FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)Zach Wilson remembers looking across the New York Jets’ offensive line during a joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie and seeing Fletcher Cox snarling.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Fletcher Cox is yelling at me right now,’” Wilson said with a laugh Thursday. “It was right from the jump, so it was just a little welcome to the NFL moment.”
Two years later, Wilson will get to hear Cox and the rest of Philadelphia’s loud and stout defense again when the undefeated Eagles take on the Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“They talk a lot,” Wilson said. “As a quarterback, that’s exciting because those guys are getting after it. I specifically remember Fletcher Cox in our joint practice, just how excited he is to be out there and he always tries to get in your head and stuff like that.
“But they make the game fun and they play hard, so it’s going to be a good matchup for us. I’m excited.”
It’s a good approach for Wilson, but being “excited” to face the Eagles might be overstating it a bit.
Philadelphia has the sixth-ranked overall defense and is among the league leaders with 15 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 12 interceptions.
“Whew,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said of what stands out about the Eagles’ defense. “There’s a reason why they’re if not the best, maybe the second best. Their defensive line, their secondary, their linebackers. They’re playing at an unbelievably high level. So, there’s so many different facets. It’s going to be a major challenge for us.”
Especially for Wilson, who has played better in the Jets’ past two games after struggling in his first two starts in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers.
Wilson has completed more than 70% of his passes in each of his past two starts, including going 19 of 26 (73.1%) at Denver last Sunday and 28 of 39 (71.8%) against Kansas City two weeks ago. He’s moving the offense consistently and making the short throws – something that was a major problem his first two NFL seasons.
“I think everybody has different reasons for that,” Hackett said. “For our system, on the foundation of what it was built is all your footwork. Your footwork and understanding of the decision and the timing. That leads to your accuracy.
“So, for us, for him to be able to take the proper footwork and get the ball out before any pass rush can even get to you accurately and efficiently, is what we’re always aiming for.”
That was a focus of Wilson’s mental and physical reset after last season, and the quarterback attributes being able to improve in that area to watching and learning from Rodgers as well as the coaching of Hackett, quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese and passing game coordinator Todd Downing.
“Your feet tell a story every single play and trusting in that is something we are always working to rep,” Wilson said.
It seems like a small detail that good quarterbacks should be able to master easily, but it takes lots of work and repetition – especially when you’re trying to rework your footwork, as Wilson has.
“The goal is to be able to have your footwork so down that you’re subconsciously thinking about it out there,” Wilson said. “Like I’m not actually out there dropping, counting steps, focusing on my feet in the moment. But we have practiced it so many times that should be able to happen naturally and I’m naturally able to go through reads and certain things because I’ve practiced that with those guys and you’re able to focus on other things.”
Such as reading defenses and making plays.
Hackett recalled hearing quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Joe Montana refer to quarterbacks’ footwork “as a choreographed dance back there.”
“And anybody that has ever danced knows that you have to spend numerous, numerous hours working on a simple eight count just to be able to get that perfect and precise,” Hackett said.
Hackett acknowledged Wilson is being asked to do some things in the first year in this offensive system that he didn’t do in his first two seasons. But as the season goes along, Wilson will have more added to his plate.
“Right now, with us and this offense, he’s five games old,” Hackett said. “That’s the way that I look at it. As he grows and continually does those things, I think he’s going to get more comfortable with some of those other concepts.”
NOTES: CB Brandin Echols and special teams ace Justin Hardee both sat out a second straight day with hamstring ailments. … CB D.J. Reed (concussion) was limited and still has a chance to play after missing the game at Denver. … FB Nick Bawden was limited after not practicing Wednesday with a calf issue.
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