The New York Jets are 200/1 to win the Super Bowl after losing to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It would take the most hopeful of fans to even imagine the Jets making the playoffs, let alone winning the Super Bowl, especially after watching their offensive line perform during the Week One opener.
It was not a great welcome for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson either. The former BYU star was forced to run all over the place and was sacked six times. He would later admit feeling "a little whiplash" as well. The offensive line is certainly the most glaring issue and, apart from offering Wilson very little protection, they also struggled to run block, as the team only gained 45 yards on 17 carries.
"We did not play well up front yesterday," guard Greg Van Roten said this week. "I think everybody's pretty frustrated just based on how we felt we should have performed based on our training camp and preseason. Definitely, we're well short of where we want to be and what our standard is as an offensive line."
Wilson, though, threw two touchdown passes in the second half but after falling behind 16-0 in the first half, it wasn't enough for a win. He will hope to come out with a win in Week Two and fans could take advantage of the best NFL lines, with the Jets 2/1 to follow Sunday's loss up with a recovery victory.
The offensive line didn't prompt much in terms of inspiration during training camp, more so joint practices with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles but it was still hard to imagine things getting this bad. The Panthers’ front seven toyed with the Jets and there were rushers who simply went unblocked while blitzers had their way.
Of course, having left tackle Mekhi Becton out wasn't ever going to help. The player is out for 4-6 weeks after dislocating his right knee during the game. The team will be moving George Fant to left tackle and deploy Morgan Moses at right tackle as a result. And there is concern that Wilson could take even more hits during the absence.
The change could also create more problems for the team, who are looking for continuity in their front line. According to Van Roten, the issue stems from not working together on the line in training camp.
Some players had to be moved in and out because of injuries; left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker missed a lot of time from camp with a pectoral injury while Becton was out for around two weeks with a concussion.
Van Roten reckons the team’s problems are neither physical nor mental.
It's more communication and trust," he explained. "Alijah missed some time in the preseason. Mekhi missed a few days in the preseason. That stuff matters as an offensive line, especially when you go into Week 1 and you're not really sure what you’re going to see on the other side of the ball. You can prepare for multiple defenses and all that stuff and then you get out there and it's live reps, bullets are flying and it's a very stressful environment. Things can snowball if you let them. You kind of saw our inexperience as a group, as a unit up front [Monday]. It's a good learning experience and you have to learn from it and we will and we'll get it corrected."
Time is against the Jets as they look for a fix, with the New England Patriots set to pay a visit this weekend. Bill Belichick will most certainly have a strategy in play to shake Wilson up, having watched his own rookie’s debut ruined in Week One.
Jets coach Robert Saleh did not blame the offensive line entirely, claiming the whole offense was responsible for the meltdown.
"I'll flat out say it, I’m standing by it, especially after watching the tape and I get grades get floated around and all that from people who aren’t in this scheme, game-planning sessions, but protecting the quarterback is a collective thing," he said. "It is not one position group's job to protect the quarterback. The coordinator has got to protect the quarterback, the O-line got to protect the quarterback, the receivers got to protect the quarterback and the quarterback needs to protect the quarterback."
"If you took, I don't know, 20-some-odd pressures that we had on the quarterback, I promise you, if you divided that up on who is responsible, you guys would see a clean divide amongst all the different position groups and even coaches."
As for Wilson, the coach fully expects the first-year QB to come back stronger in the wake of a test of fire.
"He's only going to get better from this," Saleh promised. "There were so many missed opportunities, even on his end, with regards to just letting it rip and getting the ball out. Even on his interception, he just didn't put the zip that he needed to put on it. The worst-case scenario, the corner was in great shape, he probably would've batted it down anyway. But he tossed up a lollipop. So a lot of great things for him to learn off of."