Zach Wilson is at the point of no return at the quarterback position. He has reportedly been benched by the New York Jets. The second-year signal-caller has had a rough 2022 season. His struggles came to a nadir with a particularly horrendous performance against the New England Patriots in Week 11.
Wilson fired 22 passes. Only nine found the mark. He finished with just 77 passing yards and a passer rating of 50.8. He did not throw an interception, but Pro Football Focus credited Wilson with two turnover-worthy plays. Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty both dropped an interception on the day.
Wilson’s NFL career has been full of pitfalls, but it has not been all negative. In 2021, Wilson had a polarizing game against the Tennessee Titans. In a Jets win, Wilson threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns including a highlight-reel play to Corey Davis. This season, Wilson had a polished game against the Miami Dolphins that earned him a 79.7 passing grade. Through his first two games in 2022, it looked as if Wilson had turned a corner.
However, he has hit a snag. While the Jets did beat the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and Buffalo Bills in this stretch, Wilson has been quite poor. In his last five games, Wilson has as many interceptions as touchdowns, and he has a spectacularly poor 32.9 PFF passing grade. He has a 71.9 passer rating, and the second-highest turnover-worthy play rate in the NFL in that span.
Wilson might not be the only issue in the offense, but he is the most glaring of the Jets’ issues. The Jets are a tiebreaker out of a playoff spot, sporting a 6-4 record. They have a defense that ranks in the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, and takeaways. They have seven consecutive games holding their opponent under 24 points and 350 yards, the longest streak in the NFL this season.
Since Breece Hall went down with a torn ACL, the Jets have had some issues running the ball. In two games against the Patriots, the Jets totaled 110 rushing yards. James Robinson has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry since coming over via trade. Michael Carter has had his moments, but he is not a true No. 1 running back.
Part of the blame will fall on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. However, Wilson’s struggles have handcuffed LaFleur. Playing to Wilson’s strengths has yielded poor results, but leaning too far the other way creates a predictable offense. Wilson is among the league leaders in average time to throw, exaggerating any offensive line issues.
New York, We Have a Problem
The only relative positive to Wilson’s play has been when he has been kept clean. He ranks 22nd out of 34 quarterbacks in PFF passing grade when kept clean with a 73.6 mark. To use an analogy, Wilson passes the test when he studies for it, but he only barely passes.
Continuing the analogy, when Wilson does not study for the test, he is the worst in the class. When under pressure – 37.2% of his dropbacks – Wilson has an epically horrible 22.0 passing grade. He is the last of the 34 qualified quarterbacks. Despite having dozens of fewer dropbacks than Justin Fields, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen while under pressure, Wilson is tied for the most turnover-worthy plays when under pressure. His 12.9% rate of turnover-worthy plays while under pressure is 2.2% more than any other quarterback.
Wilson presents a paradox here. He is somewhat passable when he is in rhythm. When the rhythm breaks, Wilson is spectacularly terrible. Coming out of college, Wilson’s greatest strength was his ability to create out of structure. The NFL has eaten him alive in these situations.
With Wilson’s recent struggles, two player comps have come to the forefront: Jamarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel. Russell has shockingly comparable stats to Wilson while Manziel has a similar attitude. Even before the 2021 NFL Draft, a report broke that some in the community believed Wilson was Manziel but without drug issues.
It is a critical time for Wilson. Jets fans are yearning for a step in the right direction. The team has a stellar defense and enough offensive pieces to support average quarterback play. Wilson has been the worst quarterback in the NFL this season, and he has actively hurt a competitive Jets team. For now, they will head in a different direction.
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