New York Jets QB Zach Wilson can get back to using his legs against the Detroit Lions
When analyzing the Detroit Lions’ defensive rankings, you might notice that they rank 29th in the NFL with 5.0 yards allowed per rush attempt.
The biggest reason for that number is Detroit’s inability to stop quarterbacks from running wild.
Detroit has allowed an NFL-worst 532 rushing yards to quarterbacks (40.9 per game). Quarterbacks are rushing for 6.8 yards per carry against the Lions, which is also the league’s worst mark. To top it all off, the Lions have allowed the most rushing touchdowns (6) and the most rushing first downs (33) to quarterbacks.
Yes, the Lions have gotten an unlucky schedule in this department. They have faced some of the league’s best runners at the quarterback position, such as Justin Fields (147 yards vs. DET), Jalen Hurts (90 yards), Josh Allen (78 yards), and Daniel Jones (50 yards). Still, even by those quarterbacks’ lofty rushing standards, the numbers they posted against Detroit are incredibly high. Fields and Hurts’ totals each stand as their second-best this season. Allen’s is his third-best and Jones’ is his fifth-best.
Additionally, the Lions have allowed unusually high rushing numbers to quarterbacks who are not well-known for using their legs. Geno Smith (49 yards), Aaron Rodgers (40 yards), and Carson Wentz (23 yards) each had their season-high in rushing yards against Detroit. Trevor Lawrence (32 yards) and Tua Tagovailoa (19 yards) each had their second-best rushing total.
Enter Zach Wilson.
Wilson has never been and will never be a run-first quarterback, but he is certainly a well-above-average athlete for the quarterback position and has flashed the potential to be an excellent playmaker in the open field.
We saw Wilson occasionally display some exciting rushing potential as a rookie. Wilson ranked eighth among quarterbacks in both rushing touchdowns (4) and missed tackles forced as a rusher (6). He also ranked second in yards after contact per rush attempt (4.0), trailing only fellow BYU product Taysom Hill.
Wilson has not made nearly as many plays as a runner this season. He has 1 rushing touchdown and 3 missed tackles forced while averaging only 1.8 yards after contact per attempt. Overall, Wilson is down to 3.9 yards per rush attempt in 2022 after averaging 6.4 yards per rush attempt as a rookie.
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Detroit provides the perfect opportunity for Wilson to bring back his running ability as a legitimate weapon.
The Lions run a lot of man coverage (NFL’s second-highest man coverage rate at 42.9%). This is what leaves them susceptible to quarterback runs. With the second-level defenders frequently turning their backs to the quarterback, the Lions allow plenty of opportunities to tuck the ball and run.
The Jets should add plays into their gameplan that exploit this weakness, just like Seattle did in Week 4. Seattle exploited Detroit’s man coverage by calling a QB draw in the red zone for Geno Smith. The Seahawks dialed up out-breaking routes on each side of the field to pull the Lions’ man-coverage defenders away from the middle of the field, creating an easy opportunity for Smith up the middle.
Wilson will also have opportunities to do damage on scrambles. He must be willing to tuck and run when the opportunity presents itself.
Here, Aaron Rodgers sees an enormous scrambling lane open up due to Green Bay’s route concepts carrying the man-coverage defenders downfield, so Rodgers takes it himself for a big gain.
Could we see more of this from Wilson on Sunday?
ZACH WILSON SCRAMBLES FOR A 52-YARD TOUCHDOWN! #TakeFlight
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2021