On a day when the Jets dominated a undermanned Miami Dolphins team I took the liberty to examine 10 of Zach Wilson’s 21 passes on the day. I tried to choose plays that clearly show good or bad traits so we can understand what to look for as we watch Zach develop.
You have to remember that Zach is a very young QB. He just recently turned 23 years old. If he had redshirted in college he would be a rookie this year. He is an excited, energetic kid who has to learn not to get caught up in the moment. He gets fired up, and he has a propensity to lose his throwing technique when he rushes.
Wilson has played only 15 NFL games so he doesn’t have even a true single season worth of NFL experience. Adding to that is two injuries that cost him 4 games in 2021 plus nearly this entire preseason’s worth of games and practices. I personally don’t care about stats or QBR or completion percentage; I want to see growth. Missing the preseason was huge for his current development because he lost the ability to work with his new receivers in Garrett Wilson, CJ Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruchert. So he has had only a few practices to work on cohesion with all of his receivers.
In his first game out you could clearly see the rust and the lack of timing with receivers. He made some mistakes, but he did grow in that game. He led his team to two 4th quarter TDs on the road for the win. He did so with a lot of poise despite running for his life most of the game. Zach showed me a lot, but if you looked at the stats he was very unimpressive.
The game on Sunday you wanted to see more growth, playing with poise, not rushing throws, and spreading the ball around. It didn’t have to be spectacular, but I wanted to see more command of the offense. I wanted him to be more proficient with throws to keep drives alive, make good decisions, and drive the ball.
You have to remember that the Dolphins have a very good team especially defensively. They held the Bills to 19 points. They were missing some key pieces, but they still have a solid defense with a fairly stout front.
So let’s see how Wilson did on the day.
On the first play of the game the Jets ran a read option with Michael Carter in the backfield. To help out Zach the Jets put Elijah Moore in motion so Zach can read what defense the Dolphins were running. Watch as Moore goes in motion the defender over him (CB Kader Kohou) follows him which tells Zach that this is man to man coverage not zone. The Jets gained no positional advantage on the play as Moore end up back where he originally started from, but it let Zach understand the coverage.
Now that Zach knows the coverage he can see that CB Brandon Jones is in off coverage on Garrett Wilson as the X receiver. He also sees that Jones is playing outside coverage as he is lined up outside of the left shoulder of Wilson. He does this because he believes he has inside coverage help from the ILBs plus he doesn’t want Wilson to race to the left, down the sideline where he would have zero help. This gives Garrett a free release inside. Moore continues toward the sideline into the flat which brings his defender with him.
As the ball is snapped all Zach has to do is read the Inside linebacker #55 Jerome Baker. If Baker stays put with the play flowing to the right, Wilson will allow Carter to keep the ball because the Jets will have the advantage on the outside with the Baker staying inside. Since Baker flows with the play QB Wilson hits WR Wilson on the 7 yard dig route for an easy completion resulting in a first down.
This is a great play design by OC Mike LaFleur that was set up by excellent scouting of the Dolphins. The Jets must have designed a play against the Fins base defense against their offensive 11 personnel from film study. Once they came out with a 11 positional grouping they must have had a good idea which defense Miami would switch into; nice job.
This is a running play that became a pass because of how the defense played after the snap. You can see G Nate Herbig pulls to get out on the edge to make a block if the run was to happen. Because the play worked so well, the ball was thrown before Herbig got too far downfield and caused a penalty (lineman illegally downfield). Zach did a perfect job reading and delivering the ball. Nice way to start a game and a drive.
This next clip is the 2nd play of the game.
The play the Jets run is a variation of the snag passing concept I wrote about earlier this year. The idea is to use the X receiver to run his man off then have your Y receiver (TE) run a 5 yard stop route into the middle of the field then roll the back into the flat. This causes the flat defender a problem because he has to choose which player to cover, either the RB or the Y receiver. It’s a widely used concept, here it is in action.
Zach gets the ball. The offensive line forms a very nice pocket. The play is set up well, but Zach rushes the play. He needs to let it play develop more. He should look down the center of the field then come back to see which of his receivers are open. The slot receiver to the left might have been open down the seam. But Zach is overzealous. He is pumped after the first play. He rushes the throw which results in poor throwing technique so the ball is low. The RB should catch the pass in stride.
There was no need to rush. He wasn’t under any pressure. If he had let the play develop he might have had better results than a 7 yard gain. This is still a positive play, but if could have calmed himself, read the play, he may have had more.
Mike LaFleur I’m sure will go over this with Zach in film study. He might have left yards on the field. These are the type of things you get with young talented players. They want to do too much too quick. . When Zach rushes, he get into bad habits and loses his great technique. The ball doesn’t go where he wants because he is kind of throwing before his body is ready to. You can easily see it. Here a five yard throw is offline. Zach still has things to learn at the pro level. Those reps in the preseason would have come in handy.
This next clip is a few plays later with Zach on the move. Zach’s mobility helps the Jets plus it gives the Jets play calls that they couldn’t use with a Joe Flacco as QB. This play also shows you the value of the line when it works together to feign a run to the left.
Once the entire line moves to the left along with the RB on the ball fake the defense flows that way as well giving Zach a lot of room and time to make a play. Now he has a lot of receivers to choose from so he picks a wide open Elijah Moore who has an easy first down. Zach is very natural throwing the ball on the run. You can tell he likes to do it. He gets a lot on the ball. There is no way a defender can make a play on the throw.
The only snafu is the misconnect with the receiver; Moore is coming back to the QB, but Zach throws it where Moore just retreated from. This negated any possibility of YAC on the play as Moore goes down to secure the catch. Again the lack of work with his receivers is showing up again. The receivers are more used to working with Joe Flacco at this point. As the season wears on the cohesion between Zach and his receivers will improve I’m sure, but for now they just have to start growing together. It takes time.
These next two clips show how using good or poor technique can have such a huge impact on the pass. We are talking about his technique in the throwing motion. Zach only refined his throwing motion a few years ago. Aaron Rodgers has had the same motion plus worked on his technique for more than a decade. He can repeat it in his sleep; Zach has a lot of work to do before he can have a clean repeatable passing motion like Rodgers.
On this first play Elijah Moore pushes up the field, gets his defender to flip his hips then Moore makes the out cut so he is open 20 yards downfield. It’s a throw Zach should make 99 times out of 100.
Yet Zack uses poor technique, he throws across his body, his hips don’t rotate in sync with his arm. The throw is short. Zach got excited when his man was wide open, and he just rushed the throw. He didn’t throw in rhythm. He had his weight on his front foot when he threw which made the pass, a duck plus his release is elongated and slow.
Now I don’t know who called this next play, but this is two plays later on a 3rd and 7. The corner to the offenses right is blitzing on the play so Zach wisely throws the ball to that side. There are two receivers and only one defender now. The defender can’t cover them both.
This time Wilson throws with the weight on his back foot, he has great hip rotation and that electric quick release and fires a bullet to Corey Davis who has a first down and plenty more on the play. I think Zach was mad at himself for missing the throw two plays earlier. That’s why that ball had some extra sauce on it. This pass has zip and is deadly accurate. It hits Davis between the 8 and the 4.
This is a perfect illustration on the difference from poor Zach to great Zach. It isn’t a lack of talent. It’s learning to play in rhythm and understanding how to make some throws. He needs to repeat his throwing motion over and over to get the muscle memory needed to do it naturally. He also has to mature as a QB; the problem is he knows he has superior talent, but talent without technique is wasted.
This next clip is of the big play of the day in the 79 yard pass play to Breece Hall. This is a wheel route run by Hall, he is supposed to be covered by a LB or safety depending on the defense called. Being uncovered was just a mistake and a huge Jets bonus.
The play was nicely set up with the X receiver to Zach’s right tacking an inside release then running the seam. This will keep the safety occupied for a bit which allowed Hall to go unnoticed. Zach does two good things on the play, he first looks straight downfield at the receiver running the seam. Then he turned to find Hall wide open then laid a soft, easily catchable pass right on target that hits Hall in stride so he is off to the races.
Zach also remained calm and used proper technique. He threw in rhythm without getting overexcited. I’m sure he was pleasantly surprised to see Hall in the clear, but he kept his composure. He didn’t get overanxious. Then he made the play.
The next play Zach showed some of his abilities when a defender does a good job and stays at home on a play we used to call a QB waggle; now it’s just a fake pitch roll out. Zach does a nice job to get himself some room to pass but doesn’t have the learned ability to make this play. Hopefully he will develop that skill over time.
This is a first and 10 play with the Jets in a 12 positional grouping (1 RB, 2TEs, 2WRS) after the Dolphins TD to bring the game to a one score affair. The Dolphins are daring the Jets to pass with 10 defenders within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. The fake pitch gets everyone on defense moving to the right except the outside most defender who wisely stays home. This defender isn’t some lumbering lineman. It’s safety Javon Holland who is very quick and possess 4.6/40 speed.
Wilson uses his own great speed and quickness to get by the defender then is able to back up, which gives himself room to make a deep throw. This shows the athleticism of Wilson, but the pass is a little short and bounces off the defender’s helmet. Zach would get the chance to learn how to throw this pass properly if he studies Russell Wilson. Russell throws the most accurate deep ball in the NFL. He does so by throwing the ball much higher and deeper which allows the receiver to stack the defender on his back, see the pass longer so he can adjust his speed accordingly, and make the catch.
Russell Wilson developed this trait over years so Zach would need to spend a lot of time working on this. He has plenty of arm for this throw. He just doesn’t understand the fundamentals of making the deep throw at this time.
In this next clip the Jets have a 2nd down and 12 situation halfway through the 2nd quarter. They need a first down to keep the drive moving, keeping the Dolphins offense on the sidelines.
The route that Garrett Wilson runs is called a “whip” route although you usually run it (effectively) more laterally than diagonally. Garrett gets minimal separation, but Zach stands tall in the pocket throw with good timing and technique. The ball is perfectly on the money. Garrett makes a nice hands catch and keeps his momentum going so he is able to pull away from the defender to work his way to a first down.
This seems like an ordinary play, but it was huge to keep Jets moving towards another score. Zach showed his super quick release with good placement. Garrett showed his tenacity to pull away for extra yardage which kept the Jets from facing a 3rd down. These are drive extenders that keep the defense on the field.
This next play is later in the game with the Jets nursing a 2 point lead and facing a 4th down. The Dolphins are pressing Jets receivers across the board so someone has to win a one on one matchup.
In this situation Zach showed some of his youth. He has to know where to look for a completion. He only needs two yards. While Davis is his big play guy he trusts the most right now, Zach had shorter routes available with Garrett Wilson who crossed the face of his defender inside and Tyler Conklin coming free to the outside.
To be fair, Christian Wilkins was on a stunt that came completely clean. He was headed right at Zach as he threw. Zach probably had another half of second so if he could have seen (especially Conklin) one of his two other targets he might have had a first down. Things do happen very fast in the pocket so Zach I’m sure wanted to get the pass off.
BTW the way flags were flying for PI on Sunday. I don’t know how interference wasn’t called on Nik Needham. He clearly interfered on the play, but the refs don’t always want to throw the flag (for some reason) on 4th down. In any event Zach needs to be more aware of the shorter routes in that situation. Hopefully he will see that and learn from it in film study.
This last clip is another variation of the “snag” passing concept I showed you earlier. Nothing fancy, just a nice in rhythm throw to Carter in the flat to start a very important drive for the Jets late in the 3rd quarter.
What you see here is Zach keeps his eyes downfield as the play develops then sends out a very catchable pass, on the money so the runner can keep in stride. A solid six yard gain with your back to the goal line is a nice drive starter. What I was looking for is execution, accuracy, and rhythm with the nice quick release.
With the game tied near your own goal line later in the game, young players have a tendency to tighten up then short arm the ball. Zach kept his good technique which is a good sign. Also his thought to get the ball outside quickly with the defensive line in an all out rush is a smart one. To get a six yard gain while backed up on your goal line is a good one; no reason to get greedy. Take your win then move on.
What you can see with these clips from the Dolphins game is that Zach Wilson has all the talent needed to be successful in the NFL. He now has to work on maturity, keeping his emotions in check while playing with great technique. I know I talk a lot about technique, but that is one of the things that gets Zach into trouble. He has to make the plays he is supposed to make. Once he does that he can work on being a upper echelon QB in the NFL. He just doesn’t have enough game experience but the more time under center he gets, the better he will be.
He still needs to read defenses, see blitzes better, understand coverages, and change plays from losers to winners at the line of scrimmage.
Zach is a smart kid who works hard with all kinds of talent. You can see the work he has put in so far, and I think Mike LaFleur has done a very nice job bringing him along.
Zach is a work in progress, and I’m sure he will continue to make some foolish mistakes. They should abate over time. He has a long way to go, but I think we are starting to see some steady improvement. Let’s hope it continues.
What do you think?