The stirrings of a QB controversy percolate among the fan base just like last season
What a difference a week makes for the New York Jets.
Throughout last week, the debate raged about whether Mike White should be inserted as the starting quarterback over Joe Flacco. Although Robert Saleh insisted that Flacco was the starter “barring catastrophe,” the questions about Flacco’s viability at 37 years of age were all over the place.
After Week 2, the narrative totally changed. Not only is White totally forgotten about, but some fans want to ride Flacco as long as he plays well, even when Zach Wilson is fully healthy. The leader of the callers is former longtime WFAN host Joe Benigno, who said so yesterday on his weekly phone call with Tiki and Tierney.
— WFAN Sports Radio (@WFAN660) September 19, 2022
On the surface, it’s easy to say such a thing. After all, Flacco’s first two starts have been impressive statistically and on the surface. Pro Football Focus has him as the third-best QB in the league with a 75.8 grade. He’s thrown five touchdowns with just one pick, and he’s thrown for over 300 yards in both games.
However, those numbers belie the fact that Flacco actually played pretty terribly against the Ravens. While he was better against Cleveland, he still missed several throws that an NFL quarterback should be able to complete. There were other plays in which his lack of mobility cost the offense in a big way.
One question, though, is if Zach Wilson would have been any better. After all, Flacco did lead a touchdown drive in about a minute of clock time to win the game for the Jets on Sunday, and he threw four TD passes. That’s not something to overlook.
Though it’s impossible to know, let’s project a bit: how would Zach Wilson have done in the same situation?
Jets vs. Ravens
Second quarter: 2nd and 16, NYJ 30
With the score 3-0 Baltimore, Flacco faces a safety blitz by Marcus Williams up the middle that was picked up late by Michael Carter. Still, he has enough space to get out of the pocket to his left. Judging by the spacing on the field, Zach Wilson definitely could have gained yardage on that play instead of losing a yard.
Second quarter: 3rd and 4, BAL 27
The Jets are in 11 personnel. The Ravens are running an aggressive press coverage that Elijah Moore beats with a quick inside step. There’s not a ton of space for this throw, and Moore should have hung on despite the cornerback’s hand disrupting the catch. Still, Flacco’s ball placement wasn’t great. The ball was too far inside, allowing the corner to interfere. If the ball is thrown truly back shoulder, Moore has an easier catch. Also, the ball took a while to get there.
Wilson may not have placed the ball any better, but his extra zip could have allowed Moore to secure the catch before the corner could get his hand in.
This incomplete pass forced the Jets to kick a 45-yard field goal, which Greg Zuerlein promptly missed. It negated a strong Jets drive and set the tone for poor things to come.
Third quarter: 2nd and 9, NYJ 26
This is on the drive following the Ravens’ touchdown that made the score 17-3. On this play, Joe Flacco is flushed to his right. He does a good job getting out of the pocket but misses Elijah Moore on the sideline.
Wilson’s superior speed may have allowed him to get to the spot faster and set his feet, giving him a better chance to complete the pass. Is it likely that he completes it? Not necessarily. But could Wilson have made that play? Yes.
3rd quarter: 3rd and 2, NYJ 39
This Jets’ drive should not have gotten this far, as a bogus illegal contact call gave the Jets a first down three plays earlier on what should have been a Joe Flacco sack. However, they had a third and two from their own 39, needing to keep the ball moving after Devin Duvernay’s TD reception gave the Ravens a 17-3 lead.
The Jets initially did a decent job in pass protection, as Flacco had a clean pocket. He could have thrown the ball on the out to Braxton Berrios for the first down, but he did not trust his arm. Berrios’s motion inside gave him enough space to get leverage on the defender. It appears that he was Flacco’s first read, as well.
There’s a good chance that Zach Wilson makes that throw. Whether he places it properly is a different story, as Wilson has a tendency to ground short throws. But he definitely would have trusted his arm on the play, and Flacco simply did not.
Furthermore, Flacco missed Davis over the middle before the pressure came. He had leverage on his defender, and a ball thrown with zip could have been complete. Flacco seemingly did not trust his arm once again. Wilson most likely would have, as he showed increased ability to complete throws over the middle down the stretch of last season.
This failed drive kept the momentum solidly in Baltimore’s court, and they would never relinquish it.
Jets @ Browns
First quarter: 3rd-and-1, NYJ 40
This was the Jets’ first drive of the game. Breece Hall’s second down run set up third and short from the Jets’ 40. It was a chance to start gaining some momentum on offense.
The Jets came out in 13 personnel (one RB, three TE, one WR). Off play action, Flacco rolls to his right, and both Moore and Conklin’s routes flow in that direction. Meanwhile, Ruckert and Yeboah are both blocking, at least initially.
What stands out is that right off the bootleg, the linebacker for Cleveland, No. 44 Sione Takitaki, drops into coverage, anticipating a short throw. Only after seeing Flacco continue to roll out does he aggressively attack the QB. In that window of time when Takitaki was dropping, a more mobile QB could have taken off and easily gotten the first down. That’s a dimension that Zach Wilson brings to the table.
It’s easy to say that the Browns would have played it differently with Wilson in there, but plays like this open on third down all the time, even for mobile QBs. Usually, there will be a receiver or back in the flat to put that linebacker in conflict, but the LB initially dropped to account for the possibility that Kenny Yeboah would leak out. Wilson most likely gets that first down instead of forcing a 16-yard throw on 3rd-and-1.
Then again, on the second drive, Flacco did take off when he saw an opening. But that was with a hole that even Peyton Manning could have gotten through.
First quarter: 3rd and 2, NYJ 46
On the Jets’ second drive of the game, down 7-0, they faced a 3rd-and-2 from their own 46. Flacco came out in shotgun with 11 personnel and, after Berrios came in motion, three receivers bunched to his left. Garrett Wilson is the receiver stacked farthest left off the line.
Cleveland runs a slightly delayed blitz with cornerback Denzel Ward, who comes when he sees that the tight end is staying in to block. The Jets pick it up, though. The pass protection is decent.
On this play, Garrett Wilson is open in the NFL. Flacco simply sails the throw. Would Zach Wilson do the same thing? Possibly. But he has superior arm strength outside the numbers and could have completed that pass.
Flacco sailed those throws all preseason, and it has carried into the regular season. It’s been rather ugly outside the hashes, as well as Flacco played overall against the Browns.
Second quarter: 2nd and 16, NYJ 24
This was a beautiful play by Flacco all around. He stepped up to avoid Myles Garrett off the edge and threw a perfect strike to Corey Davis over the middle, between the two safeties, for the first down. I am not sure if Wilson makes this play, though he did so at times last year.
Second quarter: Second and goal, CLE 10
With 23 seconds remaining in the first half, the Jets had a goal-to-go situation to try to tie the score at 14. Garrett Wilson is open on this play. Flacco throws the ball a second late and misses the spot, putting it on Wilson’s outside shoulder instead of driving it over the linebacker. Wilson gets a hand on it and puts the ball in harm’s way for a possible pick.
Zach Wilson may have trusted his arm more and driven the ball, giving the rookie his second TD of the game.
Again, would he have made that throw? It’s impossible to say. But this is another case where Wilson’s trust in his arm might have led to a completed pass. Flacco simply didn’t trust himself to get the ball in there.
Third quarter: 3rd and 7, NYJ 28
Flacco makes a perfect throw with anticipation to Elijah Moore for the first down. Would Wilson have made this play?
Third quarter: 2nd and 10, NYJ 38
This is the play on which Garrett Wilson appears to hurt his hip or back. Wilson is open, but Flacco is late on the throw and lays it out where Wilson is leveled after making a leaping attempt. Even with the late throw, it’s likely that Zach Wilson could have gotten some more mustard on that throw rather than lobbing it, allowing Garrett to get his feet under him prior to taking a hit.
Third quarter: 3rd and 14, NYJ 47
Flacco is flushed to his right and heaves the ball downfield to Corey Davis. Davis slowed down earlier on the play and could not catch up to the throw. Zach Wilson may have had enough leverage to run for some yardage there, though it’s still unlikely that he would have gotten to the first down marker. In terms of the lob downfield, considering that Davis slowed down, it’s not that likely that Wilson completes the throw, either.
Fourth quarter: 2nd and 15, CLE 39
This was the first play of the fourth quarter following the bogus holding call on George Fant that wiped out a 24-yard run by Michael Carter. On 2nd and 15, Flacco had a clean pocket and just flat-out missed Elijah Moore. Although there was less than a yard of separation, Moore had leverage on Greg Newsome II and was in a position to make a catch for the first down.
We’ve definitely seen Zach Wilson miss such throws before, so there’s no guarantee that he makes the play.
Fourth quarter: 3rd and 8, NYJ 10
This was the drive that seemingly sealed the Jets’ fate. On 3rd and 8 from his own 10 with 2:45 remaining in the game, Flacco took a jump-step to his left to avoid pressure and made an errant throw to the left sideline. Corey Davis was open on this play. It was just a really bad throw outside the hashes. Flacco clicked his heels instead of setting his feet and didn’t give Davis a chance. A starting quarterback makes that throw.
4th quarter: 2nd and 1, NYJ 34
This was the blown coverage that resulted in the Jets’ touchdown to Corey Davis. With 1:22 remaining, Flacco saw Davis open and took his shot. As easy as that completion was, Flacco did throw it off his back foot. Does Zach Wilson make that play? You’d hope so, but there are no guarantees.
Game-winning TD drive
Overall, the game-winning drive was masterful by Flacco and Mike LaFleur. The Jets dinked-and-dunked their way, taking what the defense gave them in a soft zone. The Browns did not do a good job of keeping the Jets in bounds, and it cost them. There were a couple of nice plays made by Flacco on this drive that may not have been made by the Jets’ second-year signal-caller.
Here’s the first one, on something that Flacco didn’t do. The Jets were facing a 2nd and 10 from the Cleveland 15 with 30 seconds remaining.
Flacco has an empty set with 11 personnel. Myles Garrett beats Max Mitchell on the play, putting pressure on Flacco. Flacco is able to get rid of the ball to prevent what would have been a catastrophic sack in that situation. The clock stops and the Jets live to see another down.
Now, could Zach Wilson have gotten out of the pocket on that play, evaded Garrett, and possibly made a play? There’s a scenario in which that happens. Was there an instant where Flacco could have hit Elijah Moore in the back-right corner of the end zone if he let it go, and Wilson would have made such a play? Perhaps.
But ultimately, there’s a decent chance that Wilson gets flustered and ends up getting sacked in that situation. After all, his pressure-to-sack ratio last season was 26.3%, the second-worst mark among qualified QBs.
On the very next play, Flacco won the game for the Jets.
This was a well-designed play by Mike LaFleur. Tyler Conklin’s stop route held Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah just long enough for Wilson to get in behind him. Flacco took a three-step drop and made a decisive throw, hitting Garrett Wilson in a relatively narrow window on the post for the game-winning score.
Does Zach Wilson complete that pass? It’s possible, but credit goes to the veteran for making a strong decision and letting it rip.
After going through all of these plays, we can go back to the fundamental answer to any Jets QB controversy: namely, that there is none. Zach Wilson was the No. 2 overall pick. Joe Flacco is a 37-year-old, mostly over-the-hill quarterback who was never a great decision-maker. Mike White is an undrafted QB without the arm to be a starter in this league.
There’s no question about who will start once Wilson is healthy. The Jets must find out what they have in Wilson and allow him to run the offense with the talent they’ve placed around him. As desperate as the Jets’ fan base is for victories, winning a few games with Flacco won’t do anything for the long-term picture of the franchise.
If Wilson is the answer, the Jets could have their counterpunch for Josh Allen and some of the other powerhouses in the AFC. If not, then the Jets are back at square one at the QB position – but Joe Flacco will not be part of the answer.
That being said, it’s questionable whether the Jets would have a victory at this point if Zach Wilson had been the QB. There were definitely plays that Wilson could have made that Flacco did not, but at the same time, there were plays that the veteran QB made that Wilson may have struggled with. It’s easy to remember the talent and the potential and to forget some of the dismal plays that Wilson made last year and even in this preseason.
Ultimately, given the plays listed above, I believe that the Ravens game would have been a lot closer with Wilson in. Although the game wasn’t all on Flacco, there were a few difference-making plays in which mobility could have helped the Jets continue drives. Would the Jets have won? Probably not, considering the fumbles and the mistakes. But 24-17 or 24-20 would have looked and felt a lot better than 24-9.
After the Browns game, many fans were saying that Wilson does not win that game. It’s reasonable to believe that he might not have completed the comeback. However, Flacco had some key misses to all three receivers that may have changed the tenor of the game to begin with. If Flacco hits Moore, Davis, and Wilson on the plays mentioned above, the Jets may not have been in a 30-17 situation, and they may not have needed a comeback.
Although we’ll never know for sure, it seems to me that the Jets would have had a good chance in the Browns game with Zach Wilson at the helm. But then again, he could’ve also grounded a bunch of easy throws and had the offense stall multiple times, leading to a blowout.
This is the kind of thing that the Jets need to find out about Wilson. Can he hit the easy throws? Can he be accurate both over the middle and outside the numbers? Can he be a leader through four quarters? Can he lead a comeback drive as Flacco did?
If Wilson does not start, the Jets will never know. And that’s why, although Flacco will start Week 3 against the Bengals, Zach Wilson will be out there as soon as he’s ready to go.
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