Mike LaFleur has modernized the New York Jets offense, making Zach Wilson’s life easier
The 2021 Snoopy Bowl between the New York Jets and New York Giants was one of the more hyped-up preseason games in recent memory for Jets fans, primarily for one reason: It marked Zach Wilson‘s first performance in the NFL.
BYU’s former star played two drives, completing 6 of 9 passes for 63 yards with zero touchdowns or interceptions.
For a quarterback who was criticized for having too much time in the pocket at BYU, Wilson was as quick and efficient in getting rid of the ball as ever, doing most of his mental processing before the play began.
A lot of Wilson’s quick-release success was thanks to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur‘s usage of a young quarterback’s best friend: pre-snap motion.
Two plays in particular really showed off how LaFleur’s play design made Zach’s life much easier. While both plays incorporated pre-snap motion, each motion was utilized differently in relation to the design of the play.
Let’s discuss the complexities of each play using All-22 film.
First Drive: Third and 6 from Giants’ 27
Let’s start with the basics. The Jets are running a tight bunch to the field side from 11 personnel, with the lone tight end motioning across the formation into attached. The Giants are running man coverage across the board from a nickel two-high shell.
From the bottom of the screen, Keelan Cole runs an outside-release go to clear out his man and the boundary-side safety. Wilson only has to look here if he initially sees an isolation matchup.
The man in motion across the formation into the tight bunch, Tyler Kroft, runs a basic 5-yard spot with an outside stem. Jamison Crowder runs another spot, this time to the center of the field. Wilson only has to look at these two spacing routes if no linebacker follows Kroft on the motion.
The last wide receiver, Corey Davis, is running a speed out a yard or two beyond the field-side first-down marker. Since a linebacker followed Kroft on his pre-snap motion, Wilson has a clear indication that there’s man coverage, putting his primary read to Davis’ man-beater speed-out.
It’s also worth noting that most plays in coach LaFleur’s playbook require both pre-snap and post-snap processing ability.
Off the snap, Wilson displays a terrific 3-step drop with zero extra hitches, putting himself in an excellent position to hit Davis along the sideline with timing and rhythm. In addition to already knowing his primary read, Wilson reads the outside cornerback’s inside leverage on Davis, prompting the young quarterback to once again deliver the ball beyond the hashes to his No. 1 WR. That’s the post-snap processing part of this play.
Zach nails the throw with perfect accuracy and anticipation, throwing it before Davis could even break off his stem.
LaFleur’s design of Kroft motioning across the formation put Wilson one step ahead of the defense before the play even began.
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Second Drive: Second and 9 from Jets’ 37
The Jets are running 11 personnel (once again) in empty with a 3×2 look. The motion man here is the running back, who gets motioned out of the backfield to be the No. 3 receiver from the formation to the field side. The Giants are running fire zone out of nickel with the strong safety replacing the fifth line-of-scrimmage pass rusher.
From the bottom of the screen, Michael Carter runs a basic hitch to keep his defender from helping on Crowder’s (No. 2 receiver from the field-side sideline) slot fade. This helps to create a smash concept-type look for the quarterback. Cole (No. 3 from sideline) also runs a hitch to facilitate the slot fade.
The lone TE to the boundary is running a Y-Pop, where his eyes are on the quarterback at all times while heading upfield towards the left hash. Lastly, Vyncint Smith runs a glance/slant route to find a soft spot in the zone.
Now let’s get into the pre-snap processing part of this play design.
This is what you call a P.S.L. (Pick a Side based on Leverage) play with man coverage progression basis on one side of the field, and a zone coverage progression basis on the other.
Can you guess which side is which?
As soon as Wilson puts the back in motion, he’s working to once again get one step ahead of the defense. With nobody following the RB, Zach knows right away that he’s dealing with some type of zone coverage. If it was man, a LB/DB would’ve followed the man in motion.
The Man side of this play is the field-side/three WR side. The slot fade paired with two hitches works to put Crowder (slot WR) in isolation with his man, giving Wilson a chance to throw the 60-40 ball downfield.
Today’s NFL gives huge advantages to the offensive side of the ball, specifically 1-on-1 downfield matchups due to the increased defensive pass interference rules. This makes the slot fade (paired with an underneath route) one of the most dangerous and successful play calls against man coverage.
The Zone side of this play is the boundary side/weak side. The TE not only works the pop route but stems inside to lure the zone LB away from where the glance/slant route breaks into. So, depending on where that Seam-Flat LB moves, the TE or WR should theoretically be open.
Since we’ve already identified zone from the motioned RB, Wilson now knows where to immediately go with the ball.
Off the snap, I liked how Wilson kept his footwork clean and simple; no extra hitches, no extra steps. He quickly realizes where to go with the ball, and his footwork shows it. The Seam-Flat LB reacts to the flat zone/slant just a tad bit late due to the seam-running TE, and Wilson makes him pay for it.
This is exactly why an NFL team would draft a quarterback second overall: quick release, quick thinking process and efficient feet.
And LaFleur’s usage of pre-snap motion allows all of those special skills to shine.
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