With Zach Wilson back under centre on Sunday there’s a renewed hope for Jets fans who were tired of watching zombie-Joe shuffle around. But for Zach and the Jets to have success there’s more to it than just improved QB play; here’s three other things that we need to see from the players, and the coaches, this Sunday.
It’s true that seeing the news that Zach Wilson is going to be playing this Sunday raised all our hopes for the upcoming game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joe Flacco has been … disappointing, so the prospect of watching another game standing behind the line looking as animated as wax replica wasn’t going to get anyone excited.
A change at QB on its own though is not going to magically make the Jets more competitive on the field, and Saleh gets that:
It is exciting to get him back out there, but at the same time, it’s not all about Zach. It’s making sure that we’re executing on all cylinders.
From what we’ve watched and analysed the last few weeks there are clearly other issues, from weaknesses that the Steelers will look to exploit, and strengths that we need to emphasise.
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1. Laken Tomlinson vs Cam Heyward
With TJ Watt out for the game with a pectoral injury the biggest threat to Zach Wilson is Cam Heyward. With Connor McDermott to his left likely needing all the help he can get from the TEs and RBs, Tomlinson will see a lot of 1:1s against Heyward in this game which should put him to the test. Tomlinson has been going toe-to-toe with Aaron Donald for years now in the NFC West so you’d hope anything else would be a walk in the park for him.
An uncharacteristically shaky start to the season has seen Tomlinson post some of the worst grades of his career. He bounced back somewhat against the Browns with a much more solid game in pass protection allowing only two pressures compared to his eight against the Ravens, but he regressed again against the Bengals.
2. Breece Hall vs First Contact
With a left side of the offensive line that won’t yield many rushing lanes Hall is going to have his work cut out, along with Michael Carter, in making the run game work on Sunday. With Zach needing some time to shake off the rust I’d expect Mike LaFleur to lean on the running game early if they can establish it. Hall has an average yards per attempt of 5.3 with 4.0 of those yards coming after contact.
Hall has been threatening to break off a long run for weeks now, and this is probably the weakest run defence they’ve faced all season as the Steelers are currently 19th in DVOA against the run. With TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick both out the Steelers aren’t likely to have improved in this regard. If Hall can have his breakout game this weekend the Jets will be able to dictate the flow of the game and control the time of possession.
3. Jeff Ulbrich vs Jeff Ulbrich
This shouldn’t be a tough one for Ulbrich. Mitch Trubisky is not a good QB, and as our weekly game preview has pointed out this week, Matt Canada has not had a good start as an OC. The Jets run defence has been better than expected this season, and our CBs have shown they’re good enough to deal with receivers of the caliber of George Pickens and De’onte Johnson.
All that’s left is to see if Ulbrich is able to call a sensible game plan and give the Jets offence a chance to run the game on their own terms, rather than playing to come back from 2+ scores behind in the 2nd quarter. If Ulbrich can scheme up a game plan that allows his best players to be most effective, and give himself a bit of flexibility to respond to the flow of the game the Jets should be able to control this game.
All Ulbrich has to do now is make it to Sunday without being strangled by his own players. I’m not sure if this is part of a scheme to get him fired, but less time in front of the podium would do good Ulbrich’s career and Jets fans’ blood pressure.
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The Steelers are a well coached team, Mike Tomlin has a stellar winning record which doesn’t happen due to luck, and he’s done it with less at times that he has now. If the Jets don’t clean things up and come into this with a solid game plan they’ll have their backs against it.