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The Hot Read, Week 2: The New York Jets Cannot Be Serious With Zach Wilson

Getting thumped by the Cowboys only affirmed the Jets’ very serious quarterback problem. Plus: a Giants comeback, the Bears’ failures with Justin Fields, award winners, and more.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

This is the Hot Read. In this column, you’ll find everything and anything that I found interesting from the NFL Week 2 Sunday action. There’s the stuff that everyone’s talking about, and the stuff that nobody’s talking about; the stuff that makes football incredible, and the stuff that makes football fun.

The Big Thing: Zach Wilson Is Who We Thought He Was

A lot happened this past NFL Sunday. If there’s one thing you need to know, it’s this.

The day after Aaron Rodgers went down with an Achilles tear, Robert Saleh had this to say about the future of the New York Jets’ quarterback room.

“We’re gonna look through some things, but I do want to make it very clear: Zach’s our quarterback. We’ve got a lot of faith in Zach; we’re really excited about his opportunity. We’re rollin’ with Zach, and [we’re] excited for him.”

And later on in that press conference:

Short of using the word “starter,” Saleh could not have been more clear: Zach Wilson is the Jets’ starting quarterback for the indefinite future. Here’s what Wilson last did as the Jets’ starting quarterback (a nine-game sample from the 2022 season):

Zach Wilson 2022 Season Stats

Week Cmp% TD Int EPAPerDB Success Rate Sack% Inacc%
Week Cmp% TD Int EPAPerDB Success Rate Sack% Inacc%
4 50 1 2 -0.05 33.33% 2.70% 13.90%
5 66.67 0 0 0.12 50.00% 8.70% 4.80%
6 55.56 0 0 -0.41 28.57% 10.00% 5.60%
7 61.54 0 0 -0.34 31.25% 10.30% 15.40%
8 48.78 2 3 -0.04 37.21% 4.70% 22.00%
9 72 1 0 0.04 62.07% 7.40% 16.00%
11 40.91 0 0 -0.4 20.69% 15.40% 31.80%
15 51.43 2 1 0.02 37.50% 10.30% 28.60%
16 50 0 1 -0.4 23.81% 14.30% 22.20%
Average: 54.55 0.67 0.78 -0.14 36.33% 8.70% 18.60%

This is what bad quarterbacking looks like. Successful on less than 40 percent of his plays—only five quarterbacks were worse. A sack on over 8 percent of his dropbacks—only nine quarterbacks were worse. An inaccurate pass on over 18 percent of his throws—no other quarterback in the NFL was worse.

So that’s what we knew about Wilson. And when I say we, I mean it. Saleh knew this, the locker room knew this, Long Island knew this, and my mama (a lifelong Jets fan) knew this. This is who Zach Wilson was when Robert Saleh stood behind a podium and said that there would be no competition for Wilson, and that the team was excited for his opportunity and his future.

Here’s what Zach Wilson did on Sunday against the Cowboys, as compared to his average from last season.

Zach Wilson in Week 2

Game Cmp% TD Int EPAPerDB Success Rate Sack% Inacc%
Game Cmp% TD Int EPAPerDB Success Rate Sack% Inacc%
2023 v. Cowboys 44.44 1 3 -0.33 39.39% 10.00% 11.10%
2022 Average 54.55 0.67 0.78 -0.14 36.33% 8.70% 18.60%

Wilson’s box score against Dallas is inflated by a 68-yard, catch-and-run touchdown from star wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Without that, Wilson would have thrown for 102 yards on 26 attempts and no scores. And if that’s not bad enough—nobody would have raised an eyebrow.

Wilson did what he always does. He took bad sacks, relocating against pressure one second, then seemingly forgetting that the pass rusher existed the next moment. Here, the Cowboys had a screen gloved up, and Micah Parsons just dusted Duane Brown (as he did all afternoon). Dirt the ball, Zach! Get to the next down!

Wilson did what he always does. He threw bad interceptions. Here, he misread the coverage, as the intended receiver rightly sat down, and Wilson threw it right past him …

… and here, throwing on the move, pushing the ball downfield, failing to take an underneath option or run for 2 yards or just throw it into the benches.

With three interceptions total, Wilson now has three games in his three pro seasons in which he has thrown three picks. That is tied for the most such games over that stretch with Trevor Lawrence, Matt Ryan, and Mac Jones—all of whom have at least 1,000 passing attempts in that time. Wilson has 673.

So Wilson is the same guy he always was, banging his head into the same walls, making the same mistakes and expecting different results. He invites a lot of pressure and takes a lot of sacks. He doesn’t throw accurate passes and he doesn’t complete them in productive ways. He has a 39 percent success rate, meaning six out of every 10 plays hurt his team. That’s equal parts bad news and old news.

But how could he not have been the same guy? Was swapping out Elijah Moore and Corey Davis for Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman Jr. supposed to elevate his game? Was the one offseason of tutelage under Nathaniel Hackett the final kick to burst the dam of his untapped potential? Those rosy July story lines of mentorship from Aaron Rodgers, who certainly had Wilson’s future at the forefront of his mind after winning consecutive MVPs and publicly breaking up with the Green Bay Packers—those certainly would foretell a difference for Wilson.

Codswallop. He is who we thought he was! Wilson’s poor play over the past two years is the reason the Jets went and got Rodgers in the first place. How, when Rodgers went down after just four snaps, was returning to Wilson more than just the stopgap solution? It’s one thing to have broken the glass in an emergency and tossed him out there against the Bills—and hey, you escaped with a win! Good on ya. It’s another thing entirely to suggest that there’s a future here. You know there isn’t. We know you know there isn’t.

What, then, is the future here? The future belongs to a different quarterback. I don’t know who—name a guy. Jacoby Brissett, Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco. Anyone is better than—OK, wait, Joe Flacco is not better than Wilson. Sorry. Couldn’t say that with a straight face. Almost anyone is better than Wilson at this point.

Making a change at quarterback is more than just a good football move—it’s a good job-security move. This is Saleh’s third season as the head coach of the Jets; general manager Joe Douglas is in his fifth season. The Jets have not finished better than third in the AFC East in Douglas’s tenure, let alone won the division, let alone won a playoff game. Both of their jobs are under heavy scrutiny, not for any particular fault or misstep, but because this is an impatient league. Coaches and general managers who don’t make the playoffs don’t keep their jobs.

Douglas and Saleh want to argue that they’ve built a contending team. I’m inclined to believe them—though it is made a little tougher when you see just how frequently Brown was beaten by the Cowboys pass rushers; when Lazard is a non-factor without Rodgers at quarterback; when veteran running back Dalvin Cook loses a scoop-and-score fumble. If you can get a functional quarterback in here and at least get to the playoffs, it becomes much easier to argue that Rodgers will seal the deal next season. (Even if he is 40 years old and coming off an Achilles tear.)

The Jets have to get something done at quarterback. They have to. There are no rose-colored glasses with lenses tinted enough to make Wilson seem like anything besides a bad quarterback who hurts his team. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. And to spend the season with him as the starter is to consign yourself to another basement finish, another year with lots of talent and nothing to show for it.

Every week that the Jets trot Wilson out there and claim they’re still trying to win games and make the playoffs, I will grimace, wag my head, and ignore them. Call me when you’re serious.

The Little Things

It’s the little things in football that matter the mostzany plays, small victories, and some laughs. Here’s where you can find them.

1. THE WAY A.J. Terrell broke up this pass

This is Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, one of the best (young) corners in the game. He’s in coverage over Packers rookie receiver Dontayvion Wicks. Watch him break up this back-pylon throw to force a Green Bay field goal:

This is such a vet-vs.-rookie experience. Terrell has positioning on Wicks’s inside arm, and he’s just waiting for that outside hand to flash. Once it does, Terrell flicks his arm right into the catch point, confident that if the ball arrives, he’ll be in the way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defensive back so casual while defending his end zone.

2. THE WAY Justin Herbert recovered and threw this touchdown pass

The flag, by the way, is for roughing the passer. Play stands. On fourth down.

3. THE GUMPTION to attempt this throw

Watch the middle of the Bills offensive line closely. Both the center and right guard panic when the Raiders blitzer comes free, and they leave a defensive tackle unblocked directly in Josh Allen’s lap. That’s why Allen has to slam on the brakes and leap backward while he throws.

Allen was just about as unhinged in Week 2 (when he led the Bills to 38 points in a dominant win) as he was in Week 1 (just 16 points in a horrible, embarrassing loss). The Jekyll-and-Hyde act may not be great for the Bills’ winning percentage, but it’s great for my entertainment.

4. THE IMPORTANCE of speaking to America

The refs in the Lions-Seahawks game generally had a rough time. A missed holding call on Aidan Hutchinson in overtime could have been a game-decider. They totally blew an intentional grounding call on Geno Smith, as well.

As head referee Alex Kemp announced the penalty, Smith approached to voice his counterargument. That’s how we got this wonderful hot mic.

“I’m talking to America, excuse me” has taken an immediate and prominent position in my list of excuses. The next time my wife asks to talk to me while I’m writing an article: “I’m talking to America, excuse me.”

5. THE DISDAIN within Bill Belichick’s challenge flag toss

It’s the way that Belichick looks at the side judge first: pausing, waiting. It’s like when your mom used to just stand there in silence while you were misbehaving, and when you finally realized she was standing there, stewing in anger, that little pit in your stomach started to tighten.

And then, Belichick finally unleashed it. The iconic flag spike.

(Belichick lost this challenge. I feel like the ref should have gotten to spike it back at him.)

6. THE STRUGGLES of the Kansas City Chiefs offense

I am placing any and all concern over the Chiefs offense here in the Little Things pile, because that’s all it is: a little thing. I simply cannot get myself all lathered up about an offense that is run by Patrick Mahomes and captained by Andy Reid. I remain unvexed. My feathers are not ruffled.

It would be great, however, if Jawaan Taylor could find a way to legally play the position the Chiefs are paying him $20 million a year to play. Taylor’s deep stance and preemptive movement were intensely scrutinized on the Week 1 NBC broadcast, and in Week 2, he was temporarily benched in the middle of a five-penalty day—two of which were false starts; another flag was for illegal formation.

But other than that, I’m cool as a cucumber, baby.

The Comebacks

Some teams were losing on Sunday. Then they won. Crazy!

1. A GIANT comeback

This isn’t actually a little thing—it’s big. The Giants had one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history against the Cardinals, trailing 20-0 at halftime and 28-7 in the the third quarter before digging their way out and escaping Glendale with a 31-28 victory.

How does one wind up trailing Josh Dobbs and the Cardinals by 21 points? (A question I never thought I’d have to answer, frankly.) Bad tackling by the defense was a huge part of it. But quarterback Daniel Jones looked gun-shy and slow in the first half. He threw off-time and shallow, while a few iffy drops and errant throws led to three-and-outs and interceptions.

In the second half? Things changed. That was some of the best ball I can remember Jones playing. He aggressively threw downfield—something he didn’t do as much with Brian Daboll last season as he had in previous seasons. Jones’s first-half mistakes didn’t snowball into the second half, and he didn’t try to win the game in one play; he just slowly chopped into the deficit, piece by piece. It felt like a veteran performance from Jones, and appropriately so: Once you get that big second contract, you’re expected to be a vet.

The first six quarters of Giants football this season were as ugly as it gets—they were totally scoreless for the first time since 1934. The next two made me feel like the Giants may have righted the ship. Watching them play on Thursday Night Football against the 49ers in Week 3, with a very hurt offensive line and likely no Saquon Barkley, will likely have me feeling the ship remains wronged.

2. A COMMANDING comeback

Sunday’s next-biggest comeback belonged to the Washington Commanders, who found a groove in the second quarter against the Broncos and never let it go. Down 21-3, they scored their first touchdown after ascending linebacker Jamin Davis forced a Russell Wilson fumble, and from there went on a 32-3 run into the fourth quarter. The Commanders had nothing special on offense—screens, a variety of tricky running plays, and some tough Sam Howell throws—but you got the sense that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was always two steps ahead of Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. And understandably so: they’re old pals.

The Commanders’ comeback was almost unraveled by a Broncos Hail Mary touchdown—had Denver made the two-point conversion with no time left in regulation, the game would have gone to overtime—which serves as a good reminder for me to ask: Do you know how to defend a Hail Mary? After your pops taught you how to change a flat, did he walk you through positioning a defensive player for both the front tip and the rear tip? Have you spoken with your significant other about which wide receiver or tight end you’d deploy as the ball-tracking center fielder? It’s important to stay prepared, folks.

3. A … FALCONS-Y comeback

I ran out of good wordplay. An Atlanta-ic comeback? Is that something?

The Falcons (who are 2-0!) were down 12 points in the fourth quarter to the Packers. No team wants to be down multiple scores in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons seem especially uncomfortable in that scenario as a run-first team with a shaky quarterback situation. But Desmond Ridder clutched up with some timely throws and runs, and the running game churned along so effectively that the Falcons scored on each of their last three possessions.

Head coach Arthur Smith, against whom the football nerds have sworn a great vendetta because he drafted a really good running back and doesn’t like his quarterback to throw the ball that much, made some gutsy (and nerdy) fourth-down decisions late. Love to see a great running team be über-aggressive in short-yardage situations.

And how about the defense? Under first-year coordinator Ryan Nielsen, with a roster full of free agent mercenaries and unproven starters, the Falcons forced the Packers to go three-and-out, three-and-out, four-and-out to end the game. Great win.

Oh, and Bijan Robinson, that first-round running back who is quickly becoming a Hot Read favorite? He had 19 carries for 124 yards, and added another 48 receiving yards on four catches; his 172 yards from scrimmage puts him among the top 20 for players in their first two games.

The Zag: The Bears Still Haven’t Built Anything Around Justin Fields

I tend to be a little contrarian. It’s not so much a personal choice as it is an occupational hazard. Here’s where I’ll plant my flag.

Justin Fields is not playing well. Let’s start there. He looks just about how he looked in 2021 in Matt Nagy’s offense—and that’s not a good thing.

Fields is big, strong, and fast, and he has a great arm. Every so often, he hits a throw that reminds you why he was a first-round pick. The touchdown pass Sunday to Chase Claypool was one such throw:

But he also looks slow. To call his footwork in the pocket “methodical” is impermissible editorializing. His eyes dillydally on his first read. Quick releases from weird platforms are all the rage; Fields’s solid base and long motion feel laborious in comparison. Nothing he does in the pocket is fast enough, nor is he risk averse—he doesn’t seem to mind inviting all that pressure, taking those sacks, and hamstringing drives.

When Fields played like this under Nagy in year one, it was concerning but not surprising. Getting up to NFL speed is often tough for rookie quarterbacks, and Fields was coming from an Ohio State offense that often afforded him ample time and space. He clearly needed development, and providing it became the supposed North Star of the Bears’ organizational efforts. Let’s build the team around Fields and create an offense that will make this guy better.

This offseason, there was hope that the job had been done. That hope was misplaced. The Bears have come nowhere close.

They did try, though. They spent picks on receivers, both in the draft and in trades. Three of the five starters on the offensive line (when everyone is healthy) were acquired in the past two offseasons. But they’ve missed on most of their moves.

The worst miss is obvious: Chase Claypool, acquired last year at the trade deadline for the 32nd pick, does not seem to want to play football. I’m not sure Claypool would be picked up by another team if the Bears cut him tomorrow.

Trading for Claypool was an egregious error—the other misses are more marginal. The Bears turned the first pick into D.J. Moore (and some more draft capital, which could be useful, eventually), and while Moore is a quality receiver, he is multiple tiers below the star wide receivers that were traded in recent seasons—A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams. It was a mistake to believe that Moore could have the same impact on Fields as Brown did on Jalen Hurts, or Hill did on Tua Tagovailoa. He isn’t that level of talent. Also on the wide receiver depth chart: 2022 third-round pick Velus Jones Jr., who was a healthy scratch in Week 1.

After the Moore trade, I asked this question:

I had the Bears wide receiver room as maybe the 17th best in the league; two weeks into the season, I can’t find a way to get them any higher than that. This is a league-average group at best, and it’s more likely below average.

But the real bugaboo for Fields has been pass protection. Here, again, reports of a great reconstruction in Chicago were greatly exaggerated. The absences of Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis this week are difficult to ignore, but second-year player Braxton Jones is struggling; Cody Whitehair is just average; Lucas Patrick is a liability. I think when Jenkins and Davis return, this line can settle into passable play—but even then, are they an above-average group?

There are schematic problems that deserve their own separate conversation—one that is deep and exacting and frank. But the personnel issues are the ones that made it all too challenging to get on board with a hypothetical year three leap for Fields. Not only are the Bears ill-equipped to help Fields develop, but if they were to secure an early draft pick and select a quarterback to replace Fields next year, they’d be ill-equipped to develop him, too. This roster has not taken the strides it has needed to in the past two offseasons. They’ve lost their past 12 consecutive games. They’re still stuck in the muck.

While the Bears try to fortify the roster, it might be too late for Fields. After a certain number of reps, it’s tough to shake bad habits and entrench new ones. I fear it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Fields process in the pocket at NFL speeds and avoid the bad decisions that lead to his sacks and interceptions. At the same time, I still believe there’s a way to make a good offense out of what Fields can do now with his movement skills and his arm talent. I also believe that, whatever that offense looks like, the Bears don’t have the tools to bring it into being. And they never have.

(Mostly Real) Awards

I’ll hand out some awards. Most of them will be real. Some of them won’t be.

Most Valuable Player (of the Week): Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott

For the Cowboys, facing the Jets with Zach Wilson at the helm is certainly a little easier than facing the Jets with Aaron Rodgers, but that Jets defense is still no slouch. And yet Prescott diced ’em up: 31-for-38 passing, two scores, no picks, and just one sack. Mistake-free football for the quarterback who is criticized (often wrongly, in my opinion) for a mistake-riddled 2022 campaign. Through two weeks, nobody is playing better football than the Cowboys.

Offensive Rookie of the Year (of the Week): Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua

Puka Nacua is our first back-to-back award winner in this totally made-up section of fake awards. And so long as Puka Nacua continues to set records, he will continue to win this award. We have high standards here.

The “This Young Man Can Play” Award: Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud

The Texans-Colts game was shaping up to be a really cool matchup between two impressive rookie quarterbacks. But Stroud’s foil, the Colts’ Anthony Richardson, exited the game after four Indianapolis drives with a concussion (not before looking real nice as a runner, of course).

Stroud held up his end of the bargain: 30-for-47 passing, 384 yards, two scores, no picks. Stroud is quietly running the Shanahan offense (brought to Houston by offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, an ex-Niners coach) with aplomb. Stroud is absolutely ripping the middle-of-the-field throws you need to make this offense hum. Young man is slinging the rock right now. We love what we’re seeing.

Chiefs Defensive MVP: The end line

Kansas City’s Week 1 offensive woes did not magically evaporate in Week 2, but the defense got the job done against a great Jaguars offense and kept Kansas City from sinking into an 0-2 hole. Their best defender? The back of the end zone.

The Jaguars produced no touchdowns on three red zone trips, but they sure got close. Here are still shots from four passes into the end zone, all of which were ruled incomplete after receivers landed out of bounds:

Four PBUs is a great day at the office for any defender. He may set the record for pass breakups among all players that are painted onto the field and don’t move.

The Third-Longest Streak of Pass Attempts Without an Interception Award: Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff

This is exactly what it sounds like (I told you, most of the awards are real). Goff threw 383 passes, dating back to last season, without throwing an interception. It is a pretty cool streak, but also kinda dorky. (Try a tough throw, dude.)

Anyway, it ended on a pick-six by Seattle’s Tre Brown in the fourth quarter of a game the Lions would lose in overtime. That’s going out with style. If you’re gonna end the streak, really end it, you know?

Next Ben Stats

What it sounds like: Next Gen Stats, but I get to make them up.

QB40: That’s where Joe Burrow would rank among NFL quarterbacks if he had to play the Ravens every week

When the Ravens fired Don “Wink” Martindale after the 2021 season, they knew they were letting a good defensive coordinator leave. But they felt their defense needed a modern approach—in particular, a more curated approach to stopping the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the phenom quarterback who seemed primed to rip through the AFC North for years to come.

In four games since Mike MacDonald was hired to run the Ravens defense (two in the 2022 regular season, a wild-card game last January, and the most recent game on Sunday), Burrow has struggled. Here’s what his quarterbacking performance has looked like against the Ravens, compared to how he’s played against all non-Ravens teams, since the start of last year. (Where these numbers would have ranked among all quarterbacks last year is included parenthetically.)

Burrow vs. Baltimore

Joe Burrow EPA per Dropback Success Rate Explosive Play %
Joe Burrow EPA per Dropback Success Rate Explosive Play %
Against everyone but the Ravens 0.1 (9th) 48.7% (5th) 7.6% (23rd)
Against the Ravens -0.07 (31st) 39.63% (40th) 4.1% (44th)

The Bengals know what’s going on here—head coach Zac Taylor commended the Ravens defense after Sunday’s 27-24 Baltimore win, saying “they hold their coverages as long as anybody we play against.” That’s a nod to their disguise, which Burrow admitted was the reason he threw a devastating red zone pick to safety Geno Stone.

Burrow has clearly been less than 100 percent this season, and he tweaked his calf at the end of this game. His lingering injury is the primary explanation for the Bengals’ early offensive struggles. But that doesn’t change the fact that MacDonald’s got his number.

1 in a billion: The answer to the question, “What are the chances that the Chargers are 0-2 right now?”

Do you want to just list funny Chargers stats with me right now? Let’s do it.

From Daniel Popper of The Athletic: Since 2000, over 100 teams have rushed for 200-plus yards, held their opponent under 100 rushing yards, committed no turnovers, and won the turnover margin by at least two in a single game. Those teams were undefeated … until the Chargers lost to the Dolphins in Week 1.

From Doug Clawson of CBS Sports: Through two games, the Chargers have scored over 50 total points and not committed a turnover. They are the 33rd team to do so in the Super Bowl era. They are the only such team to start 0-2.

From me: The Chargers surrendered a completion percentage of 83 percent to Ryan Tannehill in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Titans, which is the second-best single-game mark Tannehill has ever had. He has played in 152 games.

4: The number of times Brandon Staley said “the Jacksonville loss” in an answer about how the Jacksonville loss hasn’t affected his team

I honestly love this from Staley. You gotta show some desperation and frustration after starting the season like this. But also: It is a little funny.

7: The 49ers’ margin of victory over the Rams … which matters to some!

Here’s the situation. You’re down by 10 points, 1:34 left, one timeout, ball on your own 30-yard line. You’re trying to score and tie it up, right?

Of course you are! Gotta be. The Rams were in that situation against the 49ers on Sunday, and they gave it a shot—a few quick passes, running out of bounds to kill the clock—but time dwindled too quickly for Matthew Stafford and Co., and rookie wide receiver/Cooper Kupp-but-better/Jerry Rice reincarnate Puka Nacua was tackled inbounds at the 20-yard line as the clock kept running.

Stafford hustled the Rams to the line. They spiked it with four seconds remaining. The game was, essentially, over.

But the cover wasn’t! McVay sent the field goal unit out, and Brett Maher hit the backdoor cover for anyone who had Rams +7 as time expired.

Matters to some, as Fox analyst Mark Sanchez noted, muttering “bad beat” as soon as the field goal cleared. (I, personally, was on the Niners -7.5.)

9.1 percent: How often Lamar Jackson was pressured on Sunday—a career-low number

The Baltimore offensive evolution is off to an impressive start. Here’s an actual Next Gen Stat.

And here’s a follow-up, still from Next Gen Stats: Jackson’s average time to throw in 2023 is down from 2.96 seconds (before Todd Monken) to that new 2.6-second number. Three-tenths of a second is a substantial drop when it comes to average time to throw. We will see if Jackson can sustain it (he loves to run around in the pocket, which tends to extend his time to throw), but as it stands now, Lamar’s on a career-best pace for dropback success rate at 55.9 percent.

In short: Jackson has never gotten the ball out quicker, nor been as effective of a passer, as he’s been the past two weeks.