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Zach Wilson spent the large majority of his NFL debut last weekend against the Panthers running for his life at the snap of the ball.
A fully healthy Jets offensive line had no answer for Brian Burns and the Panthers’ pass rush. Carolina pressured Wilson the majority of his dropbacks, constantly flushing New York’s rookie signal-caller. The result? Mike LaFleur’s offense going nowhere until the protection improved just a little bit late in the third quarter.
As good as Burns is, the Panthers do not boast a particularly dangerous pass rush. An exponentially better Patriots defensive front is rolling into MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, posing the Jets with a stiff test with their best offensive lineman watching from the sideline.
Mekhi Becton dislocated his kneecap in Week 1 and will undergo surgery on Wednesday, placing him out for the next 4-8 weeks. Losing a player of Becton’s caliber is never ideal under any circumstance, but all hope is not lost for New York’s offensive line with its left tackle out of action.
Morgan Moses entered at right tackle and George Fant switched sides over to left tackle as soon as Becton went down. Becton was not necessarily playing poorly before his injury, but the Jets did a better job of protecting Wilson with the Fant-Moses tackle duo on the field.
Some of that might have to do with Carolina’s defensive line getting tired — the unit was bringing the heat after Wilson for 45 minutes straight, after all. Wilson rolling out and finding Corey Davis in the end zone to make it a one-score game after Wilson converted the two-point attempt himself might have been the kick in the butt New York’s offensive line needed to snap out of its funk.
Either way, something changed in the trenches and it resulted in Wilson having more time to throw.
The Jets are not in a terrible spot at tackle with Becton out because of Fant and Moses. The two are by no means elite pass blockers, but they are solid depth options who are more than capable of producing in the event of an injury like the one Becton suffered.
Joe Douglas went out and signed Moses in July with a scenario like this in mind. In the event that New York lost a starter on its offensive line, Douglas wanted a proven commodity ready to go instead of having to rely on an inexperienced backup. In that sense, the Jets are prepared for life without Becton.
There is really no excuse for New York’s offensive line to fail Wilson for a second straight weekend. The unit is an experienced one other than Alijah Vera-Tucker and has two outside blockers who have shut down edge rushers in the past. Bill Belichick is going to challenge Gang Green’s protection early and often in Week 2, but it should be up for the task of keeping Wilson clean.
If not, a serious discussion about the direction of the Jets’ offensive line needs to be had. Douglas can’t afford to let his rookie quarterback succumb to the same lack of protection Sam Darnold did.