How did New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson look in his brief Hall of Game appearance?
Zach Wilson got the start for the New York Jets in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game. Aaron Rodgers‘ backup played three offensive drives and logged 11 offensive snaps. He dropped back six times, completing three of five passes for 65 yards and taking one sack for zero yards.
Let’s review all six dropbacks from Wilson’s short appearance.
(2nd & 5) 3-yard completion to TE Kenny Yeboah
On second-and-medium, Wilson elects for the safe play by taking Kenny Yeboah (No. 88) in the flat to set up third-and-short.
While it’s a decently accurate throw, I think it could have been placed better. Wilson angles the pass a tad short, forcing Yeboah to take a couple of steps back toward the line of scrimmage. This costs Yeboah a yard or two.
If the ball were placed up the field a bit further down the field – matching the depth Yeboah was at when he made his break and leading him down the field – Yeboah may have been able to get the first down. Perhaps I’m nitpicking here, but nitpicking is what you should be doing when you’re in pursuit of improvement at the highest level of a sport. I’m sure Wilson and his coaches are being just as hypercritical right now as they break down this tape.
In terms of the decision, I like Wilson taking the safe checkdown. It’s something he hasn’t done enough in his career. However, I do wonder if Wilson missed a chance for a bigger play: hitting Zack Kuntz (No. 81) over the middle on a crossing route from the left side.
Kuntz crosses his man’s face to win inside while the two linebackers clear out the middle of the field to open a huge throwing window. The LB to Wilson’s left covers the RB out of the backfield and the LB to Wilson’s right follows the QB’s eyes toward the sideline. It would have been a stellar play, but if Wilson noticed that the right LB was following his eyes, perhaps Wilson could have come back over the middle for Kuntz. It would have been an outstanding example of using your eyes to manipulate defenders and open a throwing lane.
Then, with Kuntz having the size advantage, it could have been an opportunity for Wilson to give Kuntz a jump-ball opportunity.
This is by no means a bad play for Wilson to start things off. He played it safe and delivered a short completion to keep the offense moving. There were many plays last season where the Jets would have benefited greatly if Wilson did what he did on this play. Still, I think there are some things he can learn from this one.
(3rd & 2) Sacked for 0 yards
Despite the negative result, I actually think this is a good rep from Wilson and a perfect example of a play that showcases development.
Wilson gets some outstanding pass protection against the four-man rush (shoutout Mekhi Becton). But his first read isn’t open – and that’s where Wilson usually runs into trouble. Typically, when Wilson’s first read isn’t there, he will start jittering around and trying to create something on his own, even if he has good enough pass protection to just hang tight and keep going through his progressions.
This time, Wilson doesn’t panic after the first read isn’t open. Feeling that he has a clean pocket, Wilson stands tall and continues going through his progressions. Wilson reads from left to right and checks all four of his options. All four are covered. Only then does Wilson decide to start improvising.
Wilson slips after trying to juke out a defender, but he probably would’ve been tackled soon afterward, anyway. He at least gets back to the line of scrimmage.
My only criticism would be that Wilson may have been better off just darting straight to the right side instead of spinning back to his left. There was a clear lane of green grass for him to scramble into, and Malik Taylor (No. 86) also ended up separating vertically after improvising on his route. I do understand Wilson’s thought process, though, as he had more passing options available on the left side of the field.
Overall, though, this is a promising play from Wilson. He stands tall in the pocket and patiently goes through all of his reads, taking advantage of the clean pocket rather than bailing out of it.
(2nd & 8) 57-yard completion to WR Malik Taylor
What a beauty. This is one of the best in-structure throws Wilson has ever made in the NFL. It’s without a doubt his best in-structure vertical pass.
While the throw is sublime, the best part of this play is Wilson’s processing.
Before the snap, Wilson knows he wants to target Taylor, who is in an extremely favorable position. Taylor has a go route to the boundary side against one-on-one press coverage with no help over the top. Because of the lack of extra defenders in Taylor’s area, Wilson knows he doesn’t have to look over there until he is making the throw. All he has to do is confirm the single-high coverage, hold the safety in place, and then make the throw.
That’s exactly what Wilson does. From the snap, Wilson stares down the middle of the field for about two whole seconds, freezing the single-high safety. Once Wilson hits the depth of his drop, he confidently starts stepping into his throw – before he even fully turns his head toward Taylor. Wilson knew what he wanted to do the entire time and executed it without hesitation.
When Wilson plays with seamless confidence and avoids second-guessing, great things happen.
(3rd & 10) Incomplete to WR Xavier Gipson
I think Wilson makes the best possible decision here. Coming out of the slot, Xavier Gipson (No. 82) wins to the outside on an approximately 15-yard out route and gains some separation from his defender (who seems to be holding him but no flag is thrown). Of the Jets’ three routes beyond the sticks, Gipson is the only one open. Even the Jets’ two checkdown options are tightly covered. Gipson is clearly the only viable option here.
Wilson seems to be eyeing Gipson the entire time. He pulls the trigger and badly overthrows his target. Perhaps the defender’s blatant holding affected this, but even if Gipson were unhindered, this throw still likely would have been far off-target.
Simply a miss from Wilson on this one.
(1st & 10) 5-yard completion to RB Israel Abanikanda
The Jets run a first down screen to Israel Abanikanda. It’s not the greatest placement from Wilson as he puts it on Abanikanda’s back shoulder with Abanikanda moving outside. Abanikanda pulls it back into his body with one hand.
In fairness to Wilson, he saw a defender barreling toward him from his left side due to a bad block by the rookie Carter Warren (No. 67).
While it only goes down as a five-yard gain, this is an impressive rep from Abanikanda. The catch isn’t easy, and then Abanikanda makes the first man miss with a sharp cut to the inside off his outside foot.
(3rd & 5) Incomplete to WR Malik Taylor
The ball gets tipped due to LG Adam Pankey (No. 62) getting pushed into Wilson’s lap.
Wilson was in the process of attempting a very aggressive tight-window throw to Malik Taylor on a dig route from the outside. Taylor stacked his man and created a slight bit of separation, but the coverage was still tight, and there was also a safety lurking inside who started driving on the throw.
It’s difficult to speculate what would have happened if this ball did not get tipped, but it certainly looks like a potentially dangerous attempt. However, with pristine accuracy, there sure seems to be a small window for Wilson to squeeze the ball in there.
Despite the apparent aggressiveness of the throw, I think Wilson’s thought process here was good.
Wilson starts on the right side and passes on the two out-breaking routes: Kenny Yeboah’s 5-yard route to the sticks and Alex Erickson’s 13-yard route.
Erickson (No. 39) is likely the first read considering it’s third down. While Erickson eventually breaks open because his defender slips, the slip does not occur until after Wilson moves off the throw, so I don’t blame Wilson for not targeting that route. When Wilson was looking at Erickson, the defender had ideal leverage to defend the route, so Wilson made the right call to move on.
After that, the next read was Xavier Gipson’s crossing route over the middle, but it was cut off by the LB underneath. From there, Wilson moved to Taylor and saw him with the leverage to create some separation. Considering the down and distance, Wilson instinctively decided to be aggressive and try to squeeze it in there. Not to mention, it’s the preseason and Wilson knew this was his last drive, so he likely figured, “why not?”.
All in all, it’s unwise to read too much into six plays against backups (look who’s talking: the guy who wrote over 1,500 words about six plays against backups). But there were some flashes of positive growth from Wilson in this short appearance. I thought he displayed glimpses of improvement with his poise, patience, and processing. At the same time, there were still some accuracy issues that popped up.
It will be fascinating to continue monitoring Wilson’s development throughout the preseason.