The New York Jets’ offensive coordinator must decide how much he trusts his quarterback to develop
Mike LaFleur has a difficult job on his hands.
The New York Jets’ offensive coordinator is trying to build an offense that emphasizes the strengths of his quarterback, Zach Wilson. However, the young Wilson is struggling at all of the things that are supposed to make him special, leaving LaFleur devoid of easy solutions.
Take a look at Wilson’s numbers in the following areas, per NFL Next Gen Stats:
Ranks among 35 qualified quarterbacks
- Passes thrown on the run (QB is moving at 8+ MPH): 7/25 for 143 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT. 34th in QB rating (34.3) and 23rd in Expected Points Added per play (-0.42)
- Passes thrown while outside of the tackle box: 6/31 for 140 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT. 34th in QB rating (19.0) and 31st in EPA/play (-0.85)
- Passes thrown on designed rollouts: 4/11 for 70 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT. 35th in QB rating (21.0) and 34th in EPA/play (-0.85)
- Passes thrown while scrambling: 3/24 for 85 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT. 33rd in QB rating (7.1) and 28th in EPA/play (-0.87)
- Passes thrown more than 2.5 seconds post-snap: 38/90 for 683 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT. 34th in QB rating (54.3) and 31st in EPA/play (-0.34)
He’s not succeeding outside of the pocket. He’s not succeeding on designed rollouts. In fact, he’s not succeeding on any type of play where he is on the move. And he’s not succeeding on long-developing plays. These are some of the primary areas that made him an appealing prospect coming out of BYU.
So what is LaFleur supposed to do? The Jets drafted Wilson to be successful at these things. Instead, he is brutal at them.
Well, there appears to be a solution, although it does not come without consequences: Putting shackles on Wilson and turning him into a quick-throwing game manager who is only asked to make the simplest of reads.
Wilson has actually been quite solid in that role throughout the first five games of his second season. When working within the structure of the offense and getting the football out quickly, he is a good quarterback.
Here are Wilson’s 2022 numbers on plays where he stayed in the tackle box and got rid of the football in under 2.5 seconds:
- 40/52 for 365 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 6th in yards per attempt (7.0)
- 8th in completion percentage (76.9)
- 10th in EPA per play (0.20)
- 13th in success rate (51.9%)*- a successful play is considered any play that yields a positive EPA; i.e. a play that keeps the offense “on-schedule”
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Those numbers present LaFleur with a solution that could work for the short-term. If LaFleur tosses all of the flashy stuff out the window – fewer rollouts, fewer long-developing dropbacks, and strongly discouraging Wilson to extend plays outside of the pocket – the Jets should be able to get good production out of Wilson by asking him to do little more than stay in the pocket and execute quick, simple reads.
At this moment in time, based on what we have seen from Wilson in his career so far, that is the best way for the Jets to cook up a productive passing attack that can help them win in 2022: taking the game out of Wilson’s hands and putting more onus on LaFleur and the skill-position weapons.
But that decision comes at a cost.
Wilson was not drafted second overall to be Jimmy Garoppolo. He was drafted second overall because of his Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen-esque traits: the escapability, the mobility, the arm strength, and the overall knack for making something out of nothing.
If the Jets restrict Wilson to a game manager role, it would help him and the team in the short-term, but in the long-term, it could prevent Wilson from becoming the best version of himself. Wilson needs to make mistakes and work through them if he is going to eventually fulfill his potential and become the dynamic playmaker he was drafted to be.
But from LaFleur’s perspective, it has to be difficult to just sit back and watch him endure growing pains when the Jets have a team that seems ready to make a run right now.
The fact of the matter is this: Wilson is crushing the Jets’ chances of winning games with his woeful production on outside-the-pocket throws, long-developing throws, and the like. This makes it tempting for LaFleur to restructure the offense in a way that eliminates these things from Wilson’s game. It was different in 2021 – the Jets could live with the mistakes because he was a rookie and they were not competing for anything – but this is a playoff-ready team that is being held back by Wilson.
The problem is, while these facets of the game are currently weaknesses for Wilson, they could potentially become enormous strengths in the future; and LaFleur built this offense believing they would be strengths. If Wilson can get to the point where those things become strengths, both he and the offense would reach incredible heights – much higher than their maximum potential if they resorted to a game-managing passing attack.
There is no doubt that the ceilings of Wilson and the Jets offense are much higher when Wilson gets to play his way rather than being a game manager. Just look at LaFleur’s former team, the 49ers. San Francisco won plenty of games and made multiple deep playoff runs with Jimmy Garoppolo, but ultimately, Garoppolo’s absolute best was not enough to get them over the top. The Niners were toppled by more explosive quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford.
So, instead of settling for Garoppolo, they gambled by drafting a higher-ceiling quarterback in Trey Lance. (An injury to Lance muddied the plan, but nonetheless, their intentions were clear.)
This is why LaFleur’s job is so tough right now. He has to decide between doing what is best to win games based on what Wilson has shown so far, and doing what is best to win games if Wilson becomes what the Jets hope he can be.
LaFleur surely has immense faith in Wilson. If he didn’t, Wilson would not be a Jet. The Jets had multiple choices at the quarterback position at No. 2 overall in the 2021 draft, and LaFleur was their newly-added offensive coordinator at the time. He undoubtedly had one of the most prominent voices in making that decision, if not the most prominent.
Because of his belief in Wilson, I am sure it would be hard for LaFleur to wave the white flag on the offense he envisioned for the projected fully-formed version of Wilson. At the same time, it also must be hard to continue watching Wilson drag the team down.
How long does LaFleur maintain faith in Wilson’s ability to develop his high-upside traits before deciding to cut off the flashy parts of Wilson’s game and restrict him to a game manager role? Will that point even arrive? Or is LaFleur willing to live and die with the growing pains that come with Wilson’s preferred style of play?
This is the main storyline regarding LaFleur that I will be keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
It’s a team game, the Kid can learn slowly. Time to dumb it down to quick releases (that’s only fair to the talent around him while they bust their butts). Perhaps some successful quick completion games, with minimal turnovers, will add to his confidence and still pay off on roll outs later. Right now, he’s just chucking the ball up for grabs like schoolyard – not good; time to adjust.
I agree, Just keep it simple at this point. Injuries have changed the landscape. The NFL is an ever changing game that requires adjusting according to the players at hand and the opponents strengths and weaknesses. Even in game adjustments are critical to the end result. The Jets still have a Running game that they can rely on and Carter can catch the ball out of the backfield. Utilize Moore and Mims toward there strengths and use Uzomah and Davis to block inside. Special teams needs to do there part. Coaches need to emphasize Playing smarter but coaches need to coach smarter as well.
I’m not sure I agree. I thought Zach looked confused and didn’t trust what he was seeing against New England’s defense. Do we know whether he was asked to make quick reads, but he wasn’t sure the quick reads were there? Then after bailing from the pocket, he made some off-script throws, some of which were complete disasters.
As for LaFleur’s predicament, that may be a real problem. I remember hearing on NFL Radio that Joe Douglas was mesmerized by Zach’s talent and upside. If that was true, then LaFleur’s job was to make his boss’s pet project work out, possibly at any cost. And after each season he must report to his boss why the talent wasn’t realized during the season and what more LaFleur needs to do to make his boss’s per project a success.
I usually like your posts, Michael, but imo this isn’t one of your best. The article starts with a horrendous title. In fairness, you do point out a couple of times Zach’s potential and they risk Zach not developing if they continue on their present course.I think your comments with your statistics, however, are totally off the mark. You totally ignore the impact that the shaky OL, MLF’s handling of Zach and the way he’s having him play, and other factors are having on Zach. You fail to compare it with Allen’s play his first two seasons, and ignore the fact that Zach missed 6 weeks of practice and games this season, or that he has played very well at times and won the Pittsburgh game himself.
IMO the problem with Zach is not Zach, it’s MLF and the way he has handcuffed Zach. Zach is having to play in a way that’s totally foreign to him and not a fit. He’s having to think too much, is playing not to make mistakes, and of course, it’s causing him to play badly and to make mistakes. No player plays well when they have to think too much and/or when they’re afraid to make a mistake. Couple that with a complex offense that isn’t a good fit imo for Zach’s ADHD, an OL that is missing 3-4 starters, either bad play design or poor execution by the WRs and TEs, and bad play calling at times and we’re going to be lucky if MLF doesn’t ruin Zach’s confidence, if he hasn’t already.
Anyone that watched video of Zach play at BYU his last season there and the Tennessee game last year knows how Zach is capable of playing, and I think would play, if MLF was doing a better job. I realize that JD’s plan was blown to smithereens when Greg Knapp died tragically. Still, I can’t help but think that JD’s biggest mistake so far was in hiring Saleh rather than Brian Daboll. We know how Daboll helped Josh Allen develop. I can’t begin to fathom why JD didn’t think he could do the same with Zach. In fairness to JD (since I am a huge fan of his), perhaps JD and Daboll didn’t see eye-to-eye on a number of things, or perhaps Daboll didn’t even like Zach, but I have to think that Zach would be playing in an offense that is more conducive to his talents and that Daboll would be putting Zach in a position to succeed, whereas I think MLF is putting him in a position to fail. Thus, I think it’s a matter of whether Zach or we should trust MLF with Zach. Zach is clearly the most talented QB we’ve had since Namath.
I think the Jets need to be careful not to put the cart before the horse and focus on winning and the playoffs before Zach develops. If he doesn’t develop, they will have an extremely hard time finding another QB with his ability. If he does develop, they will win a lot more games than they would with a game manager-type. I can’t help but believe that MLF is trying to turn Zach into a game manager so the Jets can win now. The media, the fanbase and everyone needs to chill out and give Zach time to develop. Many in the media, and particularly Jets fans were declaring Josh Allen a bust even in his 2nd season, and we know how good he is now. All the negativity needs to stop.
The OL is a part of it….but it’s Zach’s role to rise up, carry the team some…and I don’t see him ready to do that. You have to remember all the pros on this team, and you must work for wins now that we are suddenly in the playoff picture.
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Mike Lafleur should be on the hot seat – not Zach Wilson. He had Zach hand the ball off 14 times Sunday – 2nd fewest in the NFL for week 8 – in a game we were leading or within a score almost throughout. (Raiders fewest – they were getting blown out big in the first half). The pass rush was relentless but we didn’t attempt to run even though Carter and Robinson averaged 3.7 yards per carry. That takes away any play action. We also rarely targeted the middle of the field. Want to help your QB? Run the ball. Want to help your O-Line slow down the pass rush? Run the ball. Want to win with a QB playing in his 17th game? Run the ball. Lafleur is not only predictable but too often he’s not setting up Zach and the offense for success.
I’m sorry, I don’t have sympathy for LaFleur’s dilemma. He should have known from the beginning that a QB coming out of his junior year from a marshmallow soft college program would need at least two years of incremental ramp up before executing any flashy plays. Most draft analysts said that Wilson should not even play, should sit and watch, for his first year. Plus, the Jets’ offensive line sucks. For weeks fans and expert observers have been saying that Wilson needs more quick developing plays like slants and screens, but those have been few and far between. The real tragedy here is that LaFleur suffers from exactly the same weaknesses that Wilson has: impatience and overconfidence. It is the blind leading the blind, but it is LaFleur who bears the most responsibility because as a coach he is supposed to know better.
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I’d like them to scale it back to a more game manager style and slowly reintroduce the more flashy stuff over time.
The problem is that basically he already has Zach playing like a game manager and that’s the crux of the problem.
A good to stud lineman needs be be brought in within the next hour.
When we had good upper management, good coaching and a good team we went to the AFC CHAMP game
It all begins with both lines. D line looks great O line looks just the opposite.
A leader needs to be bought because there is enough talent elsewhere.
O line and QB is what’s killing us and when the O line gets better so with Wilson.
I want a big trade by 4pm
With the shortage of good OL in the NFL,no one is trading a starting caliber OL, and even if they did, they’d want a bloody fortune. That’s the last thing JD should do.
I hate it for Zach and the team, but they’re just going to have to do the best they can until after the Bye. By then, both Mitchell and Fant could both be back. MLF is just going to have to do a better job of play calling and play design. He’s calling plays like we have our starting OL and they’re playing well and like Zach isn’t struggling as a result.
Ive advocated the game manager point since training camp. But its all just lipstick on a pig at this point. Mike White was elevated for a reason they haven’t mentioned. He’s now competing for the job.
Mike White is not competing for the starting QB job. That’s just stupid.
Maybe White’s competing on your Fantasy Team, but he’s certainly not competing for the NFL’s Green & White.
How about this..using your numbers it make sense to get Zack going forward anyway possible and I still say with a line that was even average he would be better but this is a project to get him to the most of his talents.
What’s wrong with being a game manager which will raise his confidence and slowly put the rollouts and other plays into the offense once it’s going forward.
Watching Jacoby Brissett in the 1st half last night I’m seeing the ball barely get there before the receiver is hit.
Zack zips the balls in there and has a ton of talent. If he has to come along at a slower pace then that’s what needs to be done rather than finding him on another team for a 6th round pick and figuring it out there.
It’s been having to play like a game manager that is hurting Zach’s play and confidence.
I am no QB coach, but I would like to see somebody get Zach to realize how to maneuver the pocket and not just scramble every time, especially step up.
I also think Zach’s problems are mental. Get him a sports psychologist to help him. Because to me, he comes off as a spoiled/cocky QB who needs wins to be because of him and loses aren’t his fault. But deep down he is just a scared kid from a small town who is afraid to fail in the big lights of NY and is lashing out.
Maybe I’m off base, but think it would be a big help.
I like LaFleur, but I think they lost a ton with Knapp and haven’t recovered. No offense to Calabrese but I see something not right.
I just read a NY Post article where Ryan Fitzpatrick thinks that bringing in Beck as Zach’s personal QB guru is a “red flag”. I disagree w/ the Harvard man. I thought Beck was a replacement for Knapp? No Beck this year.
Not a fan of getting him a psychologist, or special coach like last year; too much coddling; which feeds into your VERY ACCURATE second point that he is spoiled & cocky (the wrong cocky) and I don’t think he loved the 4 game winning streak because his involvement was minor.
The simple answer to help Zach would be using his legs to scramble for easy yards and stop running backwards under pressure. He did a really nice job running the last 7 games of last year and all camp scrambling for easy yards seemed a big focus of his game until the injury. Taking those easy yards would help him a lot and improve his confidence and ease some of his frustration at having to throw the ball away 5 to 10 times every game..
I’m going to respectfully disagree with this:
“If the Jets restrict Wilson to a game manager role, it would help him and the team in the short-term, but in the long-term, it could prevent Wilson from becoming the best version of himself.”
I would’ve agreed just one week ago, but here’s why I disagree now: executing is fundamental. He can’t be a long-term success until he first learns to maneuver in the pocket. The coaching staff absolutely needs to force that on him now.
His off-platform execution is not the best version of himself anymore; it’s just a crutch–a bad habit that he reflexively goes to–that needs breaking. He needs to master the fundamentals, and get comfortable maneuvering the pocket. He can revisit the off-platform stuff once he’s comfortable with the fundamentals. It will feel different when it comes as a value-add, rather than the go-to.
I like your take on his “off-platform” stuff being a crutch, it’s at min clearly a bad habit, you know… feels good at the time but in the end it’s something you regret.
Definitely agree with you, learn to operate the simple things, then once you have that down, expand to your potential. Doesn’t mean you eliminate the special stuff but need to walk before you run.
I was really disgusted to see Zach throw the ball up for grabs while backtracking and off his back foot, but then I realized it reminded me of something, one of the great plays in NFL history: https://www.49ers.com/video/top-moments-in-49ers-history-the-catch. I wonder if this little play is somehow now embedded in the DNA of all NFL QBs now, and they all want to try it? The difference is that the original was a play the 49ers had practiced, and Montana does it right. He is not throwing the ball up for grabs, but to a precise spot in the air that only his receiver could reach. Plus, although his footwork is bad, he compensates for that by twisting his torso to put thrust behind the throw, and excellent follow through with his arm, wrist and hand (he was a truly great athlete). That said, most people don’t remember, Montana threw three interceptions in that championship game prior to that play.
The only way Zach Wilson knows about that play is if one of his girlfriends showed it to him.
My point is that its been passed down from Montana to Rogers to Mahomes, but maybe gotten diluted and misunderstood in the process. Someone should tell Wilson, dude, you’re not playing Joe Montana when you do what you just did, you’re playing Christian Hackenburg.
No, I know. I just thought I had a solid joke.
… or his girlfriend’s mother showed it to him. But, seriously, when Zach Wilson wins 14 games in a regular season he can attempt off-script throws like that. Until then, just do the stuff he is supposed to do.
I think that this is spot on!
I’m in the NW and see Jimmy G play often b/c of regional bias on tv.
Jimmy G wins the NE game for us. Let’s start w/being Jimmy G and then add the Patrick Mahomes once he’s mastered that!
I couldn’t possibly disagree more! Zach is NOT a pocket QB, so he doesn’t need to focus on maneuvering the pocket. It’s MLF trying to turn him into one that is causing the problems. Smart OCs tailor their scheme to what the QB does well. Baltimore did it with Lamar Jackson, KC with Mahomes, Buffalo with Josh Allen, and other good teams do that. Not MLF. He’s arrogant and trying to force Zach to be what he thinks Zach should be and trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
It’s funny that Zach was just great vs the Titans last year, and then the last 7 games of last year and vs Pittsburgh and Miami this year, but he goes through some struggles like Josh Allen did for 2 years, and everyone’s losing confidence in Zach, trying to change the type of player he is and ripping him. If Daboll or a quality experienced OC was working for the Jets rather than MLF, I seriously doubt that Zach would be struggling. MLF needs to go before he ruins Zach.
Like I said, last week I was sympathetic, but a lot of these arguments became irrelevant for me once Zach lobbed that ball over Johnson’s head. It doesn’t matter what the OC is calling if the QB executes it like that. He’s got to make that throw…and what’s worse is his game absolutely collapsed after that.
I don’t think many disagree he needs to make that throw, and not many more will want to argue that was a bad play call. Talking about arm talent, Allen, Mahomes, Daboll etc. is just complicating what’s an absurdly fundamental problem.
btw, I don’t know what “game manager” means. I think it’s a strawman. Almost every play has deeper options and check downs. All I want Zach to do is step up and choose the best option.
I don’t think the game manager solution is the right one. Clearly this is all in his head, he’s feeling pressure to make plays. His natural instinct it to try to make something happen you can tell by the quotes after games about not wanting to keep escaping and just throwing it away.
He looked fine until he went into bonehead mode and that “throw away” that was picked indicates to me he’s just thinking way too much. This is NOT an excuse but right now the pressure of THIS franchise is weighing on his shoulders. No mercy, that’s the job.
I think they need to let him go. Let him loose and see if the learns. This season was ‘all about Zach” but…..they needed to be “playing meaningful games in December.” I don’t think we need to see them play meaningful games at this point to know they are not far away from being a playoff team and potential contender for a while.
They need to know about THIS QB. I think back to the movie Seabiscuit…”turn him loose.” See if he can shake off the dumb plays and not feel like every pick is the end of the world.
And, yes I’m calling out Jets’ fans here, and writers for that matter. Let go of your agendas and stop piling on. There is one writer on this site (BTW this site is the best site for Jets’ news I’ve see) who clearly has an agenda. It’s been 18 games and he’s been a mix of a little great, some good, and a lot of headshaking. Again, not an excuse but 3 of the major players there were supposed to “help Zach” were out of the lineup Sunday, and who could have predicted E. Moore would be a headcase.
I say let him go, let him throw 4 picks vs Buff, I don’t care. I want to see if he can shake it off and really learn from mistakes. Right now it seems he makes mistakes then they reel him in. I’m not saying be reckless, I’m just saying take the kid gloves off.
Whatever gets him to be the best version of himself.
. Of game manager works for a few games while he builds confidence. Fine!
If letting him go and telling Hine to say F it, you’re you’re young 17 games into a career, that’s good too.
The lid has tools and an arm that needs to be used When he gets in and zios the ball good things happen.
Some om here act like his favorite receiver, the best rb and the only good lineman didn’t have an effect on his play.
Get rid of Zack! Everyone says, just pick another off the QB tree that’s in the backyard of Florham Park
I’m not even close to the “get rid of Zach” train yet. He’s 4-1 as a starter this year, he had a bad game. All QB’s have them, I know it’s frustrating but I’m not giving up on him after 18 games, most of them playing with poor talent. I believe.
I want the critics to watch other QB’s the same way they watch Zach. Mac didn’t look great the other day, neither did Mr. Generational.