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Mechanical Zach Wilson must find way to decrease autopilot speed

Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Zach Wilson needs to find a way to decrease autopilot speed for the New York Jets offense.

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—Autopilot set at 70 m.p.h. in a 65 (perhaps heading east-bound on I-80) is a good deal. Autopilot that has your vehicle chugging at 90 m.p.h. on the same road represents a Northern New Jersey no-no the state police will have no problem reminding you of.

When Zach Wilson speaks publicly, he’s as efficient as they come. Nearly too efficient, at times. Sometimes to the point that the kid’s robotic nature profoundly hits home.

Maybe this recognition could do wonders in helping the New York Jets rookie quarterback break out of his current between-the-ears funk.

Decreasing the kid’s autopilot speed could allow him to breathe a little—a much welcomed thought as fans watch his mind roll through NFL plays at 200 m.p.h. in a 65.

The words head coach Robert Saleh used to describe him shortly after the NFL draft were “mental horsepower.” And why not? By all accounts, Zach Wilson‘s between-the-ears game as it relates to football is top-notch.

Wilson’s media game is also incredibly on point. When given the chance to make Week 7’s matchup against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots bigger than the average game, the BYU product declined. To him—at least publicly—his team’s 25-6 Week 2 loss to the Pats means nothing this Sunday.

“No, not at all. I think it’s exciting every single week,” Wilson told the media after a Thursday practice in Florham Park, NJ. “I wouldn’t just say this because it’s the Patriots, but I’m super excited for this week. Just the chance for us to get better, for me to get better, to apply the things that I’ve been working on.”

The kid just doesn’t take a false step. Perhaps he … should?

Wilson, 22, is mired in a complete mind screwup to the tenth degree. After playing loosely all summer long—which included two pretty-looking preseason outings (New York Giants and Green Bay Packers)—he remained carefree in Carolina. (That is to say, he showcased his usual let-it-all-hang attitude when given a chance.)

Once Belichick came to town for the Jets’ home-opener, everything changed.

Wilson didn’t look right from the jump at MetLife Stadium. Throwing four interceptions was tough, but falling into a place where overthinking every piece of each play represents the top culprit for his recent ills.

Similar to the way he appropriately gives the media nothing to work with, Wilson has showcased a near mechanical nature to his stress-filled play. Finding a way to allow a little laughter in may just do the trick.

Perhaps Wilson needs a little personality thrown his way. Perhaps Wilson letting loose a little himself could allow the overthinking-labeled fourth wall to crumble.

Remember, the Draper, UT native and his new teammates did a lot together this past summer. Whether it came in the form of Dan Feeney chugging beers at New York Islanders playoff-hockey games, or Wilson and some of the other rookies posting photos of a backyard cookout on Instagram, when the quarterback and his teammates were having fun, his on-the-field play seemed to follow suit in a carefree manner.

Since Week 2, the four-pick game, and since Belichick’s incredibly savvy man coverage did a number on Mike LaFleur’s offense, emotions have been bottled up.

While a mechanical-led attitude usually does wonders with the New York media, it can oftentimes leave young players stiff on the field. As it currently stands, the kid’s autopilot is set at an incredibly high rate of speed while his media game allows no room for a breather.

When speaking to the media, he’s too perfect sometimes.

The notion that Wilson recognizes most of his problems have derived from what’s going on between the ears is a good start.

“I would just say I’m overthinking them,” he said on Tuesday during the bye week. “I would just say, to an extent, I’m aiming the throw rather than just throwing it, like I’ve always done my whole life.”

Although autopilot could be construed as a robotic state that requires no thinking, it’s almost as if Wilson is uncomfortably numb on Sundays.

He’s not just throwing inaccurate balls; he’s struggling to execute the simplest of quarterback tasks. The play-action bubble screen (RPO) in the second quarter of the Jets’ 27-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons two Sundays ago is a perfect example.

Wilson’s current autopilot speed has his mechanics wildly out of whack, as well. Most pundits who examined his collegiate tape closely knew that his upper and lower body would oftentimes not connect, but what he’s shown since Week 2 has been off-the-charts alarming.

As of now, Wilson isn’t too concerned. Or, at the very least, his mechanical nature won’t allow anybody to give it another look—thanks to his own words.

“A lot of people are always having comments on how my footwork should be different or should be one way or the other,” Wilson said early in the bye week. “The hard thing that I don’t think people realize how much time and effort we put into the footwork.”

Navigating through a game with confidence while allowing yourself room for at least a sliver of error and emotional freedom: good autopilot.

Navigating through a game with an intense fear that the next move you make could be the backbreaker your team cannot afford: bad autopilot.

The notion that Zach Wilson’s mechanical nature provides him numerous positives in this league is one that cannot be disputed. It works off the field when dealing with the annoying and overbearing New York media, and it serves a positive purpose on the field as well.

As long as the quarterback enters autopilot from a good place, that is. And as long as the autopilot speed mirrors reality while he looks to make the backyard quarterback plays he knows he can.

Right now, a joke or two up at the podium couldn’t hurt either. A teammate or two cracking a joke or over-personalizing a unique interaction during the game just may help. An early-game confidence booster that’ll force him to smile just might do the trick (hello, LaFleur).

Speaking of LaFleur, it would not be a bad idea if he or Saleh went full conspiratorial mode this week. Privately grab the funniest offensive starter and ask him to crack a joke in the huddle on the first offensive series of the game this Sunday. Although John Candy won’t be in the seats (R.I.P.), an unexpected and well-delivered icebreaker could do a young mind well.

Seek balance. Aim to keep it reality-driven, for this is just football, after all.

A mechanical mindset is great as long as it doesn’t entrap the overactive mind. Once it does, allowing enough personality and emotions out of the bag just could be the way back.

And maybe, just maybe, a bye week that allowed the kid to reconnect with his roots could go a long way.

“It was a good chance to unplug, kind of reflect on the first five games, how we’ve done, how I’ve done, (and which) things I can improve on,” Wilson said about what he did during the week off. “And then (I spent) a little bit of time to just work on what I wanted to work on. So, I got to go home and see my family for a little bit, unplug from being out here for a minute. And that just made it even more exciting to come back.”

Smile, have fun, let it rip.

After all, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

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2 years ago

Meh. At the end of the day, as much as I want them to win, I’m not expecting much. We have a rookie qb, rookie hc, rookie oc, lots of other rookies starting on both sides of the ball, everyone’s learning and gaining that all important experience of playing and game planning for a sunday game. I’m just glad I have something to watch on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. Although next year, I will have a lot more expectations and be a lot more critical.

2 years ago

I think there was the combination of NE causing problems with the heavy early pressure that got him mentally off track. As you point out he’s clearly messed up in the head. I hope a week off helps. I also think some deep shots early, maybe in the first series or even some type of gadget play might help loosen him up too. Darnold threw that pick 6 on the throw back screen on his opening night and he bounced back, maybe regardless of the result it takes some heat off. Years ago I had a job as a manager, and there was a great new busser working tables but he was so tense because he didn’t want to make any mistakes. I told him “listen, you just have to drop something,” finally we set it up so someone “accidentally” bumped into him and he lost his tray. I think Zach needs a play call that loosens him up, and who knows maybe he connects on a deep shot and it opens up a lot more for the rest of the offense. He’s got to be better this week or I feel he’ll be a mental disaster for the rest of the year.

verge tibbs
2 years ago

Thats a good one, Robby. As bystanders who are only let in on a fractional amount of these players’ personalities, it’s tough to get a grasp on what’s happening psychologically. But i know we try to do it all the time. You can put together a cohesive string when you look at what each person says and what is going on in the games. I like your angle here, some levity could help, it never hurts. In the Oc’s most recent presser, he jokes at the end that he let his wife pick this weeks plays or something. So yeah, some laughs always work to reduce the tension.

2 years ago

Wilson’s mechanics and accuracy has definitely taken a turn for the worse since his groin injury. I definitely think that has had an effect on his play that isn’t really being discussed.