Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 16

December 23, 2022 09:00 AM
Zach_Wilson

After their final home game of the 2022 season, Jet fans have all the ammunition and data to evoke the 20-game quarterback evaluation rule.  The evaluation rule is simple:  Allow a young, highly valued draft pick to start and finish twenty games before deciding on his future.  Don’t get too high or too low—stay the course and be completely objective before making a final decision.  Let the 20 games speak for themselves. 

The Jets have used the 20-game rule before (it seems like they have been using the rule for the last 20-plus years), so this isn’t a new concept.  Sam Darnold, their first-round pick in 2018, started 26 games after two seasons, winning 11 and losing 15.  He threw 36 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions, and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt.  He led the Jets on three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives.  In addition, he had two different coordinators.  By year three, the verdict came in, and Darnold was traded to Carolina, allowing Zach Wilson, another second-overall pick to take over. 

Last night in an almost must-win game for the Jets to keep their playoff hopes alive, Wilson started his 21st game.  Wilson has won eight of those games, lost 13, completed 55% of his passes thrown for 15 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, and he has two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives.  Not good on paper, and it looks worse when watching him play. 

The most alarming aspect of Wilson’s performance to date is his lack of overall improvement in any area. In fact, he is getting worse with each game.  Last night, he was benched again, surely ending his 2022 season and perhaps his career as a Jet.  If you didn’t think things could get worse for Wilson after the New England game in Foxboro, then you were wrong.  Last night was rock bottom.  Against one of the worse secondaries and pass-defending teams by almost every metric, Wilson could not make the simple plays.  He couldn’t throw an accurate ball on a hitch or any quick throws.  When you examine his 21 starts, Wilson has only two games throwing above a 65% completion percentage, which is the norm for the NFL.  Wilson’s completion numbers look like he played in the 60s when the short passing game didn’t exist, and the rules favored the defense.  For an NFL starting quarterback to not complete over 63% of his passes, something is badly wrong, and we don’t have to remind Jet fans of how wrong. 

So, what happened to the quarterback who, according to head coach Robert Saleh, checked every box?  At "The things that we value in quarterback play, he checks every box," Saleh said. "You talk about arm strength and accuracy—check. The ability to work off-schedule and make plays—check. Fearless in the pocket—check. His ability to recall, process and make the right decisions to get the ball where it needs to go without turning the ball over. ...He is a special young man.”  Look, we all make mistakes on drafting players—and no one is immune to the mistakes—but this one is a killer because the person they thought they were acquiring is nowhere near the reality.  All those checked boxes are lies—all of them.  Not intentional or malicious rather, Wilson hasn’t been that player. 

Because the Jets are at this crossroads, they stare into the sunk-cost fallacy abyss.   Sunk-cost fallacy is the phenomenon whereby a person or organization is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear.  Jet fans know it’s clear they don’t want Wilson back—in fact, any young Jet fan whose parents purchased a Wilson jersey for Christmas is heading back to the mall as you read this for a quick exchange.  Forget the fans, the locker room knows Wilson isn’t good enough.  When Chris Streveler came into the game and moved the ball with his arm and feet, running the same plays repeatedly, the team rallied and felt like there was hope in a hopeless game.  Saleh or general manager Joe Douglas cannot fool the locker room.  They know—and they knew before the 20th game. 

Moving forward, the Jets will position the Wilson saga as a young player that needs more time.  They will re-sign Mike White and pretend there is an open competition for the starting job next year.  They will tell more lies, and they will do it with a straight face even though no one will believe them.  We all know that is not true.  The team wants White as their starter, and Wilson has little to no trade value based on his horrendous play.  Think about it, what game would you evaluate during Wilson’s 21 starts that would make you believe it was all the Jets' fault, not his?  The fourth quarter of the Steeler game this season?  The Tennessee game in 2021?  The point here is he doesn’t have good game tape. 

What makes matters worse for Douglas is all the people around the NFL who loved Wilson coming out of BYU are no longer fans, looking for their erasers—not because they missed on the talent evaluation, but rather because they missed on the work habits and commitment towards becoming a pro.  Those who loved Wilson (some thought he was better than Trevor Lawrence) believed he would be mature and become a gym rat, a player who had talent but behaved like an overachiever.  It proved to be completely wrong.  Wilson is now rattled, lacks confidence, and with every incomplete pass, he shrinks further.

With the loss last night, the Jets' playoff chances are on life support.  Even with Mike White returning, it will be hard to become a playoff team.  The only positive that could come from this 1-5 record after the bye is they now can evoke the 20-game quarterback rule. 

QB Ratings

Top Five

  1. Patrick Mahomes - Mahomes is clearly the MVP.  Watching him play last week against Houston was like watching Shane Bieber mow down hitters. Mahomes was sensational, spreading the ball around, making plays with his mind, arm and feet. 
  2. Josh Allen - When the Bills needed Allen to make a play against the Dolphins, Allen responded with his arm talent and ability to run the ball.  For all the talk about the Bills not wanting Allen to run, his running is what generates their offense. 
  3. Joe Burrow - With more protection and a better running game, Burrow is playing the best football of his career. 
  4. Jared Goff - Goff has played better than Kirk Cousins all season and for him to not get a Pro Bowl invite is a shame.  Had he posted these numbers with Sean McVay in Los Angeles, we might be talking about Goff for MVP.  The McVay touch is a powerful public relations machine. 
  5. Justin Herbert - Herbert does things each week that make you drop your pen and rewind the tape in complete awe.  He forces the defense to defend every blade of grass on the field. 

Bottom Five

28.  Taylor Heinicke - The more he has to play, the less effective he becomes.  Playing behind a poor offensive line doesn’t help. 

29. Russell Wilson - Wilson is back behind the stove this week, cooking in Los Angeles.  Let’s hope the week off helped him, as this is a very winnable game for the Broncos. 

30. Desmond Ridder - For a first start, Ridder was inconsistent and not in control of his accuracy.  He needs to play better this week and make the easy throws. 

31. Baker Mayfield - Mayfield had the one shining moment on Thursday against the Raiders, but on Monday night in Green Bay, he looked like the Baker from Carolina.  Hesitant to make throws, not throwing with timing or anticipation. 

32. Davis Mills - Mills has moments of making you believe he could develop, then he throws a poor ball on an easy throw.  The offense isn’t any good, which does hurt Mills, but when he has a chance to make a play, he isn’t consistent. 

Power Ratings

Buffalo

Philadelphia

Dallas

San Francisco

Cincinnati

Kansas City

Detroit

Minnesota

Baltimore

Chargers

NY Jets

Jacksonville

Pittsburgh

New England

NY Giants

Tennessee

Cleveland

Green Bay

Miami

Washington

Seattle

Las Vegas

Tampa Bay

New Orleans

Denver

Arizona

Atlanta

Chicago

Carolina

Indianapolis

Rams

Houston

Houston and the Rams continue to sink lower and lower behind the other teams.  Even though Houston had chances to win the last two games, they have been outplayed and dominated in the statistical department, which greatly affects their power rating. 

Cincinnati, Detroit, Chargers and San Francisco continue to rise and improve their rankings in my game codes, which are based on the 19 criteria for winning.  

Hall and Oates Play: I Can't Go For That

Mother nature is in play this week with frigid temperatures and high wins all through the country.  In Cleveland, they are expecting gusts of winds to exceed 50 miles an hour and single-digit temperatures making the real temp feel like minus 21.  Ouch.  High winds are a great equalizer in games—and catching frozen footballs are a challenge.  There is no way I am going to play the Saints and Browns game.  Both teams are unpredictable, and with unpredictable weather, there are too many variables to handicap.  It’s a complete stay away for me so loudly sing John Oates. 

Line of the Week

The Patriots have not played well over the last five weeks, winning two and losing three.  Now, we all know had they not used the Stanford band play at the end of the Raider game, they could easily be 3-2.  But they’re not.  The Bengals on the other hand have been playing well the last six weeks, going 6-0 and winning eight of their last nine games.  Yet, the line for this game is only Bengals -3.  Last week, they were only a 3.5 favorite to the Bucs.  The book isn’t giving the Bengals the love they deserve.  This line looks fishy to me.  Tempting to take the Bengals and lay the points, but weather and a desperate Patriot team might play their best football of the year, after being embarrassed in Las Vegas.  I’ve learned over my VSIN career when something looks too easy, stay away. 

Coordinator Battle of the Week

Gus Bradley, the defensive coordinator of the Colts, has faced Joe Lombardi of the Chargers many times in the past.  Last year, the Raiders won the final game of the year, 35-32, to make the playoffs even though Justin Herbert threw for 355 yards in the game.  Bradley knows the Chargers well, and Lombardi knows Bradley, which will make this an interesting match-up and one worth watching on Monday night. 

Last week, I was 2-1 for my picks, which makes me 30-20 overall for the season and 137-98 overall.  Will post picks in tomorrow’s newsletter. 

Happy Holidays!

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