Joe Flacco, Sam Darnold, Adam Gase
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Amazingly, veteran quarterback Joe Flacco may give the New York Jets a better shot to win thanks to Adam Gase’s offense.

Robby Sabo

An unsuspecting Bill Belichick took his usual sideline spot on the unremarkable day of Sept. 21, 2008. The 2-0 New England Patriots welcomed in the 0-2 Miami Dolphins whose quarterback featured a water pistol for an arm, the beloved Chad Pennington. Sure, Tom Brady had already been lost for the year, but Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a Super Bowl pedigree remained.

What could possibly worry Belichick?

Enter the wildcat formation, the foundation for the reason Joe Flacco gives the New York Jets a better chance to win than Sam Darnold.

Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee brought it to the pros from his Arkansas days, and offensive coordinator Dan Henning gave it a whirl. The end result was a Ronnie Brown explosion to the tune of 113 yards and four touchdowns on the ground as well as a passing score. Rick Williams’s 98 rushing yards added insult to the Pats’ already apparent injury.

Belichick had no answers and the team’s NFL record 21-game regular-season win streak was snapped at the hands of another familiar former Jet, Tony Sparano, who picked up his first-ever NFL victory.

The wildcat caught fire, eventually leading into zone-read schemes featuring Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick four years later (2012). In 2011, another guy used the wildcat principles that rely on attacking the defense’s edge and widening the field. This man’s name was Tim Tebow.

In 2011, Tebow opened the door to the new zone-read NFL quarterback. His Denver Broncos implemented a system specifically designed to take advantage of his power-running style, and it worked (with a limited ceiling, of course). John Fox‘s gamble turned into a stunning wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A guy familiar with that season is Jets head coach Adam Gase, who was the Broncos quarterbacks coach (after two seasons instructing the wide receivers). It begs the natural question, “How would that season have unfolded if Gase called the plays?”

Although defenses caught up to the zone-read scheme shortly after the 2012 and 2013 seasons, it’s come back with a vengeance. The wildcat’s introduction stuck due to the NFL rules loosening up offensive football to an unprecedented level in the mid-2000s, and the zone-read scheme has now stuck thanks to the softer version of the league everybody’s currently witnessing.

Previously, no offensive coach would dare run his quarterback that often in the pros. An injury was bound to happen eventually. Now, in this post-concussion-revealed league, tackling has forever changed and guys like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen are running wild.

Sam Darnold‘s brief transformation into Steve Young last Thursday night would have fans believe the California kid could join the zone-read fray to a certain degree, but Gase simply won’t have any of it.

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The top quarterbacks are usually blessed with more open windows to throw to. Play-callers such as Andy Reid scheme up ways to get those targets open, and in this new offensive league, it’s much easier—and a zone-read quarterback isn’t required to get that done (but is surely helps).

What’s needed are principles that—much like the wildcat—threaten the defense’s edge. One way to accomplish that is to implement and use motion in a way that timing is paramount.

That’s just not who Gase is as an offensive designer. Per ESPN, the Jets offense currently ranks dead last with a 2 percent rate of motion at the snap.

At the top are the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills. The motion itself is not the important thing here. Instead, it’s the idea that the Jets don’t do enough to threaten defenses wide. Nevertheless, jet and orbit motion sure help that cause.

For instance, on this fourth-and-1 situation for the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, Reid dials up a fullback dive with jet motion.

The reality of the situation is that the Chiefs’ offensive line didn’t do a bang-up job. In fact, the overall talent level of that unit is a great conversation. But Reid’s jet motion with Tyreek Hill does more than enough to pull the middle linebacker away from the play-side.

It works the opposite way as well. When gaining success between the tackles, the jet motion turns into some form of a jet sweep to burn the edge. Considering the Jets hardly run outside zone, the illusion of an outside edge threat is nearly nonexistent.

Darnold is no Josh Allen. While Darnold is a big boy, standing 6-foot-4 (or 6-foot-3 depending on what you might think) and weighing 225 pounds, his frame most likely cannot take the down-by-down pounding that Allen’s can (6-foot-5, 238 pounds). He’s no Lamar Jackson, either.

Greg Roman, the very same man who molded Kaepernick’s read-option offense in San Francisco, is doing the same thing for Jackson in Baltimore today. Like Reid, Roman uses those edge-threatening principles to gain an advantage.

Roman also plays the numbers game to his advantage in the rushing attack. Remember, the entire idea behind the wildcat (besides a dash of jet motion) is to eliminate a wasted offensive player, usually the quarterback. With guys like Allen and Jackson directly in the scheme, the offense is equipped with one more blocker.

The following play features jet motion with a quarterback option behind it.

Forget widening the edge on this play; Roman completely flows the defense to one side while taking advantage of the other with the quarterback as the primary ball-carrier (one more blocker).

A dash of read-option, feet that can get it done with jet motion and the ability to get the ball out quick are Sam Darnold‘s strengths (at least usually). Yet Gase’s offense is stuck in the 2000s. His decade-old scheme uses very little timing motion, jet motion or quarterback-in-the-run-scheme principles that could help Darnold along his merry way.

On the other end of the spectrum is Joe Flacco, the longer-delivery guy who loves to attack chunks downfield. Flacco is the wily veteran who can read defenses pre-snap and make crisper decisions—something Gase wants in a quarterback, i.e. Peyton Manning.

Instead of college-infused principles coaches like Reid, Roman, Brian Daboll and Sean McVay use to carve up defenses with some suspect quarterbacks (hello, Jared Goff), Gase’s scheme is vanilla in nature. It features a ton of inside-split zones, rub principles that demand the quarterback to read leverage, is execution-based at its core and requires the quarterback to be ultra-smart in order to reach the highest level of pocket-passing known to man.

Flacco fits this offense much better.

Like it or not, Joe Flacco may just give the New York Jets a better chance of winning than Sam Darnold, purely thanks to Adam Gase’s outdated offense.


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