Zach Wilson of the Jets, who does little about quiet concerns; AFC East Analysis

from Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

It’s getting harder and harder to imagine Zach Wilson as the New York Jets quarterback of the future. The present? Sure. His record has shown that he has been a game manager this season.

But in a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos, he struggled with that sidecar role. Yes, the Broncos defense has that effect on quarterbacks. It was uglier than that. Wilson made a number of unprovoked mistakes on simple throws that NFL quarterbacks are expected to make. He finished with the second-lowest PFF grade on the team (45) last week.

Indeed, Wilson only has one strong quarterback game. His most impressive performance came in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he helped the Jets to a win. In those 15 minutes, he was excellent: 10 of 12 for 128 yards and a touchdown. The problem? The Steelers are definitely one of the worst teams in the league. New York probably shouldn’t have been in a position where they had to mount a comeback. And then there’s the matter of Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked third-worst in passes allowed (1928).

But when you look at his larger body of work this year, you’ll see that the Jets have actively avoided relying on him.

His game against the Denver Broncos was the most striking. He did not complete a single pass that traveled 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. His average depth of field was 4.4 yards. He had a -7.7 EPA (expected points added) — meaning he cost his team 7.7 points in that metric.

Now is not the time to make a final decision on whether or not Wilson was dropped. It still has time to develop. But it’s abundantly clear that – right now – he’s not running the offense at a high level. He remains a quarterback who can’t be read and a guy who doesn’t get the coverage he needs to make good decisions. He is too dependent on his feet and his fumbles lead to turnovers and near misses.

“That’s why he’s the No. 2 pick, that’s why we’re excited about his future, but at the same time he’s got to learn when enough is enough,” coach Robert Saleh said Tuesday.

At times, Wilson seems to think he can do a Patrick Mahomes impression. He can’t.

During the pre-draft process, Wilson was touted as a uniquely talented thrower — but his accuracy issues made his arm strength irrelevant. All of this adds up to a pressing problem in New York.

They are looking at a frightening schedule ahead:

Week 8: vs. New England Patriots

Week 9: vs. Buffalo Bills

Week 10: at Patriots

Week 11: vs. Chicago Bears

Week 12: at Minnesota Vikings

Week 13: at bills

So I guess I have to reiterate that they are 5-2. This is not your average Jets team — not one that finds ways to lose. On the contrary, New York finds ways to win.

But with the Jets’ offense in need of an active game for explosive plays and total coverage, New York will need to make quick adjustments to help Wilson. Because he certainly hasn’t proven he can do it on his own. And the Jets can’t afford a midseason collapse in an AFC East that looks extremely crowded, with – arguably – three of the NFL’s best teams (including the Jets).

Let’s move on to the other AFC East conclusions.

The Jets make a deal

What the Jets gave up: A conditional 6th round pick

What the Jaguars gave up: James Robinson

Just hours after the Jets confirmed they would be without Hall for the remainder of the season, they added James Robinson, who will fit in nicely on offense with impressive play as a pass defender and tight end. And he’s not insignificant in the passing game as a receiver. He’s doing a number of the things Hall did for New York.

So GM Joe Douglas is betting the Jets can have more offensive success with another feature back. And given what we’ve seen from Wilson, Douglas is probably smart to stock up on the running back in hopes that the offense can continue to lean on that ground game. It’s a one-year rental for Robinson, whose contract expires in 2023. But he’ll be entering a deep pool of free agents. Perhaps if the Jets want to give Hall a significant recovery cushion, they will keep Robinson around this offseason, especially if they find him a good fit for the team this year.

The conditional pick will likely end up in the fifth round. If the Jets make the playoffs with a team based on their play, then this move will make a lot of sense.

Why Bill Belichick pulled Mack Jones so fast?

There will be time to check out what’s next for the Patriots and Mack Jones in the coming days. So far, Belichick has declined to name a Week 8 starter.

So let’s discuss the oddity of when and why Belichick pulled Jones on Monday night.

In the Patriots’ 33-14 loss to the Chicago Bears, Belichick pulled Jones after three series, with Jones’ final pass being an interception. Now, the Patriots coach said — in his dark way — that the situation isn’t as simple as the bench. But on the surface, it looked like this: The Patriots traded Jones for Bailey Zappé after three series.

“[Jones is] I’m not happy about it and I understand that,” quarterback Peyton Manning said on ESPN2’s telecast of the game, via MassLive.com. “That’s a tough way to play quarterback if you’re hesitant to play knowing it’s going to come out. This is difficult. I guess he didn’t know that was the deal. They trust Zappe. He has made some good decisions.

“But I hate that for a quarterback to throw an interception — we’ve all thrown them. You don’t usually go out in the second quarter after that.”

Bailey Zappé leads Patriots to embarrassing loss

Monday night proved to be a tough one for Mack Jones, who was benched in the New England Patriots’ loss against the Chicago Bears. Bailey Zappé led the Patriots on two TD drives before struggling the rest of the game. Craig Carton shares his thoughts.

Oddly enough, Belichick told ESPN at halftime that he planned for Jones to return to the game. Jones didn’t, Belichick explained, because the game turned into a blowout. After the game, Belichick said Jones’ removal from the game had nothing to do with his interception — and was not a medical decision.

Jones appears to have been on a countdown because of the ankle injury – or is in open competition with Zappe.

Zappe finished the game and was OK until the fourth quarter, when his two interceptions dampened New England’s already slim chances.

Jones handled his postgame media session with grace.

“Coach Belichick obviously did a really, really good job explaining it to me. And I knew what the plan was and the time was the time,” Jones said. “We were on the same page. No offense.”

New England has not given any indication whether Jones will start in Week 8. Belchik wouldn’t even commit to Jones as a starter when he’s healthy.

“It’s a hypothetical question, so let’s see where that is and what that is,” Belichick said Tuesday.

Not only did Belichick provide a confusing context for Jones’ suspension, but he did nothing to stabilize the narrative surrounding his two quarterbacks. Last week it felt like they had two solid options. Now it’s more complicated than that. And those complications arose when Belichick ended Jones’ night with an interception.

Jones’ ankle injury is the reason for this controversy. But Belichick has done nothing to manage him.

AFC Beast?

Bills: 5-1

Jets: 5-2

Dolphins: 4-3

Patriots: 3-4

Earlier in these conclusions I touched on a point that probably requires further investigation.

Is it crazy to think that three of those four teams are among the best in the NFL? Okay, this is a little crazy. But for now, these teams look very good.

The Jets defense is outstanding, fast and young. They were so good that they helped the offense overcome rough performances. While I think Wilson shines and fails to prove himself, the Jets remain 5-2. They win.

The Dolphins may have suffered a three-game setback without Tua Tagovailoa, but it’s clear that with their starting quarterback in the lineup, they are among the best teams in the league. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tagovailoa’s return. With Tua, the Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills – and the New England Patriots.

And we can all agree that the Bills are one of the best teams in the NFL, right? They are the best in my opinion.

Connected: Eagles, Bills lead FOX Sports’ NFL Power Rankings

Then there are the Patriots. They are the most suspect team in this division. But they have Bill Belichick, who finds a way to build winning teams even when they seem to lack talent. Belichick accidentally created a quarterback controversy by mishandling Mack Jones’ return from his ankle injury against the Chicago Bears. The season in New England could get messier. But Belichick will always be dangerous.

This division is a lot good. It will be interesting to see how many of these teams make the playoffs.

Before joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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