The New York Jets offense stunk against the Giants, but Zach Wilson was far down the list of culprits
47% completion rate, one touchdown, two third-down conversions, 13 points on the board.
With those numbers, Zach Wilson clearly stunk up MetLife Stadium against the Giants, right?
Not so fast.
As always, it’s foolish to rely entirely on the numbers to evaluate a player’s performance. Watching the film is essential to see what really happened on each play to cause the result that ends up in the stat sheet.
Yes, Wilson’s statistical production was terrible against the Giants. But a quarterback’s personal stat line is actually a reflection of the offense’s performance as a whole, not just his own performance. Was Wilson actually responsible for his own lackluster numbers?
In this case, I think the answer is no – for the most part.
While Wilson did make a couple of egregious mistakes in this game, I actually saw more good than bad from him on film. He was placed in an abysmal situation by his supporting cast, but in countless situations, he overcame the odds and executed a low-percentage play. Sure, you’re probably laughing at my claim that he did it “countless” times. It’s all there on film, though. We’re going to look at it. I would argue this was one of the most highlight-filled games of Wilson’s career.
Many of Wilson’s best throws were not caught by the Jets’ receivers. This is one of the main reasons why there is a gap between his stats and the level of play he showed on tape. In addition, I saw numerous plays where Wilson had no chance to make something happen, crushing his stats by no fault of his own.
Before we get into the film, let’s quickly recap the quality of support around Wilson in this one.
The Jets’ offensive line was playing horrendously even before two starters went out, and things only got worse after that. Wilson was ultimately pressured on 51% of his dropbacks, the highest rate of any quarterback in Week 8 outside of the Giants’ quarterbacks. The run game was non-existent, averaging 1.8 yards per carry outside of Wilson’s runs. The offensive line also committed four penalties.
New York’s weapons were similarly poor. The Jets’ receivers had a drop rate of 10.5% and caught 1-of-9 contested passes (11%). Receivers were not separating – on Wilson’s average pass attempt, the targeted receiver had 2.2 yards of separation from the nearest defender, the lowest mark of any QB in Week 8 (the league average is 3.4). Part of that is also because Nathaniel Hackett’s pass concepts rarely worked. Not to mention, the weather was a factor.
It was a hellish environment for the quarterback. The film will exemplify all of the things discussed in the previous paragraph. Regardless, Wilson stepped up and did his part for most of the game. He made some costly errors that he must clean up – the type of bone-headed errors that were common in his first two seasons but have mostly been minimized in 2023. But for the majority of his time on the field, I thought Wilson did his best to give his struggling team a chance.
Zach Wilson film vs. Giants
Great plays in low-percentage situations + Drops
First off, take a look at this reel of Wilson’s best throws against the Giants.
This is one of the most impressive reels from any game in Wilson’s career. Unfortunately, some of the passes were not caught (be it a flat-out drop or a well-placed 50-50 ball that wasn’t converted), hurting the production of Wilson and the offense. Regardless, this reel shows that Wilson frequently overcame poor circumstances throughout the game. Whether it was due to pressure, tight coverage, or both, most of Wilson’s pass attempts were low-percentage, yet he put many of them on the money.
“But you can make a highlight reel of any quarterback game!”, is what the critics will probably argue.
No, you can’t. Wilson has had plenty of games in his career where his best throw of the day was less impressive than any of the throws in that clip above. His stats in those games may have even been better than his stats in this one. Stats and reality don’t always match up. I don’t care what his stats were or how the offense performed as a whole – Wilson was throwing darts in this game.
Let’s look at some of those plays more closely.
This throw to Allen Lazard is legitimately one of Wilson’s best plays of the season. Lazard drops a ball that falls right in his hands. That shouldn’t take away from how high-level of a play this is from Wilson. He steps up in the pocket (not out, as he used to prefer in the past), uses subtle movements to protect himself, keeps his eyes downfield the entire time, and delivers a perfect tight-window ball with deft touch.
This angle shows the ball was right in Lazard's hands and was an unforced drop. A fantastic Zach play.
You have to love the pocket movement. Side-step, shoulder shrug, step up. Then rips it across his body with a defender spinning into him. The touch to drop it in. Top notch pic.twitter.com/4FyNYtzo0P
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 31, 2023
Here’s another drop by Lazard (I forgot to include it in the reel above). On third-and-10 with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Wilson hits Lazard in the hands on a slant for what should be a first down, but Lazard is unable to secure it. Sure, Lazard has to dive, so it’s not the easiest grab, but Wilson had to put the ball out in front to keep it away from the defender and hit Lazard in stride. Lazard has the ball in his chest but can’t secure it before allowing it to hit the ground.
In the past, Wilson was known as a quarterback who would almost always try to run from the pressure instead of standing tall in the face of it. In 2023, we’ve seen Wilson show a greater willingness to hang tough in the pocket and accept the possibility of getting hit if that is what it takes to deliver a throw. That’s what he does here.
Zach Wilson has gotten so much tougher in the pocket pic.twitter.com/mwXMnot8dz
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 31, 2023
This improvised sideline completion to Garrett Wilson is an example of Wilson making something out of nothing. This route concept by Hackett is a complete mess. What is happening? You have two receivers running into the same spot underneath and two deep routes getting completely blanketed. Luckily, the Wilsons make magic happen.
What is happening on this play call? What is Zach supposed to do?
Some poor route running at times but you also had a lot of wonky calls like this one where everything just looks out of wack.
It's a miracle he creates a good gain out of this pic.twitter.com/6MFaBxVko0
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 31, 2023
Wilson’s clutch performance at the end of the game cannot be overlooked, regardless of the fact that the opportunity was allowed by a bunch of awful Giants blunders. There have been multiple games in the past where the Jets offense had a chance to win at the end despite playing poorly for the entire game, but Wilson choked it away (second New England game and Detroit game last year, the New England game this year). This time around, though, Wilson fully capitalized on the gifted opportunity with a trio of outstanding plays.
Once again stepping UP in the pocket, Zach hits Garrett in between three zone defenders for the big gain. The clock stops thanks to Kayvon Thibodeaux’s offsides penalty.
Flushed to his right, Wilson throws the ball across his body back toward the middle of the field and somehow places it in an ideal spot to both make it an easy catch for Lazard and lead him downfield for YAC. Lazard probably should have gone down quicker to save time, but that’s besides the fact. This is an outstanding display of pure arm talent in a do-or-die situation.
Learning from his mistake in the second quarter of the Denver game, Wilson hastily got his offense down the field to spike the ball with one second left. This is with a practice-squad center in the game.
Wilson finds Lazard and spikes it in time!
— NFL (@NFL) October 29, 2023
That is not an easy feat to pull off. If you remember, the Bills failed to execute in a similar situation last season. With about the exact same amount of time on the clock from when the receiver went down, the Bills could not get the spike off.
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
In overtime, Wilson delivered one of the best throws of his career in a third-and-10 situation. Faced with a six-man rush, Wilson sees there is a blitzing DB darting straight at his chest. Regardless, he hangs tough in the pocket and delivers his throw outside to Garrett, fully accepting the incoming hit. The throw is right where it needs to be for Garrett to come back and get it, and he gets the required YAC for a first down. One of the gutsiest plays of Zach Wilson’s career.
Again, to reiterate the main point of this article, let’s take a moment to appreciate the difficulty level of the highlights we’ve seen so far. Nothing was easy for Zach Wilson in this game. The Jets didn’t do him a single favor (well, outside of Breece Hall turning a checkdown into a 50-yard score). But he hung in there and made plays in situations where it would have been excusable if he had failed.
Speaking of that aforementioned Hall touchdown, even that throw wasn’t easy, at least by checkdown standards. Check out the sidearm action from Wilson as he whips the ball around the defender’s outstretched arm to find Hall.
Moving on, let’s take a look at some examples of plays where the Jets simply did not give Wilson a chance. As we will see in the following clips, much of the Jets’ offensive ineptitude was not on Wilson.
Offensive plays that failed due to reasons beyond Wilson
On this second-and-5 play in overtime (one play before Wilson drew a pass interference call on a deep bomb to Malik Taylor), Wilson faces a heavy blitz and again delivers a great throw in the face of the pressure. Garrett cooks Deonte Banks and is wide open on an out route, and you can see from the end zone angle that Zach’s throw is destined for the perfect spot for Garrett to grab it. Unfortunately, Breece Hall turns his flat route upfield and gets in Garrett’s way, creating a collision that ruins the play.
It’s a tough break – it seems like Hall saw the pressure and figured Zach would scramble, so he improvised his route, but Hall has to be more aware in that situation. Regardless of the ugly result, chalk it up as another great Zach play. Wilson found his open man, kept his eyes downfield in the face of incoming pressure, drifted back to keep himself clean, and delivered an accurate throw while fading away with a defender in his grill.
Next up, on this third-and-7 play, there simply isn’t anybody open. Tyler Conklin does eventually separate on the left side, but it takes a while and the pocket swallows Wilson up before he can ever read that side (he starts his read on the right) or escape. The Jets simply lack route-running talent at the moment, as evidenced by the fact that C.J. Uzomah, a lumbering blocking tight end, is flexed out running a corner route on a third-and-7 play.
We’ve already seen a few plays where Wilson looked prepared for the blitz. Here’s another one, even though the end result is an incompletion. The Giants bring seven rushers and Wilson immediately winds up to hit his hot read, Xavier Gipson, but Gipson isn’t ready. It looks like Wilson expects Gipson to immediately bend into the flat, but Gipson drifts up the field, clearly not where Wilson expects him to be. He also doesn’t turn his head for a very long time. Wilson is forced to hold the ball and the pressure bears down, killing the play.
While it looks ugly in the end, this is not on Wilson. He immediately had an answer to this blitz. Gipson just wasn’t on the same page. Yet again, it exemplifies the Jets’ need for wide receiver help. The young Gipson is talented, but this play shows why he isn’t getting more playing time right now.
There actually was a third-and-10 play where Gipson got open over the middle for a potential first down (although he wasn’t covered). But Wilson had no chance to target Gipson since he was already scrambling away from five Giants defenders at the time Gipson broke open. This one falls on the offensive line.
Here we have another third down where the offensive line ruins an opportunity for Wilson to find an open receiver. On third-and-6, Malik Taylor does a really nice job of separating at the top of his route, and he’s open running horizontally along the first-down marker. However, by the time Taylor separates, Wilson is already being forced to run away from pressure allowed by Laken Tomlinson.
On this third-and-13 play, the Giants are able to quickly pressure Wilson with only four rushers. Wilson has no good options open and decides to scramble for a few yards. Perhaps he may have had a chance to hit Taylor on the left side if he got a clean pocket, but Wilson was already flushed to his right long before the window to Taylor opened up.
Here’s a failed third-and-2 that I place on Nathaniel Hackett. This is a very constricted call, in my opinion. Hackett is banking on one thing to work, and if it fails, the entire play is dead. Anticipating man coverage, the Jets try to get Lazard to pick Conklin’s man so Conklin can get open in the flat, but Conklin’s man isn’t even remotely fooled and easily gets over the top of Lazard. He stops the play with no sweat.
This is another failed play that falls on Hackett’s shoulders. On first-and-10, the Jets roll Wilson to his left. The route design is strange, though, as it doesn’t complement the left-side rollout. Gipson motions across and runs vertically up the right sideline, so he’s not an option. Lazard starts on the left but releases to the right side, so he is also not a realistic option. Dalvin Cook stays in to block, so the Jets really only have two options: Jeremy Ruckert in the flat and Garrett Wilson on the over route. Both are covered.
Since the Giants rush only four, they are able to easily thwart this. Thibodeaux was going to drop out in coverage anyway, so he shuts down Ruckert in the flat. Wilson is open against his own man, but there’s a defender underneath him, which clogs the throwing lane. Zach has to throw the ball away. This is just an example of the Jets getting out-schemed. None of the players failed to execute. The Giants simply won the chess match here.
Zach Wilson’s mistakes
By now, we’ve run through many of Wilson’s best plays along with the failed plays that were not his fault. But Wilson is not completely off the hook for the Jets’ dismal offensive performance. He did make some mistakes that he deserves blame for.
Wilson opened the game with a lost fumble on the Jets’ first drive. While the failure of this play is not on him – the protection is awful and he has no chance to complete a pass – he needs to hold the ball more securely in the face of the pressure. Wilson is holding the ball with one hand as he scrambles and Thibodeaux makes him pay. It’s unrealistic to expect Wilson to throw this ball away, but ideally, he eats the sack with two hands on the ball to avoid a turnover.
On this third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter, a classic Wilson issue rears its ugly head. Rolling to his right, Wilson is unpressured and has a wide-open Breece Hall in the flat for an easy conversion. Wilson throws it at Hall’s feet.
In 2023, Wilson has greatly decreased his propensity for missed layups like this one. This mistake is an outlier on his 2023 tape. Let’s hope it stays that way. Perhaps the weather was a factor here.
As the Jets were driving to try and tie or win the game with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Wilson took an awful sack. Wilson had just converted a third-and-11 with a 17-yard scramble and the Jets were facing first-and-10 at their own 41-yard line with 2:19 left. Nobody is open and he is quickly pressured by two defenders, so once again, the failure of this play is not on him, but he has to throw the ball away here. Unlike the sack-fumble in the first quarter, Wilson has ample time to get rid of this and is outside of the tackle box. There is no excuse for this sack.
A few plays later, the Jets faced a fourth-and-10 situation that seemed like it would be their last chance at the time. While there certainly is not a great option available for Wilson to target, the bottom line is that you cannot allow yourself to be sacked in a do-or-die situation. Just throw it up and hope for the best. Wilson tries to do too much and wastes any remaining hope for the Jets to win (or so we thought).
Zach Wilson’s streak of competency continued
It may not have seemed like it when watching live, and it sure wouldn’t seem like it if you checked his stats. But Zach Wilson played another competent game against the Giants. While he was far from great, it was another game in which it felt like Wilson was relatively inconsequential to the final outcome, which is an improvement over his 2021-22 form when he was a constant liability.
If you liked Wilson’s performances against Denver and Philadelphia, you should like this performance as well – if not significantly more so. These were the worst circumstances handed to Wilson all year, and he responded by putting together a reel of big-time plays that ranks as one of the best of his career, probably right behind this year’s Chiefs game and on par with the 2021 Titans game.
Wilson’s highlights were balanced out by some ugly errors that reminded fans of his first two seasons, but those types of errors have not been as common this year and should be expected to decrease in future games where the situation around him is not quite as horrendous.
Going forward, fans should be far more encouraged by Wilson’s peaks in this game than they are discouraged by his valleys. Wilson continues to show improvement in areas that were major problems for him in the past. Whether it’s handling the blitz, stepping up in the pocket, throwing while taking a hit, tight-window accuracy, or commanding the offense in clutch situations, it’s all there on the Giants film.
Right now, Wilson is a quarterback who takes the offense as far as the rest of the unit allows itself to go. Since the rest of the offense is performing brutally, the Jets are getting brutal results. Wilson still isn’t a ceiling-raiser. But Wilson no longer looks like a quarterback who drags the team down.
Once (if) the Jets offense gets its act together and starts performing competently in the non-quarterback areas, it seems likely that Wilson will do his part to make sure the efforts of his supporting cast are not wasted. He couldn’t do that in 2022. There were plenty of games where he was supported fairly well but wasted the good opportunities presented to him. However, with his performance this year, it’s much easier to have confidence that Wilson will pull his weight if the Jets finally start giving him realistic chances to succeed.
The film proves that Zach Wilson was nowhere near as bad in the Snoopy Bowl as some people claim. The Jets have countless problems to focus on before worrying about Wilson. Instead of pointing the finger at him, point it first at a decimated offensive line that is not blocking well in either phase, a pass-catching group that is not separating or making difficult catches outside of Garrett Wilson, and an offensive coordinator who is losing the chess match too frequently.
Remember, Wilson is the Jets’ backup quarterback, so he should be held to the standards of a backup quarterback. If you’re still hoping for him to fulfill his potential as a No. 2 overall pick, then yes, he continues to disappoint. But he’s playing like a decent backup quarterback, and that’s all the Jets could have realistically hoped for when Aaron Rodgers went down.
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