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Zach Wilson’s struggles in a crucial facet are holding him back

Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Stats Under Pressure
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

New York Jets need Zach Wilson to step it up in this facet of the quarterback position

The New York Jets have won four games in a row and are sitting pretty at 5-2. That includes a 4-0 record since the return of quarterback Zach Wilson.

Wilson was an asset in the first two wins of the streak. His fourth-quarter comeback in Pittsburgh was nothing short of elite, making it a solid overall performance despite struggles throughout the earlier parts of the game. Against Miami, Wilson was only asked to throw a small volume of 21 passes, but when he did throw, his consistency and efficiency were tremendous.

However, the Jets won their last two games in spite of Wilson. New York averaged a nightmarish 102.0 passing yards per game across its wins over Green Bay and Denver. Wilson failed to throw or rush for a touchdown in either game.

While there are some other issues with the passing game outside of Wilson, the film indicates that Wilson unquestionably deserves much of the blame for his own ugly statistics. He’s been poor in the last two games: no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

What is the problem with Wilson?

Well, there are quite a few of them right now, but one issue stands above the rest: His performance under pressure.

I don’t know if I have ever seen a quarterback with such a stark difference between his clean-pocket passing numbers and his under-pressure passing numbers. Wilson’s splits are a sight to behold.

When kept clean, Wilson has actually been pretty good this year. On clean-pocket pass attempts, Wilson has completed 53 of 70 passes (76%) for 639 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions, giving him a passer rating of 108.0 that ranks sixth-best among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson also ranks second-best with 9.1 yards per attempt from a clean pocket, trailing only Jalen Hurts (9.3).

This is extremely promising progress for Wilson. He was awful with a clean pocket as a rookie, completing 179 of 267 passes (67%) for 1,755 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Out of 35 qualified quarterbacks, he ranked 31st in yards per attempt (6.6) and 35th in passer rating (79.1) from a clean pocket.

So, Wilson is getting a lot better at capitalizing when he is presented with a favorable situation.

But he continues to be absolutely horrendous when things break down.

When pressured in 2022, Wilson has completed 5 of 31 passes (16%) for 54 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He’s been sacked eight times for a loss of 54 yards, giving him a net total of zero yards when pressured.

As you probably assumed, Wilson is the worst under-pressure quarterback in the NFL. He ranks last out of 35 qualifiers in yards per attempt (1.7) and passer rating (12.7). It’s not even close in either category. He’s 1.5 yards per attempt behind the second-worst QB in that category and 23.0 points behind the second-worst QB in passer rating.

Being able to beat pressure is what makes a star quarterback. Most quarterbacks can get the job done to some degree when things around them are clicking. But what do you do when the chips are down? That is what separates the great from the mediocre.

Right now, Wilson has no answers when pressured. It’s great that he is doing solid work when the pocket is clean, but the Jets need him to make more plays when the pocket is congested. An offense can’t function if its quarterback turns into a zero on every play in which he is pressured.

Sure, the Jets’ offensive line has been shaky, but Wilson almost never bails them out. Good quarterbacks disguise their offensive line’s woes. Bad quarterbacks bring more attention to their offensive line’s woes. That’s what Wilson is doing. Due to his panicky responses when pressured, every bad situation looks a lot more dire than it really is.

Where is Zach Wilson in his development through four games?

Though it has been ugly to watch at times, Wilson’s four-game body of work in 2022 still represents an improvement over his rookie season, based on a few overall quarterbacking categories.

Wilson is 21st out of 34 qualified quarterbacks in ESPN’s QBR (48.6) and 23rd in net yards per pass attempt (5.9). As a rookie, he ranked worst and second-worst in those two categories, respectively, posting a 28.2 QBR and 4.6 net yards per pass attempt.

I think the impressiveness of Wilson’s first two games still has his 2022 season looking like an improvement over his rookie year, despite the woes of his last two games. He’s jumped from arguably the worst quarterback in the league to a below-average starting quarterback.

But if Wilson does not get back on track soon, it will not be long before his second-year numbers stop looking like an improvement over his rookie year. With another bad game or two, he will be right back where he was. And that would be a scary place for the Jets to be.

New York can live with it if Wilson jumps about 10 spots in the quarterback hierarchy this year – leaping from awful in Year 1 to mediocre in Year 2 is exactly what guys like Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa did before jumping into the elite ranks in Year 3 – but if Wilson does not show undeniable improvement by the end of the year, it will be tough to feel good about his long-term outlook.

Wilson needs to turn it around soon – and it all starts with improving his poise under pressure.

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Jonathan Richter
1 year ago

How often is Zach under pressure compared to other QBs?

1 year ago

Devastating observation.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago

I saw improvement the first two starts, especially with the mechanics and footwork and that’s important progress for him. Last week he regressed mechanically and this week he looked like he did last year.

You pointed out last week how the footwork had improved on the play action stuff and I added that he was solid on all the hand-off footwork and on the straight drop, set and throw attempts. But the rest of his play is appalling. He looks like hes never played the game. Great elusiveness and physical gifts but no feel for the game.

Josh Allen got through stage 1 of his development by escaping pressure and then tucking it and running it. He didn’t get fancy, he made the easy, smart play and look at how he’s developed. The coaches are telling this to Wilson but he refuses to listen. With his mobility he can be a successful in this offense if he would take what’s there. Then the defense would have to respect that and have to tailor their pass rush to account for that, allowing him more time and space. What’s scary is he’s got much better players around him now and he can’t take advantage of it.

The sack that should have been ruled a fumble and TD for Denver was a microcosm of his body of work. The protection was wrong, which may or may not have been his fault. Im guessing they don’t let him get involved there but I don’t know. Then he escaped the way he always does, going backwards. Once that happens its throw it away or go, you arent throwing from 15 yards behind the line. Maybe if he ran toward the line a receiver would come back for him or maybe hed turn a big loss into a small loss or gain. Thats a great play. But not him. He finished that play by undoing all the work he did to escape the first time and then would have turned it over to boot had he not gotten a lucky call.

I said this last week, no one asked why were we running a reverse pass for the rookie WR, up by 7, and driving vs GB. The Hall 34 yard TD was supposed to be a pass but he saw an opportunity and made a great play so we’ll never know what would have happened, but why do it in the first place? That’s a very dangerous play that you use when you’re desperate, not when you’re leading and playing great D. They trust the WR to throw it more than they trust Wilson.

Now he’s asked to just manage the game and not get in the way, and he can’t do that either. He got a huge career break when the Jets drafted Hall, now what without Hall? All due respect to MC who is a warrior, but he’s not Hall and cant carry the offense and you can’t run a winning offense like this. You can’t use your very talented WR group to even 50% capacity so they are wasting away. We talked about using more 21 personnel, what about the wishbone or the veer? Im kidding but they are going to have to find new ways to run it because defenses are going to make him beat them.

Give the kid the rest of the year and if he blossoms (good luck) great, we arent winning the SB this year. But Lamar Jackson would make this team a title contender (with a few tweeks to the OL) right away. JD didn’t blink on Sam when we decided on this guy, you really think he won’t do the same with Peter Pan here? JDs contract is coming up again in a few years and he’s got to win. He’s done a great job and has amassed a nice, young talent base despite the fact that he missed on the #2 and #11 overall picks in back to back years. Think about that… They aren’t waiting for this guy.

Peter Buell
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

There’s pressure and there’s three guys coming at you from middle left and right.
The line has been abysmal.
Zack shares in the blame but cmon, what I saw yesterday was an open gate to the QB.

1 year ago

First off, I agree with what you are saying, Zach needs to be better. Correct me if I’m wrong, but when it comes to him being pressured, I feel like defenders are consistently getting on Zach faster than any QB in the league. He consistently is turning around and a defender is in his face. Do you see the same thing? Does this come down to Zach and Oline setting protection presnap? Or does some of this fall on playcalling?

I feel like Zach is consistently worried and thinks he has to make the first defender miss every play and he can’t focus looking down the field.

Peter Buell
1 year ago
Reply to  dudizt

Dudizt, I agree. They need to define the different types of pressure. Having a defender slip a block and come through is one thing. Having 3 defenders coming at you like the O-line waved them through is another.
I’d say 5,6 or 7 time Zack had three guys coming at him. He did an disappearing act to circle three different ways then force the ball past the line to avoid a sack and grounding.
..Especially with AVT gone for the season quick hitters like slants and both TE and RB screens need to be prominent in the play book to take some of the pressure against Wilson.Then maybe he can 7 step drop without fear of a 15 yard sack.
What tells me a big part of this is the line is the running game, sans Breece went nowhere.
Trying to run out the clock after a 1st and 8, the line couldn’t get any push to get those two measly years in 2nd and 3rd downs.
Yes! he has miles to go to be the top 15 QB I want him to be but how can you judge when he’s running for his life half the time.
In the PITT game there were slants galore to WR Wilson and Berrios.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

With all respect to you both, yes he had pressure and that has to be acknowledged. Let’s give him a pass on any play where he was pressured. How about the rest of the time? He’s made a handful of good throws since returning most of them were in the second half at Pittsburgh. And?

The throw only deep throw hes completed was to Davis in GB and that ball was late and short and should have been a TD. This week throws were sailing, last week they were short. Its always a different problem and all the problems stem from the same issues. Feet, mechanics and situational awareness.

Everyone agreed that we needed to simplify things for him and establish the running game so he could focus on game management. Thats not progress, its like saying, we didn’t win the battle we retreated to rearm and recalibrate. You still have to climb that hill at some point or lose the war, which in this case is his career.

The coaches agree why else would they dail him back the way they have? I applaud your loyalty and he gets the rest of the season but blaming OC is not right. Do you think that they dailed him back and then just gave up or want to make him look bad? His play has a direct impact on whether or not they keep their jobs.

1 year ago

I am making $90 an hour working from home. I never imagined that it was honest to goodness yet my closest companion is earning $16,000 a month by working on a laptop, that was truly astounding for me, she prescribed for me to attempt it simply.
Here’s what I’ve been doing… http://www.Profit97.com

Last edited 1 year ago by Sarah
1 year ago

Does one of the coaches have the intestinal fortitude to tell this young man he is trying to do too much and as a result is holding the ball too long?! Count to three and hit a vendor, watch tape of Marino! Just extend This season!

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert725

They tell him all the time. They tell him by the plays they send in for him. You saw the pass plays they called in the 2nd half, 5 yard curls and bubble screens. They even stopped calling rollouts. We all agree that he has ability and physical tools to play the position so its multiple choice, what do you think?

A. Doesnt study
B. Doesn’t work hard
C. Doesn’t have the mental acuity to play the position.

We’ll never know but I’d bet its all of the above. He’s a poser and not a football player.

Jonathan Richter
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

Sorry, but anyone who thinks Zach doesn’t study or work hard hasn’t been paying any attention to this team. That is one aspect of Zach I have ZERO worries about.

Peter Buell
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert725

Watch the replay and see how many times 3 guys are coming through.
They need to go back to slants and screens till they D stops teeing off.
I’ve never seen a QB under such pressure before aside from the Giants against the Bears in the 85 NLCS.
Especially after AVT left there was no time at all.
Yes! Zack has issues but he was running for his life yesterday.

Jonathan Richter
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

The real culprit is Laken Tomlinson. He’s a literal turnstile.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

I’m going to go on to say something, but I’m going to start it by saying it must be me, and I must not know what I’m talking about…

Where are the easy throws? Where is the wide zone? Where are the over the middle drags and the TE option routes? Heck, what even happened to the hi-lows, which aren’t necessarily easy throws, but have seemed to disappear? And where are the designed roll-outs?

Anytime the Jets get positive yards on anything outside the tackles that’s a good thing for this offense (well on first and most second downs, anyway), as it lightens up the middle a little bit. But the Jets’ passing game seems to be fully dependent on intermediate outs.

Zach burned Miami really good outside the numbers. Did Green Bay and Denver simply take that away? I assume Alexander and Surtain didn’t need to play with outside leverage, but what about everyone else?

I’m looking forward to learning from your quarterback grades this week, and I am especially looking for 3-5 step, single-read routes to see if Zach is messing them up, or if LaFleur’s not calling them. I think it’s more of the latter, which I would find frustrating.

1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

I feel you on this, and looking forward to Michael’s breakdown. I would also like to know, are they trying to protect Zach too much, are they trying to protect the OL, or do they lack confidence in the current group of WR’s?

I’m also not opposed to giving Denver some credit but I think we can all agree the passing game needs to catch up fast.

Peter Buell
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

Good summation and exactly what I’m thinking. Also line was non-existant

1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

Agree 100% w/ your questions about “easy throws” etc. I thought LaFleur was bringing the West Coast Offense? Where are the waggles, slants, planned bootlegs etc Our O is not what I see Jimmy G running.
I commented after Rivka’s article today that Chicago schemed for Fields last night. There were 13 planned QB runs (more than the rest of the season combined). Ppl were pronouncing Fields a bust, now his coaches can see what he can do.
Get Zach on the edge, use the high/low option w/ the waggle. Run Zach to make the D honor everything.
This entire article is about statistics related to pocket passes, those should be the exception, not the rule.
I want Zach to succeed, if he can’t it shouldn’t be b/c we didn’t exhaust all of our options.

1 year ago

Ok, so let me start by saying, “agreed” he is getting too rattled under pressure…but…..are we asking him to make something out of nothing too often? Clearly, the constant pressure has impacted his ability to hit some throws that are there when there’s some heat on him, an area he must improve.

He’s trying not to throw INT’s and I think his post game comments were telling yesterday, that he doesn’t want to escape pressure and just keep throwing it away. I think that is wearing on his mental state and he needs some completions to give him some confidence.

I do see him miss a wide open receiver on occasion, like the Uzomah play but, maybe it’s me, I don’t see guys running wide open in the defensive secondary like I do with other teams. I don’t see an immediate option for him. The WR group needs to pick it up.

Right now it looks like: hit your drop, first guy covered, then run for your life. I don’t know any QB that won’t take a toll on. I don’t have the answer but I do know this entire passing game is in a rut. The OL needs to pass block better (I’m tired of McGovern making a full spin on DL stunts) and the WR’s need to create separation BEFORE Zach starts running for his life.

Believe me I’m no Zach apologist but he’s not getting much help. Garret has been quiet, and with Davis and E out the other guys just don’t threaten defenses. Zach is not at a point where he’s going to carry a mediocre team. I actually give him some credit for being able to avoid a BUNCH of would be sacks.

I’m also not trying to be negative but I’m disgusted over the rash of injuries yesterday, especially to one of the top offensive weapons in the league this season.

1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

Ok can’t wait for that!!!

Peter Buell
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

I saw the same. Expecting too much from a QB who hasn’t played 14 games yet.
Give him some short routes because the line has been horrible.
ai agree 71, he avoided alot of sacks.