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Breakdown: Zach Wilson’s 57 yard completion in the Jets preseason opener against the Browns

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let me give you three truths about Zach Wilson.

  • People are going to search for deep meaning in his every movement during the preseason. Every completion, every incompletion, every good game, and every bad game will be used as evidence he is either making great progress or looking no better than the quarterback who got benched after 20 starters.
  • In reality, the results of this preseason won’t tell us a whole lot about Zach Wilson’s future. He is a young quarterback who has a very long and tough road ahead of him as he tries to make something of his career.
  • This year’s preseason reps are still important for Zach Wilson because they will be his only opportunity to get live snaps in a game setting in 2023 barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers. With any luck, this experience will help boost him in the future and help grow his confidence.

With that in mind, I implore you to not try to draw sweeping conclusions about Zach Wilson from one pass or one game. Let’s just take a look at and appreciate a piece of nice execution, Wilson’s 57 yard completion to Malik Taylor in the Jets’ preseason opener against the Browns.

Presnap you can see the Browns have eight men in the box. This means there is only one safety (not pictured; orange circle) who will be in the middle of the field. This in turn means the two outside corners (yellow circles) will not have help over the top. Their help will only come if the receiver they cover runs to the deep middle part of the field. This will be true whether it’s man or zone coverage.

The Jets are sending both outside receivers deep. Two tight ends are in this formation. One is running a seam route (the pass would be thrown in the area between the linebackers and safety or the seam), and one is the check down target.

On a play like this, the coverage is generally going to dictate where the ball should be thrown.

If there is only one safety deep, the ball will usually need to be thrown to the outside. One safety alignments almost always have that safety in the middle of the field in good position to drive on the seam route and take it away. Since the safety is in the middle of the field, however, he is not able to give help over the top to the corners on the outside so the deep shot might be available.

For a visual representation, see the hi-tech GGN graphic below.

If the defense is playing two safeties deep, they typically are both stationed further to the outside. They are in position to help the outside cornerbacks defend the deep routes, but the middle of the field is open. So against two safety defenses the ball is going to be thrown to the middle of the field to the receiver running the seam route.

For a visual representation, see the hi-tech GGN graphic below.

In this case, there is a single safety deep so the ball is probably going to need to be thrown outside.

At the snap, you already see the outside corner at the bottom of the screen (number 38) bailing. He is putting a lot of cushion to take away the deep route. So this is probably not going to be an option. The deep pass will need to be thrown to the circled player who is facing tight coverage at the line. If he beats it, he can get open deep.

Now despite what I just told you, there are obviously cases were you will attempt and be able to complete deep outside passes against two deep safety defenses. Conversely, you will also at times attempt the seam to the middle of the field against a one deep safety defense.

In fact, the seam is probably going to be the first option in the progression regardless. The outside receivers won't be able to get deep enough by the time the quarterback hits the top of his drop, while the seam guy should just be reaching the open space. If the seam is there, the quarterback can just let it rip. Long passes down the sideline aren’t particularly high percentage plays. If a nice gain is there in the middle of the field, he might as well take it.

In this case, the seam is not open. The Browns linebackers do a nice job of getting depth to take away the window.

It’s time to progress to the second option. And on the outside Malik Taylor has won off the line of scrimmage and gotten a couple of steps on his man who lacks that safety help. If it isn’t there, you check down, take a few yards, and live to fight another snap. In this case, that won’t be necessary because Taylor has won on his route.

Zach Wilson delivers a great ball to the open man.

Well done all around. Nice read. Great route. Great throw.

Oh, and nice play call.