What are Jets fans to expect from Zach Wilson in this start at home against the Detroit Lions? That’s the $64,000 question (an ancient reference to a game show) that has a myriad of possible answers. His reinstatement to the starting role was only because his replacement (Mike White) is injured, not because he has regained the trust of his teammates.
Let’s look at some of the various problems/advantages to Zach regaining his starting gig. This gig is not promised to continue no matter how well he plays against the Lions.
Why did Zach Wilson lose his starting job?
The simple answer is that Zach did not play up to his potential. Or more precisely he played great at various times but also played horrendous at various times. As a starting QB in the NFL you can’t have those types of variance in your play; each play is too important.
Here in an adaptation of the Snag passing concept. Zach has three reads that are all open at first glance. He reads high to low here and sees the high receiver has bracket coverage with three defenders in a triangle arrangement around the deepest receiver. He has the TE in the flat plus the RB in the middle of the field wide open for easy completions but chooses to push the ball down the field because the Jets are down by 12 with 3 1⁄2 minutes left in the game. Many QBs would have given up and used the remaining time to fill their stats sheet (it’s done quite often) so they will be looked at as a productive player in the loss.
Yet this is not what Zach does. He fires a bullet to Denzel Mims which he catches then breaks a tackle to attain the largest play of his short career. If you watch this play I believe it’s one Zach’s best plays as a Jet. First he reads the defense quickly, doesn’t hold onto the ball then uses near perfect technique to complete the play. Watch as Zach retreats back after taking the snap. His eyes never leave downfield. His transition from backdrop to stop, plant, rotate hips then rocket a throw with a super quick release is awesome.
The problem is that Zach does not use this type of technique every play. He has great talent. Worst of all he knows he has great talent and tries lazy flip passes that even Joe Montana wouldn’t even try. Zach has so much confidence in his ability he often loses the technique he developed to make him a great prospect. This next clip shows this problem.
The problem is a game can change dramatically on a single play. When you have the other team reeling you need to be smart, make the right read, make them defend the entire field then make a play. The Jets are up by 7 with a chance to at least add 3 more points to take a 10 point lead at halftime.
This is a play that helped get Zach benched; it’s stupidity along with the hubris that you can make magic because it’s you. You know the offensive coordinator in the booth threw his pencil in the air, cussed a few words (he really doesn’t cuss but he should after this), then wondered about Zach’s future.
This play was horrible for so many reasons.
First he had a huge play as the right. The outside receiver had a stop and go route that worked perfectly for a splash play if Zach had looked that way. The fact is he should have looked that way. It’s the play designed for the highest yardage yield of the scheduled plays. Zach should have looked there first but instead fixated on the RB across the middle. That player was of course wide open, but the horrific technique sailed the pass over his head and into the arms of the defender behind the receiver. He even had Berrios wide open in the flat who could have gained the first down and more then got out of bounds.
Basically this is one of the worst outcomes of this play unless Zach had intentionally rolled the ball into his own end zone. This was all caused by Zach being lazy or not wanting to take the hit; both are egregious errors.
So now that Zach has the chance, how does he atone for his mistakes?
You could say Zach needs to make better reads or get rid of the ball faster or any number of things. Yet the best way to win your teammates is to play focused, be authoritative without being a despot. Run the offense smoothly, know where all your receivers are, making quick, and make smart reads because you understand the intention of each play.
Zach can’t play hero ball. Make good play after good play. If you play smart, sound, aggressive football things usually work out for the best. He also has to have some humility, take the blame for a teammate’s mistake by saying, “My fault I could have gotten rid of the ball earlier.” This should be a mantra for Zach going forward. Give other praise while taking blame for mistakes; you will win teammates back.
Technique, Technique, Technique
Zach was a 6th round prospect in my book until he worked on his technique. It made a huge difference in his team’s record and his Draft outcome. He worked himself into a quality prospect because of self reflection and the desire to become a better player. He needs to reclaim that wisdom that made him work on his craft so hard. When he plays with great technique he has the ability (if not the knowledge or they savvy) of the great QBs over. He simply needs to develop more as a pro, just like all the great QBs.
This is not something you use on game day. It is a regiment. Every pass, every rep is made with great technique. It has to be mandated. This also falls on the shoulders of Mike LaFleur who calls the plays. Mike LaFleur seems a little quiet compared to his mentor Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is a task master who devises an offense in San Francisco that forces defenses to react to his offensive shenanigans giving him often busts in coverage.
Zach needs a QB coach and offensive coordinator who are like drill sergeants not apologetics. They need to demand sound technique along with quick reads in practice, making quick and correct decisions. You play like you practice so if you clown around while at practice you will be a clown on the field where a defense is looking to take your head off.
Zach is still very young, he can be taught to develop great technique plus a great practice regimen. Doing so will give him the best chance at being a great player. He has the talent, work ethic and intelligence now he just needs to learn how to put it all together. If Zach can be instructed this way then go out each week like he needs to prove his worth/ability he would dramatically change the course of his career.
How do the Jets win with Zach against the Lions on Sunday?
If the Jets are smart they will devise a plan where they script 10 plays with 8 of them passes against the soft Lions defense. The Lions will assume the Jets will ease Zach Wilson back into the game with the run and the occasional pass. Scripting plays helps because you can practice 10 plays over and over so everyone knows their role. The Jets should know the Lions tendencies early in games with 13 weeks of tape to go on. Utilize deep crossing routes to move coverage then throw back to the open area with RBs and TEs.
Zach can’t play hero ball hoping to get back into his team’s good graces; that is the worst scenario for him on Sunday. He needs to play clean, smart, mistake free fundamental football. Only then will he begin to traverse back into the role of leader, that will not happen in a single game. This is a process, over time as long as Zach continues to show he plays with intensity but also with poise.
This is a make or break game
I know all the Playoff scenarios show that of the remaining games in the season this game has the least influence on the playoffs.
To that I say baloney.
The Jets are playing at home against an improving team but a sub .500 team nonetheless. You want to be in the Playoffs? Then you win this game on your own turf. Heck even if the Jets were on the road against the Lions they should win this game.
Late in the year you want to feel you are getting better, running on all cylinders. You don’t lose to the Lions at home if your team is creating the type of momentum it needs.
Remember Zach Wilson cost the Jets a #2 overall pick. This game should be a coming out party for Zach. He was expected to be the guy. Now is the time to prove the Jets right. Zach doesn’t have to be the star, just the guy who helped them win a game at home.
In Zach’s case this is a chance for redemption, a chance to restart a career that has been started and restarted before. The only difference is this time he was stunted by performance not injury. He has a lot to prove but can do a lot of good by proving what he is not. That is a self inspired brat but rather a talented, team oriented leader with special tools and an ability to lead a team.
Only time will tell if that happens.
It starts today.