Le'Veon Bell
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Adam Gase is crushing the New York Jets offense with his massive underutilization of Le’Veon Bell and over-emphasis on Frank Gore.

Running game

Frank Gore has had one heck of an NFL career that will culminate in Canton, but his days as a viable rusher are long gone.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Gore has averaged -0.77 rushing yards over expectation (RYOE) per attempt this season. That essentially means that on each carry, Gore produces 0.77 fewer yards than the average running back would in the same situation considering the location and leverage of all blockers and defenders. Gore’s RYOE average of -0.77 ranks fourth-worst among 48 qualified running backs this season (6th percentile).

Gore got nine carries to Le’Veon Bell‘s 13 against the Cardinals, a 59-41 split. La’Mical Perine got zero carries. It’s very odd that Gase continues to feature Gore so much even though he has not been an effective rusher this season.

Bell averaged 4.6 yards per carry against Arizona, better than any of Gore’s most recent 16 games. However, Bell was not substantially better in terms of RYOE, averaging -0.32 against Arizona (would rank eighth-worst/15th percentile over the season to date).

Here’s the catch – Bell was sent to rush into a bunch of loaded boxes against the Cardinals, whereas Gore has rarely been asked to do that this season.

On the year, Gore has rushed against a loaded box (8+ defenders close to the line of scrimmage and near the offensive line) on only 9.4% of his carries, 10th-lowest among qualified backs, making his lack of productivity all the more unimpressive. Meanwhile, Bell ran against a loaded box on 23.1% of his carries in the Arizona game, a rate that would rank 14th-highest among qualifiers on the season.

This utilization makes little sense. If both backs are going to be used consistently, their roles should be flipped.

Gore’s greatest strength at this point is that he is a hit-the-hole, downhill runner who can blast up the middle with power and guarantee you a couple of yards instead of a no-gainer or loss. That would be a solid answer to the loaded boxes you see in short-yardage situations.

However, that style is not suited to picking up productive chunks of yardage against the lighter boxes you typically see on first down or second/third-and-medium. Gore constantly leaves potentially big gains on the field with his lack of vision and over-aggressive style. Bell is the man who should be getting carries against light boxes, where he can use his excellent vision, remarkable patience, and shifty short-area quickness to ensure he gets every yard that is available when defenses are not loaded up to stop the run.

Giving Gore the high-upside, light-box carries and asking Bell to do the dirty work in low-upside, loaded-box situations is a brutal waste of Bell’s talent.

While Gase can do a better job of maximizing both Bell and Gore at their current volumes, the reality is that Gore should not really be getting carries in any situation. He just does not have much left in the tank at 37 years old. If Gase still wants to find a spot for Gore, throw him out there to change the pace for two or three carries per game. He should not be getting over 40% of the carries.

I think the Jets would be best served phasing Gore out of the offense entirely and letting Perine get a handful of reps while Bell carries the majority of the load, but it does not seem like Gase wants to stop using Gore anytime soon.

Realistically, it is fair to expect Gase to start gradually transitioning Gore out by bringing the carry ratio between Bell and Gore to at least 75-25 while tossing Perine a few bones. A few weeks down the line, there is no excuse for Gase to eventually phase Gore out and begin getting Perine regularly involved, while pushing Bell back into his workhorse role. Gase also needs to focus on producing more carries against light boxes for Bell.

Plus, the odds of Bell returning next season seem very low. The Jets can escape his contract after the season with $4 million in dead money and $9.5 in cap savings. Joe Douglas will probably be very much inclined to take that trade-off to dump a 29-year-old running back that he did not sign and has not produced at a high level (even if that lack of production is not entirely Bell’s fault).

The Jets should be showcasing Bell so he can improve his trade value. Instead, they are tanking his value and slowly increasing the likelihood that they will cut him for nothing instead of finding at least a small bit of trade compensation.

Sure, Gase is probably not thinking about next season considering his current job security, but it’s not even as if “showcasing” Bell hurts the team on the field for the sake of improving the business side – featuring him makes the team a lot better.

Gase’s massive over-usage of Gore and underutilization of Bell makes no sense and is hurting the team’s present and future. Bell helps the team win games today and can boost his trade value for tomorrow. Gore is a huge downgrade that helps the team lose games today and blocks Perine from getting a chance to develop into a player that can help the team tomorrow.

It is a simple scenario to decipher, but Gase has struggled with even the most obvious decisions.

Passing game

All of that information was just focused on the rushing attack. Bell – who is ranked third in career receiving yards per game (40.0) among running backs in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) behind only Alvin Kamara (48.8) and Christian McCaffrey (51.8) – got one target against the Cardinals.

Bell has seen three targets over 76 offensive snaps this season, an average of one target every 25.3 snaps. That is more than double his previous career-low (11.6 in 2015) and his 2019 rate (10.0).

While Bell saw plenty of action as a receiver in 2019, ranking seventh among running backs with 66 catches, most of those grabs were checkdowns. Both in 2019 and in 2020, Gase has criminally underused Bell in the slot, a position from which he was absolutely devastating as a Steeler.

Once a versatile receiving weapon that creates nightmarish mismatches, Gase has turned Bell into a non-intimidating safety blanket. The difference between Bell’s slot production as a Jet and his slot production as a Steeler is absolutely mind-boggling.


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