Rookie quarterbacks have struggled in the NFL this year. Each one of them has struggled in at least one game this season. However, for Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and New York’s Zach Wilson, the struggles have been evident in every game. For Lawrence, a lot of the blame has fallen on head coach Urban Meyer. For Wilson, much of the blame has fallen on his offensive line.
Through three weeks, no quarterback has been sacked more often than Wilson. He’s hit the deck behind the line of scrimmage 15 times through three games. He’s been hurried 20 times (tied for the NFL lead with Josh Allen, Buffalo). He’s been pressured 43 times (leads NFL), and he’s seen pressure on 35.2 percent of his dropbacks (also tops in the NFL). His offensive line must be atrocious, right? Well, once you take a closer look at some of the data, you start to realize that a lot of these sacks… are actually Wilson’s fault.
Of the 15 sacks Wilson has suffered, Pro Football Focus has only accredited five of them to the Jets offensive line (Morgan Moses: 1; Greg Van Roten: 2; Connor McGovern: 1; Alijah Vera-Tucker: 1). That leaves ten sacks, or two-thirds of the total, that are not the offensive line’s fault. Five sacks have been accredited to Zach Wilson. That leads all NFL quarterbacks, both in total and percentage.
The Jets offensive line has actually not been as bad as most people would have you believe. Are they good? No, not by any stretch of the imagination — but they’re definitely not this “open-border policy, let everyone through”-type of unit we’ve been told they are. In fact, when Wilson drops back to pass, he usually has about 2.5 seconds before the pocket collapses. That’s tied for fourth-best in the NFL with Detroit, New Orleans, and the LA Rams. Wilson consistently has tons of time to throw the ball, but either can’t find open receivers, doesn’t have the confidence to make certain throws and second guesses himself in the pocket, or his receivers can’t get open in general.
That’s not the offensive line’s fault.
Now, you might be thinking “Well, then why aren’t those other teams with similar pocket times facing similar rates of pressure?” There’s a lot that goes into that, but in short, it’s because they throw the ball. Of the three quarterbacks tied with Wilson in average pocket time (Goff, Stafford, and Winston), only one has an average time to throw higher than Wilson’s 3.02 seconds (Winston — 3.17 seconds). Goff has an average time to throw of 2.85 seconds this season, while Stafford averages 2.71 seconds. With those numbers in mind, is it any wonder why Winston (31.3 percent pressure rate) is the only quarterback on this list facing similar levels of pressure as Wilson (35.2 percent pressure rate)? 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 let go of the ball, eventually, rushers will get to him.
Not to mention, Wilson hasn’t done well, even when given a clean pocket. When passing from a clean pocket, Wilson has thrown for one touchdown, five interceptions, and an average of 6.4 yards per play. Only one of Wilson’s seven interceptions have come when he was being blitzed. Even Jets right guard Greg Van Roten has gone on record stating that Wilson needs to learn to get the ball out, according to Connor Hughes, Jets beat writer for The Athletic..
I’m not calling Wilson a bust already. There have been hundreds of quarterbacks to suffer growing pains their first few years out of college. However, we need to stop blaming the Jets’ offensive line. Rookie quarterbacks should not be above criticism, and luckily, Wilson’s tendency to hold onto the ball for too long is something that can be worked on and improved upon through offensive scheme changes. It’s not an irreversible problem, but until we acknowledge that Wilson has this problem, he won’t see a reason to improve.