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Jets Leave London with First-Half Nightmares in Tow

The New York Jets continue to start slow, falling behind again in their loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Here's how the Jets can start faster after their bye week.

The Jets touched down on Thursday in London, looking to pick up their second win in a row. By halftime at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was hard to tell if they’d gotten off the plane at all.

Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was the latest in a string of slow starts for the Jets, who once again fell behind big in the early moments of the game. By the time New York pieced together two touchdown drives in the second half, it was too late. The defense couldn’t stop a late drive led by Matt Ryan, and a Mike Davis three-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach.

CJ Mosley took some of the blame after the game, pointing out a late third-and-13 that Atlanta converted on a quick slant to Olamide Zaccheaus.

“We just have to eliminate our mistakes and stop the penalties, especially on third down,” Mosley said after the game. “It starts with me.”

Only it doesn’t. Mosley, despite his humility, was one of the best players on the field for the Jets, forcing a key fumble in the first half to keep his team alive. The touchdown in the closing minutes accounted for the only points his unit gave up in the second half.

They may not have gotten the stop when they absolutely needed one, but that’s bound to happen when they’re on the field for 178 snaps over the course of the past two weeks, constantly trying to bail out an offense that has put them in a hole from the word go all season. This week was no exception.

Two consecutive three-and-outs. That was how New York started the game offensively. By the end of the first quarter, the Jets were outscored 10-0 and outgained 154-16. They had the ball for just 3:30.

Of course, none of this comes as a surprise. The Jets have been outscored 30-0 on the season in the first quarter. They’ve picked up just five first downs in five games. Zach Wilson’s first pass routinely comes on third-and-long for an incompletion or an interception. If New York didn’t have enough problems, they essentially spot their opponents a lead before they even start playing football.

READ: Slow Starts Keep 'Crushing' the Jets

Things haven’t gotten much better in the second quarter either, and they certainly didn’t on Sunday. Zach Wilson threw a pick on a wildly inaccurate throw to Keelan Cole on the Jets’ next possession. When the offense finally put a drive together, they were forced to settle for a field goal.

That field goal brought the Jets total to 13 first half points on the season. New York has just one first half touchdown in five games. Against Atlanta, they gained just 80 yards on 23 plays, holding the ball for less than eight minutes of a possible 30. Wilson completed just 5-of-13 passes for 42 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating was 15.5, and this wasn’t the worst first half he’s played this season.

What New York has on its hands is a colossal failure to prepare. Usually, the first 15 plays are scripted. The offense has all week to practice those, and they’ve still managed to come out completely flat. Zach Wilson hasn’t executed the way the coaching staff would like him too early on, but he needs to be given easier throws out of the gate to move the ball incrementally.

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Wilson’s best plays, for the second week in a row, have come in the fourth quarter. Most of them are ad-libbed. That can’t be a consistent formula for success. The Jets can’t continue to wait until their back is against the wall to play football.

It leaves a non-existent margin for error in the hands of the defense, the kind that Mosley is all-too-modestly taking the blame for at the end of games.

So how does Gang Green start faster?

First, Robert Saleh can let Mike LaFleur call plays from the booth. LaFleur sat in the booth for the entirety of his stint in San Francisco, but has audibled to sideline duties in order to more easily facilitate conversations with his rookie quarterback. That hasn’t exactly worked out for him.

LaFleur would likely benefit from the ability to see the whole field like he did with the 49ers, just like several young coordinators (i.e. Joe Brady, Brian Daboll) have found success doing thus far. That may come at the expense of sideline chats with Wilson, but if it keeps Wilson away from the sidelines for longer, it’s a worthy tradeoff.

READ: Robert Saleh Disagrees With Crucial Roughing the Passer Call in Loss to Falcons

LaFleur can also help his young quarterback by calling quick passes using Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder as the initial reads. Crowder has largely functioned as a secondary option if the downfield read isn’t there, but that often inhibits his ability to catch the ball in stride and turn upfield.

Moore has been virtually non-existent in that respect. His ability to pick up yardage after the catch is part of the reason the Jets drafted him. LaFleur would be wise to take a look at what the Giants did with Kadarius Toney this week (10 catches, 186 yards) and try to replicate those efforts with Moore. Shorter crossing routes to the shiftier receivers are easier throws than the tight-window missiles to Corey Davis deep down the field. There’s a time and place for those.

Finally, Wilson has routinely passed up the opportunity to pick up first-down yardage with his legs. On the Jets’ opening possession, Wilson rolled out to the left and fired a third-down pass to Crowder that fell incomplete. Crowder should have caught it, and there was an illegal shift that would have nullified it if he did, but Wilson failed to recognize that he had the first down easily with his legs.

Wilson ran for 10 touchdowns last year at BYU. He’s extremely capable as a runner when he clears the pocket. Emphasizing that option in the offense can help extend drives.

The Jets have a bye next week. They travel to New England afterwards. With two weeks of preparation, there’s no excuse to come out flat again, but they need to make tangible changes to address the problem. Robert Saleh’s team has to start playing football when the game begins, not when it’s already halfway done. 

Follow Max Schneider on Twitter (@Max_Schneider15). Be sure to bookmark Jets Country and check back daily for news, analysis and more.