White has shown that he can do more than just dump the ball off
The Mike White hype train may have taken a hit with the Jets’ 27-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
After all, we’ve seen the Wilson-White Wars continue without letup on Twitter, and we at Jet X have gotten numerous comments telling us that we’re prematurely writing Zach Wilson off.
However, a look at the numbers and the film should lead one to draw the opposite conclusion: Mike White played well against a Vikings defense that had a good plan in place to stop him. White delivered despite facing tight throwing windows and few truly open receivers. In a rare game that his offensive coordinator did not do an excellent job scheming players open, White let his arm do the talking.
I’ll leave the extensive film breakdown to the Fearsome Foursome of Blewett, Paiva, Sabo, and Nania, but let’s talk about some of the numbers and discuss how White played.
I normally do not like to use this Pro Football Focus stat because “big-time” is subjective. In a one-game sample size, though, I think it’s easier to evaluate whether the number given for “big-time throws” matches what we saw on the tape.
PFF credited White with three big-time throws in Week 13, tied for the second-most among quarterbacks, and a 5.1% big-time throw rate, tied for ninth. This tracks with what we saw on the screen.
The most impressive throw of the day was White’s dime to Corey Davis on 4th and 10 on the second-to-last drive of the game. On the previous play, White had been drilled in the ribs by Danielle Hunter and was slow to get up following the hit. However, he shook it off to deliver a throw in the only possible spot that it could be caught and not knocked away by the defender. In fact, because the defender dove and missed the ball, Davis gained many yards after the catch and could have conceivably scored.
Mike White gets squashed on third down and gets up slowly. Next play, he rips a fourth-and-10 completion to Corey Davis in a tight window.
Laken Tomlinson: “Incredible, really. The kid’s a tough kid.” 🎥@NextGenStats #Jets pic.twitter.com/QVEjorhdUE
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) December 5, 2022
White also made some strong tight-window throws to Garrett Wilson throughout this game, including the one on which Wilson turned upfield for 60 yards and came a pinky-toe away from scoring.
We know that throwing picks is one of the knocks on Mike White’s game. In fact, it’s one of the primary concerns Jets fans and analysts had when White took over for Wilson before the team faced Chicago.
Against the Bears, White had one throw that should have been picked off and another that was in a somewhat dangerous location. He was charged with one turnover-worthy play (3.3%) against a mostly porous Bears’ pass defense. Against Minnesota, though, I would argue that White kept his throws out of harm’s way despite the Vikings’ strong coverage.
The first interception he threw to Corey Davis was placed on the back shoulder to help Davis avoid the hit, and the defender undeniably got to Davis before the throw arrived, leading to the pick. Although White might have wanted to place the ball lower to avoid the popup into the air, that is not a turnover-worthy throw.
White’s second pick was undeniably turnover-worthy, but it was also a last-second desperation heave on a must-have 4th-down play. There will be those who argue that White should have thrown the ball to Elijah Moore, who was open, but Moore was the third receiver in the progression, and White felt the pressure that would barrage him before he had the chance to look to Moore.
Overall, PFF charged White with just one turnover-worthy play on 57 pass attempts, a 1.6% rate. He is at 2.2% in his two games played. The average among 35 qualified QBs (min. 150 dropbacks) is 3.27%. Obviously, a tougher test is coming up in the Bills’ pass defense, which picked off White four times last season. But in a small sample size, White has shown so far that he can keep the ball safe. Even if the picks come, as long as he makes reasonable decisions with the football, Jets fans can live with White’s aggressiveness.
By now, it’s a common theme: Mike White gets the ball out of his hands quickly. Still, some Jets fans lament the loss of athleticism and mobility that comes with White and argue that the team needs Wilson’s mobility with their shaky offensive line. I had the same hesitation.
However, against a strong Minnesota outside pass rush (the best tandem in the NFL, as Michael Nania and I detailed before the game), the Jets allowed a 22% pressure rate, permitting 13 pressures on 59 dropbacks. That 22% rate is the fifth-lowest among 28 quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks in Week 13 (not including Monday Night Football).
This may seem like White enjoyed better pass protection than Wilson has this season, as Wilson was pressured on 37.2% of his dropbacks, above the league average of 32.8%. That was certainly the case against the Bears when White was pressured on just 10% of his dropbacks. However, against the Vikings, White once again neutralized the pass rush with a quicker-than-average release time. Although not as lightning-quick as he was against the Bears, White averaged 2.52 seconds to throw, which was the ninth-fastest time among QBs in Week 13 and well quicker than the 2.73 season average for qualified passers.
In direct comparison, Wilson averaged 3.09 seconds to throw in his seven starts, the third-longest among those qualifiers. White’s 2.47 seconds to throw would rank the third-fastest. That accounts for a lot of the difference we see in their pressure rates. It’s actually Joe Flacco who was rushed the most frequently this season, as he faced a 37% pressure rate despite getting the ball out in 2.63 seconds. That was largely due to the poor play of George Fant at the beginning of the season.
Also, it’s not as if Wilson has evaded pressure more effectively than White. White’s pressure-to-sack ratio is currently 12.5% for the season and was at 7.7% in Week 13. Wilson, by contrast, was at 19.8%, which is pretty much league average (19.4%) but not adding anything special that you’d expect from an elusive quarterback. White completely lacks Wilson’s elusiveness, but he has that ability to feel pressure, slide or step up in the pocket, and find and hit his checkdowns in stride.
More than a game manager
Against Minnesota, Mike White had an 8.8 average depth of target, which is finally above the league average for QBs of 8.2 yards. A big part of that was definitely that the Jets were trailing and he had to move the ball in chunks. However, whatever the reason, it shows, like last week, that White can push the ball vertically.
(It’s interesting to note that White’s ADOT against the Colts last season was 10.1 yards, albeit on just 11 pass attempts.)
Again, how White plays against the Bills will give a more definitive picture since the Bills have a far better pass defense than the Bears or Vikings. However, it’s important to note that the Vikings did a good job in coverage against the Jets’ receivers, and White still beat them with impressive throws.
DVOA and DYAR
While many traditional metrics are ambivalent about White’s two-game sample size due to his low completion percentage and 0:2 TD:INT ratio against Minnesota, DVOA still likes White’s overall performance. White’s DVOA is currently 15.5%, which would rank eighth among quarterbacks if he qualified. Since DVOA adjusts for opponent, this is a more accurate way of gauging White’s performance in light of his weaker competition. White’s non-adjusted VOA (value over average) is 28.3%, which would come in fourth among all qualified quarterbacks.
One word of caution is that DVOA tends to like game managers. Jimmy Garoppolo is ranked third among qualified quarterbacks in DVOA, and Jared Goff ranks fourth. (Zach Wilson is 27th at -12.3%, one spot ahead of Russell Wilson.)
Furthermore, Mike White has already racked up 148 Defense-adjusted Yards over Replacement (DYAR), which measures a player’s yardage total compared to a replacement-level player, which is what White is supposed to be. In just two games and 85 pass attempts, White already ranks 22nd among qualified quarterbacks in DYAR despite a qualifying limit of 195 pass attempts, which is 2.3 times the number of attempts he has. DYAR is a compilation stat, unlike DVOA, which makes White’s rank that much more impressive.
It’s interesting to note that Zach Wilson has -15 DYAR, which is 27th among qualifiers. In other words, the replacement-level player, Mike White, has 163 more yards over replacement than a supposedly starting-level player when adjusting for the defenses that each one played.
Is Mike White “the” answer?
Robert Saleh continues to insist that Zach Wilson will play again this season. In response to a flurry of increasingly pointed questions from reporters, including whether Mike White can “ruin” that plan or if White can be the quarterback of the future, Saleh simply smiled and said, “One week at a time, guys.”
While the Mike White lovers want to coronate him the franchise quarterback the team has been searching for, I believe Saleh’s answer is apt in the longer term. White is a former fifth-round pick whose draft stock plummeted after a lackluster Combine performance which included a 2.30 Relative Athletic Score (out of 10.00). As he puts out more tape, the NFL will adjust to him; already, we saw the Vikings do an excellent job of taking away his easy targets and forcing him to throw into tighter windows.
However, for 2022, I believe Saleh is trying to keep the fire lit under White and encourage Wilson to keep on his toes. Barring a disastrous performance from White against the Bills (which is certainly possible, given what happened last year) or an injury, I do not expect to see Zach Wilson at the helm for the Jets again this season.
Many Zach Wilson lovers have stated that the Jets ruined him by bringing in a first-time play-caller in Mike LaFleur and now benching him for White. However, you’d think the same would hold for a journeyman QB. Furthermore, to those who point out that White has been in the league since 2018 and ask why Wilson does not get the same level of patience, remember that the Jets were not the team that drafted White. They will not hold that leash if White underperforms, since he has not earned it in his time in the league thus far. Wilson has earned a longer leash by virtue of his draft status and obvious talent, but that leash may not be with the Jets, whose timetable does not line up with his.
The best interest of the Jets’ franchise right now is to ride Mike White wherever he takes them.
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