New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is struggling thanks to the mental aspect of quarterback play
There’s nothing like the New York Jets roller-coaster.
One week in heaven, two (or more) in hell. And up and down It goes, with the downtimes usually lasting longer than the short celebratory stretches.
After beating the Tennessee Titans in an overtime thriller, thus skyrocketing everyone’s expectations to the sky, the Jets put forth one of their classic letdown games vs. the Atlanta Falcons, in London.
The entire team slept-walked through the first half, which ultimately led to New York’s fourth loss in the 2021 season. Worse than the loss itself was how it went down and who bears the most responsibility.
Despite football remaining the ultimate team sport, there’s no running from it: The top Week 5 culprit was quarterback Zach Wilson.
Wilson, who delivered a stellar performance against the Titans, had fans thinking an encore was imminent. An injured defense that had just made Washington Football Team quarterback Tyler Heinicke look like Brett Favre seemed like the perfect opportunity for his first 300-yard game.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse.
In fact, despite throwing only one interception and statistically playing better than he did against Denver or New England, one could say that Wilson had his worst game as a pro.
The issues Wilson featured against the Falcons are concerning and have been on tape since Week 1:
- Missed layups
- Inability to operate within the structure of the offense
- An overthinking posture that leads to being late on open throws
Despite the flashes and the big plays, these miscues are also an integral part of Wilson’s tape as a pro. A good indication is the offense’s lack of a three-step passing game.
I agree 100% that the Jets need to build a better quick game plan for ZW.
With that said… I believe #2 is still working on his quick game.
He needs to see It clearly open to throw It, which leads to him being late on some throws. https://t.co/Hqkc1Thzm8
— Vitor (@VitorPaivaM) October 5, 2021
The reasons for this failure became evident this past weekend.
Wilson is not constantly hitting the layups and the gimme throws—mainly because of mechanical and mental issues, which are correlated. But when did it start?
Those who pay attention to the little signs provided by preseason football know that these problems were not there in August.
Against the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, the Jets’ rookie quarterback showed that he could operate within the structure of the offense and hit his shallow, primary reads on time.
Think of the boot completions to Jamison Crowder and Corey Davis against the Giants, or the third-down conversions to Davis against the Packers. These plays all happened on time and in rhythm, which is very seldom seen right now.
Such a discrepancy between preseason and regular-season indicates that Wilson’s miscues are more mental than mechanical—even though correlation exists.
Since the Carolina Panthers game, when the Jets offense simply couldn’t get going in the first half, Wilson has looked like a quarterback who believes he needs to carry the entire offense on his shoulders.
He neglects check-downs aiming for the big completion. And when Wilson in fact throws It short, he looks hesitant. It’s almost like the Jets quarterback is checking the ball down while thinking of a second-level throw.
These issues reflect on Wilson’s mechanics, but it’s clearly a mental thing.
The mind is impacting the body. Wilson’s thinking while moving through his motions, which have to flow naturally.
Think of Geno Smith’s first year with the Jets, when he admitted he counted his drops to execute the plays in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
You can’t overthink in sports—especially when playing the quarterback position. An “overthinker” might be the best adjective to describe Zach Wilson right now.
At the same time, Wilson isn’t the only one to blame.
Corey Davis hasn’t been the bonafide number one guy fans expected, nor has Elijah Moore been the “best player on the field”—as he was consistently labeled through the offseason.
How much of that is a consequence of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s planning is unknown—although the Jets play-caller also deserves some blame.
The wide receiver usage has been a bit befuddling (i.e. Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore). Utilizing Ty Johnson—a struggling pass-blocker and average pass catcher—as the team’s third-down back has also been a strange one to grapple with.
On another note, it feels like the Panthers game also had overreacting effects on LaFleur. After having a hard time running the ball in week one, the Jets offensive coordinator has gone away from the ground extremely early in games.
Still, no one can be properly judged If the team’s quarterback is missing throws a high school quarterback is routinely asked to make.
Wilson needs to step up, for his and his teammates’ sake. This is NFL football. An offense can’t depend on off-schedule plays to jump-start.
Zach Wilson missed 4 routine throws that could have changed the game
This week’s Sidearm Session features four easy throws that could have changed the game. On each of the four, Zach Wilson flat-out missed the target.
And remember, these are throws Wilson rarely missed while at BYU and never missed in August (preseason football).
Reinforcing one point before the video, all of these throws are intended to scheme up an open target and/or represent Wilson’s first read.
This is a clear indication that Zach hasn’t been able to execute the staples of the offense, the routine throws that should be made by any NFL quarterback who executes the scheme.
Before the full explanation, take a look at what Wilson had to say about two of the four plays below (bubble to Jamison Crowder and interception to Keelan Cole):
“I have got to rip it and get him (Crowder) the ball,” Wilson said following the loss overseas. “I was trying to get out there so quick, I didn’t even get my hand set.”
On the interception to Cole, Wilson said, “He was wide open, and I’ve just got to make a better throw, whatever it is. I’ve got to come out and be ready to rip this thing. I can’t be hesitant on any of those throws.”
Wilson knows what the current problem is. After all, it’s not hard to spot for those who have been around the game for some time.
- Late on boot concept, incomplete to Ryan Griffin
- Behind on crosser, incomplete to Corey Davis
- Intercepted, late to Keelan Cole
- Bubble on the dirt, incomplete to Jamison Crowder
A look ahead: The bye week could not have come at a better time
With both LaFleur and Wilson in their own heads a bit, the bye week comes in a perfect spot for the Jets. It’s time for the young Jets’ offensive duo to sit back and remember who they are.
LaFleur is a coach who comes from a run-oriented coaching tree. There’s no way to horizontally stretch a defense through the air without doing it first on the ground.
With no ground game, the horizontal passing attack does not work.
The defense isn’t forced to move laterally pre-snap and edge defenders can play freely, since there’s no run action towards them constantly.
For Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick needs to go back to his preseason mental state.
Zach needs to trust his playmakers with the ball in their hands, execute the short passing game, play within the offense’s structure, and find his own unique rhythm.
I wrote this after Wilson’s game against the Giants in the preseason:
“When improvisation becomes the norm for young quarterbacks, it is a big problem. Even Patrick Mahomes performs inside the structure prior to pouring out his genius after the first fact.
“In the NFL game, none of the flashy throws matter if the passer cannot work within the system that’s in place. Making routine throws, playing on time, and making the proper reads within the pocket need to happen first. Then, the space for the highlight-reel moments will come naturally.
“Take Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, for example. He could always execute the flashy stuff, but he only became a superstar quarterback once he mastered his routine throws.”
That’s where Wilson needs to go back now. Back to fundamental quarterback school.
There’s plenty of reason to think both Zach Wilson and Mike LaFleur can get this fixed.