Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker take big steps forward vs. Tampa Bay
New York Jets rookies Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker faced tall orders in Week 17. Not only did they have to face the elite defense of the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, but they had to do it within an offense riddled with injuries.
Wilson had to operate without his top three wide receivers, top two tight ends, and top two running backs. Vera-Tucker played most of the game without the two starting linemen he’s operated next to all season – center Connor McGovern missed the game with an injury while left tackle George Fant left early in the game.
In spite of the treacherous circumstances, the two youngsters powered through and enjoyed perhaps their best performances of the year.
Zach Wilson keeps improving
Wilson completed 19 of 33 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Still dealing with a depleted unit of skill position players that could not create much separation, Wilson was tasked with delivering one tight-window throw after the next to keep the Jets’ offense moving, and he continuously hit those throws to get the absolute most out of each situation.
Statistically, two aspects of this performance stand out for Wilson: the overall production of the offense and the extension of his incredible ball-security run.
This was the best that the Jets’ offense has looked under Wilson’s leadership. New York’s totals of 22 first downs and 374 yards are each the best totals posted by the offense in Wilson’s 12 starts this year.
In fact, this might have been the Jets’ best offensive performance regardless of who was at quarterback.
The Jets posted an offensive EPA (estimated points added) of +13.4. That is their second-best mark of the year following the Colts game (+17.5). Considering much of the production in that contest came when the game was out of reach, the Bucs game was arguably the more impressive performance. Tampa Bay also has a better defense than Indy.
As for ball security, Wilson is reaching historic levels of prowess. He had yet another clean game, finishing with zero interceptions or fumbles.
Wilson has now strung together four consecutive zero-interception games. That sets a new Jets franchise record for consecutive starts without an interception by a rookie quarterback.
Over his past seven starts, Wilson has only three turnovers, a monumental improvement over his nine turnovers in five starts to begin the season.
Alijah Vera-Tucker dominates
Facing off against an elite Tampa Bay interior defensive line that features Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, Vera-Tucker dominated the line of scrimmage.
Over 36 snaps in pass protection, Vera-Tucker gave up only one pressure.
In the run game, Vera-Tucker was beastly, registering an 88.5 run-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus. That’s the second-best mark of his career (trailing Week 5 at Atlanta, 90.6), and it ranked second-best among left guards in Week 17.
Vera-Tucker helped the Jets’ non-quarterbacks rush for 150 yards on 23 carries, a superb average of 6.5 yards per carry.
Altogether, PFF scored Vera-Tucker with an overall grade of 90.0 for his tremendous efforts in both phases. That is the best mark among all left guards in Week 17 entering Monday Night Football.
Run-blocking has been a strength for Vera-Tucker all year. It’s in the passing game where Vera-Tucker has struggled to muster consistency, but we’re starting to see some progress from Vera-Tucker in pass protection after a roller-coaster season in that phase.
Over his past three games, Vera-Tucker has allowed five pressures on 123 protection snaps, a pressure rate of 4.0%. Prior to that, he gave up 35 pressures on 539 protection snaps, a pressure rate of 6.5%. For reference, the 2020 league average among guards was 4.5%.
Jets fans should be ecstatic about the production these two rookies mustered up against a top-notch opponent.