Jets’ Zach Wilson can build on strong outing by busting slow-starts trend

1. Avoid the goose egg: Quarterback Zach Wilson hopes to achieve a level of consistency by stacking another good game Sunday against the Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). He can start by … well, starting fast.

The Jets and the Minnesota Vikings are the only teams yet to score in the first quarter, with Wilson having gone eight straight starts without a touchdown drive in the opening period. As a result, the Jets are always playing catchup. The Jets and the New York Giants are the only teams that haven’t run an offensive play with the lead this season.

Wilson is keenly aware of the sluggish starts, and he put it on himself to flip the trend.

“Absolutely, we need to do that, and it starts with me,” he said. “I have to play better from the beginning of the game and get those guys going.”The Jets punted on their first three possessions and found themselves in a 17-0 hole in last week’s 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, with Wilson taking the blame for misfiring on his first third-down pass.

Young quarterbacks sometimes struggle early because they need time to get comfortable with the rhythm of the game. They also have to process what they’re seeing from the defense, figuring out the best way to attack. Everybody can’t be Aaron Rodgers, who has an incredible 110-17 touchdown-interception ratio in the first quarter over his career.

Of course, it’s a two-way street.

“I definitely think you ease into a game, but I almost feel like the defense is, too, so we need to come out fast as well,” Wilson said. “They’re easing into what we’re doing on offense, so we need to be able to come out right from the beginning. Screw the third downs. Let’s get some first downs on first down and second down. Let’s start fast and get some big plays from the beginning.”

2. Perennial problem: The slow starts are nothing new for the Jets. In two-plus seasons under coach Robert Saleh, their first-quarter point differential (minus-92) ranks at the bottom of the league. This year, they’re tied with the Giants for the worst differential (-30).

3. Hat trick? Wilson posted his first NFL game with two touchdown passes and no interceptions last week; it took him 25 starts to do it.He never has had three touchdown passes in a game, which is unusual for a player with that many starts. Only seven quarterbacks in the last 20 seasons failed to record a three-touchdown game in their first 25 starts, including Chad Henne, who recently drew interest from the Jets.

4. Motion man: One of the ways the Jets tweaked the offense last week was to incorporate more pre-snap motion. They ran some form of motion on 40% of their plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous high was 28%.

Motion often forces the defense to reveal its coverage, which perhaps allowed Wilson to have a better pre-snap understanding of the play. Rodgers isn’t a fan of pre-snap motion because it can slow down the tempo. We’ll see if the Jets’ offense continues to evolve this way.

5. Invisible WR: Mecole Hardman’s last trip to Denver was a blast — eight catches for 103 yards in the 2021 season finale, a 28-24 victory for the Chiefs. Times change. Hardman, good enough to play a prominent role on a perennial Super Bowl contender, is a bit player on the 1-3 Jets. He could be a healthy scratch on Sunday.

It’s the biggest mystery of the Jets’ season: Where’s Hardman?

Hardman, who has played only 22 snaps on offense (one reception, no rushes), is wondering the same thing. He’s an explosive player with the ball in his hands, but he was the only skill-position player last week not to get a single touch. Hardman, who signed one-year, $4 million contract in free agency, was behind rookie Xavier Gipson in the wide-receiver pecking order.

“I’m probably the best in the league in space,” he told ESPN. “Maybe (the coaches) see something different. I’m just waiting for the opportunity to present itself. I think when I was in K.C., I proved that I was probably the most dangerous guy on the jet sweep or whether it be on the end-around or on the screen. I think I proved year-out that I was that guy that you had to worry about doing that.”6. Stat of the week: The defense has gone seven straight games without allowing a second-half touchdown. That’s what you call making good halftime adjustments.

7. Zoom, zoom: Need somebody to pressure the quarterback? Bryce Huff is your guy. Not too many in the league do it better than the Jets linebacker.

Huff, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2020, ranks seventh in overall pressure rate (20.7%) among edge players with at least 50 pass rushes, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He’s in pretty good company. The group ahead of him includes the Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons (27.3%) and the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett (25.6%).

Here’s a nugget that may blow you away: Since 2022, Huff leads the league in the category (24.4%), though he has had only 217 pass-rushing opportunities. That’s the thing about Huff; he’s a third-down specialist. He doesn’t get a lot of playing time, although he saw more first- and second-down action last week than usual.

“When you think of Bryce Huff, you think of a Lamborghini,” former Jets defensive end Vinny Curry said on the “Flight Deck” podcast. “He’s zooming. He’s zooming, man.”

Huff smiled when told of Curry’s remark.

“That’s the OG,” said Huff, who went on to say that Curry’s all-out approach in practice “changed the entire way that I prepared for games, prepared for practice, for camp, everything. In the spring, he was getting off the ball like it was the Super Bowl. I took the same approach to everything.”

Huff, who will be a free agent after the season, said they “haven’t even talked about [a new contract].”

8. Back and ready: Carl Lawson, their big-ticket signing in 2021, has slipped toward the back end of the defensive-line rotation, based on playing time. He has only three tackles and one quarterback pressure. The coaches insisted it’s only because he needs time to acclimate after missing a month in camp with a back injury.Lawson said he’s ready — now.

“I feel like my body has finally returned me,” he said, adding that he expects to be more productive than last year (seven sacks).

9. Rocky Mountain Jets: The spotlight has focused on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett versus Broncos coach Sean Payton, but there are other coaching subplots for this game. The Broncos’ staff includes four former Jets assistants — Mike Westhoff (assistant coach), Ben Kotwica (special teams coordinator), John Morton (pass game coordinator) and Joe Vitt (senior defensive assistant). Then, of course, there’s Vance Joseph (defensive coordinator), who played cornerback for the Jets in 1995.

10. The last word: “There’s not a better ‘backer in the NFL right now. He’s playing at an elite level in my opinion.” — defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich on Quincy Williams, who leads the Jets with 39 tackles



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