Jets O-line a glaring concern after Week 1 loss to Panthers: 'Protection's got to hold up'

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Zach Wilson sacked vs. Panthers
Zach Wilson sacked vs. Panthers

Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson truly went through it in his first career start in the NFL. From the get-go, he was running all over the place, the exact opposite of what he was doing during the preseason when he posted the best quarterback rating of the rookies in 2021.

The first half was brutal, especially on the right side of the O-line with George Fant at right tackle. The Panthers were going untouched or slightly deterred from Wilson until they eventually gave him a hit. Overall, six sacks came on Wilson and more hits and hurries along the way as well.

Speaking post-game, head coach Robert Saleh said it isn’t solely on the offensive line what happened in Sunday’s 19-14 loss for New York.

“There’s a lot of things that are involved in protection,” Saleh explained. “I’m never going to just blame the offensive line, especially when you look at the first half. When a lot of those breakdowns happen, you got route running, there’s quarterback getting rid of the football, there is protection obviously. And there’s credit to those guys (defense). They get paid too and they won some 1-on-1s and there’s some things schematically that were pretty darn good.

“But at the end of the day, you’re right, protection’s got to hold up. But it’s a collective effort. Not just solely on the offensive line.”

It wasn’t just Fant that was the issue. The interior had problems, too, especially when you see the Jets only rushed for 45 total yards. Wilson also found himself smashed by Derrick Brown late in the red zone that caused him to hit the turf very hard, scary even as you saw his head whip back.

“Neck’s a little sore. Little whiplash but I’ll be alright,” he said.

Saleh added: “The kid’s been hit before. He took some shots obviously, but he got back up. He showed resolve and he’s fearless. He really is. He’s only going to get better from this.”

Sure, it’s a learning moment for Wilson. And the second half saw much better play from him and the offense as a whole (Morgan Moses swapped in at right tackle and that side wasn’t as passive). Wilson even made some nice plays running out of the pocket, too, which is a facet of his game that he loves to showcase.

But this offensive line is a problem. While Saleh wants to say so or not, they were overmatched by a group that won’t be the most formidable they’ll see later this season.

So, while it may be other areas of the offense that needs to speed up or work on itself, the offensive line needs to work on something to give their rookie quarterback some more time to stay settled in the pocket.

If not, Wilson will be running around a lot more than he did in his first start.