Miami – Zach Wilson’s first nine games have delivered a roller coaster of emotions for Jets fans.
The electric playmaking blast against the Titans in Week 4 brought immense joy to the Gang Green nation. The four-intercept defeat against the Patriots at the start of his second career left fans with their faces buried in agony. Games against the Falcons and Broncos left people indifferent.
Wilson then suffered a knee injury in the Week 7 rematch against New England, which sidelined the rookie quarterback for four games.
In his return over the past three weeks, the only noticeable area of improvement for the former BYU star has been in his interception rate. He threw nine in his first six starts, but only two since his return in Week 12 against the Texans.
But the constant theme is indecision.
“I just need to play loose and not try and have a perfect pocket to pass the quarterback at all times,” Wilson said Thursday in an attempt to shed light on the mental war that’s been going on. “That’s the biggest thing, I’m just trying to do right by the coaches and what they’re asking me to do and part of it is I just need to let loose and play freely and obviously within the offense.” But just react and throw the ball like I always know how to throw the ball and that’s what’s great about these next games. Even all the phases we’ve gone through But I feel like you have to go through everything to get the good stuff out of it.”
Wilson should play against the Miami Dolphins (6-7) with an open mind and react naturally.
A lot of her issues for the 22-year-old signal-caller revolve around not trusting her eyes and not trusting her eyes.
The conflict begins with his preferred playing style versus the Jets’ aggressive system.
Wilson excelled in college when he played the backyard style of football and produced dynamic plays outside the structure of the offense. Fans watched it as Keelan Cole and Corey Davis on 50-plus yard throws for the first win of their careers against the Titans in 27-24 upsets.
It is this style of play that propelled him to the No. 2 overall selection on the draft board in April.
But the Jets’ offense is time-based where throws must be made within the rhythm of the play. He takes an educated guess at what defensive coverage a team presents pre-snap, then tries to quickly dissect the defense based on what they show post-snap.
The quick part hasn’t happened fast enough for the cheater.
When Wilson’s first reading isn’t open, he often panics, cheers up and speeds up his throws. Other times, he’ll scramble with clean pockets. There are also moments when he catches the ball as it gets stuck at the receiver rather than proceeding through his stride.
He is efficient when he plays within the structure and rhythm of the offense and gets the ball out in 2.5 seconds or less. According to Next Gen Stats, he has completed 73% of passes for three touchdowns and a passer rating of 95.
However, he is not often executing the fast game. He has the seventh lowest number of attempts with 102. To be fair, he lost four games. But only 35% of his dropbacks happen through a quick passing attack.
Once Wilson starts hanging on to the ball for too long, it all falls apart.
Passing between 2.5 and 4 seconds, he is completing only 52% of his throws with a touchdown and nine of his interceptions. And when Wilson returns to melee combat when he doesn’t have an initial read, he only completes 25% of his efforts.
It’s a conflicting issue for Wilson because his natural style of play, with which he came into the NFL, isn’t working, but the new style he’s not used to — and trying to get comfortable with. Has been – works when it executes it correctly. That doesn’t happen often enough, which is why the Jets are just 2-7 in his starts.
Even signal-callers who specialize in off-script magic, like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, wreck defenses in the structure. That’s what Jets head coach Robert Saleh is trying to teach his young QB.
“There’s a balance, and it goes back to the whole Superman thing I’m talking about,” Saleh said. “There is a lot of respect for play time. When you’re talking about play time, where the ball has to go out in rhythm, down the third, two minutes, the ball is getting in and out of your hands, those are ultimately when plays are made.
However, Saleh believes it is only a matter of time until Wilson does the juggling work.
“And I think in time, with the rep, he’s going to find it,” Saleh said. “Just play loose, don’t overthink it, go through play times, do something when you feel like time is off, and I think he got a little closer last week.”
Could Wilson show some increase in his mental aptitude against a dolphin defense that is rolling in?
The Jets need this. In the Dolphins’ five-game winning streak, offenses are only scoring 11 points per game.
Wilson would be crushed if he displayed his general indecision against Miami. The Dolphins attacked an NFL-high 40% of their defensive snaps. He must fire the pass quickly to the receiver to avoid turning it into a pinata.
However, Wilson is not solely responsible for recovering from the heat. It begins with Mike LaFleur, the Jets’ offensive coordinator, who needs to create advantageous conditions for his rookie against the heavily blitzing Dolphins. Offensive line communication should be on a finer point. Tight ends and running backs should lift the blocks. Receivers must be free from man coverage.
But as Wilson’s teammates take charge, the rookie QB cannot be indecisive.
“For Zach, again, not over-analyzing anything, just whatever the game is called, good, bad, whatever, don’t make a bad play worse and just live in the moment and let it go.” Don’t finish and move on with your progress,” said LaFleur. “If it’s there, rip it off. Like we said, getting the eyes in the right place and at the right time is going to be very important.”
It’s time for Zach to play loose and just let it rip.