Zach Wilson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, NY Jets, Houston Texans
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Houston Texans, Getty Images

Zach Wilson must single out these Texans defenders

Football is a game of matchups.

While Zach Wilson‘s success to close his rookie season will largely depend on his own individual progress, it will also depend on how well he can identify and exploit the weaknesses of the opponent in front of him on a week-to-week basis.

In his return to the New York Jets, Wilson will be taking on the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Here are three Houston defenders that Wilson must single out to put himself on track for a strong performance.

FS Justin Reid (#20)

Justin Reid looked like a budding star in his 2018 rookie season with Houston, recording three interceptions, 10 passes defended, and 88 tackles. Since then, the third-round pick out of Stanford has seen his production gradually dwindle.

Reid is having a rough 2021 season. He is tied for fifth among safeties in missed tackles (12) and is tied for second in touchdown passes allowed (4).

Teams are consistently picking up huge chunks of yardage when targeting Reid. He is allowing 19.7 yards per reception, which ranks fourth-worst among safeties who have given up at least 10 catches.

In six of his nine games this season, Reid has surrendered either a 20+ yard catch, a touchdown, or both.

There are two ways Reid can be exploited. Firstly, he can be victimized in the red zone if caught in the slot, where he occasionally lines up.

Reid has given up two touchdowns on only five targets this season when lining up in the slot. Those two touchdowns were from distances of one yard and four yards.

So, if Wilson sees Reid in a slot alignment near the goal line, he’s got to emphasize looking in that area.

If Wilson is looking for big plays, he has to target Reid when he lines up further away from the line of scrimmage.

Reid has allowed 215 yards on 13 targets when lining up anywhere outside of the slot, a horrendous average of 16.5 yards per target. Five of those 13 targets (38.5%) resulted in a gain of at least 20 yards.

Elite quarterbacks master the art of safety manipulation. They know how to get a safety to bite on one route in order to open up another. Mike White and Joe Flacco put some good examples of this on tape for Wilson to learn from while he was watching from the sidelines.

Singling out Reid would be a good way for Wilson to get some momentum going as he develops the safety-manipulation facet of his game.

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LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (#51)

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill – who faced the Jets twice as a member of the Dolphins last season – is the type of ‘backer who needs to be attacked in coverage.

Grugier-Hill is rarely asked to cover man-to-man, doing so on only 19% of his coverage snaps this year, but he struggles in zone coverage. He has allowed 315 yards in zone coverage this season, tied for the fifth-most of any linebacker in the NFL.

Most of the production that Grugier-Hill allows through the air is accumulated by wide receivers.

For example, in Week 8, Grugier-Hill allowed a season-high 110 yards against the Rams (all of which were allowed in zone coverage), and 97 of those yards were picked up by wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. The duo also picked up three first downs and a touchdown against Grugier-Hill.

Last week, Titans slot receiver Chester Rogers caught three passes for 34 yards and two first downs against Grugier-Hill’s coverage.

Receivers running shallow in-breaking or sit-down routes in the area of Grugier-Hill will able to find soft spots with ease. Whenever Wilson is looking for something safe and easy in the underneath area, he should be able to find a good option in the area of No. 51 in navy blue.

CB Desmond King (#25)

After rising to prominence as a slot corner for the Chargers and Titans, King has mostly been playing outside cornerback for the Texans this season, with mixed results.

King is one of the better man-to-man corners in the NFL. He has allowed a passer rating of 40.0 when targeted in man coverage, which ranks second-best out of 80 qualified cornerbacks. Teams are 10-for-18 with 135 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions when targeting King in man coverage.

However, Houston is not a man-heavy team, so King’s abilities in man coverage are not put on display very often. King has covered man-to-man on only 22.4% of his snaps in coverage.

In zone coverage – Houston’s primary coverage call – King is not nearly as effective.

King is allowing a passer rating of 114.2 in zone coverage, which ranks at the 15th percentile among qualified cornerbacks. He has been targeted 30 times in zone coverage, giving up 26 catches for 262 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.

Wilson needs to be aware of King’s splits.

If Wilson sees man coverage, #25 is not the man to challenge. He can ask Ryan Tannehill about how that might go. Tannehill threw two interceptions to King while he was in man coverage last week (although those were King’s first interceptions since 2018).

However, while Houston is playing zone coverage for the majority of the game, #25 is certainly a player Wilson should try to go after.

Wilson will know where he can find King at any time. King stays home on one side of the field throughout the entire game. He started out at left corner over his first two games after moving from the slot to the outside in Week 4, but over his last four games, King has played right corner.

Whichever side King lines up on, Wilson should emphasize looking in that direction any time he sees Houston call a vanilla zone coverage.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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