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The Zach Wilson Saga Week 2

Questions arise

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Let’s talk about Zach Wilson’s performance against New England.

I first want to take a moment to say I am deeply disappointed in Mike LeFleur’s offense the first two games. I realize the offensive line was horrid in game one and was not great in game two. What I want to know is where are all the stretch run plays and the fakes off those that leave backside receivers wide open. Why are you looking for players who have the zone blocking ability if you are not going to run an inordinate amount of stretch run plays? Plus where is the play action off of those that give you schemed players open in the secondary? Also why is a rookie QB’s first pass in the game a pass facing a blitz as he tries to throw the ball down the center of the field? This is the first pass of the day.

This play is a debacle on many so levels it’s difficult to watch. The design is poor. The execution is bad, and this you know was run in practice over and over as the scripted first play of the game. Let’s look at the play in pieces.

1) The blocking was fairly solid except Connor McGovern is run over then tries to hold off the defender with his back to him. The you have Tyler Kroft crossing the formation to help the other TE Ryan Griffin except he needs no help. Kroft allows a blitzing MLB a running unabated with a straight shot to his QB. Why have two eligible receivers in the game (TEs) but neither is going out for a pass? If you started with no TEs but instead two more WRs then the defense would have to react then cover those players so you wouldn’t have to worry about those defenders rushing the QB. If the Patriots blitz then someone would have to be open or at least everyone would be single covered. If all your receivers are single covered, and no one can get open...find new receivers.

2) What type of route is Cory Davis running? It appears to be a whip route where you stop then double back as the defender keeps going yet he runs it like a stop route. With the defender on his back he should have kept running, and he would have been open in the deep flat 15 yards downfield. Besides if the MLB hadn’t blitzed he would have dropped back to where Davis is trying to stop. This makes no sense. If it was a whip route Davis ran it poorly. He would need to pivot back away from the defender then towards Wilson slightly.

3) Ty Johnson continues after the play fake and covers himself with the defender. Was he even trying to be a safety valve? On this play Johnson should have a option to go in either direction. By cutting three yards before he meets the defender he allows the defender to easily run with him. Johnson completely telegraphs his intentions. If he wants to get open he must run straight at the defender with speed then make his cut a half yard in front of him. The defender must give ground backward for fear that Johnson would run right past him. If he cut back over the middle he would have been wide open directly in front of Wilson. This was horrible route running by Johnson.

4) The player who did his job right was Elijah Moore on the left. Watch as he get his defender to flip his hips open to the outside, Moore then gets right up to him and breaks wide open towards the center of the field. This is where Wilson should have thrown the ball. With his inexperience he didn’t read the Davis with a defender on his back and know he can’t throw the ball there. He should have read Moore’s route and knew he would break open inside. This was probably run in practice with the ball going to Davis each time. A rookie doesn’t understand that he has to read every play as it happens. You can’t prejudge your throws, or you end up with this effect on the first play of the game.

5) Cory Davis knows what the play design is. He must read that the defender is on his back as he comes to a stop. What did he think the defender was going to do? He has to clear himself of the defender then in this situation he must work back towards Wilson to help out his rookie QB. Cory Davis signed a $37.5 million contract. He has to do better than this. Davis is 6’ 3” 209 lbs against Jackson who is 6’ 1” 190 lbs, but Davis lost this battle.

In the end this is on Wilson to not force a ball into coverage. He must understand that he need to protect the ball at all costs. I realize he was looking for his guy to make a play, but it was the first play of the game, over the middle, for a lousy 15 yard gain the gamble is not worth the risk of losing the ball; especially when your defense was just on the field for an extended time. Yu don’t want them to get put back on the field right away.

This is an awful play to start a game and makes me question Mike LeFleur’s ability to adequately run an offense. There seems to be little cohesion within play calling, and the plan is haphazard. We have not scene a single play design that get receivers open like the way the 49ers did when LeFleur was there. You need to help your offense with great designed plays especially when you have a rookie QB. Help him out. Look at this play from the team Mike LeFleur came from. It is beautiful.

This is the stretch run play action I mentioned earlier. Watch the artistry of the play design, and revel in the way it ties the defense into knots. We have the stretch run to the right which makes the D-line and LBs flow to the right to cut off the cutback run. Every receiver runs to the left with Kittle showing he was doing a corner route to the left. Then he breaks back right and is wide open for the TD. This of course was probably done after about 5 or 6 stretch runs to the right. You set up a defense, lull them into thinking they know what you are running, and then hit them with a big play. We have seen none of this so far from LeFleur, it is why (I thought) we brought him over from the 49ers in the first place.

Some of you might think that the 49ers have Kittle who is a great player so it is easier with him. Yet Kittle didn’t get open. The design of the play got him open. When Kittle goes out you know every defense has a man assigned to him, a good cover man or they will get eaten alive. Design helps him. So this play works with any TE or even slot receiver.

I was a huge fan of Bill Walsh when he was at the 49ers. Before Walsh the 49ers were a poor football team. They hadn’t been successful for decades. It took time, but eventually he built a dominant team with many future Hall of Fame players. Yet even then he had certain beliefs, and one was that QBs need to be successful early in game to keep their confidence high. This next play is typical of a Walsh first play.

This is 4 time Super Bowl winning QB Joe Montana, but still Walsh designed a play to get a completion. This is trips right, but Montana sees the deep routes are covered so he checks it down for a 5-6 yard play. A successful first play is something Walsh always wanted. It set an expectation for the day even if it was just psychological. If the defense had stepped up into the flat he probably would have had a receiver open downfield which would of course been better. Yet Walsh was happy just to start out on the right foot every game. I just would like it if LeFleur did the same with a rookie QB to get him some confidence initially.

On Wilson’s 2nd pass he again was looking for Corey Davis, but they did not connect. This was a designed roll out which is a questionable tactic when you have a QB with a groin issue. The pass itself could not be more on target as the ball is lofted over the short defender’s head and hits Davis right in the hands, but he misses it.

Did I mention that Davis signed a $37.5 million 3/year contract? He has to come up with this catch. It was slightly high, but if you get two hands on the ball you have to make the catch. It wasn’t a hard thrown ball so it should have been easy to catch. Wilson did have Moore as a short receiver who was wide open, but would have only picked up a couple of yards. He also had Griffin in the middle of the field if he could stop then throw against his momentum.

Bottom line when you are rolling right and have your receiver amongst 7 defenders you have to know that if your guy misses the pass it is probably going to be intercepted. Thus you might want to go with the short completion. I put this INT on Davis, but again Wilson has to learn to be careful with the ball. Turnovers are deadly.

This next play is where I thought Wilson looked very much out of sync. His technique is horrific as he opens up way too early which doesn’t allow him to step into the throw. By doing so he is way off target so instead of leading his receiver down the field for an easy TD on the blown coverage he runs him out of bounds short of the 20 yard line.

Also by throwing the ball on a line he negates the chance of his receiver reading the play so he can avoid the defender (#32) coming over to attempt the tackle. If Wilson feathers the ball in front of Moore then Moore would have an easy time in the open field cutting back inside the onrushing Devin McCourty then race by him.

After running around earlier on the designed roll outs you can see the mechanics of Wilson really decline. He shouldn’t be stepping towards the sideline. He needs to step towards the receiver then lead him where he wants him to go. You can see by stepping towards the sideline the ball travels that way when it approaches his receiver. This is as open as a receiver gets in the NFL, and Wilson forced his own man out of bounds with the throw.

On this next throw you can see Wilson gets very little in the way of velocity on the ball even when he steps into the throw. This is a back foot throw that is soft and easy to read for the defender without much force behind it.

This is the worst throw and/or decision that I have seen Wilson make as a Jet or at BYU. This ball had no chance to be completed even with a good throw. I don’t know what Wilson was thinking. My only guess is that Wilson never saw the defender. With the Jets down by only seven points this was brutal. It also saps the energy from the entire team. You just can’t give the ball away like this, ever, but when you are in the area where you can score points it makes it doubly brutal.

This next throw looks dreadful, but if you look closely you can see that Wilson is unstable when he makes the throw. I think the mind was willing. but the body didn’t have enough in the bank to cash the mind’s check. The Jets are down by ten, and you know Wilson wants to make up for the three picks in a big way so he is loading up for the home run ball to get his team back in the game. If makes the play he fires up the team and gets the Jets back on the right track. If he messes up he is playing “hero ball” and looks like a fool.

Wilson has his fastest receiver Elijah Moore streaking down the sideline. Remember this is a 2nd and 28 play so the Jets need a big play to inspire their team and get out of a hole. This pass is meant to go some 65 yards and Wilson has the arm to do that. It lands some 12 yards short. It is debatable whether Wilson could have hit Moore or if McCourty would have made the INT anyway, but Wilson tried. Problem you can see he is falling off to the side on the throw. He couldn’t get his legs into the throw so it was short.

Part of playing QB is knowing what you can do at certain times. This is not the last time Zach Wilson will be less than 100% so you better know what your body was is capable of. This was still a 10 point game early in the 3rd period so Wilson has to understand the situation at all times. This was another rookie mistake that really ended any chance of a New York comeback.

This next clip is of the Jets early in the 4th quarter with the Patriots playing a soft zone. The play has a decent design as it has vertical routes with a fast outlet receiver in the flat. If the Jets can hit this it is a first down in Patriots territory.

With his movement skills lessened he is slow to read the receivers downfield. Then he overthrows his diminutive receiver in the flat. It’s not too late for the Jets to make a comeback, but Wilson needs to know when he can take a gain then start anew. He should be playing to get fast completions and get a TD as soon as possible. He can do this by gaining good chunks of yardage until he is within reach of the end zone. He just can’t miss opportunities like this with a man totally uncovered with room to roam. These are game situation ABCs that he need to learn. NFL defenses are not like college defenses, They know how to hold a lead. They are usually stingy about deep passes when the hold a lead late. Take your gains when you can get them then try another play. It’s the same thing on the next play as he overshoots a wide open crossing route.

What bothers me most is the breakdown of mechanics so easily that lead to a “shoot from the hip gunslinger mentality.” Wilson needs to stay composed no matter the situation and stay with his technique. You have seen first hand that his falling back quick and unsteady unloading of the football missed a couple of easy completions. You can’t overcome a big deficit with a single play. You have to make each play count, and Wilson lost opportunities on numerous plays to do so.

In the end losing one game is no big deal. Losing your technique and resorting to playground type mechanics is. Hopefully this was a case of an injury causing a momentary problem with his technique. It’s a lesson he needs to learn. One time is a mistake, but if he continues to do so it becomes a problem. LeFleur needs to nip this problem in the bud now.

Wilson has a great future if he can learn from his mistakes and improve each week. Hopefully he understands that and just how important it is. This was an ugly game that was poorly planned, poorly executed, and poorly played by many players. The Jets have enough talent to start winning some games. They need to do so to build a winning culture. Saleh needs to reinforce this and expect better from every player and coach.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?