Jets' slow-starting offensive line vows better protection for Zach Wilson

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The big issue in training camp -- the really big issue -- was the offensive line. New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, in 23 news conferences from the start of camp to the roster cuts, answered 90 line-related questions from reporters. The common theme to his responses:

We'll be fine when everyone gets healthy. Aaron Rodgers' presence will help galvanize the group.

Heading into Week 3, everything isn't fine and Rodgers no longer is present. He's at home in Malibu, California, recovering from Achilles surgery.

The Jets struggled so much in their 30-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that the simplest things -- the cadence -- became a challenge. (More on that later.) Quarterback Zach Wilson was pressured 16 times on 30 pass plays, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

"We just need to make sure to keep his confidence high, because when his confidence is high, he's a damn good player," center Connor McGovern said of Wilson, adding: "It's tough to have his confidence be high when, on the first third down, he gets sacked within 2 1/2 seconds or something crazy. That's on the O-line."

Saleh attributed the bad day more to the Cowboys' excellence than to his own team's shortcomings. Micah Parsons (two sacks, nine pressures) dominated the Jets, mainly left tackle Duane Brown who had a pass block win rate (PBWR) in Week 2 of 54.2% -- the lowest in the league. It's a small sample, but after two games, ESPN analytics tells a grim story.

The Jets' offensive line ranks 32nd in PBWR and 19th in run block win rate (RBWR). In PBWR, Brown ranks 68th out of 68 qualified tackles and Mekhi Becton is 63rd; McGovern ranks 32nd among 32 centers; and Laken Tomlinson ranks 66th out of 69 guards. The only player with a respectable rating is guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (36th).

Asked if he's concerned with the line, Saleh said, "No. It's tough." And he went into a detailed explanation about how the offensive line was put into difficult situations throughout the game. He said the Jets may not see a better pass-rushing front than Dallas all season. Next up: the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS), who rank 20th in pressure percentage (24.3).

"We have to give him a chance to sit comfortably in the pocket and make plays," Brown said of Wilson.

The offensive line also could be experiencing growing pains, as the starting five had no practice time in training camp. The 38-year-old Brown sat out camp, recovering from rotator-cuff surgery. Becton, who began camp at left tackle, didn't get a lot of practice time on the right side. McGovern had to fight to retain his job, keeping heir apparent Joe Tippmann (second-round pick) on the bench -- for now.

While fans and media fretted about the line, general manager Joe Douglas, a former college lineman whose football philosophy is rooted in strong line play, expressed optimism at the start of the season. As the architect, you might expect him to have a favorable view. His decision to ride with Brown, despite his age and surgery, will go a long way toward determining if the group ends up flourishing or fizzling.

Saleh has options if things don't improve. He could return Becton to his natural left tackle position or insert Tippmann at center or left guard, where Tomlinson has struggled in pass protection so far this season but ranks second in RBWR among guards.

They were counting on Rodgers and his wealth of experience and knowledge to mitigate any issues up front. He would've made life easier for the line with his pre-snap recognition and quick release. As Saleh explained in training camp, "Eighteen years, he knows exactly where the ball needs to go and how it needs to get there."

With only 23 career starts, Wilson doesn't have that kind of information stored on his mental C drive, which is why he needs help from the coaching staff. The team could've double-teamed Parsons more often (he was doubled on 11 of 29 pass rushes) or used an extra tight end in blocking situations (they used multiple tight ends on 10 of 46 snaps).

Then, of course, there was a cadence. Rodgers has turned his cadence into an art form, using it to keep defensive lines off-balance. That wasn't the case against the Cowboys.

"I don't know how," McGovern said, "but they seemed to have a pretty good bead on our silent cadence. Cadence wasn't our friend like it has been. ... We've got some kinks to work out there."

And a few other places, too.