Zach Wilson must accomplish these 3 goals in his 2021 preseason debut for the NY Jets against the NY Giants.
Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

What are Zach Wilson’s primary goals against the Giants?

All eyes will be on Zach Wilson as the New York Jets take the field for their 2021 preseason opener at MetLife Stadium on Saturday.

Let’s take a look at some of the primary things he must focus on accomplishing in his first live NFL action.

1. Keep testing the waters

In response to the negative buzz that has arisen as a result of his sometimes lackluster stats on the practice field, Wilson spoke about how he is playing aggressively in practice to figure out what he can and cannot get away with at the NFL level.

“I can’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially in practice, you know? This isn’t a game, this is where I’m learning what I can get away with and what I can’t. There’s times where maybe in a real game, I probably wouldn’t throw that but it’s times where I’m like, ‘well let me try right here and see what I can get away with.’

“As we get closer to a game you have to start teaching yourself that in that situation, C.J. (Mosley) got a hand on it, he made the play, so it’s like, okay, well next time in that same situation, that same look, I’m gonna check the ball down. That’s what we practice for, is to be able to play situations out like that.”

This is the perfect mentality for a rookie quarterback to have, and it is fantastic that the Jets are encouraging him to have it rather than babying him.

Wilson needs to keep playing aggressively when he takes the field against the Giants on Saturday. He must not be afraid of the jokes or jeers that will come his way if he puts a negative highlight on tape for the world to see. The preseason is a time for self-improvement, not public appeasement.

It is imperative that Wilson continues to learn more about his limits. He must continue to challenge himself to take chances so he can register experience in as many different situations as possible before it’s time for the real thing.

A young quarterback will benefit much more from making mistakes in a preseason game than he will from “building confidence” by playing uber-conservatively to pump up his completion percentage and avoid making the big blunder.

Wilson cannot play afraid. He has to be willing to mess up and eager to learn from it.

And you can rest assured that Wilson will indeed check those boxes. That’s exactly the type of mindset he has.

In the short-term, playing this way will likely lead to some ugly highlights and stats that talking heads will rip to shreds, but it will allow Wilson to have the last laugh when it’s all said and done.

2. Blend aggressiveness with an application of lessons learned in practice

Now, there has to be a balance. While it is important that Wilson continues to maximize these exhibition moments to play aggressively and make mistakes that he can learn from, he has to start showing that he actually is learning from those mistakes at some point.

The preseason is a great time to strike a balance between taking more chances and showing that he has registered the lessons that he learned from the chances he took on the practice field.

Wilson should absolutely launch some “why not, it’s preseason” throws. Go ahead and try a tightly-covered go route up the left sideline while scrambling to your off-hand and see if you can squeeze it in or not.

Other times, it would be great for Wilson to prove that he is indeed benefiting from his “see what I can get away with” mentality. If Wilson can toss a few checkdowns in situations where the checkdown is the clear-and-obvious best play available, that would be a tremendous sign that his practice mentality is working.

3. Don’t make the boneheaded mistake

There is a fine line between mistakes that are correctable and mistakes that are worrisome.

If Wilson throws an interception because he is just a little bit too confident and attempts a low-percentage throw that he slightly misses, that can be fixed easily. It would be another moment that Wilson could register in his brain as a throwing window he will not try to fit the ball into in the future.

When your young quarterback throws passes like this one, you might have bigger issues on your hands.

That’s not a slight on Daniel Jones – I’m not burying his chances of succeeding based on one play in a scrimmage – but that is a perfect example of an interception that reveals weaknesses that are much harder to repair than overaggressiveness.

Field-reading mistakes as egregious as that one are tough to just wipe out of a quarterback’s game. It’s possible, but very difficult since those plays are highly based upon instincts and cannot be eliminated with a minor technical tweak or subtle mentality adjustment. They are a sign that the quarterback just might not have the requisite instincts, natural feel, and processing speed that is required to succeed at the NFL level.

If Wilson makes mistakes like the one above – mistakes that are a result of flat-out not seeing the field or completely misreading the defense – that is a sign that he may need a year or two to truly iron everything out and hit his ceiling. He’s a rookie, so it wouldn’t be time to worry just yet, but those are long-term issues and would suggest that Wilson may have a rocky rookie season.

If Wilson’s mistakes are primarily a result of small issues like overaggressiveness, releasing throws just a beat late as he adapts to NFL timing, miscommunications with his new teammates, or other minor factors, that’s a good sign. These problems are fairly easy to fix and just require some experience to clean up.

Cool Your Jets Podcast Episode

On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania discuss their goals for Zach Wilson’s preseason debut. Plus, they break down the many other players and battles to keep an eye on, such as Mekhi Becton blocking someone other than Carl Lawson, the right tackle competition between George Fant and Morgan Moses, the outside and slot cornerback competitions, and more.

Audio Version available to members only: Learn more here

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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