Zach Wilson’s first game against Bill Belichick went the way of the coach, but just how bad did the New York Jets rookie quarterback perform?
Did it really have to be like this?
Every New York Jets fan on Earth—from the most rational to the overly delusional—knew that a putrid Zach Wilson performance was bound to happen at some point during the season. It’s the norm with rookie quarterbacks. These kids have to go through growing pains in order to develop into the promised potential everybody’s always discussing.
But … really?
Did Wilson’s first true-rookie performance have to come in the home-opener, especially this home opener? He couldn’t have waited until after the fans first got settled after a long year with no fans in attendance?
Did it really have to be against the New England Patriots, of all teams? Why the Patriots, who, now, post-Tom Brady, are also led by a rookie quarterback who looks every bit as good as he could?
Did It really have to happen in such a winnable game, one in which the Jets controlled the line of scrimmage both defensively and offensively?
For Jets fans … it did, and there’s nothing left to be said.
Well, nothing left other than the film, of course. And once that’s analyzed, it only gets worse, as befuddling concerns emerge.
Wilson’s true rookie performance was indeed bound to happen at some point during his rookie year, but after the second-overall pick impressed the world with a flashy performance against a tough Carolina Panthers defense, Jets fans were caught by surprise. The feeling was that Wilson was way ahead of the normal rookie learning curve and a bad performance such as the one Jets fans witnessed this past Sunday was not going to happen soon.
But it happened. Wilson’s first poor NFL outing has come and gone, and the best analysis to be made is the one surrounded by rationality.
The tape, unfortunately, backs up what the non-biased viewer could see with a naked eye: Wilson was hesitant, pressed in big spots and endured a truly awful performance. The rookie-like day wasn’t exclusive to the young quarterback, though, since the also-first-year offensive coaching staff also failed to sense the game flow and continued to put Wilson into possibly aggressive situations.
Even though rationality is desired, it’s undeniable that this performance by the supposed-to-be-savior hurts even more because every other facet of this Jets team showed up for their starving fans in the home-opener. The offensive line moved people on the ground and kept Wilson clean for the most part, and Saleh’s defense was on top of its game.
Wilson, unfortunately, failed the rest of the team. The only question left is this: Exactly what happened?
Analyzing Zach Wilson’s four interceptions
After Carolina’s aggressive game plan rattled the Jets front in Week 1, Mike LaFleur had one thing in his mind: He couldn’t let Bill Belichick do the same.
Knowing that the Pats coach is often aggressive, LaFleur prepared as if New England was ready to bring the house on every snap against the Jets – often keeping seven blockers around Zach Wilson.
But that didn’t materialize.
Belichick not only reminded Jets fans that Wilson is a rookie, but he also extended the courtesy to LaFleur. New England played the majority of the game with most of its players in coverage, very seldom blitzing with more than five defenders.
With no pressure and no one to throw the ball to, it seemed neither Wilson nor LaFleur could adapt and alter the aggressive offensive game plan.
The Jets offensive coordinator continued to call second-level passing concepts, while the Jets young quarterback—responding to his coach’s stimulus—kept slinging the football to a fault.
The result: Interceptions No. 1 and No. 4, which are the result of an aggressive game plan that was perfectly countered by Belichick.
Interceptions No. 2 and 3, though, were on the players.
Corey Davis, a high-priced free-agent acquisition, has to catch that pass—as he acknowledged in the post-game presser (and Wilson should have checked it down to Elijah Moore). And pick No.3 was the worst one, as analyzing it from a decision-making standpoint by Wilson is the only appropriate measure.
Bad tendencies lead to terrible results
- Wilson late to Elijah Moore on a rub concept, bad footwork leads to bad throw.
- Wilson late to Corey Davis on deep out, not trusting his eyes.
- Wilson late to Ryan Griffin on the flat, not trusting his eyes.
- Wilson off his backfoot to Berrios, bad footwork.
- Wilson baited by Belichick.
Terrible tendencies are what’s most concerning. Once a young quarterback picks up bad tendencies, it’s tough to overcome—happy feet, unnecessary backfoot throwing, etc.
Wilson displayed some more than unnecessary back-foot throws in this game. Additionally, it looked at times Wilson was not trusting what he saw—which left some yards and points on the board.
On top of everything, taking on a Belichick defense is never easy. There were some plays where the Hall of Famer coach in fact confused Wilson with some nice defensive wrinkles.
The positives: Wilson’s mobility, second reaction ability and strong arm
- Wilson to Elijah Moore, displaying second reaction ability.
- Wilson to Tyler Kroft, insane play and ball placement.
- Wilson scrambles for a first down, good job keeping eyes downfield.
- Wilson to Braxton Berrios on a corner, outstanding ball placement.
Even in his worst game, Wilson’s physical abilities will always stand out. His escape ability is even better than advertised, and it showed vs. New England.
The Jets quarterback’s arm talent is also undeniable. Wilson made a special throw to Braxton Berrios that could be classified as special.
Still, finding the positives was tough.
Yes, Wilson displayed solid pre-snap recognition per offensive matchup when the Patriots played man (but even this wasn’t consistent, as Wilson often picked the wrong read). The four plays above displaying Wilson’s plus-physical talent are very impressive, but beyond flashes, the Jets young quarterback looked lost.
While it’s all part of the process, Wilson was extremely rattled throughout the game.
Looking ahead to a tough matchup against the Denver Broncos
In the first two weeks, first-year NFL play-caller Mike LaFleur has been in search of his own identity. He first attempted to force the run vs. Carolina, and then looked to the deep passing game early vs. New England. Neither idea matched what the defense was willing to relent.
Now, with Vic Fangio’s tough Denver Broncos defense next up, both Wilson and LaFleur need to settle down. Working the quick three-step game will be crucial, as will utilizing Elijah Moore as a jet-motion guy to keep Von Miller honest.
The Broncos might be the most talented team the Jets will face over their first five games. So, there’s no better scenario for a surprise offensive bounce-back than in Week 3.
Yes, Zach Wilson was nothing short of awful in Week 2. But there’s still plenty of the season ahead.