Robert Saleh won’t blame offensive line for team’s total failure to protect Zach Wilson

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The Panthers roughed up Zach Wilson, sacking him six times Sunday.

The offensive line has shouldered the majority of the blame, but Jets head coach Robert Saleh aggressively denounced that notion.

Saleh emphasized that it’s a collaborative effort.

“I’ll flat out say it, I’m standing by it, especially after watching the tape and I get grades get floated around and all that from people who aren’t in this scheme, game planning sessions, but protecting the quarterback is a collective thing,” Saleh said.

Whatever the “collective thing” is, it needs to be fixed because if what happened on Sunday continues, Wilson won’t be healthy after a while.

Pass protection was an issue during training camp, but once preseason rolled around, the offensive line looked better and the narrative lessened.

But it was fools’ gold.

The offensive line’s performance Sunday was closer to the training camp woes from the joint practices against the Packers and Eagles, when the unit was whooped up on a few occasions.

Wilson was sacked six times, the fourth time since 1970 that a rookie was sacked that often in Week 1. The others were Archie Manning, David Carr and DeShone Kizer.

That’s not the type of company Wilson wants to be a part of.

Wilson was pressured on 51.2% of his 43 dropbacks. The only quarterback under more pressure on Sunday was the Denver Broncos’ Teddy Bridgewater at 53%.

Saleh won’t place it solely on the offensive line, at least publicly. He said it starts from the coaching staff.

“It is not one position group’s job to protect the quarterback,” Saleh added. “The coordinator has got to protect the quarterback, the o-line got to protect the quarterback, the receivers got to protect the quarterback and the quarterback needs to protect the quarterback ... So, we’ve got to do a better job with the way we want to plan; two, communicate; three, execute our technique; but four, trust. Quarterback has to be able to trust what he sees, quarterback to be able to make the right reads, quarterback has to have a consistent set in his drop. O-line has to be able to communicate, execute their technique. Everyone took turns on their pressures and coaches (are) not excluded in this.”

While Saleh believes it’s a shared effort, Greg Van Roten admitted the offensive line had to be better.

“We did not play well upfront yesterday, and I think everybody’s pretty frustrated, just based on how we felt we should have performed based on our training camp and preseason,” Van Roten said. “We’re well short of where we want to be and what our standard is as an offensive line. Didn’t really do much in the run game, and then in the pass game, we dropped back a little bit more than we probably wanted to, and didn’t do a good job of keeping Zach clean. And to his credit, he hung in there and made the plays when he could.”

Van Roten pinpointed the lack of practice time together as why the Jets offensive line struggled. Mekhi Becton (concussion), George Fant (COVID-19), and Alijah Vera-Tucker (pectoral) missed time during training camp. Van Roten believes it affected the communication which led to a few times when Panther defenders blitzed freely at Wilson.

It would have helped take pressure off of Wilson if the running game was efficient. But the ground attack only mustered a measly 45 yards on 17 carries, and the main reason for its struggles was the offensive line getting dominated.

Whether it’s improving communication, playcalling, receivers’ routes or Wilson getting rid of the ball faster, the unit needs to mesh better — and quickly — for the long term development of the No. 2 overall pick.

INJURY REPORT

Left tackle Mekhi Becton was carted off after Van Roten and Panthers defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon collided with the back of Becton’s legs. It seemed like a potential season-ending injury, but it’s a dislocated kneecap and he’s out four to six weeks.

Safety Lamarcus Joyner has a torn triceps and he’s out for the season.

Linebacker Jamien Sherwood suffered a sprained ankle and is out a couple of weeks.

Linebacker Blake Cashman strained his hamstring and is out a couple of weeks.

Punter Braden Mann has a knee sprain, he’s out four to six weeks.

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