As calls for the New York Jets to bench Zach Wilson grow louder, the quarterback’s head coach is standing by his man.
The entire Jets offense needs to improve, Robert Saleh said Tuesday during his weekly press conference, and its recent struggles don’t stem from Wilson alone.
“If it was just him, it would be something that would be worth discussing, but this is a collective issue that we all need to get on the same page with. Whether it’s dropped balls, players being where they’re supposed to be, executing the way we need to execute, calling plays that need to be called, putting players in the positions they need to be put into — that’s all of us,” he said, according to NFL.com.
Saleh acknowledged that Wilson still has things to work on, but added that “it’s lazy to just put it all on him.”
“He has a lot of things that he needs to improve on and I know he understands that, but at the same time, this is collective,” he said.
Saleh made many of the same points during a Tuesday evening appearance on a New York radio show.
But he also struggled to articulate why the Jets won’t give quarterback Trevor Siemian a shot when asked about that possibility by host Michael Kay.
“Fair question ... I don’t know. I’m going to plead the fifth on this one,” Saleh said during the Tuesday night radio interview.
The phrase “plead the fifth” refers to the Fifth Amendment, which gives defendants in a criminal trial the right to refuse to testify if doing so would hurt their case.
Unsurprisingly, Saleh’s use of the phrase raised eyebrows in sports media and around the league.
Reporters asked Saleh on Wednesday if his comments on the radio show meant he was being forced by his bosses to keep Wilson in the starting role.
“No, we’re on the same page with that,” Saleh said Wednesday, according to ESPN. “So any conspiracy theory that might be out there, we’re on the same page.”
Saleh has faced tough questions about more than Wilson this week after his team failed to score a touchdown Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. After the 27-6 loss, there’s a growing sense that the 4-4 Jets won’t be able to stay in the playoff hunt long enough for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to heal from the Achilles tear he suffered in Week 1.
But, as Saleh noted, there’s evidence that the Jets’ ongoing struggles don’t boil down to quarterback play. During Monday night’s game, multiple receivers dropped catchable passes, committed penalties or fumbled, and the special teams unit gave up a touchdown in the first quarter.
“Wilson’s numbers were better than his counterpart, Justin Herbert, even if you subtract what he did in garbage time late in the game. Wilson was 33 of 49 for 263 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, with no touchdowns, no interceptions, an 80.6 rating and a 17.9 QBR. Herbert was 16 of 30 for 136 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, with no touchdowns, no interceptions, a 65.4 rating and a 41.1 QBR,” according to NFL.com.
Part of what explains Wilson’s advantage over Herbert is that Wilson has been explicitly asked not to take risks, according to Eli Manning, who spoke with Wilson before the Jets-Chargers game.
“He’s being told, ‘Hey, don’t make a mistake,’” he said during ESPN’s “ManningCast” broadcast of the game, as the Deseret News previously reported.
Manning argued, perhaps counterintuitively, that this approach is actually holding Wilson and the whole team back. If the Jets aren’t going to bench Wilson, they need to give him the freedom to make higher risk, higher reward plays.
“I think they’ve got to let him go a little bit,” Manning said.
For his part, Wilson said this week that he’s feeling “more and more comfortable” but knows the offense needs to play better.
“I think, as an offense, we know it’s close. It sucks because we keep saying ‘close.’ I get sick of that and I know everybody else does, too. But we really are,” Wilson said during a press conference, according to ESPN.