The Jets were without their starting quarterback for the first three weeks of this season. Although it wasn’t the greatest performance by any means, Zach Wilson was able to help the Jets to a 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.
In his first game action since injuring his meniscus and suffering a bone bruise during the Jets’ preseason opener against the Philidelphia Eagles, Wilson completed 18 of 36 passes for 252 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
According to RBSDM, Wilson had an expected point added per play of -0.01 per play. This is a measure of efficiency that considers how well certain plays perform relative to their expectation.
While Wilson’s expected point added per play did not check out particularly well, his numbers were better than Flacco, who started the previous three weeks. In the Week 3 loss to the Bengals, Flacco’s EPA was -.41, which was among the worst quarterbacks in the league.
“You go back to Zach specifically just hanging in the pocket, he was very poised, very calm, throwing the ball, throwing darts, throwing lasers exactly where they needed to go and guys were just grinding after catch,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said.
“Getting yards after catch and no flinch, fourth down conversions, third down conversions, the hurry-up situation after the Corey [Davis] catch that probably could’ve went to review, that we were able to get a playoff and still pick up five yards.”
Gang Green’s offense was much different with Wilson under center compared to backup Joe Flacco. The team committed much more to running the football, as shown by the 29 rushing attempts. Rookie Breece Hall led the way with 66 yards on 17 carries.
The Jets coaching staff knew Wilson might suffer from a bit of rust, considering the amount of time he didn’t see any live game action. That’s why they didn’t call a passing play until a 3rd and 7 call in which Wilson completed a pass six-yard pass to Elijah Moore, which forced the team to punt.
On Wilson’s second drive of the game, he displayed his elusiveness inside and outside of the pocket. With the Steelers sacking him on first down and pressuring him again on 2nd and 14, Wilson ran to his left and picked up nine yards on a scramble. If Flacco had been playing, he would have likely been sacked, or the play would have been an incompletion.
This play is important because it set up a 3rd and 5 play in which running back Breece Hall got the first down. The Jets didn’t get a touchdown out of this drive, but they generated three points on a 38-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal.
The Jets’ third drive was one of the team’s best of the early season and Wilson had a lot to do with that. On 3rd and 7 at their own 33-yard-line, Wilson perfectly placed the ball to Moore with Cameron Sutton in coverage.
Later on the same drive, Wilson completed another long pass to Moore, this time for 28 yards. That later set up a two-yard jet sweep from Garrett Wilson to Braxton Berrios as he completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Wilson.
Although there were some good signs from Wilson early, there were also some plays he wishes he had a chance to do over. Among them was the 3 and 11 play in which Wilson threw an interception to Sutton.
The pocket was collapsing on Wilson and he appeared to get flustered and threw the ball into coverage with Malik Reed pressuring him. There were also several passes during the first half where Wilson stared down receivers and pre-determined where he wanted to throw the football. That was evident by Wilson finishing the first half 6 of 16 for 91 yards and an interception.
Wilson wasn’t much better in the third quarter as he threw a high pass to Tyler Conklin, which deflected off his hands and was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers sent six defenders with three linebackers, which was more than the Jets’ offensive line could block. This is a play Wilson needs to identify at the line of scrimmage and check out next time this happens.
As dissatisfactory as Wilson’s performance was during the first three quarters, he had his best performance in a Jets uniform in the fourth. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Down 20-17 late in the game, Wilson not only delivered a message to his teammates in the huddle, but he also made one on the field. Sometimes, Wilson tries to do too much by throwing deep passes into coverage. But he took what the Steelers defense gave him on the final drive.
Wilson relied on Corey Davis for a couple of big receptions on the drive. The biggest was Wilson’s throw, where he stepped up in the pocket and delivered a 17-yard pass to Davis. Without this play, it is hard to imagine Hall later finding the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
There was some good, bad and a lot in between during Wilson’s first start. The Jets coaches have to feel encouraged that he was able to play his best when the game matters the most.
Now the question is can Wilson do that again against a Miami Dolphins defense this weekend that hasn’t played up to their expectations? The Dolphins’ defense is ranked 28th in total defense (403) after the first four weeks. Miami is also tied for 29th in sacks (seven), so there will be opportunities for Wilson to take advantage, especially if cornerback Xavien Howard does not play, as he’s been bothered by a groin injury.