February 25, 2024


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Jets, Texans used the same team building scheme with contrasting results

Jets, Texans used the same team building scheme with contrasting results

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Battle II: This will be one of those “that could have been” Sundays for the Jets and their frustrated followers.

When they watch the Houston Texans visit MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS), they’ll see a team using the same franchise-building scheme as the Jets — except the Texans executed it better. They hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and paired him with quarterback CJ Stroud, whom they drafted No. 2 in 2023. Led by a rookie coach and a rising quarterback, the Texans (7-5) have gone from doormat to playoff contender.

The Jets made a rookie quarterbacks coach in 2021, hiring Robert Saleh (Ryan’s predecessor in San Francisco) and drafting Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick. Same coaching lineage, same quarterback model, different results. The Jets are 15-31 under Saleh/Wilson, on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 13th straight year. They have used four quarterbacks in each of Saleh’s three seasons.

When asked about Stroud and Ryans, and how an elite quarterback could bolster a head coach, Saleh smiled.

“Stability at quarterback, we always strive for that,” he said. “But I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Saleh’s response – or lack thereof – tells us a lot.

The Texans hit the jackpot with Stroud, who leads the league with 3,540 yards rushing and is on pace for 5,015 yards, which would break the record set by Andrew Luck (4,374 yards in 2012). Jets players on both sides of the ball are impressed by Stroud’s talent and intangibles. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen” so much poise from a rookie quarterback, said defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, an NFL veteran of more than 20 seasons as a player and coach. “It’s amazing, the success he’s had.”

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Then there’s Wilson, who has struggled since day one. He was benched twice last year, traded in the offseason, got a second chance to be a starter when Aaron Rodgers was injured, stumbled through nine starts and returned to the bench again. Now, after the ill-fated Tim Boyle experiment, the Jets are back with Wilson, looking to him to save their season from being completely derailed.

Check out this comparison:

Wilson: 32 games, 21 touchdown passes.

Stroud: 12 games, 20 touch passes.

So much of the NFL is a business of being in the right place at the right time. If Saleh had a midfielder of Stroud’s caliber, he probably wouldn’t be in this predicament. Wilson will likely be gone after the season. Saleh is trying to avoid the same fate.

2. Relax: What should we expect from Wilson? Some of his colleagues said he was different than before. After everything he’s been through, including a published report in which unidentified team sources questioned his desire to take back the starting reins, he’s taking a no-lose attitude in what could be his final run with the Jets.

“He seems to be a little more relaxed since he got on the bench and stuff, realizing he only has a few weeks left here,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “He’s trying to make the most of it.”

The question is, can he bring that carefree but confident mentality to the game? Fans don’t care about the heroes on the training field; They want to see him on Sunday.

In Wilson’s case, the coaches want him to relax and not get caught up in the fear of making mistakes, which is inconsistent with the way he coached in his first two seasons. (Remember Saleh’s “It’s okay to be boring” quote?) From the team’s point of view, there’s nothing to lose. It’s not like the Jets are going to play high-stakes games down the stretch.

“When he plays with this mentality to let the ball break, he is a very good player,” Saleh said.

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3. Job interview: Wilson said he has not discussed his future with the organization, but he knows the truth. Essentially, it’s a five-game audition for his next job. Wilson did not dispute the idea, but insisted he was not distracted by it.

“I don’t think I need to think about it as: ‘If I do this, maybe someone will give me a chance or maybe the planes will keep me,'” he said, speaking frankly for the first time about the possibility. Of playing somewhere else. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t really matter. I’m there to help this team win.”

Given his recruiting pedigree, Wilson should be able to earn a backup job likely in 2024, and his long-term performance could determine whether he is a second or third baseman next season. Regardless, he will have $5.5 million in guaranteed salary from the Jets. Despite his struggles, Wilson could receive a fifth-round pick in a trade, according to an NFL executive.

4. Strange but true: In his last start (Week 11), Wilson moved into 10th on the Jets’ all-time passing yards list (5,966 yards), passing Geno Smith (5,962). No, the history of airplanes is not filled with exuberant passers-by. Smith could be a good role model for Wilson, a player who realized his potential later in his career after years of facing adversity.

5. Did you know? In the past six years, from Dec. 10, 2017, to now, backup quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Brett Rypien have combined for just four wins as starters — and two of them were against the Jets. Siemian did it in 2017, and Rypien in 2020, both with the Denver Broncos.

6. Allen key: Lazard seems confused by his reduced role. He went from full-time starter to a healthy zero in Week 12. He returned last week to play just five snaps in the first half. He ended up taking 31 shots, but said the only reason he played in the second half was because of Jason Brownlee’s (ankle) injury. What’s up with his game time?

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“You have to ask the coaches,” said Lazard, who had just 20 receptions.

With Brownlee out this week, Lazard could be in line to play for more time.

7. Picky, picky: Seuss Gardner has gone 18 straight games without an interception, but he doesn’t seem concerned about the drought.

“I’m having a very strong year,” he told ESPN. “But, of course, if I had the choice, it would be a crazy year.”

Gardner believes his overall coverage is just as good as it was last season, when he won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. NFL Next Gen Stats’ “closest defender” metrics suggest otherwise. For example, his coverage success rate in 2022 was 61.7% versus 51.1% in 2023.

As for the zero in the interceptions column, he attributed it to fewer goals than last season. He averages 4.1 targets per game, down slightly from 4.8 in 2022. He finished with two interceptions as a rookie.

8. Disbursement of funds: Gardner has a lot riding on the Pro Bowl vote. Based on the CBA, a player’s fifth-year option becomes worth the franchise tag if he makes two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons. If Gardner did it again, his fifth-year option (2026) would increase by about $3.5 million, per cap hit.

9. Exchange money: Remember when the Jets traded oft-injured linebacker Blake Cashman to the Texans in 2022? They got a conditional 2023 sixth-round pick in return, which seemed like an absolute steal for a player who missed 35 of 49 games due to injuries.

Well, Cashman did well for the Texans; He is their main striker. What happened to the sixth round pick? He was included last spring in a not-so-small trade — he was sent to the Green Bay Packers as part of the Rodgers deal.

10. The last word: “He’s going to be a git for a very long time.” — Rookie center Joe Tippman, their only 2023 draft pick, has seen significant playing time