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