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The offense works with backup QBs, so now Zach Wilson must learn to adjust his game

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson stands on the field

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson stands on the field after an NFL game against the Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday. Credit: AP/Alastair Grant

In their last two games, the Jets have shown that their quarterback room is better than anticipated and Mike LaFleur’s system does work and produce points.

The heat, for now, is off the offensive coordinator and the questions about Zach Wilson’s readiness to lead the Jets are gaining momentum.

Wilson is a rookie and the quarterback the Jets expect to lead them deep into the playoffs in the not-so-distant future. But the offense has stumbled under Wilson, who missed the last two games with a sprained right posterior cruciate ligament.

In Wilson’s absence, backup quarterback Mike White, who hadn’t played an NFL game before Oct. 24, and No. 3 QB Josh Johnson, who hadn’t played in the league since 2018, led the offense into the end zone eight times. Wilson witnessed this, which might prove to be the best thing for the Jets long term.

Wilson still is learning the league's defenses and that he can’t do everything as he did in college. He threw only four touchdowns in 181 pass attempts over the first six games. White has thrown five in 88 pass attempts. Johnson has thrown three TDs in 45 passes. It should be four, but Denzel Mims dropped one in the end zone last Sunday.

The Jets anticipate Wilson returning to practice this week, but White could start Sunday against the Bills provided his forearm is healthy.

At the very least, whenever Wilson regains his starting job, he should have a better understanding on how to lead LaFleur’s timing and progression-based offense.

"For him to see it through the lens of another quarterback is incredibly beneficial especially since he’s already exposed himself to it," coach Robert Saleh said. "It’s a matter of absorbing that information and being confident.

"The good thing with Zach is we don’t have to teach him how to do the spectacular. He just has to learn how to do the boring stuff and learn that the boring can be explosive, can be spectacular too."

White proved that last Sunday against the Bengals, when he threw for 405 yards, the most of any Jets quarterback in nearly 21 years. What White did in his first NFL start was pretty spectacular. He didn’t try to do too much and got rid of the ball quickly, whether it was to a check-down or his second or third read. This is what the Jets were trying to get Wilson to do before he hurt his knee in New England two weeks ago.

Johnson performed similarly on Thursday when he replaced White after a nerve contusion in his forearm caused two fingers to go numb. Johnson threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson is the only Jets quarterback to not have a 300-yard game this season.

"There’s something positive to be able to sit back, watch some veterans play and kind of just take a deep breath," LaFleur said. "I do think this will benefit him in a lot of ways.

"I do think just him seeing that, again, he’s going to be aggressive. He’s an aggressive kid and he’s a very talented kid. So, it’s not going to look like Josh, it’s not going to look like Mike. We don’t expect that, we just want him to play within the offense. If it’s there, rip it. If it’s not, check it down and let’s go."

The Jets have said they’re not trying to change the way Wilson plays. They drafted him second overall and essentially handed him the keys to the franchise because of his ability to make every throw and plays off-schedule.

But they’ve been adamant that sometimes he doesn’t need to make the tight-window throw or force it into coverage when an easy completion is right in front of him.

"There’s times when the offense needs you to be spectacular. That’s something with Zach, that’s his hallmark," Saleh said. "He’ll learn. He’s a young buck. He’s one of those rookies that thinks they’re invincible. He’s only going to get better as he learns."

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