Zach Wilson can succeed vs. Bucs by exploiting these holes
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is allowing the second-fewest yards per pass attempt (6.4) in the NFL and also has the second-most sacks in the league (44). It’s an elite unit and will present a stiff challenge for New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.
With that being said, Wilson can find success by exploiting these two particular holes in Tampa Bay’s defense.
1. Injuries to Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul
Tampa Bay will have to operate without its two starting edge rushers: Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Barrett will be sidelined with a knee injury while Pierre-Paul will sit with a shoulder injury.
The losses of Barrett and Pierre-Paul are huge for a defense that thrives upon its elite pass rush. Tampa Bay has created pressure on 28.4% of opposing dropbacks, per Pro Football Reference, ranking third-best in the NFL.
Thanks to the heat they apply, opposing quarterbacks have not been able to attack the Bucs down the field. The Bucs are allowing the second-fewest yards per completion (9.8), as opponents are throwing their average pass only 6.9 yards downfield against them, the second-lowest aDOT (average depth of target) allowed by any defense in football.
Now that Barrett and Pierre-Paul are out, the Buccaneers might have trouble generating the quick pressure that they need to eliminate big passing plays by the opposition.
Wilson must take advantage.
Whereas a quick-passing mentality is usually necessary against Tampa Bay, Wilson might have more time than usual to allow downfield routes to develop thanks to Tampa Bay’s injuries.
Early in the game, Wilson must stay patient in the pocket and test the waters to see how New York’s offensive line holds up against the Buccaneers’ depleted defensive line. If the Bucs are still winning frequently despite the injuries, then Wilson must adapt and get the ball out quickly.
But if he finds that the Jets’ offensive line is winning and giving him ample time to throw, Wilson could discover deep passing opportunities that quarterbacks usually do not get against the Buccaneers.
This will be the first game that the Buccaneers have played without both Barrett and Pierre-Paul since the duo joined forces in 2019. It will be interesting to see how large of an impact the newfound obstacle has for Todd Bowles’ excellent defense.
2. Rushing yards allowed to quarterbacks
Zach Wilson’s improvement as a rusher is a big part of the overall progress he has shown over the past few weeks. Wilson went off for 91 rushing yards against Jacksonville last week and has four rushing touchdowns in his past five games.
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Tampa Bay has allowed the second-most rushing yards per game to quarterbacks this season, yielding 25.3 per game. The Buccaneers have allowed the opposing starting quarterback to rush for at least 30 yards in six games, including each of their last three.
There should be some scrambling lanes open for Wilson today. It is also likely that his depleted wide receiver unit will struggle to separate against a Tampa Bay defense that has the best Pro Football Focus coverage grade of any team (89.6), so there will probably be a lot of plays in which Wilson has nowhere to throw the ball.
Couple those things together and it becomes clear: Wilson might be wise to emphasize using his legs fairly often.
Of course, that does not mean Wilson needs to take off running on every single play like he’s Michael Vick. By no means is that what he should do. Like any quarterback in any game, his first priority should be to drop back, stand tall in the pocket, and go through all of his reads.
But in this particular matchup, facing a defense that will likely shut down the Jets’ weak receiving group but also struggles to stop quarterbacks on the ground, Wilson may want to prioritize taking off and running just a little bit more than usual.
A larger-than-normal number of opportunities to run should be available. And in many situations, taking the run will probably be the right play due to the lack of separation from the Jets’ route-runners.
Wilson’s season-high for rush attempts is four (a tie between his last three games). Perhaps today is the right day to take off five or six times.