Zach Wilson made his triumphant return to the starting lineup in the NY Jets' Week 15 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. While Wilson wasn't the sole culprit for the team's disappointing defeat, he certainly was a factor.
Wilson deserves credit for making a number of big-time throws on Sunday. His 3rd-and-19 pass to Garrett Wilson on the final drive of the game was one of the most impressive of his NFL career to this point.
Unfortunately, for every "big-boy throw," there were three of four blatant misses that cost the Jets yards, and ultimately the game. His performance against Detroit was certainly a step up from his previous outings, but Wilson's inconsistencies make winning games much harder for the Jets.
The margin for error is razor-thin with Wilson under center, or at least thinner than it is with White. The Jets can win with Wilson — they've proven that on five separate occasions this season.
But the team around Wilson can't afford to make very many mistakes. You can't give up punt return touchdowns or have blown coverages on 4th-and-inches. You can't afford to mismanage the clock and you certainly can't afford to not have a running game.
When those things happen, the Jets are forced to lean on Wilson to make plays. Sometimes he will, as evidenced by a handful of throws he made behind a lackluster offensive line on Sunday. However, his inconsistencies make relying on him to save the day a volatile request.
Put simply, it's not a winning formula.
The NY Jets can't rely on Zach Wilson to bail them out
Wilson's inaccuracy was a major problem on Sunday. Facing one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, the Jets had wide receivers in open space all day. Wilson was able to connect on a few of those occasions, but his misses were noticeable as well.
In fact, Wilson was more inaccurate in Week 15 than he was in his disastrous Week 11 loss to the New England Patriots. Wilson's off-target percentage of 35.3% against Detroit was higher than his off-target percentage of 35.0% against the Patriots, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Where Wilson was especially inaccurate was in the intermediate game. Wilson completed just 5-of-11 passes between 10 and 19 yards on Sunday and finished with a lowly PFF grade of 34.0 in that range. He thrived throwing down the field and was acceptable in the short passing game — it was the intermediate game that gave him fits.
We can see that on a number of throws he missed late in the game, most notably his airmailed pass over the head of Braxton Berrios on that final drive. Berrios had gotten behind the defense and, if the pass was on target, could have scored. Instead, Wilson fired it over his head.
Those are the passes that an NFL quarterback needs to hit consistently — and they're exactly the passes that Mike White has been able to hit more often than not. For the box score watchers out there, this is what separates these two quarterbacks the most.
In White's three starts this season, Pro Football Focus has given him 85.1, 70.5, and 75.7 grades in his games against the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Buffalo Bills, respectively, on passes between 10 and 19 yards.
White's greatest strength as a passer this season has been his ability to connect on tight-window intermediate throws. It's what kept them competitive in both the Vikings and Bills games and it's what allowed them to blow out the Bears.
When you have a quarterback who can consistently make those throws, your margin for error increases. The Jets don't have that with Wilson — he hasn't shown that same consistency.
This isn't meant to be a hit piece. The goal isn't to blame the Jets' Week 15 loss solely on Wilson's inaccuracy nor is it to proclaim that the team wins a Super Bowl with White.
But this is the reality of the Jets' quarterback situation entering their Week 16 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wilson is likely to start with White still out injured.
That means the Jets can't afford to make the same mistakes they did against Detroit. The special teams unit has to be better. The mental lapses on defense can't be there. The clock management miscues need to disappear.
The Jets can win on Thursday and save their season, but their margin for error will be slim. That's the reality of the situation they're facing.