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Analysis: Zach Wilson floundering under pressure

David Bowie would be an excellent choice for background music while you read this post

New York Jets v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

By now, you’ve likely read an article like this one about New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. If you haven’t, here’s the gist: Wilson has struggled a bit this season. When he’s under pressure he...doesn’t exactly improve. Thank you, various authors, for already doing the stat dive, as I shouldn’t need to prove to anyone that Wilson struggles under pressure. That means we can focus on some sweet, sweet GIFS to look at what’s happening with Wilson this season.

Play 1

What’s happening here, Skare? Didn’t you just say it was a given that Wilson is flat out terrible under pressure? Sure, but remember that in professional sports “terrible” is merely a rate-based metric. It’s not universal. For this play, Wilson has pressure in his face and scrambles to his left. A quick flick of the ball, and they have a first down. The pass isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done.

Play 2

Another successful pass under pressure? Are you trying to disagree with every other media outlet? Not at all. This play highlights that Wilson has a solid enough toolkit to pull from on any given play. Throwing on the run is never easy, and Wilson hits his man in stride on a deep ball. Consider this his ceiling, and then remember that I said “terrible” is a rate measure. All players at the NFL level can capture a highlight reel, it’s just a matter of how often they play to their ceiling. What I’m driving at with the first two plays is that it’s not that Wilson can’t make these kinds of impressive throws under pressure, it’s that he doesn’t do it often enough.

Side note: Wouldn’t it be cool if the Bills can get pressure this casually?

Play 3

Let’s get to some passes where he’s not great. On this snap, Wilson is pressured from his right, and right in front of him. Wilson drifts back and it’s a similar flick pass to Play 1, but from an even worse platform. The ball sails a bit, and it’s an easy interception for the New England Patriots.

Play 4

I could have easily just gone with Wilson interceptions, but wanted to mix it up a bit. This is similar to Play 2, but Wilson either doesn’t see the defender in excellent position to stop the play, or he thinks it’s worth a jump ball. Wilson does a good job avoiding the pressure and even sets his feet well enough to give a boost to his chances on the play. This pass is more bad decision than bad mechanics.

Play 5

Speaking of decisions, it’s the right call to throw this ball away, but I highlight a weird fact in the GIF. Believe it or not, the NFL field is over 50 yards wide. Wilson has a penchant to see a play through to the bitter end, if need be, to make something happen. He runs over 25 yards while avoiding a safety to eventually throw the ball away. There are a couple scary points where a safety seems likely, and arguably it might have been better to throw it away a bit earlier.

Play 6

Let’s end on some good. Also some bad, since we’re Bills fans. Zach Wilson’s hop is a good technique to buy another half second or so. While the Jets do have a blocker to help out Wilson, the hop didn’t hurt his chances at preventing the nearest defender from charging through and decreasing the lane to throw. This ball floats forever, though, and it’s another easy pick for the Patriots. Wilson had time to reset, but doesn’t rotate into the throw, which likely caused the pass to sail.

In Summary

It’s understandable that Josh Allen defended Wilson this week, as everything I just wrote applied to Allen for his first couple seasons. When the pressure came, it led to breakdowns in mechanics and decision-making. Those led to bad passes and bad plays. Wilson is experiencing that first-hand.

Please note, in no way am I saying that Wilson is the next Allen. Allen was a legit miracle to make the strides he has made in the NFL. The intent is more that Wilson’s struggles this season may not reflect his career arc when the dust settles. But we should be focused on the coming game, and on the current version of Wilson. The bottom line is that the current Wilson seems like he might be in for some trouble against the current Buffalo BIlls.