The Jets are about to begin Round 4 of their 2021 quarterback prizefight. They're hoping the return of Zach Wilson will result in a knockout of the host Houston Texans.
The players are on the NRG Stadium turf warming up for their 1 p.m. ET kickoff, and Wilson is limbering up for his second tour of duty behind center. Wilson injured his knee in the second quarter of the Jets' Game 6 at New England and has watched the past four games while others piloted the Green & White offense.
The return of Wilson passes several milestones in recent Jets history. Today's game will be the first time the team has changed starters, for whatever reasons, four times in a season since ... well, since last year, when Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco traded starting stints a few times each over the last 12 games. It will be the first time the Jets have started different QBs in three consecutive games since the start of 2019, when Darnold, Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk got the nods in the first three games.
Then if we count Josh Johnson's three-quarters relief appearance at Indianapolis, they have already played four QBs for extended periods in a season for the first time since the injury-laden 2005 season.
Despite the musical chairs this season, all the QBs have done well to team up with the wideout group, topped by veterans Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder and rookie Elijah Moore, to get the offense moving from its sluggish start as the Jets' net passing yards/game rankings have risen from 30th in the NFL to ninth in five weeks' time.
And none of this seeming instability at the QB position will matter if Wilson can come in and show the progress that he, head coach Robert Saleh and coordinator Mike LaFleur saw him making before his injury.
"Mentally, I feel like what I'm looking for, what I need to do as a quarterback is heading in the right direction," Wilson said during the week of what he expects from himself in his second term running the offense. "Of course you're still learning, but I feel like I'm going in the right direction as far as my understanding of the game and what I'm looking for and really the ability to just go through the offense and the mindset, I guess you could say, of just making the best decision every single play for the team. Putting those guys first."
If he can find the downfield dimension he presented at times in his first six games as the Jets QB, he could have a successful return to action today, although Davis, the No. 1 wideout, has been declared inactive with a groin injury. Otherwise, Wilson's wideouts are ready, in particular Moore, coming off his career day and one of the top days by a Jets rookie in three decades against Miami last week — eight catches for 141 yards and a 62-yard touchdown connection with Flacco.
Not to mention that the Houston defense is ranked low in many NFL categories — 32nd in total yards/play, 30th in rush yards/play and 31st in net passing yards/play.
But Wilson must beware because in their last two games, both on the road, the Texans turned over Miami and Tennessee 10 times combined and would like to continue that takeaway trend before their home fans.
Defensively, the Jets continue to seek traction with a good but inconsistent line and a battered back end. Holding the unit together in a manner of speaking are the linebackers, veteran C.J. Mosley alongside Quincy Williams, coming off an active 15-tackle, 2.5-TFL game vs. the Dolphins and playing more these days as Saleh and his training staff work to bring Jarrad Davis back to full steam ahead from his late-August ankle injury.
But again, a Jets victory could be helped along by the struggling Texans offense, like its defensive brethren ranked low in the league — 32nd and last in total yards/game and yards/play, 32nd and last in rushing, both per game and per play, and 31st in passing yards/game. Tyrod Taylor will be facing the Jets for the eighth time in his career, with his fourth different team, and he's had success with a 4-2 record as a starter, although his last meeting was in 2018 with Cleveland, when he left trailing and with an injury, with then-rookie Baker Mayfield entering and leading the TNF comeback.
The Jets are seeking their first road win of the season to show the progress that Saleh feels certain will eventually "flip" the franchise's fortunes. The Texans would love a home win to go with their recent road revival. The winner will rise to 3-8 on the year, the loser will fall to 2-9.
Here is the Jets' inactive list, not including two of the QBs referenced above, Flacco and Mike White, who are out due to COVID protocols, with Johnson elevated from the practice squad to serve as Wilson's backup.
- RB La'Mical Perine
- CB Rachad Wildgoose
- S Jarrod Wilson
- DL Tim Ward
- OL Isaiah Williams
- WR Corey Davis
- DL Jonathan Marshall
And this is the Texans' six-player inactive list:
- QB Deshaun Watson
- QB Jeff Driskel
- DB Justin Reid
- DB Cre'Von LeBlanc
- WR Davion Davis
- TE Jordan Akins