New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is equipped to exploit a major hole in the Green Bay Packers defense
On paper, the Green Bay Packers’ defense is stacked. Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, and Preston Smith lead a formidable front. Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas make up a strong cornerback trio. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage hold things down at safety. At linebacker, the Packers have a reigning All-Pro in De’Vondre Campbell.
But this unit’s production does not come close to aligning with its talent level. Coordinator Joe Barry has the Packers’ defense ranked just 13th-best in points allowed per drive at 1.80. That isn’t a terrible ranking by any means, but it is quite disappointing for a defense as talented as Green Bay’s.
Things become problematic when you consider the opponents Green Bay has faced. The Packers have only faced one team that is currently ranked in the top-16 in scoring (Vikings, 12th). Each of their other four opponents rank no higher than 19th in scoring. They have faced low-end quarterbacks like Justin Fields, Bailey Zappe, and Daniel Jones. Fields and Jones lead the two worst passing attacks in the NFL based on passing yards per game.
Because of their mid-tier production against a pillow-soft schedule, the Packers are 23rd in defensive DVOA right now. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) is a statistic that adjusts for the quality of a team’s opponents, so it tells us that the Packers defense is actually playing well below-average when adjusting for the opponents they’ve played.
It can be argued that the New York Jets have the toughest offense Green Bay has faced this year, at least based on how New York has been playing recently. Across two games since the return of their starting quarterback, Zach Wilson, the Jets have scored 64 points (32.0 per game). Their season-long average of 23.2 points per game ranks 11th-best in the NFL and is higher than any of Green Bay’s previous five opponents.
What makes this matchup particularly scary for Green Bay is the fact that Wilson thrives at something that has caused a lot of problems for the Packers this year: the play action game.
When using play action, Green Bay’s opponents have completed 28 of 36 passes for 400 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. The Packers rank 31st in the NFL with a 131.5 passer rating allowed off play action and 32nd with 11.1 yards per attempt allowed.
The bad news for Green Bay is that Zach Wilson is cooking in the play action game right now. Wilson ranks sixth-best among 31 qualified quarterbacks (min. 15 PA attempts) with +0.30 Expected Points Added per dropback when using play action.
Wilson is yet to throw a touchdown off play action but also has not thrown an interception, and he’s only taken one sack. He’s completed 9-of-16 passes (with two drops) for 189 yards when utilizing a play fake, giving him an average of 11.8 yards per attempt that leads all qualified quarterbacks.
We have the league’s No. 32 defense in Y/A allowed off play action versus the league’s No. 1 quarterback in Y/A off play action. That’s a mismatch if I’ve ever seen one.
A big reason why Wilson has been so effective off play action is the quality of his fakes. Wilson has clearly worked hard on improving his play fakes since his rookie year, and he is now one of the more deceptive play-fakers in the league. Defenders are biting hard on his fakes, which is creating clean pockets and open throwing windows.
The best way I can convey Wilson’s play-faking excellence is this tidbit: I have seen multiple plays on film where Wilson faked out the camera man. Trust me, that is an extremely rare occurrence.
Wilson has been particularly deceptive on RPO (run-pass option) plays out of the shotgun, like the two above. He’s having a lot of success with those plays. But even when running play action from under center, Wilson has been equally deceptive and productive.
It seems like play fakes from under center help Wilson achieve a smooth rhythm in his dropback. His footwork looks cleaner and his timing is on-point. Watch here how he comes out the play fake, hits the depth of his drop, steps up, and confidently delivers a perfect throw to Corey Davis.
Against one of the worst play-action defenses in the NFL, Wilson will have a chance to do plenty of damage this Sunday.