Zach Wilson continues trending upward with solid outing vs. Eagles
Despite lackluster box-score stats, New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson took steps forward in important areas during his return start against the Houston Texans, putting together an underrated outing that featured tangible progress.
Wilson continued his upward trajectory with another promising start against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The rookie quarterback continues to show sizable improvement in areas that were his primary weaknesses prior to his four-game absence.
1. Overall accuracy
Wilson’s accuracy was far from perfect against Philly, as even some of his completions were imperfect balls that required a strong effort from the receiver. There is still a long way for him to go in this area.
Regardless, Wilson made some strides. He had his sharpest day yet from an overall accuracy standpoint.
Wilson officially completed 23 of his 38 pass attempts (60.5%), but five of his incompletions were charted as drops while two were throwaways. Taking those things into account, his adjusted completion percentage was a sterling 77.8%, which is a new career high. His previous best was 73.5%, set in his NFL debut against the Carolina Panthers.
Particularly, Wilson did a much better job at the easy stuff, which has been his weakness this year.
Wilson posted an adjusted completion percentage of 84.6% on short throws (0-9 yards downfield), ranking as his second-best mark of the year following his 87.5% mark against Carolina. That is a solid number for Wilson to shoot for going forward. It is slightly above the current league median out of 34 qualifiers (82.8%) and would sandwich between the current 12th and 13th-ranked short passers.
Wilson’s 75.0% adjusted completion percentage on intermediate throws (10-19 yards downfield) sets a new career high, beating out his 71.4% against Carolina. He went 7-for-12 with two drops. That is a tremendous output. The current median mark among qualifiers is 61.7%, and a 75.0% mark would slide between second-ranked Kirk Cousins and third-ranked Kyler Murray.
To boot, Wilson completed all six of his passes behind the line of scrimmage. That minuscule accomplishment won’t get him a statue built anytime soon, but it’s a step forward considering he threw four inaccuracy-based incompletions behind the line of scrimmage over his first seven starts. Perfection is the goal on passes behind the line.
It may be difficult for Wilson to drastically improve his accuracy in-season – perhaps the leap will not occur until he gets an entire offseason to refine his mechanics and hammer them down over months of practice – but it’s great to see him figuring out ways to stabilize things for the time being.
2. Time holding the football
Wilson is clearly putting an emphasis on applying the lessons that he learned from watching the offense succeed during his four-game absence. He is making quicker decisions, seeing things better pre-snap, and taking more checkdowns when they are the best option available.
Exemplifying all of these improvements is the average amount of time that Wilson is holding the ball.
Wilson held the ball for an average of 2.66 seconds against Philadelphia, a new career low.
His previous career low? That would be the nearly identical 2.68-second mark that he posted against Houston the previous week.
These last two starts have been a massive step forward for Wilson when it comes to getting the football out on time. Through Week 7, Wilson was holding the ball for a whopping 3.10 seconds, ranking second-highest among all quarterbacks behind only Lamar Jackson.
That was much too long for Wilson considering where he is currently at as a quarterback. The high-2.6 range is a great place for Wilson to be. It’s a perfectly middle-of-the-pack number – right now, 2.68 seconds is dead-even with the league median out of 32 qualifiers.
We do not want Wilson to hold the ball too long, as that likely means he is passing up on easy throws and creating sack opportunities that do not need to happen. But we also do not want his release time to be too low. That would mean his deep passing and off-schedule abilities are not being unleashed.
By settling into a middle ground, Wilson is striking a healthy balance of aggression and caution. He is improvising and taking shots when the time is right, but he is primarily focusing on working within the offense.
3. Keeping the offense moving
There were no game-breaking plays from the Jets’ offense in this game, but the unit moved the ball efficiently on most of its drives. It was the most fluid and consistent that the offense ever looked under Wilson’s leadership, and that is exemplified by his career-best total of conversions thrown.
Wilson tossed two touchdowns and 13 first downs against Philadelphia. His total of 15 conversions is a new career high, significantly beating out his previous best of 11 against Tennessee.
Wilson averaged only 8.8 conversions per game over his first six fully-played starts. To toss 15 in one contest is a huge step forward for him.
This stat is why Robert Saleh called this game “by far (Wilson’s) best game in terms of just working progression and playing within the scheme.” Sure, he hit a handful of explosive plays against Tennessee, but he was not as solid when it came to commanding the offense and moving the chains. The Eagles game was Wilson’s first performance in which he showed he could consistently move the ball.
Jets fans should be ecstatic with the steps that Wilson is taking.
It’s not as if Wilson is just making some flashy plays with his raw talent while crucial issues persist. Rather, he is improving in the fundamental areas where proficiency is absolutely necessary for a quarterback to achieve sustained long-term success. Even more impressively, it appears he has placed a concerted focus on fixing those weaknesses, showcasing the self-evaluation ability that is integral to long-term development.
Wilson is slowly mastering the “boring” aspects of quarterbacking. Once he completes this mission, then his physical gifts can put him over the top.