The story of the New York Jets' season has been well known up to this point. After a season in which they saw young players such as defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and running back Breece Hall establish themselves as significant long term pieces, they went all in by acquiring future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With quarterback being the team’s most glaring offseason need, many believed this move would not only help the Jets break their 12 year playoff drought, but catapult them into contention.
Unfortunately, Rodgers only saw four snaps in their season opener before suffering a torn ACL injury. The Jets therefore had to trot out their former first round pick Zach Wilson who wasn't far removed from being relentlessly booed the previous season. To the team's credit, they managed to win that game as well as three other contests, but now their season is slowly sinking.
With the team having eight games to make a playoff push, one must wonder how much a healthy Rodgers would change.
One thing that's for sure is he would change the team's production on offense. Even without Rodgers, the Jets have still managed to be competitive thanks to their defense which is loaded with contributors at almost every position. They also neutralized high-powered offenses like the Chiefs, Bills, and Eagles which is why they are still in position to make a run toward the playoffs.
The offense has unfortunately been another story. So far, the Jets' offense has scored eight touchdowns despite playing in nine games. Their most recent touchdowns occurred in week six when the Eagles let Breece Hall score in the final minute, and following their bye week against the Giants where Hall turned a two yard checkdown pass into a 50 yard score.
This unit was supposed to take a huge step with Rodgers, and the Jets built their entire playbook, roster, and coaching staff around him. But because of his injury, the team has changed their entire approach on offense to benefit Zach. Even with Hall in the backfield, defenses are keying in on the run and their passing game has not done enough to keep opponents honest.
It's reasonable to think the Jets would be a much more balanced unit on offense with Aaron Rodgers. His presence alone would give more opportunities for Hall to make big runs and then if defenses are playing the run, Rodgers would have plenty of chances to connect with Garrett Wilson.
More importantly, their record would look a lot different with Rodgers. The Jets' defense has held opponents to less than 20 points a game, and it's hard to believe a Rodgers-led offense would not be capable of averaging more than 20 points. He may be 40 in a few weeks but Rodgers is the type of player who can elevate others around him. A healthy Rodgers likely would have guided them to wins in all of their one score losses against the Patriots, Raiders, and Chiefs - although that game was the team's best offensive performance. Instead they've had to ponder the what-ifs.
But when a team's starting quarterback goes down, it will likely reveal many flaws and this has been the case with the Jets. As mentioned, they have only scored eight offensive touchdowns this season and while this number would look a lot better with Rodgers, that's not excusing some of their self-inflicted wounds.
The Jets' offense often struggles in situations that most teams capitalize in. Their red zone and third down offense particularly ranks dead last in both categories. Most of this is a combination of bad play calling, poor execution, and a lack of discipline. The penalties have especially been a problem as the last two games have seen the Jets rack up 12 offensive penalties, which includes a holding call that negated a Breece Hall touchdown from last week. That comes down to offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. He was signed because of his work with Rodgers in Green Bay, but has struggled without him before as seen in Denver and it's happening again.
From a personnel standpoint, there is also a lot to be desired. They have not done a good job with their plans at backup quarterback. Zach Wilson needed this season to watch from the sidelines and while he's had a few decent games, signing a more experienced backup like Teddy Bridgewater would have been a better option. They look scared to put Wilson in positions to make big plays when they have a small lead, such as the Raider game where they didn't throw downfield until they were trailing.
Other issues include going into the season with a 38 year old Duane Brown at left tackle. He started only two games before a hip injury landed him on injured reserve. Allen Lazard - a signing meant to bring in Rodgers - has struggled to compliment Garrett Wilson with bad penalties and dropped passes.
While I believe Rodgers will certainly make a difference once healthy, the Jets can't simply run it back in 2024 regardless of what happens this season. They must address their weak links regarding tackle and receiver, along with having a better backup plan in case Rodgers suffers another injury.
There is some hope Rodgers will come back during the season. He claims to have made significant progress during his rehab and expressed confidence in a return during mid-December or even earlier. The question is whether it will be worth it depending on the Jets' playoff chances at that point. If things don't change in the coming weeks, Rodgers might be better off waiting until next year.