Greg Van Roten spearheads New York Jets offensive line woes
The New York Jets offensive line has absorbed an immense amount of criticism throughout the early goings of the 2021 NFL season. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has been sacked a league-high 15 times and has faced pressure on 46.7% of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks.
Of the five offensive linemen who have played extensively throughout the young season, one deserves far more blame than the others: right guard Greg Van Roten.
Through three games, Van Roten has allowed 15 pressures in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranks as the second-highest total in the NFL among right guards.
The team’s issues with protection go well beyond Van Roten – which we will get into later – but he has been responsible for an alarmingly high portion of the unit’s mishaps over the past two games.
Against the Broncos in Week 3, Van Roten allowed a team-high six pressures. That made up 37.5% of the pressures attributed to the Jets’ offensive line and was equal to the combined total of pressures allowed by left tackle George Fant, left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, and center Connor McGovern.
When the Jets stunk up MetLife Stadium against the Patriots in Week 2, Van Roten led the team with seven pressures allowed. That represented a whopping 43.8% of the pressures allowed by the Jets’ offensive line and was more than the combined total of pressures allowed by Fant, Vera-Tucker, and McGovern (5).
Van Roten is just one man out of five – he makes up 20% of the unit. For him to have allowed more than 40% of the offensive line’s pressures (13 of 32) across the last two games is absolutely mind-boggling.
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With that being said, it would not be fair to pin everything on Van Roten. While he is the biggest culprit, he is not the only one.
The Jets’ offensive linemen have combined to allow 45 pressures on 650 protection snaps this season. That’s a pressure rate of 6.9%, which ranks 28th out of 32 offensive line units.
However, even if you remove Van Roten’s production, the rest of the linemen have still combined to allow a pressure rate of 5.8%, which would rank 23rd out of 32. That’s better, but it’s still bottom-10.
Rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker has had a troublesome start in pass protection. His total of 12 pressures allowed ranks as the third-most among left guards. He has improved slightly after giving up six pressures in Week 1, giving up three pressures in each of the last two games, but that’s still a bad number.
Right tackle Morgan Moses has given up eight pressures over the last two weeks, tied for the fourth-most among right tackles. In fairness, he did have to go up against Von Miller in Week 3.
Center Connor McGovern ranks in the middle of the pack (tied for 16th-most) among centers with four pressures allowed this season, but his poor recognition with picking up blitzes and stunts has created a lot of difficulty pass-blocking situations for the running backs, which have often resulted in disaster.
Left tackle George Fant has been a major bright spot. Since taking over for Mekhi Becton in Week 2, Fant has allowed only three pressures through two games on the blindside. His 86.3 pass-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus leads all left tackles over the past two weeks.
The New York Jets’ running backs and tight ends deserve some pass-blocking blame
The Jets’ offensive line itself has not been quite as bad as the team’s overall pass-blocking numbers suggest. That’s because a lot of the damage has been yielded by the running backs, the tight ends, and Zach Wilson himself.
We’ll start with the blocking of the backs and tight ends. New York’s offensive line has gotten no help from its extra reinforcements. The Jets’ running backs and tight ends have been credited with allowing nine pressures, ranking as the second-most in football.
How awful is that? The average team has seen its backs and tight ends allow only 3.7 pressures this season. New York’s unit has more than doubled that total.
Zach Wilson can do a better job of keeping himself clean
Zach Wilson is guilty of making the protection look worse than it is at times. Pro Football Focus has put the blame on Wilson for five sacks this season, which leads all quarterbacks.
Wilson often holds the ball much too long. He has averaged 3.0 seconds from snap-to-throw this season, ranking fifth-highest out of 35 quarterbacks.
On average, Wilson’s sacks have occurred 3.79 seconds after the snap. That ranks sixth-highest, suggesting that many of his 15 sacks were avoidable.
Wrapping it all up, Wilson leads all quarterbacks with eight sacks that occurred more than 4.5 seconds after the snap.
There is no statistic to measure this part of the game, but it’s clear that Wilson has had some problems setting protections, which is to be expected for a rookie quarterback. Unblocked rushers have been a common sight. Those are often on the quarterback for not making the correct adjustments pre-snap.
Mike LaFleur can absorb some blame here as well. LaFleur has called a very small number of schemed-up plays that guarantee Wilson’s protection. Wilson has thrown a screen pass just seven times this season, making up 5.7% of his dropbacks, a rate that ranks sixth-lowest among qualified quarterbacks.
New York Jets’ protection woes are a team effort
Ultimately, everybody is playing a role in the Jets’ lack of pass protection in front of Zach Wilson.
If you want to single out one prime suspect, Van Roten would be that guy. The Jets’ pass protection could rise from “bad” to “below-average” if Van Roten were replaced with a league-average starter (obviously, that’s hypothetical and finding a league-average starter via trade will be difficult at this point).
With that being said, “below-average” is still not getting it done.
This team has a long way to go in its quest to provide the quarterback with good protection. The line has to be better, the backs and tight ends have to be better, the coach has to be better, and finally, the quarterback himself has to put a greater emphasis on his own protection.
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