The big plays from Jets quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Garrett Wilson grabbed the attention during Sunday’s epic come-from-behind win over the Browns. But it’s easy to overlook the actual reason the offense was far more functional Week 2 than it was against the Ravens.
The offensive line played a much, much better game. Against Baltimore, the o-line looked over-matched from the start, allowing 37-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco to get smacked around all afternoon long.
But against a more difficult challenge in the Browns and Myles Garrett, arguably the best edge rusher in the league, and one of the best in Jadeveon Clowney, the Jets were indisputably much improved.
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“We created a lot of explosive plays,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “And now the challenge is going to be can we do it again and can we play to that same standard because there was a lot of upset people, linemen in practice [after the Ravens loss]. Not that there was a renewed sense of urgency, but for them to come out … and execute to the level that we did, it’s going to be fun to see us stack up those days and do it again.”
There were a number of reasons for the Jets’ offensive line issues last week. The unit was playing together for the first time in a game after all the shuffling during the offseason. They also didn’t know what to expect from a Baltimore defense whose coordinator was coaching his first game.
And don’t forget that the Jets lost two starting tackles in training camp. It’s hard to block if you don’t have chemistry and you don’t know what’s coming.
Against Cleveland, the Jets knew they would have to throw multiple bodies at Garrett and Clowney and trust their interior offensive line to hold its own. And that’s exactly how it worked out. Laken Tomlinson played much better after a nightmarish Week 1, and both Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern continued to look good.
“I thought our interior was so much better this week, handling their interior guys,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “We had a really good game plan for Myles with all the chipping and trying to disrupt his pass rush. Same thing with Clowney, when he was there on the other side and then Joe (Flacco), just staying in, trusting the protection, thought our guys did a great job giving him the time to allow our routes to develop downfield.”
Flacco had time to make decisions and it showed up in the results, but not in the way you might think. His average time to throw in Week 1 (2.63 seconds) and Week 2 (2.64) was remarkably consistent, according to Pro Football Focus, despite the vastly different circumstances.
His average depth of target, however, is the big difference. Against the Ravens it was 5.7 yards, which put him among the bottom five in Week 1 starters throwing down the field. Against the Browns, Flacco’s average depth of target was 10.5 yards, the sixth highest among starters last week.
It’s not about Flacco getting the ball out quicker. His internal clock is clearly looking to throw after about 2.5 seconds. It’s about him being comfortable and getting more out of his read. And the stats and eye test both tell the story. When the pocket is clean, Flacco sees the field and throws the ball better.
“Those guys fought really hard,” Flacco said of the o-line. “You could see it in their eyes and the way they were approaching the pregame. They were ready to go/We had a great plan to come in here and combat some of the stuff that they do. But, it is all about those guys. We were going to lean on them.”
The Jets also ran the ball well, especially in the first half, when they averaged 5.9 yards per carry. They finished the game with 20 carries for 93 yards (4.9 yards per carry).
All of this, of course, is very good news for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who is still on the mend after suffering a meniscus tear and bone bruise in his right knee during the second drive of the first preseason game. Wilson had arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 16 and before the season Saleh ruled the quarterback out until Week 4 at Pittsburgh at the earliest.
Wilson started practicing on a limited basis last week, and Saleh said he will start to ramp it up this week, but not much.
“He’ll take another step up,” Saleh said. “It’s not going to be much different, but he’s still going to be in practice. He’s progressing very well. I like the way he’s moving. We’ll ramp him up just a touch more, and get to the reevaluation [before Week 4] and make decisions on how he needs to proceed from there.”
Saleh reiterated that they don’t expect Wilson back before Week 4. But he wouldn’t comment on Wilson’s likelihood of playing against the Steelers, saying only that Wilson is looking “really good.”
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Either way, whenever Wilson gets back on the field it will help him if the offensive line can continue to play the way it did on Sunday against the Browns.
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Andy Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].