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Are NY Jets equipped to fix Zach Wilson’s biggest flaw?

Zach Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, NY Jets, QB
Zach Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Are the New York Jets placed in a good spot to help Zach Wilson fix his primary issue?

Whenever I’m asked about Zach Wilson‘s future and his chances of succeeding as a starting NFL quarterback, I come back to the exact same thought: He’ll only succeed if he can fix his biggest flaw.

While some will point to his mechanics, I personally think there is enough evidence of quarterbacks succeeding in this league with unconventional mechanics – the Jets’ current starting QB.

No, his biggest flaw is performing under pressure.

I’m not talking about big games, as we haven’t really had a chance to see that yet. I’m talking about being able to process information, work his reads and deliver a pass accurately with defenders in his face. Delivering from a clean pocket is a luxury in the NFL – being able to deliver under pressure is a necessity. It’s especially important if you want to be in the upper echelons of quarterback play.

There is one undeniable fact that can’t be avoided. Under pressure, Zach Wilson is the worst quarterback in professional football. That’s not me making a sensationalist statement or trying to bag on the Jets’ backup, that’s just a fact that needs to be confronted in order for it to be addressed.

If we use a minimum dropback number of 50, there were 42 qualifying quarterbacks last season. Of those 42 QBs, Zach ranked 42nd in terms of accuracy under pressure, completing just 30.1% of his passes. He also happened to throw just one touchdown against six interceptions.

Look back at his rookie season in 2021 and it paints a similar picture. Using the same minimum dropback number of 50, there were 40 qualified quarterbacks. Zach ranked 40th with a completion percentage of just 29.3%, although at least in 2021 he threw more touchdowns (4) than interceptions (3).

There is some hope in that sub-30% number. The last player to complete under 30% of his passes under pressure was Josh Allen in 2018. Fast forward to 2022 and Allen ranked 11th with a completion of 51.3%. But like a lot of numbers associated with Allen, he seems to be the anomaly and not the norm.

Last year there were only three players under 40%, and two of them happened to play for the Jets. Wilson was joined by DeShaun Watson in Cleveland (38.6%) and Joe Flacco (39.4%).

How do you fix such a glaring issue?

Being able to pass under pressure takes some mental fortitude. It takes accepting that every now and again you’re going to get hit, but more importantly, it takes processing speed. Reading a defense and delivering the ball to the right option sounds easy, but it’s one of the most difficult aspects of playing professional football.

So after that rather long introduction, I’m back at my original question:

How well are the Jets positioned to fix Zach Wilson’s biggest flaw?

I wanted to go back and take a look at the careers of three key people who will work to get Zach’s career back on track: Aaron Rodgers, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and passing game coordinator Todd Downing.

With Aaron, it’s simple. How good is he under pressure and how accurate is he under pressure? Being good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it, but it’s a good start.

With Nathaniel and Todd, I’m going to look at the QBs they worked with and how they ranked with the same metrics (completion under pressure and touchdowns-vs-interceptions) to indicate how effective their decision-making is.

So let’s take a look at Aaron Rodgers first. Shown are Rodgers’ completion percentages under pressure, his rank among qualified quarterbacks in that category, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio under pressure.

  • 2008 – 42.7% (22nd of 28) – 4 TD – 3 INT
  • 2009 – 55.6% (2nd of 41) – 9 TD – 2 INT
  • 2010 – 49.3% (18th of 40) – 5 TD – 7 INT
  • 2011 – 47.0% (15th of 41) – 4 TD – 0 INT
  • 2012 – 48.2% (16th of 38) – 9 TD – 1 INT
  • 2013 – 44.9% (26th of 43) – 4 TD – 3 INT
  • 2014 – 46.3% (23rd of 42) – 11 TD – 2 INT
  • 2015 – 44.0% (35th of 41) – 15 TD – 5 INT
  • 2016 – 49.5% (13th of 38) – 13 TD – 2 INT
  • 2017 – 44.9% (31st of 42) – 4 TD – 2 INT
  • 2018 – 37.7% (38th of 39) – 5 TD – 0 INT
  • 2019 – 45.3% (26th of 41) – 7 TD – 1 INT
  • 2020 – 44.0% (28th of 39) – 8 TD – 1 INT
  • 2021 – 39.5% (34th of 40) – 8 TD – 3 INT
  • 2022 – 47.0% (21st of 42) – 4 TD – 4 INT

It’s important to note that the rank is based on accuracy alone. What you can see from the numbers is that Aaron has only ever been a top 10 QB in terms of accuracy under pressure once in his career, and that’s all the way back in 2009, his second season. But he has constantly been one of the best decision-makers in football when under pressure, evidenced by his 111 touchdowns to 37 interceptions when under duress.

We all know that 2022 was a down year, but if you look at it as a 5-year sample size, you’re looking at a player who has thrown 32 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Aaron can’t teach Zach how to play the game exactly like he does, but he can teach him how to pick up on tells from a defense, how to read what they’re doing, and how defenses will try and attack him situationally.

So that’s a pretty good start. But let’s take a look at the offensive coordinator now in Nathaniel Hackett.

Using the exact same metrics we’re going to go from 2013 when he got his first NFL coordinator position with the Buffalo Bills.

  • 2013 – E.J Manuel – 42.7% (35th of 43) – 3 TD – 2 INT
  • 2014 – Kyle Orton – 46.9% (19th of 42) – 4 TD – 0 INT
  • 2015 – Blake Bortles – 43.1% (38th of 41) – 5 TD – 5 INT
  • 2016 – Blake Bortles – 48.9% (14th of 38) – 3 TD – 9 INT
  • 2017 – Blake Bortles – 46.1% (28th of 42) – 6 TD – 5 INT
  • 2018 – Blake Bortles – 49.2% (22nd of 39) – 2 TD – 3 INT
  • 2019 – Aaron Rodgers – 45.3% (26th of 41) – 7 TD – 1 INT
  • 2020 – Aaron Rodgers – 44.0% (28th of 39) – 8 TD – 1 INT
  • 2021 – Aaron Rodgers – 39.5% (34th of 40) – 8 TD – 3 INT
  • 2022 – Russell Wilson – 43.5% (30th of 42) – 3 TD – 3 INT

Outside of Aaron Rodgers, Hackett really hasn’t had much to work with at the QB position. E.J. Manuel was wildly inaccurate and I’m surprised to see him over the 40% threshold. Blake Bortles was a gunslinger who liked taking chances. Still, outside of Aaron Rodgers, this isn’t exactly the best resume, and even Rodgers had one of his sub-40% accuracy seasons while working with Hackett. But when you throw eight touchdowns to three interceptions, the accuracy can largely be handled.

In terms of decision-making, QBs under Hackett have thrown 49 touchdowns under pressure against 32 interceptions.

Finally, let’s get onto Todd Downing, starting with his first quarterbacks coach position in the NFL with the Detroit Lions all the way back in 2012.

  • 2012 – Matthew Stafford – 45.4% (22nd of 38) – 5 TD – 4 INT
  • 2013 – Matthew Stafford – 45.5% (23rd of 43) – 3 TD – 7 INT
  • 2014 – E.J. Manual – 38.1% (40th of 42) – 1 TD – 2 INT
  • 2015 – Derek Carr – 52.8% (11th of 41) – 7 TD – 6 INT
  • 2016 – Derek Carr – 50.9% (11th of 38) – 3 TD – 3 INT
  • 2017 – Derek Carr – 48.4% (16th of 42) – 2 TD – 9 INT
  • 2021 – Ryan Tannehill – 53.7% (6th of 40) – 7 TD – 6 INT
  • 2022 – Ryan Tannehill – 54.3% (6th of 42) – 5 TD – 1 INT

Downing has largely worked with very competent quarterbacks. I left 2018-2020 out of the mix here as he was acting as a tight ends coach, first with the Minnesota Vikings and then with the Tennessee Titans. The positive here is that Ryan Tannell improved both his accuracy and decision-making after working with Downing for a year. The negative is that Derek Carr steadily declined in both areas.

Having looked at all of the numbers, it’s clear to me that if Zach is going to improve his biggest flaw, the majority of the help will need to come from Aaron Rodgers.

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1 year ago

Afternoon David, 

My opinion is that Zach has many issues to work and improve upon, and I am not totally convinced that he will ever correct them fully.

Eyes – He often spends too much time on his first read watching them run their route, instead of focusing on the safeties and linebackers to look them off. This leads to picks and passes being batted at the line of scrimmage. It is also why he does not progress quickly through his reads, as he waiting to see if his first read is going to get open.  

Pressure – He is so self conscious of the rush, that if he feels the slightest pressure, he is looking to move. This causes him to miss on open receivers in that moment, or throwing with poor footwork to just get rid of the ball immediately.

Touch/Yips – He does not have very good short area touch and accuracy, as he often fires the football 100 MPH at a receiver 5-7 yards away, and what makes it worse, it is rarely accurate. 

In addition, I believe he is suffering from yips trying to throw the screen pass to running backs and receivers behind the line of scrimmage, that I bet none ever know where he is going to throw it. It is a simple dump off, but he looks like Chuck Knoblauch throwing to first base for the Yankees.

So, if he can begin to throw dump off passes accurately and with the proper touch, can stop eyeing his receivers and use his eyes to move defenders, and can learn to move within the pocket to avoid the rush without bailing, then he has a shot to improve his pressure numbers.

As he bulks up, will he fear lineman less, or will he still bail? Does he have the yips and no touch, or can he overcome his accuracy and touch on screens and short throws? Does he need coaching or does he need confidence? Can he be fixed?

Time will tell. 

Enjoy your day! 

1 year ago
Reply to  JC2533

A quick observation on him missing the screen and short passes to running backs. Almost all of them are passes to the right flat where he fails to get his left foot turned around and pointed at the target. One could say this was lazy not getting the foot around or simply trying to rush the throw before his feet are ready. Likely, the later. He does not have this issue throwing to the left.

1 year ago

My biggest flaw for Zach is similar. It is confidence. When he makes a mistake everything falls apart especially his mechanics. It is the same thing it is mental and I am not sure how you fix that as performing under mental pressure is what seperates great from good, good from average and average from terrible. Unfortunately, for Zach the wheels really came off his confidence last year and he got to the point where he could not reasonably function. My guess is the biggest culprit here was MLF’s tough love approach, the loss of Knapp, and not having someone to pat him on the back. Maybe they can build up his confidence with Rodgers, But, it seems like a huge long shot. He would be better off playing in a smaller venue with less pressure.