The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have begun final preparations in advance of their first head-to-head in 2022. The Jets are huge darlings this season, boasting a surprising 5-3 and tied with the Miami Dolphins for second place in the AFC East. Head coach Robert Saleh has done a terrific job with the team, and there’s a lot of young talent that could well-position the Jets to contend for the division and beyond in the years to come.
Chief among those players is rookie running back Breece Hall, whose loss to a season-ending injury cannot be understated and is perhaps the biggest storyline surrounding the Jets this season. He was the team’s heart on offense—a bonafide stud capable of scoring at any moment—and he had a real chance at winning offensive rookie of the year honors. His loss has the Jets scrambling to replicate the same sort of magic that brought them success this fall.
To get ready for this weekend’s game, I chatted with Gang Green Nation’s deputy manager, MacGregor Wells about the running game moving forward, the oddly tenuous situation at wide receiver and quarterback, injuries along the offensive line, and the Jets’ outstanding defensive unit—one of the best in the NFL, even without adding defensive end Bradley Chubb.
Can we expect to see a run-heavy approach featuring newly acquired running back James Robinson—if no, what has offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur done to offset the loss of Hall, Vera-Tucker, and Becton?
Well, I’m not sure I can reliably speak for LaFleur, but if I was Jets offensive coordinator, I would certainly choose a run-heavy approach. The Bills have the best defense the Jets have seen this year, possibly the best in the NFL, period. This isn’t the game for the Jets to go pass happy with a struggling young quarterback in Zach Wilson. This is a game where the Jets’ best chance of victory lies in playing it close to the vest, avoiding turnovers, and hoping the Jets’ defense can create some turnovers of their own. Trying to turn this into a shootout is probably a good way to ensure the Jets get blown out. I’m not too sure James Robinson will be the featured back. My guess is Michael Carter will be 1A and Robinson 1B for the game on Sunday.
To the uninitiated, what’s at play with regards to disgruntled wide receivers Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims—and is the situation too far gone to repair things even though they weren’t dealt by the NFL’s trade deadline?
The situations for Mims and Moore are somewhat different.
For Mims, he hasn’t really earned a lot of playing time. While there is good reason to think he should be higher on the depth chart and active on Sundays, he still is not good enough to get very many targets when all the Jets’ receivers are healthy. At best he is WR4 on a healthy Jets team, behind Corey Davis, Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore. In a run-heavy Jets offense with good pass catching backs and decent pass catching tight ends, there aren’t a lot of targets to go around for a WR4. So while Mims should probably be active on game days, and he has not been, even if he were active he wouldn’t be making much of an impact when the Jets wide receivers are all healthy. In addition, Mims has consistently made mental errors that have been costly to the Jets. It’s difficult to justify a lot of playing time for a guy who keeps on proving he can’t be trusted to know and execute his assignments. Mims has physical talent, but he just has not shown enough on the field to justify playing him over more reliable options. I don’t think things are too far gone with Mims to repair things. He has requested a trade, but he hasn’t been otherwise disruptive or any problem at all. He continues to work hard and be a good teammate. If he got more playing time and had a bigger role in the offense I think Mims would be fine playing for the Jets. The problem is he hasn’t earned it, and unless the Jets cut or trade Moore or Davis next year Mims will likely continue to be largely a benchwarmer. It’s possible the Jets cut or trade Mims next year, but I don’t get the sense the Jets are all that eager to do so, so probably this will just linger unless and until injuries, trades or cuts give Mims a chance to earn a bigger role in the offense.
Elijah Moore is a different case. Moore came into this season expecting to be the WR1 in the Jets offense. It hasn’t worked out that way. Frankly, he hasn’t earned it. Both Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis have substantially outplayed Moore this year. That has left Moore the WR3, and he has been very unhappy in that role. The Jets haven’t handled things well, bringing Moore back last week only to apparently punish him by giving him only 10 snaps. That seems petty and counterproductive. It also seems likely to push Moore to the point of permanently damaging the relationship. Moore hasn’t handled this well either, constantly tweeting out disruptive comments and then deleting them. This relationship seems like it could easily deteriorate to the point the two sides both decide it’s best to move on. For now, if the Jets decide to make an effort to get Moore more involved in the offense, especially with Corey Davis currently sidelined with a knee injury, perhaps a larger role for Moore will allow the Jets and Moore to work things out. But the larger issue remains that Moore sees himself as a WR1 and on the Jets, if all the receivers are healthy, Moore is the WR3. In addition, the Jets run-heavy offense and plethora of pass catching options at running back and tight end as well as receiver mean that nobody is likely to be getting huge numbers of targets on this team as the Jets spread the ball around. Ultimately it feels like the Moore situation is probably headed for an ugly divorce. If the Jets can get decent compensation I think a trade next season is pretty likely, unless Corey Davis is cut or traded, opening up more opportunities for Moore.
Zach Wilson is struggling this season. Do you believe it’s a combination of the wide receivers and offensive line rooms both being in flux, or are Wilson’s issues deeper than the personnel around him?
I don’t think Wilson’s struggles can be blamed on the Jets’ weapons in the passing game. This is by far the best set of weapons the Jets have had on offense in years. The Jets have multiple legitimate playmakers at wide receiver and running back, along with a couple of decent tight ends. While the Jets’ offensive weapons aren’t at the very top of the league, they are more than good enough for a young quarterback to succeed with.
The offensive line has been a bigger issue, with Mekhi Becton, George Fant, Max Mitchell and Duane Brown all missing time at offensive tackle. That’s the team’s top four tackles, leaving the Jets with third string guys trying to hold the fort. It hasn’t been pretty. Now Alijah Vera-Tucker, a promising young guard who was switched to tackle out of necessity, is done for the year. The line is a problem, but it has not been so bad Wilson has no chance. Much of Wilson’s struggles are Wilson’s issues. He’s a young, developing quarterback who struggles with mechanics, accuracy, reading defense, and getting the ball out quickly enough. His biggest issue has been working under pressure, where he has been by far the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. Perhaps he will ultimately outgrow those issues, perhaps not. For now Wilson is a work in progress. Outside of a spectacular fourth quarter against the Steelers earlier this season, Wilson has done little to inspire confidence. We’ll see how he develops the rest of this year. I expect for this game the Jets will play a very conservative offensive game against an outstanding Bills’ defense that puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback. If the Jets can manage to keep the game close, we’ll probably see a lot of max protect packages and a lot of running the ball as the Jets seek to minimize Wilson’s mistakes in this game.
As a follow-up—has the fan base shown a desire to make a change at QB, given the team’s opportunity to break the playoff drought?
It’s always tricky figuring out the views of the fanbase at large. Typically only a small fraction ever make their views known publicly by, for example, commenting on Gang Green Nation. I can say that of those who comment on our site, though Wilson has his defenders, the majority seem to be getting increasingly concerned that Wilson is not going to be the long-term answer for the Jets at quarterback. As for benching him, the alternatives (Mike White or Joe Flacco) are unappealing enough that most commenters don’t think that will do much good. There are some who are very vocal in calling for the Jets to move on from Wilson already, but I would say they are in the minority. As painful as Wilson’s play can be at times, the alternatives at quarterback for the Jets don’t really inspire much confidence that they would give the Jets any better chance at winning.
Who are two under-the-radar players Bills Mafia should get to know on both sides of the ball?
On offense the Jets have been increasingly turning to tight end Tyler Conklin. He may play an outsized role in the passing game for the Jets on Sunday, if he isn’t being kept in all day in max protect packages. On defense Sauce Gardner has been getting plenty of positive reviews as a budding shutdown cornerback, but I think the Jets other outside cornerback, D.J. Reed, has been quietly just as effective, giving the Jets one of the best pair of outside cornerbacks in the NFL.
What’s behind the Jets’ defensive success this season, and was there really a need to go after Bradley Chubb—despite the team’s talent at the position, or was it just a case of trying to land elite talent?
I don’t believe the Jets were really ever in on Bradley Chubb, despite the trade rumors, nor do I believe they should have been. The Jets have an expensive and effective edge rusher on one side in Carl Lawson, and they just spent a 2022 first round pick on another edge rusher they really like, Jermaine Johnson. In addition John Franklin-Myers is an above average edge rusher who swings inside at times and plays on the edge at other times. The Jets also have Bryce Huff, who in limited snaps is leading the NFL in pressure %. It makes little sense to spend a first round pick and take on what will undoubtedly be a huge new contract to add Chubb to the mix.
The current DraftKings line has the Jets as 12.5 home underdogs to the AFC East-leading Bills. Do you agree with this line, or should the Jets be getting more respect on their home turf—especially considering the way the Green Bay Packers ran all over Buffalo on Sunday Night Football?
It’s hard to argue the Bills should not be big favorites against the Jets. The Bills are probably the best team in the NFL. Winning this game is a very tall order for the Jets. But the 12.5 point spread against the Jets in East Rutherford seems a bit much. For example, I believe the Bills were favored by less last Sunday in Buffalo against a Packers team that had a worse record than the Jets, had been blown out by the Jets, and were at the time in the throes of a long losing streak. It’s difficult to understand why that Packers team, on the road, was a better bet than this Jets team, at home. But the bottom line is, whatever the spread is, nobody doubts that this Bills team is extremely tough to beat, and should probably be favored in every game this year. Point spreads don’t matter; it’s all about winning, and winning against the Bills ain’t easy.
My thanks to MacGregor for such an engaging discussion. This weekend’s game is sure to feature some fantastic matchups, especially the Bills’ offense facing off against the Jets’ defense. Be sure to head over to Bleeding Green Nation to read my half of the discussion with MacGregor!