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Zach Wilson - Confliction
The bad taste from Sunday’s loss has lingered a little longer than I’d hoped or anticipated. On a Tuesday I usually send out the stat pack, all the key stats for the previous game, but today I’m going to change tact and the Stat Pack will be with you tomorrow.
Today I want to talk about Zach Wilson and the conflicting thoughts I have about the Jets QB and his future in New York. I’m always a little hesitant to post about Zach because like most QB’s in our history he has his staunch backers and his staunch critics, in truth I’m neither.
If you’re looking for some clickbait headlines or damming definitive statements, you’ve come to the wrong place. I just wanted to take this opportunity to get some thoughts down and hopefully, whether you agree or disagree with certain statements, you’ll appreciate that I’m coming at this not as a Zach Wilson fan but as a New York Jets fan. At the end of the day, we all want the same things.
🚨 I can see this Elijah Moore situation spiraling. On Sunday the disgruntled Wide Receiver played just 10 snaps, that’s lower than Garrett Wilson, Denzel Mims, Braxton Berrios, and Jeff Smith. With Corey Davis out it was the perfect chance to try and build some bridges, but instead, we took a few whacks at the crumbling foundation instead. Moore’s post-game comments won’t go down well, but we’re not helping ourselves.
⛔ According to Peter King, the Jets are one of the teams who have an interest in Denver’s standout pass rusher Bradley Chubb. The former NC State standout is in the last year of his rookie deal with Denver and is on course for the best statistical year of his career. He has 5.5 sacks through the first 8 games of 2022 and 26 sacks so far in his NFL career. It’s likely going to take a first-round pick to wrestle him away from the Broncos and any team will want to have a contract extension in place before the trade was completed. Remember the Jets can cut Carl Lawson after this season and only eat $333k of dead money. Cimini later posted that according to a source the Jets were not interested, we’ll see.
🤧 Coach Saleh confirmed that both Max Mitchell and George Fant will remain on IR until after the bye week. Which means we have another week of Ogbuehi at RT. Personally, I'm not sure why he's ahead of Mike Remmers on the depth chart, Remmers historically has been the better linemen.
2️⃣ Saleh also confirmed that Mike White has been elevated to QB2 so the team can get a good read of what they have him. Being QB2 means extra reps through the week and mentally you have to prepare as if you're going to play on Sunday.
“We’ve got faith in Z. he’s played good football. He’s taken care of the football since he’s gotten back and he’s shown flashes of good football. Everyone in the locker room still has his back” - Those were the words of Robert Saleh following the Jet’s 22-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday.
We’re now officially through 18 games of Zach Wilson football and the base statistics don’t look overly promising for a player who’s been surrounded by talent. You have to preface every stat to add context. He was a rookie last year, he had a rookie play caller, he’s had an inconsistent offensive line, etc.
Completion percentage: 55.4%
Passing touchdowns: 12
Passing yards: 3382
Game-winning drives: 2
When you narrow it down to the 2022 season alone you see:
Completion percentage: 54.9%
Passing touchdowns: 3
Passing yards: 1048
Rushing yards: 44
Rushing touchdowns: 1
Game-winning drives: 1
Then when you consider he was drafted one pick behind Lawrence and the jets preferred him to Justin Fields, you appreciate that he’s likely always going to be compared to both. Any one draft can have all busts, any one draft can have multiple stars and usually, there is a mix of two. Comparing him to those guys doesn’t help, other than offering a gameshow “this is what you could have won” type of feeling, but here is a comparison anyway.
Completion percentage: 62.5%
Passing touchdowns: 10
Passing yards: 1840
Rushing yards: 99
Rushing touchdowns: 3
Game-winning drives: 0
Completion percentage: 58.5%
Passing touchdowns: 7
Passing yards: 1199
Rushing yards: 424
Rushing touchdowns: 3
Game-winning drives: 2
Zach’s stats don’t look good in comparison and I’d argue that he’s working with the best supporting cast, but there are a ton of variables that contribute to stats like that. I don’t want to spend the entire newsletter comparing him to those guys, but we will reference certain stats and add the context of Lawrence and Fields.
It’s often said that all the QBs from 2021 are awful, well none of them have lit the world alight, but I think it’s too simplistic to paint them all with the same brush.
It’s important to report, consider and digest those baseline stats, but to get a better understanding of Zach Wilson you have to dive a little deeper.
One thing that you’ll likely notice when you look at a statistical breakdown of Zach is that his statistics are regressing. His completion percentage is down 0.7% this year, his touchdown percentage is down 0.2% and his interception percentage is up 0.6% while his sack percentage is down 3.7%. It may not feel like it but he’s getting sacked less this year than last year, but to add context Joe Flacco got sacked at a lower clip (5.5%) than Zach (6.6%), so while some will argue that Zach’s escapability is helping that number (and it absolutely is), it doesn’t tell the entire story. Zach still doesn’t know when to get rid of the football and it’s usually once he escapes the pocket that the bad decisions happen. This is a little strange considering his ability off script was probably the most talked about positive of his game coming out of BYU. In fact if you look at his numbers outside the pocket this year there is an argument for trying to limit these plays, he's 6/31 on passes for 140 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT, that's works out at an NFL rating of 19 and a completion percentage of 19.5%, in short it's abysmal.
In the summer it was revealed that the Jets were reducing the voices in the QB room in an effort to help Zach Wilson and streamline the message. While Rob Calabrese and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur returned to the team, his personal QB coach John Beck and senior assistant Matt Cavanaugh were let go. Losing his personal QB coach may have had a bigger impact than feared, based on his numbers declining, the theory of less being better isn’t holding much water.
I’m going to say two things about the Flacco vs Zach sack numbers. Flacco worked with a better offensive line and Flacco has a much better feel for pressure. Both of those statements can be true. One area of Zach’s game that concerns me is his feel inside the pocket. I mentioned it after the Denver game and it was evident again yesterday. He doesn’t slide or climb the pocket, instead, he spins and bails to the sideline. When you do this you lose sight of one side of the field, your options are condensed and you help the defense flow numbers to the area you’re targeting. Basically, when you do this you’re setting yourself up for failure. On occasions, you have to, but Zach chooses to when there are alternative options.
I also think he’s lost some confidence in his rushing ability and that may be partly to do with his knee injury. He has 44 rushing yards and 2 rushing first downs to his name this year in 5 games, that’s an average of 8.8 yards per game which is significantly down on his 14.2 rushing yards per game last year. I don’t expect him to be a Justin Fields who’s averaging 53 rushing yards a game, but there’s something to unlock there in terms of his ability on the ground. Lanes opened for him yesterday but he rejected them, it all comes down to decision-making.
Now we need to talk about accuracy, according to ESPN stats and information, 28.6% of his passes were off target against the Patriots, that’s the 10th highest of any QB in a single game this year but only the third highest of his career, which isn’t great. Of 35 qualified quarterbacks in 2022, Zach Wilson has the joint worst accuracy with a completion percentage of 54.9%. When you look at his throws under pressure in comparison to being kept clean the picture is dramatic.
When kept clean Zach completes 72.6% of his throws with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, when he’s pressured he completes 19.1% of his throws with 1 touchdown to 5 interceptions. In a way that would indicate that the offensive line is most to blame for his struggles, but the simple fact is that to be a good player in this league you need to be able to perform under pressure to a point.
Based on QBs who have been pressured on at least 30 dropbacks, Zach Wilson is dead last in terms of completion % with his 19.1% trailing the 2nd worst mark of 34.4% held by Mitchell Trubisky. To be inside the top 14 QBs you need to be completing 50% of passes when pressured, that’s where you’ll find the likes of Allen, Herbert, and Burrow as well as guys like Geno and Tua. Zach is over 30% points down on what it would take to be just slightly above average. You don’t have to be the best QB in the league when facing pressure, you just have to be around average.
Use Justin Fields as a comparison here, he’s been pressured on 50.9% of his dropbacks, the highest mark in the league, yet he has completed 42.9% of passes, that’s 23.8 points higher than Zach Wilson’s number. Trevor Lawrence completes 43.4% but he’s protected much better with just 27.8% of his dropbacks being pressured. Zach Wilson’s 72.6% completion, when kept clean, is good, it’s 11th in the league, right around Mac Jones and ahead of Lawrence (68.6%) and Fields (67.0%) - but him being slightly better when kept clean (around 1.4% above average) and significant worse when pressured (around 19.1 below average) doesn’t equal a good quarterback, and it’s not quite the redeeming stat that many think, to a point where I think the kept clean numbers are made too much of.
The offensive line needs to play better, of that we can all agree. But PFF charts all pressures and then assigns the percentage of pressures the QB was responsible for, in essence, what percentage of overall pressures did the QB have some responsibility for because he didn’t use his internal clock, ran into pressure etc. Zach Wilson is at 18.9%, which means that he has some responsibility for almost 20% or 1 in every 5 pressures. That’s the 7th highest mark in the league, Lamar Jackson leads the way at 33.3%, but Lamar Jackson has also thrown 4 touchdowns while under pressure while completing 47.6% of his passes.
Some of his accuracy issues are mental mistakes and some of them are mechanical in nature. He still doesn’t set his feet, he still opts to throw off balance and off the back foot when he doesn’t need to and he still doesn’t drive through. All of these can be coached up, but some players just never get it. My hope is that Zach isn’t one of these guys, but the longer it goes on and the more we see mechanical breakdowns the less likely he is to overcome them.
Below is a chart provided by PFF for Zach’s attempts from the 2021 season
And here is a comparison chart for 2022:
The mix is largely the same when you look at the attempt % numbers, but his completion percentage on deep passes has dropped from 39.5% in 2021 to 26.7% in 2022, the rest of his game has improved and in particular, his ability to connect on those shorter passes has jumped. His accuracy on balls behind the line has risen from 78.9% to 94.4%, which is right around where it should be and where other QBs sit.
This was probably the most encouraging stat I could find for year two so far, the improvement across the board up to 20 yards is worth noting, although like with most things to do with Zach Wilson the 20+ yard decline tempers the excitement.
One other thing to note is that his time to throw has increased this year, up from 3.05 seconds last year to 3.19 seconds this year, he’s more indecisive in terms of what he’s going to do with the football. More time to think for Zach often leads to more mistakes. Based on QBs with at least 50 dropbacks, that 3.19 number is the 2nd highest time to throw in football with Justin Fields’ 3.43 leading the way, the ideal time to throw usually sits between 2.5-2.6 seconds, that’s where you’ll find most of the top QBs in football. Internal clocks matter, and while Fields and Wilson have the ability to escape and extend plays, that’s not always a good thing.
I can give Zach a huge amount of credit for not turning the ball over this year outside of Sunday’s game, but part of that is being very conservative. His 2.1% touchdown percentage is the 2nd worst mark in football ahead of only Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh, he hasn’t turned the ball over which is half of the battle, but he also hasn’t got us into the end zone very often, and he hasn’t needed to with Breece Hall taking on the challenge. Again compare that to the 4.3% of Justin Fields (13th of 25) or the 3.6% of Trevor Lawrence (19th of 35) and it helps paint a comparison picture.
Now this doesn’t paint a pretty picture and I wish it could be more positive, but the stats largely match the eye test. Yet the tools are there, and the arm talent is there, against Tampa we saw Zach make good decisions and thread the needle. For me, he hasn’t replicated that Tampa game in 2022 yet and while he did have 300+ passing yards and 2 touchdowns against New England, it came at the price of three costly turnovers and that just can’t happen.
Who is Zach Wilson? I don’t really know at this point. I don’t know what his ceiling is and I don’t if he’ll ever hit it. What I do know is if he continues to perform poorly through the rest of the season and if those pressure numbers don’t improve then the Jets are going to have a tough decision to make at the end of the season. I think and hope we see enough improvement to feel confident heading into year three, but the evidence is mounting to the contrary and my confidence is waning.
I’m pulling for Zach, but he simply needs to show more improvement. Nobody expects perfection but talk of his improvement has been vastly overstated. It’s not too late and nobody should be giving up on him, but it’s also perfectly understandable to be concerned.
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