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Looking Back At Zach Wilson Game 1

How did the rookie do?

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

After going over the tape of Zach Wilson’s first game as the Jets starting QB numerous times this past week I will try to give an accurate assessment of his performance. It is easy to say that the Jets were never in the lead in the game so his start was unsuccessful. Wilson is a team captain plus the leader of the offense, an offense that sputtered most of the day so that is not a ringing endorsement.

Yet we must take into account all factors in viewing his performance. Remember Wilson only signed with the Jets on July 29th which was only 44 days away from his first NFL game. When I say first NFL game I mean any NFL game as Wilson grew up in Utah and had never been to an NFL game even as a spectator his entire life.

Wilson of course had some OTAs plus mini camps to get oriented into the offensive scheme, but that is not a lot of time to master an offense. Many players coming from college say that learning an NFL offense is like learning a new language. Further still most players only have to know their role on each play. A QB must know everyone’s role on every play in an offense and the protections.

Wilson was said to have worked diligently on the playbook and it showed. He seemed to know every route being run, and there was never that awkward moment when the QB turns one way while the RB goes another or he throws an out when the receiver ran a dig route. That type of thing happens even to veteran QBs, but Wilson was solid in that regard.

Taking into account this was Wilson’s first start in the NFL, on the road, against an above average defense I came away impressed by his performance. He had some things he needs to work on, but all in all he did a solid job given the game script and the level of play around him. If you watched the game you know Wilson didn’t get much help from those other players on the offense. So lets watch some tape to find out what really happened and what Wilson did right and wrong.

Here is the first completion in the career of Zack Wilson, a quick flat pass to the tight end that went for ten yards. This was a designed pick play that the Jets knew would get Zack an easy completion and start his day off right.

Corey Davis as the outside receiver accidently on purpose bumps into the LB who has coverage on the tight end. This “rub” play was obviously scripted, but Wilson does a nice job of looking straight ahead initially when he receives the snap and knows exactly where he is going with the ball. His release is super quick. The ball is perfectly accurate to the inside of the receiver with shields it from the defender. The TE only has to catch it in his midsection then turn upfield towards the sideline. Wilson was quick, calm, and accurate which resulted in a first down for the Jets.

This next play (as he was most of the day) Wilson was pressured. Yet Wilson moves away from the pressure easily. He does so in a way that is reminiscent of Russell Wilson. Watch as he doesn’t seemed fazed at all by the pressure, moves to his right with a quick move then outruns the athletic DE to the outside.

Watch Wilson as he moves. He is quick and decisive yet there is no panic in his movements. He keeps his head up looking downfield trying to make a play. He was no chance to run as there is a LB bearing down on him, but he lofts an arcing pass for Corey Davis. Now we can’t see what Davis is doing while Wilson is throwing, but a receiver has to try and judge a ball coming his way. Especially in a scramble drill where the QB is flushed from the pocket the QB’s job is to get the ball in the vicinity of the receiver. The receiver must make the adjustments. The QB is running for his life. The WR must judge the arc of the ball or angle his body where he can use two feet to jump/turn his body to the ball for maximum possibility to make the the reception.

The play was a broken play as the pressure nullified any cohesion with the QB/WR, but the scramble drill should take effect. Davis must break off his original route then either run towards Wilson or go deeper on his route to lose his coverage. Either way he needs to stay as far inbounds as he can to leave Wilson the most room to fit a pass in. As it was this was a completable pass, but Davis never got his body in proper position to make the catch. All this ad-lib has to be done in micro seconds so it’s no one’s fault for the incompletion, . It’s just that if things were done better a big play could have happened.

This next play exemplifies the type of pressure Wilson was under the entire day plus the level of help he received by teammates. This is a 2nd and 10 play with an all out blitz seemingly on the verge of happening. Yet when the smoke cleared the Panthers dropped off their LBs into coverage so the same four rushers were in play. The Jets release the RB into the flat as a safety valve because the Jets have 6 players blocking the blitz that never happened. As a result 6 players blocked out 1 players and 3 other defenders met at Zack Wilson from each side plus from the middle with no escape from the rush. This is about as poor a job blocking as a team can have.

Wilson hangs tough allowing Elijah Moore to come open on the drag route. Wilson then jumps in the air to clear himself of the inevitable pressure if only for an instant as he unleashes the pass. he pass is a little short as Wilson is hit from every conceivable angle but his receiver is only 5’ 9” so it really isn’t that low. In the end Moore drops the pass that wasn’t going to get much yardage, but it is still a lost opportunity to make the 3rd down shorter than it would have been.

Bottom line is that Wilson did everything humanly possible to complete the play, but few on his team did the same. The offensive line had zero communication plus whatever line calls were made by the center were incorrect. This was a dressed up faux blitz 4 man rush that got to Wilson in an instant. Teams are now looking at this play and licking their chops to create havoc against the Jets using this exact formula. It must get fixed. The very next play is another faux pressure package by the Panthers.

George Fant gets beaten by a wide “9” alignment so Wilson has to adjust and step up. This is why defenses enjoy pressure so much. If you make the QB move off his mark, the timing and rhythm of the play is broken and the percentage of completions drops precipitously. Yet Wilson takes the pressure in stride, steps up then unloads downfield to where Moore can make a play on the ball. Moore crosses the defender to adjust to the pass but the ball slips right through his hands incomplete.

This was a scoreless game late in the 1st quarter so the Jets could use a big play especially on a 3rd and ten. It would have set the, up in scoring position with a chance to take the lead instead of punting. Wilson is under duress, steps up in the pocket and without much room quickly unleashes a 55 yard pass down the field that his receiver gets both hands on but is unable to come away with the catch. These are plays that have to be made if the Jets or any team looks to be successful; Wilson on this play did his part.

This next play shows the high level of ability of Zack Wilson even for such a young player making his first ever start. With the front four of the Panthers defense wrecking havoc on the Jets the Panthers can play a myriad of zone coverages in the other two levels of the defense. They want to read the eyes of the rookie then make a game changing play. Yet Wilson outsmarts them on a 2nd and 8 play from his own 11 yard line.

Wilson wants Corey Davis (the primary receiver) on the left side of the formation. He takes the snap then looks right with the tight end moving to the flat and Elijah Moore coming from the outside in on a hook route. Wilson does a great job of keeping his eyes fixated to the right then cocks his body in that direction. That move gets both LB Shaq Thompson and CB Jaycee Horn to move to Moore. Wilson then quickly resets and comes back to his primary receiver who has beaten the coverage of the safety across the field.

Wilson for once gets good protection then sends a laser strike pass that is perfectly thrown. The pass his Davis right in the hands near facemask high so he can catch it, tuck it, while seeing who is near him the he continues for more YAC. This was one of Wilson’s best plays of the game.

Yet when you are a rookie you forget what got you success. You then get ahead of yourself and make mistakes. This was a really nice play by a veteran LB in Shaq Thompson as Wilson neglected to look off the defender by spying the receiver in the flat.

Wilson wants his TE on a type of post route down the middle, but the TE needs to cut inside, back outside then back inside to get open, this takes time. Shaq Thompson sees the outside receiver going to the flat so he moves in that direction. Yet Wilson doesn’t turn that way even though he needs to open the window with his eyes/body movements to get the defense to think he is going for the receiver in he flat. Thompson is a veteran, and he just got burned on the same maneuver on the last play. Without Wilson looking right he moves back inside then tips the pass to himself for an interception. This was a mistake by Wilson in the concept of the defense. He has to move players with his eyes/body to gain open windows. His lack of doing so cost him on this play; a rookie mistake. Although, this INT was a nice play as Thompson was fortunate to tip the ball to himself. That play has a 10-15% chance of ending in an INT, but Thompson made it happen. Most times that tipped pass will fall incomplete so Thompson made an athletic, great defensive play.

This next play is how the offense is supposed to operate. This is a simple play action pass with the receiver cutting in front of the CB on a skinny post/long dig route then in front of the safety. The offensive line finally gives some adequate protection so the play is successful with a 20 yard gain.

This pass is like a 7 on 7 drill pass as it is a pitch and catch type situation. This is how it is drawn up. The run fake holds the LBs from getting depth on the pass windows. he receiver gains separation from the CB then the QB drops back, puts his back foot in the groundm and immediately hits the open receiver. Wilson was a tad bit high on his pass, but other than that this was a textbook play run like it was in practice.

The Jets were down 16-zip and had been having protection problems all game. It is now very late in the 3rd quarter with the Jets driving. Again the Jets protection breaks down, but Wilson again breaks the pocket to the right looking for his #1 receiver Cory Davis.

Wilson has speed but also great quickness to move away from trouble in an instant. He is able to gain the edge and while being tracked by defenders he is able to find Davis in the end zone for his first ever TD pass. Wilson has a tremendous arm, but he barely makes it to Davis because he threw the ball off the wrong foot.

Whereas Aaron Rodgers is the master of throwing the football moving right Wilson will need to learn the technique. As Rodgers has shown you move right with speed then step on your left foot while twisting your torso then slingshot the ball to the receiver. Once you twist your torso you get the most force and greatest accuracy on the pass. It is a technique that is not taught but something Rogers himself has developed into an art.

This next play was a big play for the Jets as it moved them way down the field in the final minutes of the game. Yet the significance of the play was the way Wilson read the defensive pressure and moved accordingly.

This again was a jailbreak of a rush by the Panthers. Yet Wilson is able to feel the rush, step up while keeping his eyes downfield. At this point in the game the Panthers made a point of limiting Wilson’s outside escapes which had caused them problems in the last few quarters. Wilson has a great feel for the rush though and was able to see how the rush was formulating, moved up in the pocket and found the receiver to make a big play.

Wilson was again sacked on the very next play by the Panthers for the 6th time in the game. This put the Jets in a dire situation at 2nd and goal from the 20 yard line. In past years the Jets would not be able to overcome this. Yet Wilson found a receiver on a drag route over the middle to cut the yardage in half then ran an out pattern with his favorite receiver.

The key here is the two inside receivers in Berrios and Kroft running inside stop routes that have to be covered or they are certain TDs. This allows Davis to be one on one with a two way go on the route, but of course he is taking the out as it moves him away from the inside routes. This ball is thrown before Davis is even out of his break. He turns, and the ball is there for a TD. This was a well designed play that gives the QB options.

Conclusion

I came away from the game on Sunday very impressed with Zack Wilson even though the Jets lost the game. Wilson showed poise, toughness, vison plus a never say die attitude that help keep the Jets in the game. He has great mobility and saved his offensive line from more sacks while making plays downfield.

If you read some of the narratives about the game from a few of the NFL sites you would wonder if they watched the same game. I saw the term “horrific” used for Wilson’s performance. Obviously they never bothered to watch the game. They just made something up from the stats of the game, a game where Wilson was sacked 6 times, took 10 QB hits and the team had a grand total of 45 rushing yards. Still Wilson went 20 for 37 for 258 yards and two TDs with a lone INT. He helped guide the Jets to a 98 yard and a 70 yard TD scoring drives while being constantly harassed.

I have seen many rookie QBs tapes, but I can’t remember a tape of a QB so ready to play in the NFL. This was better than Peyton Manning’s first game or Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Dan Marino, and I watched them all. This is not to say that Wilson has arrived. No, he still has to progress in many ways as a leader and game closer to advance his career.

Yet knowing his work ethic along with his desire to watch tape I can see a great future for him as long as he stays focused. This is a first step in A hopefully long career. Wilson has the skill set to be successful in the NFL. He just has to develop, and the team needs to develop around him. It would be nice to see what Wilson could do even now if he received even satisfactory pass protection. If they can do that I think the Jets will be division contenders for a long time.

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