Wilson’s Week in Review: Week 1

Welcome to the start of a weekly series detailing Zach Wilson’s performance from the previous week. Ideally, this will act to document his progress and standing in the league throughout the season. Without further ado, let’s get into the tape. Here is Wilson’s week in review.

Initial Observations

Scoring 14 points will never be something to write home about, and the stats reflect it. His -0.089 EPA per play ranked 28th in the league among 32 passers with at least 16 plays in Week 1. His 37.8% success rate was 31st. Wilson’s -11.1 CPOE ranked dead last. Interestingly enough, Wilson’s 10 air yards per attempt trailed only Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield for the league’s lead. At the very least, his approach should make for some entertaining football.

It is worth noting that poor wide receiver and offensive line play hindered the entire offense, and likely had an impact on these metrics. With any sort of positive regression, Wilson’s numbers will look better. Thus, if they stay stagnant, it is likely evident of Wilson performing worse than he did on Sunday.

Despite the flashes of brilliance, the tight window throws, the daredevil pocket maneuvers, and the perserverence to continue delivering after repeated hits, Wilson ultimately did not have a very good day. And that’s okay! It simply means the ingredients are there for Wilson to become a gourmet chef; he just needs to learn not to burn the toast. 

What Wilson Can Improve Upon After Week 1

Play-Action Fundamentals

We start with a rather mundane aspect of quarterbacking: handing the ball off. Or, at least, pretending to. Hailing from a shotgun-heavy BYU offense, play-action passes from under center simply were not on the menu. That inexperience showed up frequently in camp and did not fail to rear its head in Carolina.

An example of it comes here, where Wilson compiles a couple of minor miscues in what ends up being an incomplete pass to Ryan Griffin. Initially, Wilson’s footwork and timing are the issue. He fails to fully close the distance between himself and the running back on the play, Ty Johnson. In doing so, he makes the next part of the process, the play fake, less effective. Wilson fakes a handoff to the air, only to turn and find himself staring down the barrel of two Panthers.

Moreover, it is important to note the movement of the offensive line did enough to draw the inside linebackers towards the ball, and Wilson did enough to temporarily fool Haason Reddick and Jeremy Chinn. It was not enough, though, as the two athletic defenders quickly adjusted. Frankly, there isn’t much Wilson can do about that. Defenders get paid, too.

His lack of a consistently well-sold play fake didn’t blow up in his face here, but if falls under the “bad process” umbrella. Play-action passes are an easy way to attack a defense—maximizing that effect will only make Wilson’s life easier. If you are not convinced, feel free to see Tom Brady dominate with it every Sunday.

Processing Information Within Structure

As I noted in my Week 1 observations, Wilson looked much like his college self on Sunday. Considering how early it got his name called in April, that shouldn’t be too surprising. Where his profile falls short, however, is operating within structure. Essentially, when he is forced to stay in the pocket and think, things get messy. That was never more evident than in his debut’s lone interception.

What was likely Wilson’s worst throw of the day came right here. As you can see in the above diagram, his progression starts on the left and moves horizontally to the Stick-Nod, and if he so chooses, the quick out or flat.

Wilson’s struggles to perform in structure begin as a progressional issue. He has the look he wants, as Elijah Moore breaks inside to create a window between the defensive back and linebacker. Yet, he moves off of it a beat too quickly and moves on to the Stick-Nod. Wilson sees he has the inside leverage on Jaycee Horn, the defender Griffin would be beating up the seam. 

Unfortunately, Wilson took said leverage as permission to let loose. He failed to recognize the hook defender, Shaq Thompson. Whether it was simply an obtuse moment in the mind of a rookie passer, or an overconfidence in his arm to navigate an extremely tight window, the result was the same. Thompson made an athletic play on the ball and promptly ended the Jets’ drive.

Additionally, with Wilson pulling the trigger when he did, options were left unconsidered. This play was on second down, so the need to push the ball downfield was absent. Wilson felt it was a makeable throw, so typically there’s no trouble in leaving the progression unfinished. However, here it became a numbers game with an easy answer. 

Carolina sent four, two defenders were away from the concept, another two surrounded Wilson, and a final two were in the vicinity of Griffin. That leaves one defender for the two checkdown options to the right side of the formation. Given the situation, either one would have been sufficient. 

Now, it isn’t entirely surprising Wilson seemed jittery on these full-field progressions. Throwing in an offensive line’s performance that saw him flattened on multiple occasions acts as a harsh reminder he is, in fact, human. Effectiveness with these types of progressions will be an important hurdle to clear, but for the near future, an increased dosage of half-field, vertical progressions may be the way to go.

The Two-Way Street of Wilson’s Game

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned Wilson’s flashes of brilliance, along with a list of statistics that didn’t exactly love his performance. No play epitomizes the binary nature of his game as much as the following.

Wilson pulls off what can only be described as a nasty evasive manuever to dodge the runaway train dubbed Haason Reddick. It was twitchy, incredibly instinctive, and one of the many times Wilson flashed that skill on Sunday. He then rolled out to his right, found an open man… 

… And promptly botched the throw. 

This, more than anything else, is something New York will probably have to live with. While Wilson possesses above-average accuracy when on the move, all passers run the risk of inaccuracy when they fail to set their feet. Wilson’s mechanics weren’t even terrible for a quarterback on the run. It seems the fluctuation in arm angle (without a set base) hindered his accuracy. 

Again, Wilson is going to be on the move constantly, especially behind the tragedy New York calls their offensive line. He’s going to miss some throws because of it. Trying to limit his game out of a fear of an occasional missed throw would only hurt the rookie. Still, it should have been his second interception on the day. Missing open throws like that with any consistency will get Wilson into trouble, but then again, he isn’t in that situation if it isn’t for his incredible acrobatics within the pocket.

Package Play Struggles

Another part of Wilson’s game that showed both flair and failure was his performance on package plays, where he is making a quick decision post-snap off of a defender’s reaction. 

Wilson was given two right answers on this play. He’s faced with the decision to hand the ball off with an open cutback lane, if the blocks set correctly. Johnson can reasonably be expected to gain a few yards. If he so chooses, there is also a window to hit the slant route.

It’s worth noting that Jermaine Carter Jr. (number 4) makes a solid play here to not make Wilson’s choice obvious. Of course, Brian Burns having his way with George Fant also has a sizeable impact on Wilson’s process.

Wilson once again showcases his instincts by avoiding a direct blow, though he does not successfully evade Burns. He attempts to solve a problem with another problem, as evading the initial contact leads to a fumble, which is possibly a result of him trying to get a throw off as he is falling. Committing to the slant, throwing it in the dirt, or prioritizing ball security are each options with their own degrees of difficulty, risk, and reward. Wilson’s decision to maneuver away from the defender was impressive, but is almost immediately dampened by the ensuing fumble.

Mitigating this aspect of Wilson’s game seems like an unnecessary leash. Yet, certain plays and concepts demand to be executed on schedule. Wilson’s movements moved them off schedule, so a last ditch effort to get rid off the ball seems foolish in hindsight. Good on him for lessening the blow, but once that decision to pivot is made, ball security becomes the priority.

A Quick Sidenote

Props to Wilson for diving for the fumble immediately; it’s an example of leadership that his teammates likely appreciated, even if coaches and trainers cringed.

What Wilson Did Well in Week 1

Pitch and Catch Within Structure

One of Wilson’s best throws on Sunday came within structure, which was nice to see. He also showcased better play-action fundamentals, perhaps because of the nature of the play. Even so, it’s encouraging that he is putting out good tape on the weaker aspects of his game.

Wilson executes this play perfectly. The play fake is carried out well, his feet remain on schedule, and he delivers a good, on-time ball to Corey Davis. Wilson identifies Donte Jackson’s alignment as an indicator Davis will be open, and is correct in his assumption. Also, this is a great route from Corey Davis.

Given a clean pocket, Wilson was able to operate smoothly and show off his arm talent. Everything went as planned, and New York gained 20 yards. Obviously, there will be instances where plays get muddy and Wilson will be forced to move off his first read, deal with pressure, etc., but this should boost our collective confidence in his ability to hit his layups.

A couple of times on Sunday, Wilson missed fairly easy, one-read throws. Those are the types of mistakes that put you in 3rd-and-long. Hopefully, Wilson success here is emblematic of the progress that can be made on other easy throws. That isn’t to say Wilson didn’t make plenty of good throws on Sunday, either; but his -15.46 Accuracy Rate Over Expected must improve.

Keeping the Offense Dangerous

One of my favorite plays Wilson made in his debut was his first career touchdown pass. It was a great example of how Wilson is going to win a lot of reps, even when things go south.

Wilson spent a lot of time outside of the pocket on Sunday, and this play is no different. Carolina’s interior linemen generate pressure, forcing Wilson to relocate. By extending the play, he gives Davis time to freestyle and find space in the corner of the end zone.

On the move, Wilson places this pass well. It gets to where it needs to be and allows Davis to slow himself down and keep himself in bounds. Having the ability to not only get out of the pocket, but to accurately deliver the ball downfield as well, will be critical in the success of the offense. If Wilson’s double-digit air yards indicate anything, it’s that New York will be testing defenses deep. Keeping that threat viable when the defense wins reps at the line of scrimmage is invaluable.

Of course, New York is going to give up pressures on shorter throws, too. We saw it all too often during Week 1. Being able to harness his athleticism will both keep the offense afloat, and more importantly, keep Wilson healthy.

Playing Beyond His Years

Wilson made a handful of plays on the offense’s last drive; it was easily the team’s best series of the day. One play that got a good amount of attention was Denzel Mims’ 40-yard reception. It was a fantastic play. However, parts of it may have flown under the radar.

To start, Wilson navigates the pocket well amidst the pressure. Secondly, he reads the concept well and beats the safety with his throw. Obviously, to deliver a throw with this touch and velocity while getting drilled is insanely impressive. It was a nearly perfect play that shows off the physical and mental things Wilson does well.

The Jets upped the tempo for this possession, given that they were down two scores late in the fourth. Wilson proved he can carry out these assignments exceptionally. Here, Carolina’s defense is still getting set up, but Wilson recognizes he has everything he needs and takes the snap without a set defense. It was intuitive, effective, and ultimately, a veteran-like play from a rookie in his NFL debut.

Keeping Cool Amidst a Big Moment

The final play that stuck out to me was Wilson’s second touchdown pass. In need of a score, Wilson effortlessly navigated a smaller field to find Davis.

This play is executed perfectly. Wilson was calm, cool, and collected amidst the chaos. Wilson takes his drop and hits an open Davis right on schedule. Additionally, Wilson did not just deliver a good ball. He retained the proper headspace to nail the necessary fundamentals.

Little things like that could loom large for the rookie. Timing is key in the NFL, and being able to operate in tough situations is what gets quarterbacks paid. Having a target that can separate like Davis certainly helps, too. Now we know Wilson can do it, it’s just a matter of doing it consistently.

Final Conclusions From Week 1

Jets fans were incredibly excited about their rookie passer coming into the week. Nothing from Sunday’s action should suppress that. His immense arm talent, out of structure prowess, and tight-window throws against zone coverage define his game. I would expect a more successful vertical attack to join the arsenal in the near future.

Still, Wilson fell short on multiple occasions on Sunday. As long as we see progress, that is not something to worry about. The struggles with horizontal progressions were legitimate, as were some of his throws under duress. Still, Sunday could have gone a lot worse, considering the circumstances.

This weekend will give Wilson his biggest challenge to date: New England. Wilson must set his protections better if he wants to give New York any chance of winning. It goes without saying that stepping up to this challenge is the next step in proving Gang Green has a franchise quarterback. Don’t expect Bill Belichick to make it easy for him.

New York Jets Week 1 Observations

The New York Jets entered Week 1 bruised and left it squarely battered. Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers only added insult to their various injuries. Still, we learned a lot about what this team is going to look like against real-life NFL starters, and frankly, better competition. The following observations help paint a picture of what to expect in Week 2.

Zach Wilson 

There is not much that can be said about Zach Wilson’s debut without the proper nuance behind it, so a deeper dive will tell that story later in the week. That doesn’t mean a broadcast copy of the game is without substance, though. Wilson looked much like his college self, thriving out of structure and ultimately looking comfortable amongst the chaos. 

There’s plenty of reason to be excited about the kid. The arm and the instincts both flashed repeatedly all afternoon. Despite the numerous drops and abysmal offensive line play, Wilson kept the offense alive. This culminated in a beautifully orchestrated final drive in which he delivered Denzel Mims’ only reception and Corey Davis’ second touchdown of the day.

Fourteen points dampens the outlook on the day, but Wilson looked pretty good. He navigated tight windows throughout the day, particularly over the middle of the field. The BYU product was on the move all day, but the quality of his throws did not suffer. His effortless arm strength kept him viable off-platform and opened up possibilities for the offense when things went south.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In tune with our expectations coming into the season, Wilson is very much a work-in-progress while in structure. Nothing illustrates this more than his lone interception, where he disregarded the hook defender (Shaq Thompson) and paid for it.

Wilson’s prowess out of structure will keep New York competitive, but there’s only so much that can be put on his plate. Given the state of the offensive line, Week 2’s test against New England remains a monumental test.

The Running Backs

New York’s deployment of their running backs went about as expected. Ty Johnson saw 54% of the snaps, followed by Tevin Coleman at 26%, and rookie Michael Carter at 25%. Interestingly enough, their touches followed a different pattern. Coleman led the pack with nine rushes for 24 yards, while Johnson and Carter both rushed four times and caught a pass.

One thing that jumped out was the roles that each of them seem to have within the offense. Coleman has easily had the most experience of anyone in the backfield with Mike LaFleur’s wide zone principles, having operated under LaFleur (and Kyle Shanahan) in San Francisco and Atlanta. He was unquestionably the most comfortable of the bunch, so it was not a surprise to see him rack up touches on the ground.

At the same time, Johnson offers the most big-play potential. His 9.75 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) tops the group, beholden to a 4.4 40-yard dash and excellent burst scores. This threat will continue to keep Johnson on the field. 

Michael Carter had the worst day of the bunch. Like the other aforementioned backs, Carter struggled to break tackles and was mostly ineffective on the ground. The rookie also had a drive-ending drop on the team’s opening possession. Look for the Jets to continue giving him touches in space, where he can make an impact without the technical refinement of Coleman.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

As a whole, this group of targets woefully underperformed and cost the offense several chances. However, it would be unfair to lump newly-acquired Corey Davis in with the rest. He wasn’t perfect, but Davis was New York’s best offensive player on Sunday. Targeted seven times, Davis caught five passes for 97 yards and two scores. If he stays healthy, he’ll easily surpass 100 targets and, presumably, 1,000 yards. 

Elijah Moore was the biggest disappointment of the wide receivers on Sunday. He failed to adjust to a well-thrown deep ball early in the game, and his only catch amongst four targets went for negative yardage. Seeing 56 snaps in Jamison Crowder’s absence is encouraging, though, as it means he has the route running and acumen necessary for the role.

The same may not be able to be said for Mims. His 40-yard catch was nice to see, but it is clear he resides at the bottom of the depth chart. Saleh referred to his inability to play all three receiver positions necessary to see time in LaFleur’s offense. Mims’ stock remains in the cellar after what many viewed as a chance to break out. 

Braxton Berrios was fairly impressive, too. He’ll earn his living as a special teamer, but appeared in the slot frequently on Sunday. Catching five passes for 51 yards, Berrios stepped up well and should be a fixture as a depth receiver. All in all, the Jets will be glad to have Crowder and Keelan Cole back for Week 2. 

New York’s wide receiving corps didn’t play well but showed some semblance of life. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin were not able to share that sentiment. I can’t say they underwhelmed, given their expectations, but 11 targets for 48 yards is far from a strong outing. The tight end position is a premium spot in this offense—the front office’s priorities should have reflected that this offseason. 

The Offensive Line

It didn’t take long for virtually everyone watching to call out New York’s front five on their porous performance. Robert Saleh spread the blame around the entire offense, but it was clear the unit underperformed. Of course, Mekhi Becton’s departure (and future absence) does not bode well for Wilson. 

Becton was the best linemen on the field before his injury, and even he had a handful of miscues. Alijah Vera-Tucker had a typical “welcome to the league” game, not complete without embarrassing reverse pancakes. Connor McGovern struggled to quarterback the line, as the entire unit failed to communicate on stunts all afternoon. McGovern spoke to the simplicity of Carolina’s pressures, painting a scary future for an offense that plays the Patriots, Broncos, Eagles, Saints, and Buccaneers this year.

Continuing to the right, Greg Van Roten underperformed in a similar fashion to his compatriots. He and Vera-Tucker struggled to erase Carolina’s interior defensive linemen. George Fant had a surprisingly bad outing, given the encouraging play he showcased in 2020. While he was not helped out by his matchup or formation, Fant got flat out beaten by Brian Burns on more than one occasion. When Fant filled in for Becton, Morgan Moses was tasked with taking over at right tackle. Needless to say, Wilson continued to get hit.

Thankfully, Wilson has shown the twitchiness and out-of-structure prowess to keep himself alive. Still, it’s hard not to watch what went down on Sunday and think things are going to get better soon. With time, and hopefully health, they should begin to gel, but it will be a long road to get to adequacy. New England looming doesn’t make the situation any better.

The Defensive Linemen and Edge Rushers

If there was one spot the Jets were set at coming into the year, it was the defensive line. Quinnen Williams is a star, Folorunso Fatukasi is one of the better nose tackles in football, and Sheldon Rankins adds even more talent to the group. While Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers’ run game fared well, this is likely the least of New York’s confirmed. 

On Sunday, Fatukasi set the bar for the unit. He held his own and was one of the better defenders on the field. Rankins and Williams both underperformed, though nothing stood out as a red flag with either of them. Expect them to step up to the task against the Patriots’ imposing offensive line.

Hybrid interior defensive lineman/edge rusher John Franklin-Myers also had himself a day. He sacked his former teammate Sam Darnold, the only time New York hit paydirt on Sunday. Franklin-Myers will have to step up if they expect to have a relevant pass rush, and if he continues to collapse pockets as he did, the entire defense should benefit. 

Bryce Huff failed to sack Darnold, but I liked what I saw from him as well. He was used in a variety of roles, including zone coverage, and he handled himself well despite his inexperience. A player that’s development is important for the depth of the defense, Huff’s improving ability to capitalize on his athleticism is a refreshing sight. 

Linebackers

C.J. Mosley has emerged as a leader in the locker room, but his return to the gridiron had yet to answer some very pressing questions. Mosley had his ups and downs, but for the first game since an injury-riddled 2019, it wasn’t too shabby. He looked faster than initially expected. Where he fell short was in man coverage against McCaffrey, but then again, who doesn’t. 

The bad news came in the form of rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen. He made some exciting plays in the preseason but looked out of place. He was pretty consistently a step behind the play, likely the result of lackluster processing. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but he played like a rookie. That’ll probably be a theme for the defense this year.

Cornerbacks

Coming into Sunday, the Jets’ biggest fear should have been their castaway torching them for 400 and three touchdowns. With a starting crop of cornerbacks consisting of two day-three rookies and Bryce Hall, no one could be blamed for starting to sweat. 

In a fortunate turn of events, New York’s corners exceeded expectations. Michael Carter II handed himself very well, especially carrying receivers vertically from the slot. He broke up an otherwise well-placed throw from Darnold and looks to have a strong grasp on the starting slot cornerback job. Javelin Guidry still saw some snaps, and looked good in run support, but struggled in coverage. 

Bryce Hall embraced his new CB1 role. Like Michael Nania described, Hall racked up 37 coverage snaps and only allowed a single catch, for nine yards. Simply put, he played like the Hall that garnered prolific grades leading into his senior season. 

Brandin Echols looked like the worst of the three starters, and that should not come as a huge surprise. Jet coaches mentioned a committee approach to the cornerback position, and after a lackluster Sunday, Echols may lose some snaps to Isaiah Dunn and Jason Pinnock.

Safeties

Losing Lamarcus Joyner means New York is now even thinner at the safety spot. Ashtyn Davis’ return in the near future will mitigate the damage, but they’ll be forced to bring in new bodies before the end of the week.

As for player performance, Marcus Maye looked good, but he played better in the box than he did in coverage. His versatile deployment could play into the Jets’ plans for when Davis is healthy. Adrian Colbert saw significant snaps, too, though he failed to stand out in any direction.

New York’s worst safety from Week 1 was quite easily Sheldrick Redwine. His costly misplay granted Robby Anderson an opportunity to mock the Jets in his touchdown celebration. More importantly, his miscues in coverage cost the Jets six points. 

Special Teams

Another positive from Sunday came on special teams. Matt Ammendola was fine on kickoffs and filled in admirably for Mann at punter. His play was enough to beg the question of if New York even needed to add a punter, though they quieted that noise with the acquisition of Thomas Morstead. They tackled well and contain a rather explosive Caroline return team. After years of dysfunction, the Ammendola+Mann/Morstead pairing may stick for a little while. 

Outlook

Overall, Sunday was not successful. They left Carolina with a losing record and far fewer healthy players than they arrived with. The offensive line was tragically bad, multiple skill position players disappeared, and the offense only mustered 14 points. They were exposed by the league’s best back and lost the battle with the Panthers’ offensive line. 

Still, there is reason to be hopeful. Jets fans watched a barrage that would’ve made their former signal-caller see ghosts take their quarterback to the ground repeatedly. Yet, he continued to get back up, and he continued to deliver. Wilson is going to keep this team in more games than they deserve. It’s been a while since New Yorkers could say that about a quarterback in the green and white.