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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Doug Farrar

The New York Jets have an unsolvable Zach Wilson problem

When a quarterback loses his confidence for any reason, it’s not good.

When a quarterback who has trouble reading defenses and making basic throws loses his confidence, the results can be catastrophic for a franchise.

The latter condition appears to be what the New York Jets have in Zach Wilson. In the Jets’ 19-3 Thursday night loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, head coach Robert Saleh made the call to bench Wilson early in the third quarter after Wilson had completed nine of 18 passes for 92 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 41.9. Backup Chris Streveler came in for Wilson and managed to look competent in comparison, not that it’s a high bar at this point. Nor was it a high bar when the Jets made the call to replace Wilson with backup Mike White in late November after a disastrous loss to the Patriots.

White’s health situation — he suffered rib injuries at the hands of the Buffalo Bills’ merciless pass rush and his own sub-par offensive line in Week 14 — was the only reason Wilson was starting in the first place. Wilson looked a bit less than abjectly awful against the Detroit Lions in a Week 15 loss that was as much about Saleh’s clock management than anything Wilson did wrong, but there is absolutely no margin for error in the Jets’ offense right now, and against the Jaguars, errors were all Wilson seemed to have.

“I just felt like I didn’t have any rhythm out there,” Wilson said after the loss to the Jaguars, the Jets’ fifth defeat in their last six games — they were 6-3 before their bye. “I was just trying to find some confidence out there on the field, find something to get us going, a little spark.

“We had opportunities. I have to be able to connect on those. We’re going to go back and watch it, the coaches will detail it up for us. And I just have to put my head down and try to get better. My message to the team out there was I’ve got to put them in a better position.”

Well, at least he’s taking responsibility for his role in the debacle. And the Jaguars gave Wilson all he could handle. They dropped into coverage more than they blitzed, knowing that they could beat Gang Green’s injury-depleted offensive line. They threw different coverages at Wilson from play to play, they disguised their coverage intentions extremely well, and they plastered Wilson’s receivers across the middle.

More credible quarterbacks may have struggled, never mind a guy in his second NFL season who’s still struggling with basic reads.

As for Saleh, he knows he’s got a quarterback with a crisis of confidence.

“We got time, but confidence is a big deal. It’s confidence for coaching, confidence for players, confidence in your own individual self,” Saleh said Friday morning. “I do know that he works his tail off and I’m with you. It’s a tough thing to try to overcome, but it doesn’t take much to flip confidence. He just needs to get on a little run, just a couple things happen, go his way and felt like that was happening in the first half of the Detroit game where he had a really nice first half. There was a lot of confidence, finished the half strong with a two-minute drive with a goal ball and a back shoulder or a scout on the two-man.

“We’ve got to help him. We’re not going to quit on him. We’ve got to do our best and that’s for every player in our locker room. As long as they’re wearing a Jets logo, we’re going to pour our hearts and souls into them and do everything we can to help them.”

It’s a nice thought, but as the Jets are now 7-8 and the 10th seed in the AFC, with no postseason guarantees, you wouldn’t blame Saleh for looking as intently as possible at Mike White’s timeline.

There doesn’t seem to be any clarity there, either.

“I don’t have any of those details,” Saleh said Friday. “We’ve got time. We got today, the weekend, Monday and Tuesday. So, we’re just going to let that play out. I don’t know any times or anything like that.”

The Jets do have a bit of time — they don’t play again until they travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks on January 1. Perhaps a new year will shine a brighter spotlight on a quarterback situation that has thrown this team into the tank.

Or, and especially if the need is to rely on Wilson again, it may be more of the same old, same old. Questions regarding Wilson’s future with the team — those questions that may have already been answered internally — will have to wait until the offseason. Which could start a lot earlier than anybody in the organization would have hoped.

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