Perhaps this was the kind of quarterback the New York Jets were hoping to get when they drafted Zach Wilson second overall.
Once thought to be banished after the team traded for Aaron Rodgers, Wilson has taken the reigns as the starting quarterback job for the remainder of the 2023 season and is playing better than anyone has ever seen him play at the NFL level.
“I think that there’s unbelievable signs of him growing, both in starting with the protection, the operation of the cadence, and the motions like we talked about with Denver,” Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. “We’re asking him and we’re trying to put more on his plate to have him grow and continue to get better, but sometimes those are things that are first time he’s ever done in a game. So, it’s one of those things just keep growing, keep learning, and keep developing, so we can build all the different routes that we can work on.”
New York may only sit at 2-3 in the young season, but the improved play of Wilson has brought many people the belief that the team could turn around their slow start thanks to Wilson’s play. In the last two games against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs (1-1 record in those games), Wilson has a completion percentage of over 70% while throwing for over 400 yards.
Arguably the most clear example of how the quarterback has taken a turn in his career is the level of confidence he’s currently playing with.
“Just getting completions in general I think helps and knowing what is going on,” Wilson explained. “knowing what you are doing, knowing what you are trying to execute, seeing what the defense is giving you I think helps all the way around, with just confidence and being able to play fast.”
As much as Wilson’s confidence has grown over the last few weeks, Sunday’s contest against the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles poses a much tougher challenge for the Jets. Philadelphia owns the top-run defense in football, while their back end has several All-Pro talents.
Hackett went as far as to call the Eagles the best defense in football, but to Wilson, their success all starts on their defensive front.
“These guys are good,” said Wilson. “A lot of players all the way around. Obviously, the big guys up front too. I think I remember playing them my rookie year, and they talk a lot. As a quarterback, that is exciting because those guys are getting after it.”
Wilson’s rookie year was full of difficult situations, but he was very solid when he played this same Eagles team. At one point in the first half, the BYU product completed 10-12 passes and led three touchdown drives. The Philadelphia defense may be much different from where they were in that game, but there are still plenty of stalwarts returning from that original group with Nick Sirianni.
“It feels like they’ve got pro bowl players at every position and quarterback is a special young man. So they’re a challenge, there’s a reason why they’re the NFC champs,” head coach Robert Saleh said.
To pull off a monumental upset on Sunday against those same conference champs, the Jets will need to get strong quarterback play from Wilson. Philadelphia may be 5-0, but their 27th-ranked pass defense is a reason why they haven’t dominated their opponents on the scoreboard.
With All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay missing two practices this week due to an injury, Wilson and his offensive cohorts should have plenty of success at home on Sunday. While no one would be shocked if the Jets were to fall to a superior team this week, the confidence that is beginning to show on offense leaves plenty to believe some magic could be in store.
That magic will fall solely on the hands of their quarterback.