InFlight Report: Jets Crash Landing in Pre-season Game 1

August 13, 2022

Despite a strong second half performance from the backups that led to a 24-21 victory for the Jets, an ill-advised run from Zach Wilson leave Jets fan hopes for 2021 hanging by a thread.

Jets fans will be glued to their Twitter notifications over the next few days as we wait to hear if Zach Wilson will play any football in 2022.

Jets Zach Wilson injury leaves Jets fans praying - image courtesy of USA Today
Zach Wilson injury leaves Jets fans praying – image courtesy of USA Today

The pre-season game slate didn’t start how any Jets fan hoped as we rode the optimism of the last few months into the game against the Eagles. The Jets backups gave a strong second half performance that won the game for the Jets 24-21. Yet with the starters looking shaky across multiple areas and another crushing potential injury coming at the worst possible position there are questions that need to be answered over the remaining games if fans are to have any reason to tune in on a Sunday in the regular season.

Zach Wilson

This had to start with Zach Wilson as everything the Jets have built this off-season starts and ends with Zach. Every Jets fan in the world went held their breath every time he took a snap, praying for good things and no injuries. They got neither, and Zach left the game during the Jets second drive, coming up limping following an ill advised scramble on 1st down, staying in bounds rather than heading for the sideline or sliding. Zach left the field immediately under his own power and we didn’t see him again.

Medical Twitter was alive with speculation after speculation regarding the injury that turned out to be right/wrong. Before the first half was over the Jimmy G tweets had started:

What the Jets decide to do if Zach is going to be out for 2022 is going to show what the front office really thinks this team is aiming to achieve. We didn’t see Flacco tonight but it was clear watching Mike White struggle to connect with receivers that he will be the starter if they stick with the names on the current roster and make do. If the Jets do look to add another starter to the roster in Jimmy G or somewhere else it indicates that the belief is that this team has real aspirations to achieve this year.

Saleh had no updates in the post game press conference but that he is told the ACL appears to be intact, and said the plan was to wait for the MRI. Reporters tried to draw him into guesswork and hypotheticals but he wasn’t having any of it. Said his views on Flacco are well known but he was reluctant to be drawn into a discussion about what the plan will be if Zach does miss significant time.

If we get the best possible news and Zach is back in a few weeks, we have to contend with the fact that prior to leaving the field last night: Wilson did not look good. He went 3/5 on passing for 23 yards and 1 INT over 2 drives, the INT being eerily reminiscent of early 2021 Zach as he locked onto Corey Davis and Kayzir White stepped in front of it for an easy pick.

The Starters

Other things did happen in this game though.

Those of us hoping for a break out year for Quinnen Williams can feel good as he made his presence felt from the first snap, beating his man with ease and and getting pressure on Jalen Hurts. The D-Line in general looked good getting consistent pressure on Hurts, but problems in coverage meant there was always a receiver open. Despite giving up a few quick first downs, the starting defence nearly got off the field with a 3 and out on the Eagles opening drive, but Quincy Williams got flagged for a late hit on Hurts, smashing into him as he went out of bounds on a scramble.

Despite improvements being made to the Jets’s backfield this offseason, the DBs looked lost in coverage as the Eagles marched down for a TD that Goedert almost walked in after Bryce Hall fell over on the route, and Jordan Whitehead missed a tackle. Hurts had his choice of receivers though with multiple Eagles open on the play.

The pass catchers looked sharp, with Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore and Tyler Conklin getting open when they were on the field. The O-line held up well on the interior despite but looked as shaky as you’d expect at Tackle; Chuma Edoga showed why he should be nowhere near the field, or the depth chart doing poorly in the run game and in pass protection. Max Mitchell may have promise for the future but if he’s starting the Jets are in trouble. There was little to no push in the run game but Breece Hall was able to pick up 15 yards on 5 runs including a nice cut to the outside on a 3rd down to keep the drive going.

Brant Boyer continues to deliver as special teams was one positive to take from this game with the return and coverage groups both looking good. Berrios and Knight both had good returns, and Braden Mann had a solid night punting the ball and showed off those vaunted tackling skills with a stop on a kick off return by the Eagles.

The Depth Chart

With the starters finally off the field we got to take a look at the rest of the roster, which is what pre-season game are really all about. Isaiah Dunn looked sharp in coverage and almost picked off the first pass attempt from Eagles 3rd string QB Reid Sinnett. Sherwood and Clemons both flashed in the run game making their case for spots on the roster. Sherwood coming up big again as the first half closed out with a stop on 4th down.

Tanzel Smart came up with a sack (and had 2 on the night) on Minshew as the second quarter wound down as he tried to escape the pocket being chased down by Bryce Huff. Smart Huff got one of his own on Sinnett in the third quarter.

The OL held up well through the game only giving up a single sack, and Saleh singled out Nate Herbig in his post game for how well he stood up in protection. Zonovan Knight had an impressive second effort TD alongside a 50 yard kick off return to set the Jets up for the gaming winning drive. Lawrence Cager had the biggest play of the night on offence with catch and run on a pass from Chris Streveler. This set the Jets up to take the lead as Jeremy Ruckert got his first TD in a Jets uniform on a 4th and Goal. Streveler led the final TD drive of the game that culminated in a red zone catch for UDFA Calvin Jackson.

Notable Mentions

If Zonovan Knight doesn’t end up making this roster it will be a shame. The UDFA had big plays on offence and special teams. The 3rd RB spot is still very much up for grabs. This coaching staff like what Tevin Coleman can bring as a veteran presence to the team but if Knight continues to show these kind of flashes it’ll make it tough to try and stash him on the practice squad as he’ll likely get picked up off waivers quickly.

Michael Clemons showcased what he can offer inside and out in this game, giving the Jets a valuable piece alongside John Franklin-Myers to move around the line.

Isaiah Dunn was a highly paid UDFA in 2021 who made the roster in a thin CB room. This year with the addition of Gardner and Reed that will be harder to do. As much as the Jets like Justin Hardee Sr for what he brings to special teams Dunn may be able to push him out for the last CB spot.

Tanzel Smart made his case tonight for a spot on the IDL depth chart showing promise in both run and pass reps. If he can string together two more solid performances over the rest of the pre-season he could push out some of the other contenders.

Jamien Sherwood had some quality moments in the run game to put him ahead of other hopefuls for a LB behind Mosley, Alexander and Williams. Sherwood flashed some in 2021 but tonight certainly gives him the edge to the 4th or 5th LB spot on the roster.

Lawrence Cager is unlikely to make the roster given the depth at TE but he showed why another team should give him a shot for sure. The Jets will likely try to keep him on the practice squad if he puts together another couple of performances in pre-season.

Final Thoughts

Last time the Jets played the Eagles, CJ Mosley complained after the game that teams didn’t respect them. It’s unclear from tonight why that should change. Struggles stopping the run; struggles in coverage; and no consistent run game didn’t leave much to respect on the field. The starters for the Eagles had their way in 2 of the 3 phases of the game. The Jets offence showed promise but if Wilson doesn’t play or plays like he did at the start of 2021 it won’t matter, and if the defensive tendencies from Ulbrich and Saleh stay as predictable this will be a long season to watch.

Somehow the Jets won this game, but no-one will care. That’s an unfair thing for the guys who stepped up on defence and held the Eagles to single TD in the second half, and drove down the field for a winning TD in an effort to cling onto their roster spot.

Everything about the Jets season is going to hang on Wilson’s medical report over the next 24-48 hours. It is almost certain that we won’t see him play again in the pre-season, leaving us to wonder what we’ll see from him when he does play in the regular season.