his mind, the process. Again, there have been flashes this year. He has the ability to make some throws that are just jaw-dropping. There are some adverse things that have happened down the stretch. For him, it's playing four quarters.
Q: What are the Jets offensively when they're right?
A:Balanced. They talked all offseason about how this offense is predicated on running football. It's all predicated on making hay in the run game, and when the Jets have been successful offensively, they have had balance. They can do some play action with Wilson. They can get him on the move. He's very effective with his feet. When things go awry, the Jets get behind in games and then you're forced into a situation where you put the ball up a lot and teams are teeing off – and they can dictate what they're doing. The Jets have taken steps in a positive direction in terms of starting well, but they also have run it pretty effectively over the last few weeks. It's balanced. When you get those rush attempts up, it's likely you're going to have success.
Q: Where are they defensively?
A: The big issue for the Jets of late has been the run defense. They went into last week against Miami – a team that had struggled to run all year – and the Dolphins put up nearly 200 yards on the ground. When games have gotten away from the Jets defensively, you have seen teams have traction on the ground. What the Jets are very excited about is their defensive backfield. That was one of the biggest question marks heading into the year, and they've been juggling people at safety, but the play of the cornerbacks has really been a revelation. Bryce Hall, a 2020 fifth-round pick out of Virginia, has been the top cornerback here and leads the team in passes defensed. Michael Carter, a rookie from Duke who they drafted in the fifth round, has played strong at the nickel and Brandin Echols – another Day Three draft pick [in the 2021 NFL Draft] -- last week comes up with the pick-six against the Dolphins with three pass breakups. The play the young secondary has really stood out. But the biggest concern of late has been run defense. What Saleh wants to do here is create havoc up front.
Q: With three games remaining, has Saleh gotten out of this season what he wanted?
A: The win-loss record … nobody's happy about. But Saleh also said throughout the spring and summer, "We are riding with the young group." And if you look at the snaps, the Jets have had the most snaps played by rookies in the National Football League. While you want the wins, the Jets have to figure out who their pieces are moving forward. That meant putting these guys in situations and living with the results knowing that long term it's going to help. For the Jets, it's to continue to get these young guys different experiences and get reps for everybody – most notably Zach Wilson.