Rookie quarterbacks are having a rough time in the NFL this year. Each of them has wrestled in at least one match this season. However, for Trevor Lawrence of Jacksonville and Zach Wilson of New York, the problems were evident in every game. For Lawrence, much of the blame lies with head coach Urban Meyer. For Wilson, much of the blame has fallen on his offensive line.
There has been no quarterback for three weeks fired more often than Wilson. He has hit the deck behind the line of scrimmage 15 times in three games. He has been 20 times rushed (tied for the NFL lead with Josh Allen, Buffalo). He has been pressured 43 times (leads NFL), and he has seen pressure on 35.2 percent of his dropbacks (also tops in the NFL). His offensive line must be atrocious, right? Well, if you take a closer look at some of the data, you start to realize that a lot of these pockets… actually Wilson’s debt.
Of the 15 sacks Wilson has suffered, Pro Football Focus has only accredited five to the Jets offensive line (Morgan Moses: 1; Greg Van Roten: 2; Connor McGovern: 1; Aliyah Vera Tucker: 1). That leaves ten sacks, or two-thirds of the total, that are not the fault of the attacking line. Five sacks are assigned to Zach Wilson. That leads all NFL quarterbacks, both in total and percentage.
Jets’ offensive line hasn’t actually been as bad as most people would have you believe. Are they good? No, not to the imagination – but they certainly aren’t this “open borders policy, let everyone through” type of unit we’ve been told they are. When Wilson falls back to pass, he usually has about… 2.5 seconds before the bag collapses. That’s fourth in the NFL with Detroit, New Orleans and the LA Rams. Wilson constantly has a lot of time to throw the ball, but either can’t find open receivers, doesn’t have the confidence to make certain throws and is hesitating in the bag himself, or his receivers generally can’t open.
It’s not the offensive line’s fault.
Now you might be thinking, “Then why aren’t those other teams with similar sack times under similar pressure?” There’s a lot to it, but in short, it’s because they throw the ball. Of the three quarterbacks who are level with Wilson in average sack time (Goff, Stafford and Winston), only one has a average time to throw higher than Wilson’s 3.02 seconds (Winston – 3.17 seconds). Goff has an average throwing time of 2.85 seconds this season, while Stafford averages 2.71 seconds. With those numbers in mind, is it any wonder that Winston (31.3 percent pressure percentage) is the only quarterback on this list to face similar pressure levels to Wilson (35.2 percent pressure percentage)? The New Orleans Saints have one of the most talented offensive lines in the league, but protection can only last so long. If the quarterback doesn’t release the ball, the rushers will eventually reach him.
Not to mention that Wilson didn’t get it right, even if he got a clean sack. Passing from a clean pocket, Wilson has thrown for one touchdown, five interceptions and an average of 6.4 yards per game. Only one of Wilson’s seven interceptions was made when he was flashed. Even Jets right guard Greg Van Roten has publicly stated that Wilson needs to learn to get the ball out, according to Connor Hughes, Jets beat writer for The Athletic.
I’m not already calling Wilson a failure. There have been hundreds of quarterbacks who have had growing pains in the early years of college. However, we must stop blaming the Jets’ line of attack. Beginning quarterbacks shouldn’t be above criticism, and thankfully Wilson’s tendency to hold the ball too long is something that can be worked on and improved through offensive schedule changes. It’s not an irreversible problem, but until we recognize that Wilson has this problem, he will see no reason to improve.