Robert Saleh, Jets Have a Mess on Their Hands: ‘Definitely Been a Regression’

Zach Wilson Jets

Getty New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (2) calls an audible.

Welcome to Heavy In The Trenches, a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy’s NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.

Robert Saleh and the New York Jets have a mess on their hands.

Sunday felt like the Nadir of Zach Wilson’s career as the Jets’ starting quarterback and his status as one of the team’s leaders.

Against the New England Patriots, Wilson completed only 9 passes for 77 yards, leading a Jets offense that managed only 6 first downs and 103 yards of total offense all game, in a disastrous 10-3 divisional loss.

New York averaged a pathetic 2.1 yards per offensive play against the Patriots, including 2.7 inches per play on 27 second-half offensive snaps, according to CBS Sports.

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Now 20 games into his career, Wilson offers zero resemblance to a quarterback worthy of being chosen No. 2 overall in the NFL draft, as he was in 2021. And, Wilson’s lack of development is decidedly holding back a young and talented roster that should be capable of competing today.

“His decision-making,” an NFL offensive coordinator whose team recently played the Jets told Heavy is what’s holding Wilson back. “He forces way, way too many plays. The problem is that he plays everything like it’s backyard football and he can’t read a defense.”

Wilson’s dreadful performance in New England led Saleh to leave the door open to Mike White starting Sunday’s Week 12 game against the Chicago Bears, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported on November 23. After spending the past two seasons making the entire football operations wing of Florham Park, New Jersey centered on Wilson’s development, the decision to consider moving on feels like one that could and should be irreversible.

Despite a roster that includes playmakers such as first-round rookie receiver Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, running back Michael Carter and steady tight end C.J. Uzomah, Wilson has completed just 35.5% of his passes of 15 or more air yards, according to Football Outsiders, only Carson Wentz and Kenny Pickett have completed fewer.

When the Jets have counted on Wilson to extend drives, he’s come up the smallest. On third down and 7-plus yards, Football Outsiders points out Wilson is just 14-of-30 for 171 yards with 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and has been sacked 5 times.

Potentially worse than Wilson grading out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 39 ranked quarterback in the NFL, the 23-year-old’s refusal to take accountability following Sunday’s game when he responded “no,” after being asked if his performance let the defense down, has the chance to destroy his standing in that locker room.

“I think Zach unprepared, and lost mentally,” Heavy contributor and the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year Randy Mueller said. “He looks, but he doesn’t see from the pocket. His physical errors were bad on Sunday, but mental stuff bothers me most.

“His strengths in college were his instincts, anticipation, and accuracy, so there’s definitely been a regression.”

There is a feeling inside the league that Wilson shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for the Jets’ failures.

“It comes down to the coaching,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy.

As a second coach points out, the Jets don’t have a coach on staff with experience developing a young quarterback.

Mueller believes there is plenty of blame to go around for Wilson’s struggles, including echoing the coach’s concerns about the Jets’ coaching staff.

Saleh is a former defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur had Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, and Jets quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese’s most extensive work with a young quarterback came with Drew Lock during his time with the Denver Broncos.

For the sake of the Jets’ future, Saleh and the organization need to realize that at 6-4 there is a meaningful chance of reaching the postseason to garner meaningful experience for a young roster, but that Wilson seems wholly incapable of leading New York there.

It is never easy to admit missing on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, but the sooner the Jets admit Wilson isn’t the guy and course-correct, the healthier the organization is going to be in the future.

Matt Lombardo Column


Week 12 NFL Power Rankings

1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-2)

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)

3. Buffalo Bills (7-3)

4. Miami Dolphins (7-3)

5. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

6. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)

7. Tennessee Titans (7-3)

8. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)

9. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

10. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

The Matt Lombardo Show


Quote of the Week

“Suh and LJ, they’ve played a lot of ball and they’re smart individuals. They understand what’s going on. Once they put it in their language, it was, Hey, go out and play. And that’s what they did. It was good to get those guys in here, and they played well.” Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon

It remains to be seen just how much of an impact Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph will make on a rush defense that has suddenly become the chief vulnerability of the 8-1 Eagles.

But, their impact on the team’s future has the chance to be transformative.

Joseph has a Super Bowl ring on his finger, Suh does, too, and the pair of veteran defensive linemen with 364 combined games of experience now reside in the same meeting room as first-round rookie Jordan Davis, 23-year-old former third-round pick Milton Williams, and second-year tackle Marlon Tuipulotu.

Imparting over a decade’s worth of experience each on the players who make up the future of the Eagles’ defensive line is going to prove valuable long after Suh and Joseph play their final snap this season.

Likewise, general manager Howie Roseman signing Joseph and Suh further signals to the rest of the locker room that this is a team that is decidedly all-in on bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to the City of Brotherly Love for the second time in five years.

Sunday in Indianapolis, Suh and Joseph combined for 1.0 sack, and 7 total tackles, while offering a possibly encouraging glimpse into the Eagles’ immediate future by playing a starring role in holding All-Pro Jonathan Taylor to just 84 yards and 1 touchdown, 49 of which came in the first quarter.

Prior to Week 11, the Eagles surrendered 152 rushing yards to the Washington Commanders, in Philly’s lone loss of the season, and 168 the week prior in Houston against the Texans. Suh produced a 67.4 run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus in his debut, while Joseph logged a 75.9.

Adding Suh and Joseph also gives the Eagles the added benefit of insane depth along the defensive line. Now, Gannon can rotate in two more veterans to keep the likes of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Josh Sweat fresh. Especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations where it’s all but certain opponents are going to attempt to use their running backs as a battering ram to extend drives or put points on the board.

Suh and Joseph strengthen the Eagles’ culture, significantly, by adding two more proven veteran voices. If the second half of the season that features matchups against Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard proves as successful as the Eagles’ bombastic first, the new additions may prove integral to Philadelphia’s Super Bowl chances.


Final Thought: Tony Pollard’s Future With Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys’ 40-3 beat down of the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 11 was the blueprint for what makes this team dangerous when it’s firing on all cylinders. But it may also have served as a glimpse into Dallas’ future.

Running back Tony Pollard, a key contributor since his arrival in 2019, has seen his piece of the offensive pie increase this season alongside Ezekiel Elliott, and Sunday was one of Pollard’s most dominant performances yet. Pollard rushed for 80 yards, caught all 6 of his targets for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Elliott chipped in 42 rushing yards with 2 touchdowns.

Pollard, set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, just as he is becoming an integral component to the Cowboys’ offense, far more valuable than simply Elliott’s understudy.

Don’t be surprised if Dallas uses the franchise tag on the 25-year-old and restructures Elliott’s contract to lower his cap number and keep both in Arlington.

Just as Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy seems to be borrowing a page from the Cleveland Browns’ offense, deploying a two-headed monster out of the backfield, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys could this offseason replicate how the Browns have handled backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The Cowboys are going to need to do some creative accounting to keep their star-studded roster intact, anyway, with Dallas expected to have only about $2 million in cap space this offseason as of writing.

With the 2023 franchise tag projected to cost $9.57 million for running backs, and Elliott scheduled to collect $10.9 million in 2023 while counting $16.7 million against the cap, tagging Pollard and asking Elliott to take a pay cut may prove the easiest way to keep both backs in place in 2023 and beyond.

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