Jets Offensive Line Bounces Back but Weak Link Is Evident

Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker

Getty New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson takes a snap against the New England Patriots on September 19, 2021.

The New York Jets offensive line was downright terrible in Week 1 and they certainly faced the noise for their performance.

The unit knew they needed to bounce back with a strong showing in Week 2 and despite the final scoreline, they did. Zach Wilson saw some pressure, including four sacks and seven quarterback hits, but he wasn’t running for his life like in Carolina.

Most of the New England Patriots pass rush was a product of sound coverage and a nervy rookie quarterback that was holding onto the ball much longer than usual. The issue that everyone expected to sink the Jets in Week 2 held up and to our surprise, it was Wilson that torpedoed the franchise’s chances in the home opener with four ill-advised interceptions.

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Set 5 Starters Come Together in Run Game

After the Mekhi Becton injury, a reporter asked offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur if having five set starters may actually help with O-line cohesion. The franchise had been splitting reps between Morgan Moses and George Fant.

He concurred that it might, saying “anytime that you have the same five guys taking basically all the practice reps — Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, all through walk-through — you just naturally feel more confident” adding that you cannot “replace a guy like Mekhi.”

LaFleur was being nice and Becton will be missed but let’s be real, Moses was signed for this exact reason. You can replace the 2020 first-round pick with the combination of Fant and Moses, and that’s what makes having both tackles on the roster so valuable.

As Robert Saleh voiced boldly, the Jets have “three starters at tackle when most teams are just begging for one.” In Week 2, the two bookends made Joe Douglas look like a genius. Not only did the insurance policy keep Wilson upright more often than Becton had, but the two were able to help spark the run game as well.

Michael Carter and Ty Johnson were humming behind this blocking unit in Week 2 and even Tevin Coleman had one or two big gainers. The rookie averaged 5.4 yards per carry and the other two backs weren’t far behind him with 4.8 and 4.2.

Pro Football Focus noticed the difference too, with positive marks for the majority of the Jets’ offensive line. Center Connor McGovern made the biggest leap in Week 2, with 85.7 run grades and 76.2 in pass protection.

They also dished out nice scores for the two offensive tackles. Fant made the switch to the left side and he looked like a natural fit on the blindside with a 66.9 blocking the run and an 84.5 on the pass. Moses was well-rounded but average, with a 69.7 as a run blocker and 62.3 as a pass protector.

Even the rookie made major strides. Alijah Vera-Tucker rebounded with a 77.8 run-blocking grade, although his pass blocking could still use some work after a lousy 33.8. The 2021 first-round pick did have a solid game generally speaking with 69.2 overall, allowing three pressures but zero sacks.

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Weak Link Identifies Himself

Throughout training camp and the preseason, many believed that Greg Van Roten was the weak link of the Jets offensive line and it appears that those fans were correct. The veteran right guard has displayed positives as a team leader in the locker room, but he’s been poor on the field.

Van Roten allowed two sacks and seven pressures on Wilson in Week 2, contributing to his 34.9 pass-blocking grade. To make matters worse, he didn’t score well in the rushing department either with a 64.3.

The plan was to have a competition at guard this summer. Unfortunately, injuries handed ‘GVR’ the job. Second-year prospect Cameron Clark was among the players that went down and Alex Lewis decided to retire after a head injury.

The other candidates (Dan Feeney, Corey Levin, Tristen Hoge, Jimmy Murray, Isaiah Williams, David Moore) ranged from unspectacular to terrible. In the end, Gang Green talked themselves into keeping Van Roten as the starter and the results have been shaky, to say the least.

ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that GVR ranked 46th and 48th among guards in pass block and run block win-rate in Week 2 according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats. He was also flagged for a holding.

The offensive line has shown noticeable improvements but they’ll need a better weekly performance out of Van Roten. If he cannot hold up his end, the guard may act as an anchor for this unit’s potential, and not in a good way.

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