The Zach Wilson roller-coaster reaches its biggest drop yet
Zach Wilson‘s post-injury-return run was off to a nice start.
In his second game back, Wilson earned Rookie of the Week honors with a three-touchdown game against the Eagles that was arguably his best performance of the season. He built upon a decent return game against the Texans in which he showed improvement in fundamental areas but struggled with accuracy, maintaining the fundamental progress while improving his accuracy to season-best levels.
In the spirit of his wildly erratic rookie season, Wilson tumbled down to new lows just one week later.
Wilson completed 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards in a 30-9 loss to the Saints. His 45.2% completion rate is a new career low.
Even when you contextualize Wilson’s output, this still stands out as his least accurate game as a professional.
After adjusting Wilson’s stats for drops (3), throwaways (3), and batted passes (1), he still posted an adjusted completion percentage of only 57.9%.
That is the worst mark of Wilson’s career and his first sub-60% display. His previous career-low was 60.9%, set against the Houston Texans just two weeks ago.
Wilson’s 57.9% adjusted completion percentage was fourth-worst among 27 qualified quarterbacks in Week 14 (pre-Monday Night Football), but the three quarterbacks who ranked behind him – Kirk Cousins (55.2%), P.J. Walker (50.0%), and Taylor Heinicke (50.0%) – all attempted much more difficult passes.
Walker, Cousins, and Heinicke ranked second, third, and fourth, respectively, in average depth of target (aDOT) in Week 14, each throwing over 11.0 yards downfield on their average pass. So, it’s understandable that they were on-target on fewer passes. They were chucking the ball downfield.
Wilson, meanwhile, ranked only 17th in aDOT, passing the ball only 7.5 yards downfield on average. He played with only an average level of aggressiveness and still hit his target at an abysmal level of consistency.
Of the bottom-10 quarterbacks in aDOT this week, Wilson not only had the worst adjusted completion percentage, but he was lightyears behind everyone else. The gap between him and the second-worst player of the bunch – Josh Allen (75.0%) – was a whopping 17.1%. That is larger than the gap between Allen and the top-ranked player in the group (Patrick Mahomes, 90.9%, 15.9% ahead of Allen).
Wilson has come back from his injury playing much safer football than he did to begin the year, showing an improved willingness to take underneath throws. His aDOT over the past three weeks is 7.5 compared to 9.1 over his first six starts.
However, the change in playstyle is not paying dividends since he is converting the easy short throws as often as many other quarterbacks hit the difficult deep throws.
When the quarterback plays a safe brand of football, he is supposed to make up for the decrease in explosiveness (compared to a more aggressive style of play) with an increase in consistency. If the quarterback is going to be hit-or-miss on throws that yield minimal yardage and are designed to shred the defense by being completed over and over again, the offense is not going to go anywhere.
Getting better at throwing accurately on the easy throws remains the primary goal for Wilson, just as it has been all year. With each passing week that Wilson continues to botch the same layups, it continues to feel more and more likely that substantial progress in his game cannot happen until he gets an entire offseason to hone in on his mechanics and psyche.