How the New York Jets can improve Zach Wilson’s support system
A young NFL quarterback’s fate hinges largely on the quality of the situation he is placed in. The better a player’s support system is, the better his chances of succeeding.
1. Better pass protection from the skill positions
It goes without saying that Wilson would benefit from improved pass protection by his offensive line. That’s obvious.
What’s not as obvious is how much the Jets need to improve their blocking at the skill positions.
New York’s tight end unit was credited with allowing 13 pressures in 2021, per Pro Football Focus, which was the worst of any group in the league. The Jets’ running back unit was credited with allowing 15 pressures, which tied for second-worst.
Overall, the Jets’ tight ends and running backs combined to allow 28 pressures. That was the worst mark in football.
Wilson must be able to trust that his skill position teammates can hold up in the blocking game. It’s going to crush his confidence if he has to constantly peer over his shoulder in anticipation that the back is going to get bulldozed on a blitz or that the tight end is going to get beaten around the corner with ease.
2. Better defense
Wilson and the Jets offense did not get much help from the defense last year.
Starting its average drive on its own 27.5-yard line, New York’s offense received the sixth-worst starting field position in the NFL. Additionally, the Jets only started 13 offensive drives in opponent territory, tying for the third-fewest in the league.
A putrid New York defense failed to present the offense with favorable situations. The unit struggled mightily to get off the field, ranking sixth-worst on third down (44.4% conversion rate allowed) and ultimately taking the field for the third-most total plays (67.4 per game) of any team.
Takeaways were another problem. The Jets ranked second-worst with only 14 of them.
Better play from the defense will go a long way toward making Wilson feel more comfortable.
3. Better kicking
The Jets finished the season ranked 27th in field goal percentage (77.8%) and 29th in extra point percentage (85.2%).
A young quarterback needs all of the confidence that he can muster up. When a sputtering kicker renders the quarterback’s successful drive useless by missing the uprights, it can be a killer to the kid’s psyche, burying him in a deeper hole on the scoreboard than he deserves to be in.
The Jets’ first two kickers of the 2021 season, Matt Ammendola and Alex Kessman, combined to cost the Jets a total of 12 points in just eight games started by Wilson (3 missed FG, 3 missed XP). That’s two touchdowns’ worth of points that Wilson positioned the offense to earn; all gone to waste.
New York is hoping that Eddy Pineiro can build on a strong finish to the year in which he went 8-for-8 on field goals and 9-for-10 on extra points. He’ll be competing against the veteran Greg Zuerlein, who is known for his long-distance power.
4. Fewer drops
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson had an NFL-high 12.7% of his passes dropped.
The running backs and tight ends were once again the biggest culprits. New York’s running back unit had the worst drop rate of any RB unit in the league at 15.3%, while the tight end unit earned the same dubious distinction with a 13.8% rate.
At wide receiver, the Jets actually weren’t too bad, ranking 19th with a 7.1% drop rate. The positional average was 6.6%. New York still needs its wideouts to be much better in this area – particularly Corey Davis who had career-highs of 6 drops and a 15.0% drop rate – but they weren’t as bad as their comrades in the backfield and on the end of the line of scrimmage.
Just like in the pass-protection game, it’s up to Uzomah, Conklin, and Hall to clean up this enormous problem.
5. Better pass-run balance
I discussed this particular issue in yesterday’s breakdown. The Jets need to muster up a better pass-run balance this year after leaning too heavily on the passing game in Wilson’s rookie year.
New York had a 63.3%/36.7% split between pass plays and run plays. Only the Steelers and Buccaneers passed the ball on a higher percentage of their plays.
Not only is that ratio a far cry from the core philosophies of Mike LaFleur‘s offensive vision, but it places too much pressure on a young quarterback. The Jets shouldn’t have asked Wilson to carry the team in his rookie year and they still cannot be expecting him to do so in his second year.
However, achieving this goal is not as simple as LaFleur calling more run plays and fewer pass plays. It’s going to take a team effort.
The Jets were not pass-heavy by choice. They were pass-heavy because they were trailing for the majority of most games. Everyone on the team can be blamed for that issue.
In fact, the run game itself probably deserves the least blame for the Jets’ lack of rushing attempts and rushing yardage. The Jets ranked in the top half of many rushing-efficiency categories, most notably placing 13th with 4.4 yards per carry. They ran the ball pretty well. You just can’t rely on the run game when your defense allows over 500 points and your passing game ranks 27th with only 5.4 yards per play.
Whether the Jets achieve a healthier pass-run balance will be a reflection of how the rest of the team performs. Each of the four goals we discussed above will come into play.
With better defense, better special teams, and more consistent all-around play from the skill position weapons on offense, the Jets can keep themselves in games and thus feel free to run the football throughout all four quarters, taking pressure off Wilson.