Finally, the New York Jets offense forced an NFL defense to adjust mid-game and it came against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots.
How the New Jersey-residing Albert Einstein described insanity should be stapled on all human-trafficked walls within the Atlantic Health Training Center.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Write it, type it and post it everywhere. What the New York Jets offense has been doing all season fits right in there.
It led to an NFL-worst 4.6 yards per pass attempt heading into Monday night’s showdown against the New England Patriots. The next closest teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team, came across the screen with a 5.5 mark.
Attribute 4.6 to the team’s conservative style of play through eight games. No matter the defense’s look, rarely would the Jets offense graciously accept what the defense was giving them.
Defensive minds would routinely throw press single-high looks at young Sam Darnold, and quite regularly the Adam Gase-led offense would look for a short-to-intermediate option.
Why not just bang your head against the wall 52 times and call it a day?
An interesting aspect of any fanbase’s general voice always leads us down two familiar paths. Firstly, the backup quarterback is usually the most popular player on the team when things are rough. Although Joe Flacco‘s veteran presence doesn’t help that idea to shine brightly this season, it’s, nonetheless, a truth. Secondly, and perhaps most vigorously, is the idea that the fans always want to see their team attack deep.
“Throw the bomb” is the popular phrase. It’s as American as Joe Namath himself. The daredevil action is always the most entertaining, no matter the defense’s actual approach.
Under normal circumstances, “throwing the bomb” is a tired fan cry. If protection isn’t adequate enough, it’s a moot point. This season, however, it’s absolutely the right call.
After facing an absurd number of pressure-looks this season, the Jets offense finally took what the defense gave them. They attacked the one-on-one coverages deep and forced Bill Belichick’s defense to adjust mid-game.
The Jets’ first drive lasted 11 plays. Belichick played 2-deep on just one of those plays. Most looks mirrored what defenses have been doing to the Jets all season (save for a very conservative Vic Fangio-led Denver Broncos unit that loves Cover 4).
This is more or less what the Jets offense has faced all year: press on the outside with a single safety. Even worse, usually, each corner is in the receiver’s face and the strong safety plays wherever he wants in the box, while he doesn’t even make an attempt to camouflage his intent.
New York didn’t allow New England to dictate terms. Instead, it attacked the disrespectful look.
The Jets’ fifth play of the drive featured Flacco hitting Denzel Mims on an inn-cut that went for 32. Belichick was in a zero look.
Although the Pats tried to hide the Cover 0 intent, Flacco recognized it, knew he had the protection and delivered a ball on a bit of a deeper slant than usual—which was also a solid adjustment in its own right.
Later, Flacco thought he had cashed in on a fade to Breshad Perriman.
New England is, again, showing its hand pre-snap. The free safety is six-to-seven yards off the line of scrimmage while the strong safety is mixing it up with the big boys.
Perriman ultimately drops the ball, but the play serves a tremendous purpose. Suddenly, Pats defenders had it in their minds that the Jets will, indeed, attack over-the-top with speed. Suddenly, A corner has to be careful about his press look or playing seven yards off instead of three-to-five.
This play represents so much more than a simple drop. A third-and-5 situation for the 2020 Jets usually represents a forced issue underneath. Not on this night.
The very next offensive play for the Jets featured a different defensive feel.
Belichick suddenly didn’t feel too comfortable with a disrespectful first-down look. He witnessed Perriman’s release on the touchdown drop and realized one-on-ones weren’t going to be kind to him on this night.
If the Jets don’t dial-up that Perriman end zone shot, Belichick probably doesn’t adjust. Of course, it’s not as though Belichick transformed into Monte Kiffin for the rest of the game. Plenty of pressure/press/single-safety looks were used, but not with the same fervor the first drive showcased.
Belichick dialed-up three instances of 2-deep or a one-deep/robber during the seven-play drive (the Jets’ second drive of the night). Sure, there was a Cover 0 sprinkled in and a few other aggressive looks, but the seed the Jets planted on the first drive had already started to shape Belichick’s night. Not until one unit forces the other to adjust does the true chess match truly commence.
The third drive started with the Pats’ cornerbacks slowly backing off a bit.
Finally, the Jets offense is now playing against an appropriate defense. Playing two hard corners with over-the-top safety help is expected. Expectations are to bump and funnel everything to the inside in the generic Cover 2. With just one deep safety, playing hard isn’t unheard of; it’s just absurd to do it on every play—what the Jets have been seeing every week.
At this point in the game, the tide is already shifting and the field is extremely wide open courtesy of previous aggression.
Look at the respect the two-deep safeties have to give Mims down the seam. His speed is apparent, and now that they know the Jets will test them deep (and the protection is holding up against the pass rush), everything’s on the table.
One play later, Flacco and Perriman burn the defense.
Now that’s play-calling, and it can happen that quickly—especially in this league. A play earlier, the Pats went with a soft Cover 2 and found themselves burned in an intermediate middle area. The very next play, they reverted back to the hard stuff and the Jets burned them deep.
And although the free safety is in position to help on Perriman, he’s still not fully convinced the Jets will attack over-the-top.
One drive later, the Jets do the right thing, yet again, once they catch the Pats in an aggressive look.
Aggressive looks such as this example are becoming rarer as the game progresses, thanks to the Jets’ downfield attack, but it would be rare to see a defensive coordinator in today’s age play so vanilla on every down.
Mims runs the same release and route as Perriman did on his touchdown grab. The ball falls incomplete, but again, the action itself serves a meaningful purpose.
With just under a minute to go in the first half, the Jets were with the ball again. Flacco starts it off with a connection on a drag to Mims.
Yes, the defensive backs will play softer in this situation, but playing 10 yards off the ball in a man situation is not ideal with 56 seconds remaining.
Just one play later, the Jets draw a defensive pass interference call on a shot to Perriman.
Credit the Jets here. The Pats’ defensive backs were playing extremely soft, yet the Jets offense still opted for the high-percentage one-on-one situation.
A play later, they cashed in courtesy of a Jamison Crowder corner route.
Belichick continued to be very aware of the Jets’ outside speed to begin the second half. The first play of the drive featured a single-high look with the outside corners 5-to-7 yards off the ball. As we saw, after the Jets’ opening-game drive, the underneath stuff continued.
Outlets to backs aren’t this easy unless the defense is worried about the deep stuff, and at this point, the offense is rolling.
On the sixth play of the opening second-half drive, Flacco finds Perriman on another over route. The reason it’s so open is due to the soft corner coverage.
Finally, Flacco cashes in while facing another press look by finding Perriman on the fade (after he destroyed the corner on the release).
Unfortunately, the Jets ran just 15 offensive plays in the second half of the game. If not for Belichick’s rushing offense, Flacco and the Jets would have put up more yards and points. If not for the premediated deep shot by Flacco that resulted in an interception, the Jets would have scored again.
They were cooking, and it was all set up thanks to an aggressive mindset that dictated the terms of the matchup. If the defense plays unnaturally aggressive, the offense must make it pay. The short-to-intermediate game just doesn’t work nearly as well unless the defense is thinking the offense has the ability to burn them over-the-top.
For the first time this season, the New York Jets offense didn’t force play-calls into ready-to-roll defensive looks. They actually did what was necessary to force the defense to adjust in-game.
Sure, having all three weapons healthy is a gigantic factor, but possessing today’s aggressive mindset itself is much more critical.