Expectations were always going to be low with the New York Jets this season, even with a new perceived franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson entering the fray.
But now with the 3-10 team officially eliminated from playoff contention, the last few weeks are obviously about solidifying the fact that Wilson can be the Jets’ quarterback of the future.
That has to be proven on the field, though, and not just by the words of head coach Robert Saleh ahead of Gang Green’s matchup with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
“Zach is the future of this organization,” he said. “He’s the No. 2 pick. He’s extremely talented. He has a bright head on his shoulders. He’s a phenomenal young man. These are the types of games he has to go through. He has to learn how to play football in the NFL. He has to get these reps.”
Wilson hasn’t necessarily proved that he is, in fact, the man under center for the Jets for the next decade. His numbers this season have been less than convincing — completing 56.1% of his passes for 1,741 yards, eight total touchdowns (six passing), and 11 interceptions.
In the three games since he’s returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for four games, the numbers haven’t been much better: 53.9% of his passes completed, 573 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
He’s struggled to play the “boring” football that Saleh has tried to preach since the start of the season as accuracy issues have plagued him early. Per Pro-Football-Reference, 25.1% of his throws — that’s more than a quarter of his attempts — are deemed as poor or throwaways.
Sunday brings a matchup against a Miami Dolphins defense that gave the Jets fits just four weeks ago — both on and off the field.
Rather than sticking with Mike White while Wilson was sidelined, the Jets opted to go with Joe Flacco to face a Dolphins defense that Saleh described as a unit with a “dynamic coverage system.” The Jets lost that game 24-17.
It’s a staunch test for Wilson, even if the Dolphins’ pass defense has allowed the fifth-most yards in the NFL this season. They’ve been red hot during Miami’s five-game winning streak, allowing an average of just 196 passing yards per game. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have yielded an average of just 11 points per game during that stretch.
“This is going to be a great opportunity for him to take another step in the direction we need to get this organization going,” Saleh said of Wilson.
He’ll be starting opposite Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who hasn’t had nearly as much trouble taking away some of the panache from his game to ensure some consistency.
The second-year Alabama product has completed 70.9% of his passes this season, including a monster stretch in which he’s hit on 92 of his last 118 pass attempts (77.97%). During that time, his completions average just 7.9 yards.
There could be an added onus on Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ pass game considering their backfield has been hit by the COVID bug.
Running backs Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Phillip Lindsay have all tested positive for the virus in the past week. They are not officially ruled out for Sunday’s game, but they will have to produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart to return to action.