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3 reasons that Zach Wilson’s NY Jets debut was a smashing success

Zach Wilson looked great in his NY Jets NFL preseason debut against the Giants in 2021.
Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Good decision-making

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson had a successful preseason debut. Over two drives, he went 6 for 9 with 63 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, and zero sacks.

That unremarkable stat line masks just how crisp of a debut Wilson had. He looked comfortable and in full control of the offense throughout a remarkably consistent and clean outing.

The biggest aspect of Wilson’s performance that made it so solid was his decision-making. Arguably, he made the right decision on nearly every one of his dropbacks.

There was one third-down incompletion to Corey Davis in which Wilson probably should have scrambled left or checked the ball down to Ty Johnson instead of trying a tight throw over the middle, but it wasn’t the worst decision in the world by Wilson with pressure bearing down (allowed by Dan Feeney) and nothing else open beyond the first down marker.

Other than that play, Wilson was just about flawless when it came to making the correct pre and post-snap reads. He chose the best available option at a tremendous frequency.

Wilson had a few plays where he made a good pre-snap read and knew where the defense’s weakness was going to be post-snap. One example of this was a third-down out route to Davis from the opposite hash. Wilson noticed the cornerback’s soft cushion pre-snap and knew Davis would separate on the route with ease, so Wilson went right to him after the snap.

The post-snap processing shown by the rookie was also impressive. He had a handful of plays where he looked off multiple covered receivers before finally finding an open man.

An example of this that stands out is a 16-yard dig route to Keelan Cole on third-and-9. Wilson first saw Jamison Crowder separate on his own in-breaking route, but with a safety coming down to impede the route, Wilson looked it off. He moved to his next read and saw Cole with inside leverage against his man and no incoming help, so he whipped it to Cole before Cole even made his break.

The world knows that Wilson has special physical gifts when it comes to his release speed, his knack for throwing from different arm angles, and his pure arm strength. What he needs to show in order to maximize those gifts is the ability to command an NFL offense and make good decisions with great consistency.

Saturday was a good start towards proving he can do those things.

Great poise in the pocket

All of Wilson’s production on Saturday was on-schedule. There was no improvisation or scrambling on display.

That’s not a knock on Wilson at all. He did a great job of hanging tight in the pocket and executing his role.

The pass protection was good, the receivers were separating, and the play calls were working, so there was no reason for Wilson to try and play hero ball. And he fully understood that. Wilson was patient and poised in the pocket, usually delivering the ball on time.

Wilson’s feet in the pocket looked fluid and smooth. On both three-step drops and deeper drops, he kept a good base underneath him and consistently threw with similar footwork.

One particular play was very promising regarding Wilson’s NFL future. On a third-and-14 play, Wilson got into a deep drop and prepared to scan for a deep completion beyond the marker. He was quickly pressured up the middle, courtesy of Feeney (yet again).

In this situation, many young quarterbacks would react hastily. The two most common responses would be to escape the pocket horizontally or to rush the ball out while trying to avoid the pressure, whether that be by fading away, leaning away, or some other form of shying away from a potential hit.

These reactions are what lead to poor under-pressure production. Escaping the pocket horizontally limits a quarterback’s options as he cuts the field in half, and he also must spend a second or two with his eyes away from the receivers, missing out on potential throwing opportunities. Trying to avoid the pressure leads to bad footwork, which of course results in bad accuracy.

One would expect Wilson to have one of those reactions in his NFL debut. He is great at releasing the ball from unique angles and was known for being a good on-the-run thrower at BYU. In his first-ever NFL action, why wouldn’t he be somewhat timid and prone to rely too much on his innate tools?

But Wilson did none of those things.

Instead of trying to play backyard football, he did what a veteran pocket passer would do. He stepped up and delivered the ball while taking a hit, maintaining his routine mechanics and being rewarded as he hit Tyler Kroft in stride about eight yards downfield. Kroft came within one yard of converting thanks to Wilson giving him a well-placed ball that presented him a good after-the-catch opportunity.

It was a wide-open throw, but Wilson’s reaction to the pressure was a fantastic sign. To be a good under-pressure passer in the NFL, a quarterback must be willing to climb the pocket and take hits so he can maintain proper footwork and deliver accurately.

There is a time and place for scrambling and throwing with funky arm angles – those traits are what raise a quarterback’s ceiling to a new level, as they can make plays in situations where others can’t – but to establish the level of consistency that is necessary to become an elite quarterback, it’s imperative to be great in the pocket.

And to be great in the pocket, you have to be tough and poised enough to hang tight in a phone booth and willingly accept hits for the sake of maintaining good mechanics.

Wilson did exactly that on this one play.

It’s just one measly play in a preseason game, but even so, it is a promising sign for his development.

Sharp short-to-intermediate accuracy

From an accuracy standpoint, Wilson was sharp. He completed 6 of his 9 throws with one eight-yard completion called back due to a penalty, giving him 7 completions on 10 attempts throughout the night.

None of Wilson’s three incompletions were truly inaccurate. Two of them appeared to be miscommunications with Davis. On the other, Wilson was instantly pressured and got the ball out to Kroft in the flat, but Kroft slipped on his route and couldn’t get to the ball.

Wilson’s ball placement in the 8-to-15 yard range was tremendous. He hit receivers on the numbers time and time again, rarely forcing his targets to have to make an extra effort to grab the ball.

Cool Your Jets Podcast Episode

On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania delve deep into the specific factors that made Wilson’s preseason debut so strong. Plus, they recap the entirety of the Jets’ preseason-opening victory, identifying the team’s many positive standouts and a small handful of duds.

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2 years ago

Spread the ball around , without his favorite WR Moore. Running game probed found success inside.