The New York Jets offensive line is doing its part to lead a respectable run game, but the ball-carriers have let them down.
The Jets are ranked 29th in rush offense DVOA. They have gotten only 3.8 yards per carry out of their running backs, placing 28th in the NFL.
This team’s running game has been bad. So, clearly, the offensive line must be to blame, right?
Well, not exactly. Most metrics that aim to separate the offensive line from the ball-carriers tell us that this Jets offensive line has actually done a decent job on the ground.
As of the conclusion of Week 9, the Jets’ offensive linemen have combined for a cumulative Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade of 65.5, which ranks 14th out of the league’s 32 units. The Jets also rank 16th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry (4.17). They have achieved these rankings even with Mekhi Becton – their best run-blocker by far – participating in only 53.0% of the offense’s snaps this season.
When we look at the backfield, we see a group that is vastly underperforming compared to the unit in front of it. Of the NFL’s 32 running back groups, the Jets’ running backs are ranked 27th in broken tackles per carry (0.134) and 30th in cumulative PFF rushing grade (61.9). They are also ranked 30th in open field yards (yards gained over 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage) per carry (0.32).
While rushing success usually goes hand-in-hand with the offensive line’s performance, this Jets team appears to be an outlier. The offensive line is doing passable work in the ground game, but the running backs are not taking full advantage of it.
Let’s take a look at examples of good run-blocking by the Jets offensive line being put to waste by the running backs.
Both Frank Gore and La’Mical Perine have run with far too extreme of a downhill style this season. They have lacked patience on many runs, typically taking the handoff and aggressively churning towards a particular gap without scanning to check all possible lanes.
Perine takes this handoff to the left side on an outside zone play and rumbles straight into traffic for one yard. However, on the back side, a huge hole was open thanks to a great reach block by George Fant, who works across the 3-technique’s face and seals him outside. Perine needs to notice the aggressive flow of the defense to the play side and cut back, but instead, he runs into three defenders who each have obvious leverage to the play side.
A great block by Fant to open a big hole goes to waste due to tunnel vision by the back.
Perine picks up the first down on this second-and-1 play, but he only gets three yards when the potential was there for more. Connor McGovern creates great movement on the 1-technique while Greg Van Roten gets out on the linebacker at the second level. There’s enough space up the middle for Perine to blast through for at least six or seven yards, but he just bumps into Fant’s back and falls down. This is an example of a play where it would have made sense to take the handoff and vigorously charge downhill, but this time, Perine is hesitant and it costs him some yards.
Gore is not off the hook in this department at all. The Jets run a split zone on this third-and-3 play. Chris Herndon, on the left end of the line, runs into the flat to take his man out of the box. Mekhi Becton plows his man inside, and now there’s a ton of room on the left end. The only obstacle is Nick Bosa, who is picked up by the pulling Ryan Griffin. Gore never looks to the left and charges into the right-side A-gap, directly into the flow of the defense. Punt.
Gore takes the handoff and follows the pulls from the left side of the line, Lewis and Chuma Edoga. Fant and Van Roten do a great job pinning the 3-tech and 1-tech inside, leaving the outside linebacker as the only defender on the edge. The outside linebacker decides to “spill” against Lewis’ pull – throw his body into the lane to try and blow up the play. If Gore can read it and bounce outside, he has plenty of daylight, but he tries to rumble through and gets tripped up for a measly one-yard gain.
Lack of elusiveness
Perine has not shown much juice at all with the ball in his hands, ranking 49th out of 58 qualified running backs with an average of 0.106 broken tackles per carry (5 broken tackles on 47 rushes).
Perine misses a hole through the A-gap (another example of bad vision), but even after cutting outside he has a chance to convert on third-and-3 if he can beat the safety, Juan Thornhill. Perine can either try to beat Thornhill to the edge or slice up the middle. Feeling Thornhill going low, Perine tries to slice his way back inside to fall forward for the necessary three yards. It doesn’t pay off as he fails to shake Thornhill, who grabs Perine by the ankle and holds him about a yard shy of the marker.
The Jets create an enormous B-gap as the play side 3-tech skips inside and is picked up by Alex Lewis while Becton sends the 9-tech defensive end careening down the line. Perine gets a one-on-one in space against the safety, Daniel Sorensen. Perine looks to press outside and juke back inside, but Sorensen is able to wrap him up around the hips and stop him for no gain.
Breaking 16 tackles on 108 carries, Gore ranks better than Perine with an average of 0.148 broken tackles per attempt that places 34th out of 58 qualifiers, but that is still not quite ideal. The position average this season is 0.160.
The Jets get Arizona’s defense flowing left and create an enormous amount of space on the right side thanks to tremendous lateral movement by McGovern on the front side 1-tech and Van Roten getting out to the second level to handle the weak side linebacker. Gore has the chance to pick up a huge gain if he can zip past 324-pound defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (who obliterates Edoga), but he doesn’t have the burst to do it as Phillips makes a diving stop that holds Gore to four yards. It’s still a first down on second-and-3, but you have to imagine that a good chunk of NFL running backs would have gotten 10-plus yards here, maybe even a touchdown.
Gore makes the right read on this play as he attempts to cut through the left-side B-gap, but he is unable to power through the diving tackle attempt by slot cornerback Bryce Callahan and goes down for only two yards.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Gore is averaging -0.6 rushing yards over expectation per carry, third-worst among qualified running backs. This stat compares expected rushing yards (based on the positioning and leverage of all players on the field through tracking data) to actual rushing yards. Gore’s poor mark in the metric essentially tells us exactly what this film breakdown is attempting to get at: he has left a lot of yards on the field.
Gore is obviously not going to be an option for the Jets heading into 2021, but if Perine does not show anything exciting by the season’s conclusion, the running back position will be a hole for Joe Douglas to fill in the offseason. That does not mean he should spend premium assets on it, but it would make sense for the team to take another shot on a mid-round prospect or sign a veteran or two with a proven track record of efficient production.
As for the offensive line, this unit has done a fine job in the run game. There are a lot of things to work out in pass protection, but even in that facet, there are positive developments going with Becton, Fant, and Van Roten. Douglas’ overhaul to the unit has it trending in the right direction.