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Zach Wilson and the art of “just playing”

Zach Wilson executed at a high level as the Jets did not overload him against the Texans.

NFL: Houston Texans at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In the Week 14 win, the Jets began the second half with a touchdown drive that showed the best of Zach Wilson and some play calling wrinkles that had been lacking. We will take a look at all five completions Wilson had on this touchdown drive.

We start off with a very simple play action bootleg.

The play fake gets the entire defense moving to its right.

Meanwhile the offense flows against the grain. Wilson moves to the other side, and Jeremy Ruckert leaks out for an easy gain with the defense all biting on the fake.

This is a very easy way to start a drive and get a quarterback into a rhythm.

On this next play the Jets actually have a run called. And it looks like a good call. The Texans have two safeties deep.

When the second safety is deep, the offense typically has a numbers advantage in the box, and the run game is going to be successful.

However, this is a disguise. The second safety rotates down.

With the second safety in the box, the offense loses its numbers advantage in the run game. However, when only one safety is deep he will be stuck in the middle of the field. That means the outside corner won’t be getting any help. He will be one on one against the outside receiver. In this case that receiver is Garrett Wilson.

Zach appears to be making eye contact with Garrett and making a little signal.

The line is run blocking, and Dalvin Cook is expecting to get the ball. Zach likes his matchup, and trusts his receiver. The leverage means the back shoulder will be open.

I love everything about this play. Great presnap read. Great decision to change the play and trust Garrett. Great throw. This is probably the type of play Zach learned from Mr. Rodgers.

On the next play we return to play action.

The fake draws up the second level defenders, taking them out of the passing lanes.

We have talked extensively about the Jets’ need to use more play action to push the ball down the field. The run fake slows down pass rushers who need to stay put to account for the run, which is beneficial when the offensive line has trouble protecting for long developing plays down the field.

Play action also just makes life easier for the quarterback. Because the second level guys move up, the throwing lanes are larger.

The reads are also simpler. The fake leaves in extra players to execute the blocks. It is a two man route. Zach appears to look off his first option, Allen Lazard, who is open.

It doesn’t really matter, though, because Garrett Wilson is also open with the big windows this play created, and Zach gets the ball to him.

Play action. Give it a try, folks.

After a scramble and an incompletion, the Jets faced a third down. The play looks like it is heading to disaster as Mekhi Becton is cleanly beaten off the snap. Through the first two years of his career, Zach Wilson under pressure has reverted to a spin move which was frequently ill-timed and ineffective. It’s his best chance here.

In this instance he does it like Russell Wilson, timing it perfectly to shake the defender.

From here it’s schoolyard football, and Zach makes a crazy throw across his body to Garrett Wilson running to the middle of the field.

Even if this is completed, I would say nine times out of ten this is a really bad decision. It’s not advisable to throw across your body back to the middle of the field.

This, however, is the one time in ten where I think the decision was a good one. It’s third down, and the Jets are out of field goal range. Throwing it away doesn’t do you a lot of good here. If the pass is intercepted, it’s probably about as good as a punt anyway. If the pass is completed, you are in business.

This sets up the decisive play of the drive. The Texans are in man coverage with one safety deep and one linebacker in the middle of the field to help on crossing routes, which are difficult covers for man defenders. As you likely know, Randall Cobb scores the touchdown on this play. I put a star around him in the picture to signify his excellence.

Now presnap the alignment of the defender who has Cobb pretty much gives him no shot to handle a shallow crossing route. He’s going to have to pass this off to the linebacker in the middle of the field. (The star for Cobb’s excellence is implied in the next picture).

In a way you could probably argue it doesn’t really matter whether it’s zone or man coverage at this point. Cobb is going to be matched up with a linebacker either way, and even at his age, wide receiver vs. linebacker is a matchup the defense does not want.

The star in the upcoming pictures reflects Cobb’s excellence.

The star for Cobb to reflect his excellence is implied in the video.

What stands out about these plays? Obviously the star to reflect Cobb’s excellence is the first thing that comes to mind.

Beyond that? Zach Wilson doesn’t have to make a ton of complex reads here. And that’s one of the reasons I think this works so well.

The truth is a bit nuanced. Of course to play quarterback effectively over the long run, a quarterback will need to win from the pocket deciphering defenses. It is also true that some of these plays were successful because Zach Wilson operated on a level in this game he simply did not operate at earlier in the season.

Still, the Jets coaching staff can help him out by calling more play action and other high percentage plays that are likely to lead to completions. These can help Zach settle down and gain confidence. Is it possible the early play action made him comfortable enough to make the high level plays he made? Perhaps. Once he’s feeling good, is he more likely to play with the high level of assertiveness a quarterback needs to make more complex reads?I think there is something to that.

Ultimately everybody has a role to play. The coaches need to make life as easy as possible, and the quarterback needs to make plays. On Sunday the Jets finally got both.