FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. What trade request? Welcome back, Elijah Moore — even though you never left.
After two months in wide receiver purgatory, which included a trade request and a one-game benching, Moore once again is a key player in the passing attack. He made a season-high six receptions last week on 10 targets, and now he wants more.
“I still haven’t done what I want to do, but I feel good,” he told ESPN.
What does he want to do?
“I want to go crazy!” Moore said, raising his voice. “I want to put up 10 [receptions] and blow somebody out!”
Talk about a turnaround. Until recently, he was the invisible man on offense. He was like Bruce Willis’ ghost character in the movie “The Sixth Sense.” Moore was around a lot, but no one knew he was there. He went through a three-game stretch where he had only one target and no catches.
What changed? The coaches point to an attitude shift, saying he’s now playing carefree and relaxed. That might be true, but there’s more to it than that. There was a transition period when he was moved to the slot, which occurred after his Oct. 30 trade request. Moore said his number is being called more frequently than before. There also was the quarterback change, which might be the biggest reason of all.
With Mike White, Moore had 10 catches in three games — seemingly rejuvenated. He had similar success with Joe Flacco at the start of the season — 12 catches in three games. With Zach Wilson, not so much — it was only six catches in six games. Wilson’s unexpected return to the lineup, due to White’s rib injury, should be a fascinating litmus test. Moore made his comments before Friday’s QB change.
“Everybody has helped my resurgence, not just Mike,” Moore said. “I’m grateful for Mike. I’m grateful for everybody on the team.”
2. Scoring slump: The emergence of White and his feel-good story has camouflaged a serious problem, one that could cost the Jets a playoff spot.
They can’t find the end zone.
The Jets have lost four of their past six games largely because they rank 26th or lower in points per game, points per drive, red zone efficiency, third-down rate and EPA (expected points added) over that span. White has passed for 952 yards in his three starts by exploiting a bad Chicago Bears defense and playing a lot of catch-up, but they don’t hand out medals for inflated passing numbers. The NFL is all about scoring, and the Jets have scored only two touchdowns in the past two games and only 10 in the past six.
“It doesn’t really matter how many yards you get, it doesn’t matter how you move the ball,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “You have to finish with touchdowns, particularly in December, particularly when you’re playing against good teams. We have to get that done. We have to get that corrected. … We’re not executing at a level we need to be at in December to get to where we want to go.”
LaFleur has faced many challenges, most notably seven different offensive line combinations, but he has enough firepower at wide receiver and running back to be scoring more than 17.5 points per game — their average over the past six games. The biggest issue is the red zone, where LaFleur has relied heavily on the pass. The Jets have passed on 62.5% of the plays, the fourth-highest rate in the league over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
They need more balance inside the 20 — everywhere, really. LaFleur has gone from one extreme (conservative playcalling for Wilson) to a wide-open approach with White, and now it might be time to find a happy medium with a rusty Wilson before their playoff shot slips away.
3. Shell game: Friday’s shakeup was the Jets’ fourth quarterback change at the starting position. Consider the head-spinning moves across the depth chart:
Wilson went from QB3 (injured) to QB1 to QB3 to QB2 to QB1.
White went from QB2 to QB3 to QB2 to QB1 to QB3 (injured).
Flacco went from QB1 to QB2 to QB3 to QB2 to QB3 to QB2.
You couldn’t find a shell game on the streets of Manhattan this confusing.
4. Motown rumors: During the run-up to the 2022 draft, cornerback Sauce Gardner thought there was “a huge possibility” that he’d be picked second overall by the Detroit Lions, his hometown team. He got the rumors from his Motown moles.
“I ain’t going to lie,” Gardner told ESPN, “I’m plugged into my city.”
Maybe so, but his sources probably weren’t accurate in this case. The Lions appeared to be all over defensive end Aidan Hutchinson because, when the former Michigan star didn’t go first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, they wasted no time in submitting their draft card. Gardner didn’t have to wait long; he was scooped up with the fourth pick.
It has worked out brilliantly for both players and both teams. Gardner and Hutchinson are running 1-2, respectively, in the competition for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, according to the latest odds by Caesars Sportsbook. Hutchinson leads all rookies with seven sacks.
5. Pay raise: The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Wednesday, and there’s a good chance Gardner will be one of the AFC cornerbacks. He’d be the first Jets rookie since safety Erik McMillan (1988) to be selected to the Pro Bowl — pretty remarkable. There will be a down-the-road financial reward.
Fifth-year options on first-round rookie contracts must equal the transition tag if a player is named to a Pro Bowl once in their first three seasons, per the collective bargaining agreement. If a player is selected to two or three Pro Bowls, it’s the equivalent of the franchise tag. For Gardner, that could equate to a pay raise in the neighborhood of $3.5 million to $7 million in 2026, according to an estimate by Over the Cap, a salary cap-based website.
6. Did you know? The Jets could use some extra punch in their short-yardage rushing attack. Some teams use an extra offensive lineman in a “heavy” package, but LaFleur has yet to use six linemen in a play, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He did it 34 times last season, scoring three times on those heavy plays.
7. Green Lions: There are some familiar names on the Lions’ coaching staff, including two ex-Jets — former cornerback Aaron Glenn (defensive coordinator) and former backup quarterback Mark Brunell (quarterbacks coach). Glenn, the Jets’ first-round pick in 1994, is a rising head-coaching prospect who interviewed for the Jets’ vacancy in 2021. Former Jets offensive coordinator John Morton is a senior offensive assistant on the staff.
Here’s another name: Seth Ryan, son of former Jets coach Rex Ryan, is the assistant wide receivers coach. Rex Ryan said he was offered a sideline pass by Saleh, but declined.
“I am never going to that stadium and cheer against the Jets,” said Ryan, a studio analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” show. “I told Robert that this will be the only game I cheer against the Jets on TV.”
8. Nice touch: Angela Byrd, widow of former Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd, will serve as an honorary captain on Sunday. She will be joined by several family members. It was 30 years ago (Nov. 29, 1992, to be exact) that Byrd suffered a broken neck in a game that left him partially paralyzed — one of the darkest chapters in franchise history. The team’s Most Inspirational Player award, given annually, is named after Byrd.
9. Big change: One year ago, the Jets were 3-10, playing out the string. What a difference, huh?
10. The last word: “Yeah, Barry Sanders, all of that stuff — for sure. Still have all my high school buddies, they’re all still Lions fans. Everybody is.” — Saleh, raised in Dearborn, Michigan, on whether he grew up a Lions fan