The New York Jets’ Wilson-Rodgers connection has an opportunity to get off to a hot start vs. Buffalo
If Garrett Wilson wants to be the New York Jets‘ first first-team All-Pro receiver since Al Toon in 1986, he starts with a good matchup. While the Bills’ fourth-ranked defense by DVOA is seemingly not an advantageous opponent, it may be for the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In his two 2022 matchups against Buffalo, Wilson caught 14 of 16 targets (87.5%) for 170 yards (12.1 yards per reception). He had nine first downs (64.3%), caught 2 of 3 contested targets, and posted a targeted passer rating over 109.0 both times.
Here are the defenders that Wilson matched up against:
- Christian Benford: 1-for-2, 9 yards
- Taron Johnson: 2-for-2, 20 yards, 1 first down
- Dane Jackson: 3-for-3, 41 yards, 2 first downs
- Damar Hamlin: 1-for-1, 2 yards
- Kaiir Elam: 2-for-2, 23 yards, 1 first down
- Siran Neal: 1-for-1, 24 yards, 1 first down
- Tre’Davious White: 4-for-5, 51 yards, 4 first downs
The cornerback Wilson beat the most? Tre’ White.
The cornerback Wilson will most likely face in Week 1? Tre’ White.
Some analysts will argue that White was coming off injury and wasn’t himself. Perhaps that’s true. Still, White is heading into his age-29 season and must prove that it was an injury-related anomaly rather than an age-related decline.
Buffalo returns the same core cornerback group with Elam slated to start. That’s also a good matchup for Wilson, as the 2022 first-rounder allowed 31 of 41 receptions (75.6%) for 373 yards (12.0 per reception), two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 98.9 targeted passer rating in his rookie season.
Remember who was throwing Wilson the football, too: Zach Wilson, coming off a putrid performance against New England, threw for 154 total yards; and Mike White, who broke his ribs and had 6.1 yards per attempt. Now, Wilson has the benefit of catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.
Tale of the tape
Any film of Wilson against the Bills in 2022 must start with his obliteration of White. White has outside leverage, making Wilson’s route difficult. He stems his route inside long enough and then turns his head as if he’s going upfield while peeking back for the ball. The peek technique gets White completely turned around and helpless.
The main question about Wilson coming out of college was whether he’d be able to beat press man coverage. That’s why he started in the slot. On this play, he clearly shows that he can beat press. His split release and quick swipe of the cornerback’s jam gives him a lane inside. He also adjusts to a poorly thrown ball and still manages to gain a few yards of YAC.
Rodgers is not going to miss Wilson on these plays. Wilson’s suddenness and ability to cut on a dime gives him plenty of space over the middle.
Wilson has leverage on the cornerback here because Poyer comes down to cover Mims pretty early on. His subtle step right freezes the cornerback’s feet, giving him open space to work with deep and over the middle. I think Rodgers throws the ball to Wilson here, even though it’s across his body.
Wilson has leverage on a corner route after running into the cornerback’s blind spot. He saw the cornerback bail and adjusted his route stem to it. (The up part of the route appears to be an adjustment once he did not originally get the ball.) Rodgers will likely take these shots.
Wilson stacks the cornerback and has a step. While he’s not wide open, there’s a window to complete the pass. Rodgers can give his receiver a chance here where the Jets’ 2022 quarterbacks could not. Zach Wilson had a half-field read here, so he didn’t look to the left at all.
This is another one where Rodgers could potentially beat the safety even though Wilson isn’t wide open. It’s reminiscent of the throw Rodgers made to Lazard against the Jets last year.
Wilson runs a quick out against off coverage and gets open. He then has the awareness to wipe past the defensive back and gain some YAC, which is his specialty.
Wilson has a good feel for zone coverage. He’s open on both of these plays, sticking his foot in the ground and rapidly turning.
Wilson doesn’t protect his chest enough and gets jammed, but he still has enough shiftiness to force the cornerback to practically mug him on the play. There should have been a holding call on this play, negating the strip sack.
Wilson’s skip release and foot fire off the line freezes the cornerback’s feet, and it’s over.
Wilson deals with an inside-leverage cornerback by stemming him outside. He sticks his foot in the ground and turns, and because Zach Wilson is on time, the pass is complete.
Wilson uses short strides off the line, sticks his foot in the ground, and is open on the slant.
This is an area that Wilson can actually improve in, but he does a good job of it here. The throw is further out in front than he’s expecting, so he attacks the ball and prevents the cornerback from breaking it up with his body.
Wilson makes an incredible one-handed catch out of bounds. He doesn’t have a lot of space toward the sideline, as he’s lined up outside the numbers to the boundary. Still, a properly placed back-shoulder throw has the potential for a touchdown, but Zach Wilson throws it a tick late and too far out of bounds.
Wilson is open on a short throw and quickly sticks out his hands to snag a side-armed heater.
Wilson defeats the cornerback’s hands to give himself a lane without pushing off. After catching the ball, he has the presence of mind to duck his head and let the cornerback overrun him, giving him a lane to turn back and gain YAC.
One point of improvement
In watching these two Bills games, one flaw shows up on film.
Wilson tends to line up a bit high with his legs not as wide when it’s a run play, signaling that he is not going to be involved in the play. He’s also late off the snap at times, particularly on those run plays. These clips are all from the first half of the Week 9 matchup with Buffalo.
Compare these to the other plays above; you can see that Wilson doesn’t appear as engaged and isn’t leaning forward or bending his knees as much. He needs to get himself set the same way on run and pass plays, as he may be tipping off the defense to what’s coming.
Relatively speaking, though, this is a minor flaw. Wilson has a chance to make a big impact in a divisional game with the whole country watching. If the Jets want to silence the naysayers, he will need to be a difference-maker against the Bills.