Jets’ season hinges on whether Nathaniel Hackett can salvage Zach Wilson – ESPN – New York Jets Blog


ARLINGTON, Texas — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Can he hack it? Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has gone from Aaron Rodgers‘ BFF to the Jets’ VIP. To save the season from ruin, Hackett must find a way to get consistent play out of quarterback Zach Wilson, something the previous offensive coaching staff failed to do.

Hackett can do it with scheme, of course. They’re also hoping his upbeat, reassuring demeanor can have a positive effect on Wilson, who received a sideline pep talk from Hackett immediately after his second-quarter interception in Monday night’s win over the Buffalo Bills.

One of the reasons Hackett prefers to coach from the sideline — his predecessor, Mike LaFleur, liked the vantage point from upstairs — is because he can have eye-to-eye conversations with the quarterback instead of communicating via headsets. This allows the quarterback to spend time between series with the actual playcaller, not an intermediary.

“This isn’t a reflection of the old staff — I want to be clear on that one — but Hackett is the eternal optimist,” coach Robert Saleh said.

“I’ve always argued that a coach’s No. 1 job — above scheme, above everything else — is to make their players feel like they can walk on water,” Saleh added. “That’s our job. I think he’s one of those special coaches who has that ability.”

No one expects Wilson to be that good, considering his past struggles. (His career QBR is 36, lowest among 86 players with at least 20 starts over the past 15 seasons.) The idea is to keep him from getting all wet. First assignment: He faces a fierce Dallas Cowboys pass rush, on the road, on a short week, replacing a future Hall of Famer.

“There’s still not a lot of trust there with the new offense and the new playcaller,” observed former Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, now an analyst for Prime Video. “You could see that throughout the game [against the Bills]. Once he threw that interception to [Matt] Milano, there weren’t a whole lot of others passes that were going up.”

There were 13 more pass attempts in the second half, but they were conservative in nature. Fitzpatrick acknowledged to reporters that Wilson was thrust into a difficult situation. He agreed with the Jets’ decision to keep him as the QB2 “because of all that talent. But he’s still so raw. There’s still a lot of things he needs to learn.”

This is a huge spot for Hackett, who didn’t get it done with his previous Wilson (Russell). The quarterback had a career-low 38.7 QBR for the Denver Broncos in 2022, when Hackett was head coach.

2. Spotlight on GM: No one has more at stake than general manager Joe Douglas. He drafted Zach Wilson second overall in 2021, and that hasn’t worked out so far. Nevertheless, his conviction remained strong enough to keep him as the QB2. If Wilson fizzles again, in a different role and in a new system, it will compromise the season and that wouldn’t be a good look for Douglas.

3. Five-game audition? Wilson faces a tough road. The Jets have the league’s most difficult strength of schedule over the next five games, according to ESPN analytics. That will take them up to their bye week. After that, they have one game before the midseason trading deadline.

At the bye, they can assess the quarterback situation. If they feel Wilson is holding them back, that would be the time to trade for a starting-caliber quarterback. A midseason trade is tough and hardly ideal, but it wouldn’t make sense to let a playoff-caliber roster waste away.

“They don’t have anybody else, so Saleh has to come out and say, ‘Zach is our guy,'” Fitzpatrick said. “But I also anticipate them going after somebody else and bringing somebody else in because they’re too talented of a team.”

4. Familiar face: Talk about full circle.

When Rodgers threw his first career touchdown pass — in a 2007 relief outing against the Cowboys — the defender closest to him was cornerback Nate Jones. He was in Rodgers’ face on a slot blitz. Unfazed, Rodgers zipped an 11-yard scoring pass to Greg Jennings. That was an important game for Rodgers, who, in his final season as Brett Favre’s backup, proved himself a worthy heir apparent with a 201-yard passing day in his first meaningful action.

Fast-forward to last Monday night. The field judge, standing about 30 yards away from Rodgers when he tore his left Achilles, was none other than Jones, an NFL official since 2019. Two pivotal moments in Rodgers’ career, and Jones was there. Hat tip to colleague Todd Archer, ESPN’s Cowboys reporter, for pointing it out.

5. Examining cut blocks: There’s a lot of chatter about Duane Brown‘s cut block on Leonard Floyd and whether that technique contributed to the sack that ended Rodgers’ season. The cut block is a staple of West Coast offenses. Ideally, it forces pass-rushers to lower their arms, allowing quarterbacks to throw quickly.

A current offensive lineman (not on the Jets) viewed the play this way:

“There are some offensive lines that still cut. None of this can be pointed toward Duane Brown. That was the playcall that came in. Both times Aaron ended up being hit, whether hit or pressured, was because his offensive line cut. That means it’s something that came from Nathaniel Hackett, meaning that play was called, and they asked those tackles to cut to get their hands down. The ball has to come out. … In my opinion, it’s more of a schematic type of conversation versus a guy just cutting for the sake of it.”

Hackett defended the call, calling the injury “just a very unfortunate incident.” He said Rodgers was on board with the call even though he reportedly doesn’t like cut blocks because it hampers his ability to extend plays.

6. Say cheese? Based on the NFL scheduling formula, the Jets will have one road game in 2024 against an NFC North team. That sets up the possibility of Jets at Green Bay Packers — a potential return for Rodgers. That matchup wouldn’t be too hyped, would it?

6a. Silver lining: The only upside from the Rodgers injury is that the Jets will retain their 2024 first-round pick, a nice chip to have in what is considered a strong draft. The pick would’ve gone to Green Bay if Rodgers had played in 65% of the snaps this season. The Packers will get the Jets’ 2024 second-rounder instead.

7. Mind-boggling: Rodgers’ ill-fated debut was historically abbreviated. Consider these factoids from the Elias Sports Bureau:

  • He’s the first quarterback to start Week 1 and not complete a pass all season since 1951 (Joe Gasparella, Pittsburgh Steelers: 0-for-2).

  • His one pass attempt for the season is the fewest by a Week 1 starting quarterback since at least 1950.

  • He played only three snaps (a fourth was negated by a penalty), the fewest by a Week 1 starting quarterback in the past 20 seasons.

8. Hot tip: Rookie punt returner Xavier Gipson burst on the national scene with his walk-off touchdown. At least one member of the organization — defensive end John Franklin-Myers — has known about his talent for some time.

Franklin-Myers attended Stephen F. Austin, a few years before Gipson, and keeps tabs on the players. A year ago, he was bragging to defensive tackle Quinnen Williams about this dynamic player from his old school.

“I was talking him up and now everybody sees it,” said Franklin-Myers, adding that he told team scouts to “take a look” at Gipson.

Franklin-Myers said the scouts started asking questions when he went undrafted, and he described Gipson as a humble, hard-working player. So far, he looks like a steal.

Gipson returns to his hometown this weekend. He grew up in Dallas, about 30 minutes from AT&T Stadium. He attended games as a fan, but he never played there.

9. Money for picks: With three interceptions, safety Jordan Whitehead earned a $250,000 incentive bonus, per ESPN’s Field Yates. He recouped some of the $2 million he lost by taking a pay cut in the offseason.

10. The last word: “I just wanted to take a carry from 8, man, just to get one from a great. The game cheats you sometimes. I didn’t get that one.” — running back Dalvin Cook, who played three snaps with Rodgers but got no touches.

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