FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Last in the first: Let’s call it like it is: Quarterback Zach Wilson has a serious case of the first-quarter yips. Second quarter, too.
In the first quarter, the rookie has completed only 10 of 28 passes for 75 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions. His QBR, the ESPN-generated metric for quarterbacks, is Blutarsky-esque — 0.7 out of 100.
You’d like to chalk it up to inexperience and say it’s just part of the maturation process — and those are valid reasons — but it’s worth noting that no quarterback in recent memory has experienced this kind of funk.
Ranking the individual seasons for qualified passers since 2000, Wilson’s first-quarter QBR is 491st out of 491, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He’s also 491st in first- and second-quarter QBR (5.6, with no touchdowns and seven interceptions).
Coach Robert Saleh said it’s just a rookie thing, that Wilson is “a tick late” with his reads and that he will outgrow this phase with more reps and more time. The coaches are hammering home the importance of footwork and eye placement, making those fundamentals the central theme for the remainder of the season.
“I think it’s getting comfortable and settled in,” Wilson said. “There’s not one thing to point at. I don’t even think it needs to be a point of emphasis because the more you put on it, the harder it becomes. I just have to go out and play ball. My mindset is I’ve got to come out ripping it from the beginning.”
2. Not-so-Philly special: Do you believe in jinxes? The Jets have been around for 62 years, but they’re still chasing an elusive “first” — a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, whom they face Sunday.
They’re 0-11 against the Eagles, which happens to be the worst record by a team against an opponent in NFL history. Among active franchises, there are only two other instances of a team being 0-5 or worse against opponent. The Houston Texans are 0-5 against the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.
“I didn’t know that,” Jets cornerback Bryce Hall said of the 0-11 mark. “What a great opportunity to change that.”
3. Hall of a change: The Jets are trying something different on defense because, well, why not?
In the last two games, Hall played both cornerback spots, moving from side to side to follow a specific receiver. He didn’t do it on every play. Against the Texans, it was mainly on third down. He called it “a huge honor and I take that very seriously.”
Previously, the coaches seemed dead-set against the idea of using a cornerback to travel, but then came 175 points allowed in a four-game span. A debacle of that magnitude has a way of impacting a coach’s mindset.
4. Roughed up: The Eagles visited Florham Park for a couple of days of joint practices in training camp, and my enduring memory — other than the oppressive heat — is that of the Eagles’ defensive line manhandling the Jets. Sunday will be a gauge to see if things have changed. The offensive line played perhaps its best and most physical game last week, so its confidence is high.
5. How to find a sleeper: The Jets are thrilled with the addition of safety Elijah Riley, whom they signed off the Eagles’ practice squad after Marcus Maye‘s season-ending injury on Nov. 4. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes work that made it happen.
General manager Joe Douglas tried to acquire Riley last season from the Eagles, according to Saleh. They got more intel on Riley from safeties coach Marquand Manuel and director of game management Matt Burke, who spent last season on the Eagles’ staff.
Riley’s New York-based agent, Alan Herman, also played a key role, lobbying Douglas on behalf of his client as far back as the joint practices. Herman felt Riley deserved to be on an active roster, and he saw the Jets as the ideal opportunity. When Maye got hurt, Herman moved quickly, wrapping up a deal before the Eagles could use a weekly practice-squad protection tag on Riley. The Eagles had used the designation every week on the first-year safety.
For Riley, it’s a homecoming. He grew up in Port Jefferson, New York, visited Jets’ training camps on Long Island and in upstate Cortland and attended a Jets’ preseason contest for his first NFL game as a spectator. He stayed in the area for college, graduating from West Point. His intelligence and passion have impressed his new teammates and coaches.
“I feel like a little kid when I’m out there on the field,” Riley told ESPN.com. “I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old. Playing at this level has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. Why not approach it with a child-like mentality?”
Riley intercepted three passes in his first two practices. Two weeks later, he was in the starting lineup.
6. Ups and downs: Saleh seems to have a good feel for making lineup changes. The most recent example was opting for Austin Walter, a mainstay on the practice squad, over former draft pick La’Mical Perine as the RB3. Saleh took a lot of heat for starting quarterback Joe Flacco over Mike White in Week 11, but Flacco gave a respectable performance.
Other promotions/demotions that have worked out: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif for Greg Van Roten at right guard; Quincy Williams for Jarrad Davis at linebacker; Riley for Sharrod Neasman/Jarrod Wilson at safety.
7. Making the rounds: Saleh, who interviewed for six head-coaching vacancies last January, is 0-1 against those teams. (The loss came against the Atlanta Falcons). He gets a chance to even his record on Sunday.
After completing a second interview with the Jets, Saleh was taken to the nearby airport in Morristown, New Jersey, and flew to South Florida to meet with the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. From there, he flew to the West Coast to interview with the Los Angeles Chargers. It was during that meeting that his phone started blowing up with word that the Jets were making an offer.
8. Jets need a Folk hero: The Jets are mired in another kicking mess, and it makes you think back to how good they once had it. The popular refrain is they blew it by not re-signing Jason Myers after a Pro Bowl in 2018, but the bad decisions pre-date Myers. They cut longtime kicker Nick Folk after the 2016 season, and he’s been lights-out for the New England Patriots since 2019.
The Jets? Since Folk, they’ve cycled through the likes of Chandler Catanzaro, Sam Ficken, Kaare Vedvik, Sergio Castillo, Chase McLaughlin and Matt Ammendola, who was cut Saturday. Next leg up: Alex Kessman.
9. Where’s the big man? Tackle Mekhi Becton is almost 11 weeks removed from knee surgery, three weeks past the original timetable for return. He’s not even practicing yet because he’s still not in shape, which you makes you wonder if we’ve seen the last of him in 2021.
10. The last word: “Clark Kent would walk around the sidewalk normal until somebody yells for help. When the play breaks down, that’s (Mike) LaFleur yelling for help. Go save him.” — Saleh on Wilson, saying he has Superman-like powers to make off-schedule plays