FLORHAM PARK, NJ — The New York Jets will take their rusty quarterback and rusty left tackle and head to the Rust Belt this weekend in hopes of finding the offense they envisioned in their minds and on their boards from March through August.

The transformation won’t be immediate, but the long-awaited return of second-year quarterback Zach Wilson should allow them to kick off Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Akrisoor Stadium (1:00 pm EST, CBS). While he lacks the quick wits and experience of Joe Flacco, Wilson’s mobility could be a game-changer for the Jets (1-2).

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“Zack is a different player than Joe, so obviously the plan is going to be a little different in some respects,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said Thursday.

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Wilson hasn’t played a game for 49 days since his first preseason game in Philadelphia. That night, during his ninth performance, he suffered a torn meniscus and bruised bone in his right knee, a non-contact injury that required arthroscopic surgery. By the time he hits the field on Sunday, he will only have three full practices.

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While his timing, anticipation and stamina could be compromised after such a long hiatus, Wilson believes he’s better prepared for a comeback than he was last time on November 28, when he played after missing four games due to for knee sprains. He “felt a little strange, especially since he had never worn braces before,” recalls LaFleur. Wilson wasn’t 100%, as evidenced by his sometimes clumsy gait.

This time, “you wouldn’t even know he had surgery,” LaFleur said.

One might wonder if Wilson should play this week given the venue and the fact that understudy Conor McDermott will be protecting his blind side, but the Jets have said the injury has fully healed and they believe it’s time to start the clock. in the second second of Wilson. year, rust be damned.

“Yes, he will have to find his way, but like everything else, he is expected to come out and play to the best of his ability,” said coach Robert Saleh. “Whatever it is, it is there and you will be proud of it. Then we’ll just find ways to get better.”

Translation: The bandage always burns when it is torn off, whether now or in a week, but it must be done.

LaFleur must develop a game plan that will protect Wilson and not require him to be Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. This is not an impossible task. After all, Pittsburgh isn’t a Steel Curtain anymore, especially without star pass rusher T.J. Watt (torn chest). When Watt is not playing, the Steelers have been 0-6 since 2017, averaging 26 points and just 1.7 sacks per game.

A few thoughts on Wilson’s potential impact:

The escape. Wilson has said he has no intention of changing his style to protect his knee, which he says is 100% done. This is good because his ability to climb and execute planned passes and pass options (RPOs) brings another dimension to the offense that was limited by Flacco’s stately presence. Wilson is not Lamar Jackson (who is he?), but he can play with his feet. Look at his game after his injury last season.

In weeks 12-18, Wilson was the third-highest-scoring quarterback with 157 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps it is no coincidence that his best games fell on this segment.

“We’ve never played against him in the stadium, so there’s some unknown stuff in there,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “That is life. This happens, especially at the beginning of the season, when you first meet the guys … His mobility is different. We’ll weigh how it can affect the game, whether it’s circuits or whether it’s the things he’s capable of doing to expand the pieces or create the pieces.”

Quarterbacks must be playmakers. Watch: Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Barrow, who upset the Jets last week with his smart pocket move. The Jets are hoping Wilson can do some of this by buying time.

Balanced attack. The Jets were too pleased with Flacco, who leads the NFL with 155 pass attempts. It’s time to bounce back and put the ball in the hands of their young running backs Michael Carter and Brees Hall, who are averaging 4.9 yards per try combined.

Wilson’s return is a great opportunity for LaFleur to return to the basic principles of his offensive game – a strong running game and playful passing. He can also move the pocket, adding fake passes and quick screens to his in-game challenge menu. They would get themselves into trouble if they made Wilson back down as hard as Flacco.

Blindness protection. The focus will be McDermott, who will replace the injured George Fant (knee). McDermott is a third-tier left tackle who gained notoriety in six NFL seasons for catching a touchdown pass as a proper tackle. Hekuwa capture, by the way. In his six previous starts, the Jets have allowed 23 sacks, though not all of them were his fault.

McDermott received unwanted attention on social media last week for being beaten in a bag by Trey Hendrickson, but it was his first game of the season. He didn’t play in preseason with an ankle injury, so he was understandable. He should get better after a full week of training repetitions. It is worth noting that he started with a victory over the Steelers in 2019.

Pack of two fuel cells. This is a good week to unleash the two-tight offense that was touted in training camp. Tyler Conklin has 18 catches, but CJ Uzomah (one catch per 5 yards) doesn’t matter.

They are using a 12 man (one RB/two TE/two WR) from last season, but now they need an extra tight end to help McDermott in passing defense. In other words, they have to attach Uzoma to McDermott’s left thigh, another body on Wilson’s blind side.