This is Part 2, please check out Part 1.
There is some good and bad to this play, so we will go through them both.
The bad aspect of this play is that Wilson stares down this route from the get go, which is a bit concerning because it once again plays into the idea of him pre-determining the throw. At the snap of the ball, he could see that it’s a one-on-one match up, albeit with a safety over the top, this is a risky throw to make it your only read.
The good aspect of it is the decision to throw and timing. Wilson releases the ball before the receiver makes his break, and makes a great anticipatory throw right to where the receiver should be on the route. This is a great pass, one of those “throwing the receiver open” passes that’s raved about in the scouting process. It goes wrong for Wilson because the defender basically pulls the receiver out of the way, and almost intercepts this pass. I’m not sure how this is not a penalty, because even I can see the jersey being pulled on the All-22 camera angle, yet it’s not called here. This should be a great pass on behalf of Wilson, not an almost intercepted pass.
There isn’t much special here, but I put this here because I wanted to point out that Wilson actually reads the blitz and makes the quick hot read here. I harped on him before not going to the hot read, so I wanted to point out an instance where he does make the correct read on the blitz. I know this series is seen mostly negative on Wilson, which isn’t true. I think he has the potential to be great, I just personally think Fields is the better play. However, I am trying to point out all the positives I see in Wilson as well, as we watch the tape.
Also, I’m not sure I’ve seen as many corner blitzes from a team as Tennessee in this game.
This play is a mediocre decision by Wilson, it’s somewhat prudent to just try and escape the pocket. You could make an argument about maybe hitting the outlet route to the receiver in motion there as a choice, but Wilson ignores the read.
The first thing I wanted to point out here is the defensive adjustments. Numerous times on the 2020 tape, late movement from the receiver meant a communication breakdown with the defense leading to wide open guys. In this example, the safety comes down as soon as the receiver goes in motion, which is an instant adjustment by the defense. Far too many times you would see the safety and linebacker adjust to the receiver in motion, leaving wide open guys down the field. I just wanted to point out an instance where Tennessee is able to communicate much better than the 2020 competition, which makes Wilson much less likely to take risks.
The other aspect of this play is the lack of risk taking by Wilson, which was a question I posed in the 2020 scouting tapes. How much of his “live life on the edge” playing style is derived from knowing him, and his team are just that much better than the competition? In this exact situation, I feel Wilson takes the back shoulder throw to the boundary side outside receiver in 2020, because the defender has his back turned to the QB. In this case, the quality of the defender is better so Wilson doesn’t take the chance, and ends up getting sacked.
This route combination is basically dead the moment the safety adjusts, at which point Wilson does make a decent decision to try and escape the pocket. He could possibly hit the outlet pass, which would have been the best-case scenario on this situation, but that falls back into Wilson not really going through his progressions as much as people would believe. Once the deep route and the wheel route is covered, Wilson should have passed it off to the outlet route. However, Wilson decides to try and escape the pocket, only to get sacked. This is a concern in the NFL because Wilson is a scrambling QB, but not a mobile QB. He can rarely create runs of his own, when open land isn’t in front of him, thus he needed to try and make sure all his options were exhausted.
I feel like this play was drawn up by Adam Gase, because this is a 3rd and 1 play after BYU started running right through Tennessee’s defense on the ground. I believe the last 4 or 5 plays have been runs with one going for a touchdown.
The problem with this play is quite simple, Wilson doesn’t pull the trigger, and pays for it with an incompletion. Once again, Tennessee sends a slot blitz, but the safety moves up the field to cut off the short pass. It looks like Wilson was expecting the safety to play back, because he doesn’t take this shot to the quick read in the slot. Once Wilson hesitates on the throw, this play is essentially over.
Once again, I want to reiterate, Wilson can throw from different angles and off-balance, but he keeps having trouble doing so when under pressure. This is an off-balance throw where we’ve seen him throw for plenty of yards, but this one doesn’t even reach the receiver on the short route. Once under pressure, Wilson’s ability to throw from off-balance angles takes a hit, which contradicts a few popular opinions about him being able to negate pressure with his off-platform throwing skills. He does it very well when pressure isn’t quite around him, which allows him time to set it up, but not so much when pressure is around him.
Once Wilson didn’t throw this short pass, this play was in trouble.
This play basically encapsulates the prospect that is Zach Wilson. I’m not completely sure this play stands, because there is a flag on the play, which I presume is holding on the offense.
He locks onto his first read, which is an in route that he expects to come open over the middle, but the Tennessee coverage disguises their shell. In this instance, Wilson expects the linebacker lined up over the right tackle to rush the passer, and the linebacker behind him to follow the running back on the out route. When the linebacker in the middle follows the out route to the running back, the passing lane to the in route will be open. However, the linebacker that was lined up over the right tackle gets out in coverage for the running back, leaving the middle linebacker to occupy the passing lane. This is an instance where Wilson got fooled by the defensive shell, because he most likely read the play differently pre-snap. This happens to pretty much every college QB at some time, and even a good amount of NFL QBs. However, it’s also to show that Wilson is slow to move from this progression, which is an issue touted as a problem for Justin Fields, but a strength for Wilson.
The almost sack is not an issue with Wilson, it’s a 3 man rush, the offensive line should be able to hold the rusher.
The good side of this play is Wilson improvising, running to his left, and making this great throw. Now, I do want you to notice that he plants his foot on this throw. This isn’t one of his patented jump throws that I highlighted before. This throw is very similar to one that Justin Fields threw at his pro-day where he moved to his left, planted the lead foot, and made the throw. As much as the jump throws were impressive, this is the right form to make this throw in this situation. He has just enough space to plant his left foot to generate torque, and make this throw to the sideline. The pass itself has impressive velocity and ball placement. I’m not 100% sure the guy was inbounds, but it is ruled a catch at first, but probably negated by the penalty.
I think this is a good play to highlight the issues that I see with Wilson, processing problem and locking in on receivers in contrast to improvisation and great arm talent.
This is another play where I think there is some evidence of predetermining his throw, but making a progression look to manipulate the defense. As I mentioned before, manipulating the defense is a great skill to have, but his tendency to pre-determine the throw is a problem.
On this play, Wilson seems to prefer the post route to the boundary side at the snap. He’s looking dead center at the start, trying to hold the safety. You can see him basically looking right down the middle at first, which is to take the safety out of the play. However, in the same frame you can see the tight end starting to come open right in the lane, but Wilson ignores that option, because he doesn’t seem to be reading that route. The tight end has a step on his defender, and the other linebacker in the area is facing the wrong direction, which should mean the tight end will clear him for an easy target in the middle. However, Wilson moves on to the post route, which is well covered, thus forcing him to scramble. The main issue here is that Wilson doesn’t go through his progressions, but locks onto the longest developing play as his main read, thus when that route is covered, he doesn’t have secondary options. He had a quick out route open for easy yards as the first read, he had the tight end in the middle coming open with a NFL level read, but he ignored them both for the post route. This is probably my biggest issue with Wilson, he has a tendency to lock into his receivers at times, especially for deeper throws. It works out fine in 2020 because the competition level can’t handle those plays most of the time anyway, giving him ample time in the pocket for those routes to open up. However, with good competition, it can be a trap.
Wilson tries to scramble up the middle, but gets tripped and sacked by a defensive lineman. The ideal throw here is to the tight end in the middle, because that’s understanding the defensive leverage of the linebacker in the middle post snap. The easy throw is the quick out to the left of the formation, but Wilson ignores both of them.
Another thing I want you to notice in the 2019 film vs the 2020 films are the lack of throws to the field side outside receiver. You can make that throw over and over again, when the competition isn’t up to par because they are not used to playing a QB that has a great arm. However, in 2019 those field side outside throws are few and far in-between with Wilson, and much more towards the normal level.
I’m not sure I have ever seen this many corner blitzes from one defense, Rex would be proud.
Anyway, I wanted to point a couple of things out. One, this is a bad route by the receiver, because he slants inward on an in-route from the start, which makes this coverage better from the defensive viewpoint. He needs to run this route to the outside hip of the defender to create hip rotation, and then cut inside.
The read on a blitz is the hot read, so there is no issue with locking in on this route. It’s either throw this pass or get sacked.
I put the end zone angle in because what makes this throw great is actually the arm angle at which he gets it off, to get under the defensive lineman’s hand. If you have a short route that is in tight coverage, you either have to throw it within a passing lane, or get it by a defensive lineman that might try to knock it down. Ideally you throw it over them, but then trajectory becomes an issue on short routes because the ball needs to descend to the point that it can be caught by the receiver. A good workaround is to follow Wilson here, and almost sidearm the ball so he goes below the arms of the defender, and is already on a catchable level in terms of vertical elevation. While the overall play seems mediocre, the adjustment of the arm angle on the fly here in a crowded pocket shows very good awareness.
Just as I said Wilson wasn’t throwing the field side outside receiver throw as much, he threw two so far on this drive (I omitted the first because there wasn’t anything special to it).
So, the main thing here is Wilson’s ability to recognize the audible from Tennessee and understand the consequences. I harp on Wilson for not understanding defensive shells at times, but this is pretty good recognition. The outside defender starts out in what looks like press coverage, as he’s lined up right next to the receiver. However, the defense calls an audible, at which point that defender backs up a few yards, in what looks to be into zone coverage. However, the same issue that we saw in the “Explain This Defense” article pops up, where he has inside leverage while simultaneously turning his hips towards the field. We already know this puts him at a major disadvantage for an out route because he’s going to be further from the target zone, while taking more time to rotate his hips towards that zone. You can see the coach at the end probably lecturing the defender about his mistake.
Wilson recognizes the change in shell, and makes a very good throw to the receiver. The throw is something we’ve seen from Wilson numerous times, I don’t need to point it out over and over again to show that he can make this throw. However, I wanted to show him understanding the audible, and how it works to his advantage because he already knows the route. While the throw is impressive, it’s actually the mental aptitude that deserves some praise.
This is the end of Part 2, please check back for Part 3.