Zach Wilson: Bad Read – Good Throw

This article deals with decisions made by Zach Wilson, which could be considered bad reads, but he still makes a great throw to compensate for it.  The title of it, and the fact that he does make bad reads here, does sound negative, but I see this as a positive quality to an extent.  There aren’t any QBs out there making perfect reads all the time, so having the arm talent to correct that mistake is vital at times.  However, consistently bad reads can be a red flag moving onto the NFL because the mental aspect of college football is supposed to be much easier, especially in a power spread offense that BYU runs.  

Wilson in general showcases a wonderful arm that will absolutely translate to the NFL.  The moment he gets drafted, his arm becomes a top 10 arm in the game.  However, his processing skills and decision making should give pause to the Jets, because there certainly are red flags that pop up.  He tends to play hero ball, instead of taking the easier throws, which reminds me of Mark Sanchez’s and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tenure.  He can get away with those throws this year, because his competition is just not ready to deal with an arm that good.  

1)

This is a play that I’ve seen some folks highlight as well, so most people should be familiar with it.  The throw is an out route that Wilson is looking at from the start, almost to the point of stare down.   This is a terrible read from Wilson because if you notice at the time of his windup, the defender is partially in the passing lane.  This is the type of throw pick 6’s are made off in the NFL if the defensive back reacts a hair quicker.  Wilson has about three other options that are open on this play, with an immaculately clean pocket, yet forces the throw into the receiver that might be covered the best.  

Saying all that, Wilson displays great arm strength to get it past the diving defender, albeit barely.  He hits the receiver in the chest before the sidelines, so it’s a perfectly thrown pass.  The main downside is that, it’s an unnecessary risk when the receiver is covered, and you don’t need to take a chance on first down. 

Notice the tight end and running back on this play, with their delayed releases up the middle before turning into opposing out routes.  This is a staple of this offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a staple at Baylor (the OC was hired there) because it’s nearly impossible to defend.  In one scenario, the tight end acts as a full back and blocks up the middle for the running back.  This forces the linebackers to move up to stop the run beyond the play action.  In the second scenario, they both release to opposite ends forcing linebackers to be closer to the middle of the field.  If the linebackers are too spread out, then the power running game wins.  If the linebackers are closer to the middle, the outside defenders don’t have nearly as much help.  The added dimension being that if the linebackers don’t react quickly, both of them become easy outlet passes. 

One last thing to note is the outside boundary side cornerback on this play.  It looks like he’s supposed to have outside leverage because he opens up his hips to the field after backpedaling.  However, his backpedal slants him towards the middle of the field, which leaves him in the dark with the receiver.  Being off course gets him completely lost on this play because he’s essentially blind to the receiver, and turns the wrong way, assuming an out or go route.  It’s not a terrible mistake, but it doesn’t quell questions about the quality of the competition. 

2)

This is the first play of the game vs. Northern Alabama, and BYU shows a tendency to take downfield shots to start the game.  This is a bad read because Wilson essentially throws up a jump ball to a guy that is double covered.  It’s a great throw, and the receiver makes a great catch, but this is a recipe for disaster testing double coverage. I can’t tell for sure if Wilson is staring down the receiver because both deep routes cross paths at a certain point, but this is a situation where Wilson attempts a dangerous pass into double coverage. 

A play like this begets the question if BYU or Wilson would take such a chance against a quality opponent, where there is a chance of a close game.  The risk on this play is obviously an interception, but how much does BYU respect Northern Alabama to make them pay for the mistake?  It’s a philosophical question, but does Wilson’s cavalier nature of being a gun slinger come innately, or on the basis of inferior competition?  How much would it transfer over to the NFL? 

In this case, Wilson was better served to tuck the ball and run to the left side because he has plenty of space to get down the field.  However, the play call and their general aggressiveness suggests that this deep pass was going to be the first shot regardless. 

I want to point something out about the defense here, and what made it infuriating to not see late motion on the Jets’ offense with Adam Gase.  Watch the receiver go in motion, because the defensive backs switch with the motion.  The outside defensive back takes over for the slot defender because the slot receiver now becomes the outside receiver.  The slot defender then runs across the field (albeit slowly) to chase after the receiver in motion.  The defense starts out in a two safety look, which has a primary goal of preventing the exact type of pass that just occurred.  The issue starts when the second safety, to the field side, moves down to cover the receiver in motion, even though the slot cornerback from the other side is also running towards that defender.  In an ideal defense, this is a switch in terms of defense, where the field side safety comes down to the receiver in motion.  The boundary side safety moves over the field side safety’s position, and the slot defender back pedals into the boundary side safety’s position.  If they are strictly in man coverage, then the slot defender moves quicker with the motion, and the safety stays in his zone.  Instead, with late motion, the defense is essentially sending two defenders to cover a receiver in motion running down the line of scrimmage, clearing them out of the way.  This is a perfect example of using motion to manipulate defenses, and another example of how the Adam Gase struggled last year.   

3)

This one is very close to just being a bad play all around, because it’s a missed opportunity.   While this ball falls incomplete, I think this throw translates well to the NFL, therefore deemed a good throw. 

The first thing to notice here is that Wilson, once again, looks to the field side outside receiver as his first read when he is at the far hash mark.  This is a consistent theme with Wilson, which is a testament to the belief in his arm.  However, at this level of competition, the defenders just are not good at defending it when BYU can pair it with go routes.  The defensive backs are going to play off coverage on it because most QBs at that level can’t make that throw consistently in time.  

Wilson looks at the outside receiver, who is open, but hesitates to pull the trigger.  He has a quick out route running open as well for a high low read, but decides to take the fade route to the one guy that might be best covered on this play.  In terms of progression, Wilson has the outside receiver on the curl, and the slot receiver on the out route both as open options.  This is another example of taking risk down the field, and not adhering to what the defense will give you. 

Saying all that, this is a beautiful throw that is placed precisely where it needs to be, at the corner of the end zone.  The receiver slows down a bit, and is held up by the defender, thus it falls incomplete.  If the receiver maintained his speed or if the defender wasn’t impeding his path quite as much, this is a beautiful touchdown.  This shows great anticipation as well as accuracy down the field, and something that will absolutely translate to the NFL.  I love the trajectory of the pass as well, because this ball can’t be touched by the defender.  A QB can arch the throws to avoid defenders can wreak havoc for a defense because even the perfect design can be beat.  In this instance, the defender played this route as well as he could have, and it’s one slow step from the receiver away from being a touchdown.  

One more positive thing to note, Wilson doesn’t float back in the pocket as much, and allows for the offensive line to form a wall around him. 

4)

This play is going to look similar to a heavily criticized play from Justin Fields in the semi-final game this year against Clemson, in which he threw a touchdown to a tight end, while another one was wide open in the middle. 

This is a first-down play in the red zone, and Wilson is locked in on the tight end from the start.  He does a very good job of avoiding the rush, but still stares down his receiver, and makes a throw to the endzone which isn’t caught.  The main issue from the progression read is that Wilson isn’t even looking at the other options here, where a receiver comes wide open in the middle of the end zone.  Wilson decides to throw the pass into double coverage instead, when he should have looked for other options, or tried to move up the field. 

On the other hand, this is another great throw that only his guy has a chance to catch.  The pass isn’t caught, but this is one of those receiver highlight reel opportunities where they snag it at the high point and get their feet inbounds like Santonio Holmes.  He places it right at the edge of the end zone, while evading the rusher.  The accuracy of this throw has to be commended, because he negates the double coverage with his ball placement.  I didn’t criticize Fields for the touchdown because his ball placement on the touchdown was good as well, so that needs to be commended here as well. 

Now, let’s look at the defense, because I found the slot defensive back to be a little down on his morale here.  I can’t tell the number from this angle, but at the start of this play, he’s lined right over the far hash mark, covering the receiver that eventually goes in motion.  Once the receiver goes in motion, our defensive stalwart is late to respond in what looks like man coverage.  Notice how he puts his head down and runs to the other side to follow the receiver.  Unfortunately for him, the receiver reverses course, which the defensive back realizes too late, and then to make matters worse, slips on the turn.  He is now well behind the motion receiver, and there’s no chance he makes a play if this ball is a quick screen to that receiver.  The other slot defender notices this issue, and moves over, motioning to switch with the lagging defensive back.  Unfortunately, the lagging defensive back doesn’t heed this advice until it’s too late, at which point he pats a tight end on the back to see if that’ll distract him.  Eventually he just rolls back into the end zone, covering no one.  If it wasn’t for the throw, this would have been in the article complaining about the competition.  This is another example where the level of competition just doesn’t stack up. 

5)

This is a 3rd and 8 play against UTSA, in a surprisingly close game (8 point lead for BYU) in the 4th quarter.  The defense brings a blitz against Wilson, and he throws a jump ball prayer to his receiver, who makes a good adjustment and makes the catch. 

The read on this reminds me very much of Bryce Petty’s first action against the Colts, where he kept throwing up lobs to Robby Anderson because that was the Baylor system.  Essentially, if facing blitz, find the one-on-one matchup on a go route.  Well, it’s not really a go route here, but there is no hot read from Wilson.  He has his quick outlet pass to the running back wide open, as well a mesh concept that provides some opportunity as well.  However, as soon as Wilson sees the pressure, he takes this lob pass off of his back foot. 

The pass itself is good because the function of it is give your offensive player a chance to make a play on the ball.  He’s very well covered on the play, so this acts as a back shoulder pass, where the onus is on the receiver to adjust to the pass better than the defender.  Therefore, for the intended functionality of the play, this is a great throw. 

Once again, this harkens back to the conversation about where Wilson derives his confidence from.  Is it belief in his superior ability, or belief in the inferior ability of the defense?  Does he take this chance in the NFL?  That’s not an easy question to answer, try as anyone might.  He needs to learn to throw to his hot read or understand the weakness of a defense in such a blitz situation, given the route combinations. 

6)

This one is a tricky play to diagnose, because at first glance, this play looks like it should belong in the article with bad throws, rather than bad reads.  However, this is a misread at the line of scrimmage from Wilson, which is why this pass is incomplete.  

At the line of scrimmage, Navy actually disguises their defense, and fools Wilson.  Look at the field side defenders, especially the slot defender.  The safety over the top the slot corner is a pretty good indication of a blitz, thus they are showing a possible blitz with two defenders to cover two receivers.  Furthermore, the defensive back on the boundary side moves up to receiver to show press coverage, thus Wilson is reading man coverage here.  It’s further exasperated because when the running back goes in motion, the linebacker moves with him, which may indicate man coverage as well. 

However, the Navy defense is actually in zone coverage, which Wilson doesn’t realize when making his post snap read.  He looks at the linebacker moving with the running back, which to him confirms man coverage.  He snaps his head the other way, and throws to a spot he expects his receiver to be at in man coverage.  Against man coverage, the receivers are taught to run through the spot because theoretically you have the defender chasing you.  In zone coverage, the receivers are taught to find a soft spot in the defense and slow down because you are essentially in the zone gap.  Wilson assumes man coverage and leads this throw up field, while the receiver recognizes zone cover and slows down in the zone. 

The throw is actually fine here, because this would have connected with the receiver had he been running through the play, as if it was man coverage.  This is just a bad read, that caused the throw to be off-line. 

The bigger issue here is the understanding of defensive shells and shell games, which tie into the level of competition.  Navy is horrible for most of this game on defense, but it does present a challenge here.  If Wilson is going to play against NFL defenses, especially Bill Belichick, they are going to play shell games with him all day long.  It’s paramount for a QB to understand that pre-snap reads don’t necessarily mean the post snap read is going to reveal the same result.  The concerning aspect of this decision making here is that Wilson commits to this throw prior to understanding the post snap read.  While the defense does bring a blitz, Wilson isn’t under pressure at all, thus there shouldn’t be an absolute urgency to get this pass out before confirmation.  Furthermore, defenses play shell games where half the field is zone, while the other half plays man coverage at times.  Wilson can’t rely on making assumption throws without confirming coverage to one side or another, because that’s going to lead to a number of risky throws. 

Overall, the theme holds that Wilson has one of the best arms in the draft.  If we judge by pure arm talent, which is velocity, accuracy, and ball placement, he might be QB1 in this draft.  He has the arm talent to erase his mistakes with processing.  The issue with processing plagues every QB coming out of college, but Wilson’s issues are compounded by the question marks about the competition.  The concerns about complicated shell games are also prevalent and would need to be coached up.  We’ve seen plenty of evidence where the defenses just don’t measure up, and that is a concern in his transition. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: