Zach Wilson taking heat for scrimmage performance
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has been catching some heat from fans and media for his Saturday night performance in the team’s Green and White Scrimmage at MetLife Stadium.
The criticism all stems from his standard box score line (yeah, apparently these get tracked for intra-squad scrimmages in early August).
Zach Wilson: 11-of-24 for 112 yards and 2 INTs in the Green and White scrimmage #nyj
— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) August 8, 2021
Wilson completed 11 of 24 passes for 112 yards and two interceptions, while another interception was dropped.
That is an atrocious line of production, yes. But the collective reaction to this performance has gotten completely out of hand.
I was lucky enough to witness the Jets’ return to MetLife Stadium in person, and I noticed a lot of things about Wilson’s performance that have not been discussed enough.
Here are the reasons that Jets fans should not feel worried about Wilson’s scrimmage output.
1. Guys, it’s a practice
While the title of the event includes the word “scrimmage,” it really was not a scrimmage in the truest sense of the word. Just like in a regular practice, the team’s primary goal in this event was to get better, not to win.
Look at it from Wilson’s perspective. What is more important to him in a situation like this? Finding a hole in the Jets’ defense and continuously exploiting it so he can “win” a meaningless scrimmage or challenging himself to try a bevy of different things that he may be struggling with so he can improve at them?
I think too many fans and media expect players to go out on the practice field with the intent of dominating the man in front of them. That is not what practice is about.
Practice is for improving, and to improve, you have to focus on the things you are not good at. Individual players attempt things they might not be fully comfortable with yet. The coaching staff calls plays that they know the team needs to work on.
In a real game, players and teams focus on their strengths so they can be as effective as possible.
In practice, players and teams focus on their weaknesses so they can turn them into strengths that can be used when the real game arrives.
This is a pretty basic concept that applies to every sport in existence but seems to be ignored for some odd reason when discussing young quarterbacks.
While fans were complaining about how many fantasy points he racked up in a red no-contact jersey, Wilson may have come out of Saturday night feeling great about the things he learned from some of the mistakes he made.
Do I need to repeat the Allen Iverson quote?
2. Wilson’s production wasn’t awful when contextualized
Box score stats do not tell the full story of a quarterback’s performance. Things like pressure, drops, tips, throwaways, and numerous other factors are not taken into account.
Evaluating a quarterback based on his box score stats alone is silly in a real game, let alone in a scrimmage. What are we doing here?
Alright, fine, we’ll contextualize Wilson’s stats in the fabled Green and White Scrimmage.
Wilson threw a great back-shoulder pass to Trevon Wesco for a gain of about 20 yards that hit Wesco right on the numbers. Wesco made a great adjustment to come back to the ball, but Wesco dropped it.
Wilson fired a laser to Corey Davis on an out route to beat tight coverage. Davis extended for a catch that had him tumbling into the sidelines but just barely missed getting his feet in-bounds.
Facing immediate pressure on a blitz by Jarrad Davis, Wilson hit Corey Davis on two hands over the middle, but Davis dropped it.
While the pass was behind Davis and definitely not ideal at all – Wilson threw off of his back foot and needs to learn to step up and throw through the pressure rather than letting it force him into a fadeaway – it was a ball Davis should catch. It was also placed in a spot that protected Davis from running into the single-high safety, Marcus Maye, a silver lining of the imperfect placement.
That was definitely a play Wilson can learn from, although he probably still should have had about 20 yards tacked onto his stat line.
There were reports of Wilson struggling with his accuracy. It definitely was not his most accurate night – he had some legitimate whiffs like the one described above – but his overall accuracy was not that bad when you account for a few disruptions that were not widely reported by the media.
Wilson had two passes that fell way short of the target and led to reports of the ball dying on him. These passes were tipped – one at the line by Foley Fatukasi and one by Hamilcar Rashed on a scrambling throw outside of the pocket.
Wilson had another miss that wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed when some context is sprinkled in. He threw the ball ahead of Davis on a dig route over the middle for an ugly miss, but upon watching the replay on the video boards, you could see that Davis hesitated coming out of his break, possibly thinking that he was supposed to run a stop or curl route. Clearly, this was a miscommunication, not an inaccurate throw.
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While Wilson was credited with two interceptions (snagged by Javelin Guidry and C.J. Mosley), he technically had three as Lamarcus Joyner dropped an easy one.
Two of the three interceptions were overaggressive decisions in which Wilson should have checked the ball down. However, one of the two “real” interceptions was completely excusable.
The Jets faced a simulated situation of fourth-and-9 while trailing by six points with under a minute left in the game. Wilson went through his reads and found the only receiver who was open for a potential first down, Jamison Crowder, who broke over the middle. The throw was just a beat late and a tad high, leading to a tip into the air by Joyner which was snagged by Mosley for the pick.
Sure, Wilson missed the throw, but he made the right decision for the situation. And, yes, the throw was aggressively fired into a tight window, but once again, it was the only option for that situation. The interception came in a do-or-die situation, anyway. Plus, it was a tipped interception, and those are usually a product of pure luck.
Context matters. It’s hard enough to find it in a real game. Finding it in a practice that is not televised or recorded is borderline impossible unless you are fortunate enough to witness it in person. Even in that scenario, you can’t truly grasp what happened without rewatching each play numerous times.
For that reason, judging players based on their surface-level statistics in a practice is beyond ludicrous.
3. Wilson made a lot of good decisions
For the most part, Wilson’s field-reading and decision-making were good. Only his interceptions to Guidry and Joyner stood out as bad decisions. On both plays, he had an easy check-down option available but tried to lob the ball over an underneath defender into a tight window.
Other than that, Wilson consistently chose the best target available. Robert Saleh’s defense tested him, showing a lot of aggressive blitz looks and often dropping the majority of the players in the box into unique coverage looks. Wilson was rarely fooled by the complexities. He did a nice job of going through his reads and either finding the highest-percentage option downfield or checking the ball down if nothing was there.
It is worth noting that Wilson does appear supremely confident. He is frequently willing to try tight-window, low-percentage throws. He hit a few of them on Saturday but some of the completions were very close to being deflected or picked off.
Wilson will have to master the art of understanding which throws to avoid attempting, but he does not look like a foolish decision-maker who flat-out doesn’t see things. He is just a very confident decision-maker who needs to find a healthy middle ground where his aggression can shine without becoming problematic.
The primary issue leading to Wilson’s struggles was that he made many of his decisions a beat too late. He would sometimes throw to receivers after they made their break rather than anticipating (although he did have some great anticipation throws as well, showing that he has this capability but just needs to be more consistent with it).
The most important thing is that those decisions were the right decisions, though. Wilson’s timing should improve with time as he acclimates into the NFL and learns the difference between a BYU window and a professional window.
For now, Jets fans can take solace in the fact that it looks like Wilson has a solid grasp of how to read a defense, at least for a player at this stage. His decision-making appears fine. It can obviously get substantially better in the future, but at the least, it’s good enough for him to be a starting quarterback right out of the gate.
Saleh’s defense threw a lot at Wilson and he did not look like a deer in headlights. He just looked like a rookie who is getting used to NFL timing while also figuring out which throws he can still get away with and which ones he needs to leave in Provo.
Cool Your Jets Podcast Episode
On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania discuss everything they learned from the Jets’ Green and White Scrimmage, with Michael providing intel from viewing the practice in-person at MetLife Stadium.
The problem here Michael is, when the OTA’s began everybody who watched, including you I believe said: “this is different, be excited, this is not the same. When Gase and Darnold were here the ball hit the ground all the time, with Wilson the ball never hit the ground.”….or something along those lines (the quotes are a little unfair). Now, we see what happened the other night and the results are not “different.” Sure maybe the release, delivery angle, arm strength, decisions, all the things you outlined in your article, may all be different but those results…they are the same. The other thing I’ve heard said all over the league, not just with the Jets, “he never makes the same mistake twice.” That statement has to stop. When some QB goes through an entire off-season, pre-season, season, and playoffs only throwing one INT, then it can be said. An interception in and of itself is a mistake, how it happened is something different, so by saying “he doesn’t ( or rarely) make(s) the same mistake twice” is an overstatement and sets an unfair expectation. The bottom line is: Wilson may have all the tools to make him a very good NFL QB, maybe even great, but reality is this guy had to fight for the starting job at BYU. He only had one “great” season, at a small school, in a very weird (pandemic) year and has faced a very low level competition compared to what he is seeing now in the NFL. Anybody who thinks this is going to look “different” than what we have seen at QB play over the past 3 seasons is fooling themselves. I would love to be wrong on this but I just don’t see it happening.
Biggest thing is that we just have to wait and see. Unless a player is absolutely fantastic (I think Moore is the only Jet fitting that description this offseason) or absolutely terrible on an extremely consistent basis in practice, it is tough to take much of anything away from it. Wilson’s had some great days and some down days so ultimately from this point his stock shouldn’t change based on anything he does prior to the regular season, unless he has an incredible preseason