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Breaking down Zach Wilson’s best play vs. the Bills

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to engage in the Great Zach Wilson Wars right now. There will be plenty of time to debate what having Zach back under center in means for the 2023 Jets.

Monday night I think Zach Wilson was thrown into an almost impossible situation. He had to enter the game on the first drive without any practice work with the first team offense. The Jets spent the week tailoring their game plan for Aaron Rodgers. Heck, they spent the offseason tailoring their roster for Aaron Rodgers. Add to that the emotional shock his teammates faced of losing the quarterback four plays into the season, and you had the recipe for a long night.

Wilson responded with an uneven performance. There were shaky moments. For most of the night it seemed like the coaching staff was doing everything in its power to keep the ball out of Wilson’s hands.

There were also some very important plays Zach converted. I would like to highlight the best of them, which came on a critical third down during the Jets’ fourth quarter touchdown drive.

Before the snap, the Bills have defenders crowding the line of scrimmage. They are showing blitz, which would leave man coverage across the board. There, however, is a tell that they are bluffing. There is an obvious defender to cover four of the five eligible Jets receivers.

There is no obvious player who would be in man coverage against the running back. The only two candidates are two linebackers in the A gaps. Because of where backs are aligned, their routes typically take them either right or left initially off the snap. Linebackers in the A gap can’t really cover them man to man because they would be picked by their own team’s defensive linemen if they moved laterally.

So a smart presnap read will tip off a quarterback to the reality that this is likely a fake look by the defense. The linebackers are probably going to drop back, and the defense will be in zone coverage.

From these looks, there are two likely possibilities. There could be a Cover 2 defense where two safeties split the deep part of the field.

There also could be a Cover 3 defense where one safety takes the deep middle, and the two outside corner take the deep thirds.

A good presnap read has given a hint that it’s zone coverage, not the man coverage the Bills are trying to sell. It will take a postsnap read, however, to identify which type of zone Buffalo is in. There are a couple of keys the quarterback can try to identify. One of them is the movement of the deep aligned safety off the snap. If he runs to the middle of the field, it is likely Cover 3 since deep middle would be his assignment. If he runs in the direction of the sideline, it is a sign of Cover 2. That is the space where he would need to get if he was only responsible for a deep half.

At the snap he runs to the sideline. Zach Wilson is watching to decipher the coverage.

He then puts the ball in a great spot. It is important to understand which coverage Buffalo is running to understand where defenders will be. In turn, this allows Wilson to throw the ball away from the defenders. This means the ball will not be in a spot where it can be broken up. It also means the receiver will not be led into a hit. To the untrained eye it might look like this pass is behind, but it is actually in the right spot.

Look, we all know Zach Wilson has a lot of work to do. One play does not mean the Jets are set with him as their quarterback going forward. But this was a positive play. If this thing is going to work, we are going to need to see improvement like this little by little.