Like Mike White, Josh Johnson proves ‘boring’ QB play is what Zach Wilson must learn


Josh Johnson Jets solo white jersey

Josh Johnson Jets solo white jersey

Zach Wilson’s assignment during these last two weeks has been simple. As he continues to recover from his knee injury, all the Jets have asked him to do is watch and learn.

And what he’s learned has been a painful lesson: It seems everybody can run the Jets offense but him.

It’s not that simple, of course, though it certainly has seemed that way over the last two games. In back-to-back weeks now, Wilson has watched as Mike White and Josh Johnson become stars as they kicked the Jets’ anemic offense into a gear it didn’t seem like it had. They’ve scored 64 points now in the last two games — one less than Wilson had in his last four starts combined.

One game could have been just a fluke, but there was nothing flukey about what happened on Thursday night. White looked good again, right up until he hurt his forearm late in the first quarter.

And then journeyman Johnson, in his first extended action since 2018, came in and looked even better. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception on his last pass of the game. And he led an impressive second-half comeback, even though it ended in a 45-30 loss.

White and Johnson combined to complete 34 of 42 passes for 412 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against the Colts. In the last two games they’ve combined to complete 73 of 101 passes for 834 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

That’s almost as many total passing yards and almost twice as many touchdown passes as Wilson had in his six starts before he hurt his knee.

That may seem alarming, but Wilson is so young and so early in his NFL career, it’s probably not completely unexpected. And at least he’s had a front-row seat as White and Johnson have put on an absolute clinic on how this new Jets offense is supposed to be run.

“Yeah, I mean that’s part of the beauty of being able to sit back and watch and learn and see the offense being run through the lens of another quarterback,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “Now he’s had two quarterbacks who have been very efficient in how they’ve run this offense.”

And the lesson? “For him, just to understand, we talk about boring,” Saleh said, “it’s not necessarily boring to take what the defense is giving you.”

That really is what both quarterbacks did, despite their stellar numbers. White, in his 405-yard, three-touchdown performance a week ago, spent most of the game throwing short, quick passes. It helped out his offensive line, which helped his running game and it got the ball into the hands of his playmakers. It also eventually brings the defense in, which opens up deeper throws.

Johnson did a lot of that too, and it wasn’t just because the Colts were sitting back, protecting a lead in the second half, according to Saleh.

“I promise you they didn’t pull off the gas,” he said. “They had their starters in all the way through to the very last whistle. They were playing their normal stuff. They were blitzing, they were playing man, they were going after it. I promise you a defensive coordinator doesn’t want to give up all those yards.”

Whatever the defense was doing, Saleh said “I thought our offense was fantastic” and that Johnson “did an awesome job coming in. Ran the offense exactly the way it’s supposed to be run.”

So if Johnson could do it and White could do it, why can’t Wilson do it too?

Maybe the Jets will soon find out. Saleh said the Jets are hopeful that Wilson will return to practice next week, ahead of their next game at home against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 14. There has always been a chance that he’ll be ready to start that game. If he is, Saleh will be faced with an impossible dilemma if Wilson continues to struggle. He’ll have to figure out whether it’s best for the organization to let him work through it on the field, or to put in one of his two quarterbacks who know how to get the job done.

The hope, though, is that whenever Wilson returns he will have seen enough from his competent counterparts. Perhaps he’s seen that he doesn’t need to play “hero ball,” looking for the big play or the dazzling, off-schedule throw. White and Johnson got the offense working because they kept it simple. They moved quickly, took the easy way out and didn’t wait for big plays to open.

That’s never really been Wilson’s game. He’s an improviser who creates opportunities by moving out of the pocket and waiting for things to open up. But while that worked at BYU, it’s not a recipe for success in the NFL. They couldn’t convince him of that in his first six starts. He kept testing himself, seeing if he could make the big plays he thought the Jets needed.

But now he’s seen how dangerous the Jets’ offense can be by doing it the “boring” way. That’s the lesson that White and Johnson have taught him.

Hopefully, for the Jets’ sake, Wilson was paying attention. Because if he wasn’t, the Jets’ quarterback situation is going to become very messy before too long.

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