Mike LaFleur’s preseason personnel packages for Zach Wilson’s offense could reveal his regular-season plan
Preseason football. For some, it means absolutely nothing. For a keen observer, there are many tips to grasp.
Despite not playing in the last preseason game, the New York Jets‘ first-team offense had a good number of reps throughout the preseason to showcase its readiness as they prepare for the real thing. Forty-one reps, to be exact.
It was enough to get Jets fans excited for the upcoming regular season – one, at the end of the day, that will mainly be about the development of Zach Wilson and the offense around him.
Not only that, but the first-team offense’s total of six offensive series was also enough to get Mike LaFleur ready for his first year as a full-time play-caller.
Just like Wilson, LaFleur didn’t look like a first-timer at his job. He was every bit as impressive as the BYU product.
The former San Francisco 49ers assistant excelled at putting his players in favorable spots on critical downs and showed a clear ability to call plays that connect with one another. Jets fans haven’t seen either of those things in years.
Besides what the naked eye can see, there were many other indications that LaFleur is bringing a new offensive philosophy to 1 Jets Drive.
After an Adam Gase-led era in which the Jets were the most predictable team on Earth (this is the last time I mention the Jets’ former coach, I swear), New York fans were finally able to see a coach that planned the game in order to avoid third down.
Much of the difference between the thinking of these two offensive gurus can be easily identified by looking at their personnel selection and down-to-down approach. While the 2020 Jets built their offense around 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), LaFleur seems to be a more versatile coach, willing to go with heavier guys early and then switch it up to 11 personnel on third down.
What changes the entire picture is that lining up in heavier looks is not a limitation to LaFleur. He can still dial it up out of those packages, calling play-action passes and quick throws, while also running multiple run-block schemes so the front-seven remains honest on early downs.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the three personnel packages the Jets used this preseason.
11 Personnel (34% – 14/41)
- Total Plays: 14
- Run Plays: 4
- Non-Play Action Pass Plays: 8
- Play Action Pass Plays (PAP): 2
- First down (used on 2 of 18 first downs): 2 runs, 0 passes
- Second down (used on 5 of 14 second downs): 2 runs, 3 passes (2 PAP)
- Third down (used on 7 of 8 third downs): 0 runs, 7 passes (0 PAP)
The Jets ran 11 personnel 72% of the time during the 2020 regular season, ranking fifth in the NFL. LaFleur dropped that number all the way down to 34% in the 2021 preseason. That number would have ranked second-lowest in the NFL last season.
Will the difference indeed be that large when the real action starts?
Quick answer: no.
As the numbers show, the Jets heavily relied upon 11 personnel on third down. They went with 11 personnel on seven of their eight third-down plays and called a pass on all seven of those plays.
During the season, the Jets will face third down much more often since they will probably not maintain the elite-level success they had moving the ball over their limited amount of time in the preseason. So, the percentage will likely increase based on that alone.
In addition, it’s worth noting that New York played without rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore in the preseason, who will definitely be a factor come Week 1. Moore’s presence should also provide a bump to 11 personnel usage.
Regardless, the Jets still won’t come close to the 72% mark reached by the 2020 squad. Expect a steep decline in three-receiver looks compared to last year’s team.
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21 Personnel (39%- 16/41)
- Total Plays: 16
- Run Plays: 12
- Non-Play Action Pass Plays: 3
- Play Action Pass Plays (PAP): 1
- First down (used on 10 of 18 first downs): 8 runs, 2 passes (1 screen, 1 PAP)
- Second down (used on 4 of 14 second downs): 2 runs, 2 passes (1 screen)
- Third down (used on 1 of 8 third downs): 1 run, 0 passes
- Fourth down (used on 1 of 1 fourth downs): 1 run, 0 passes
If you are someone that dislikes Trevon Wesco, get ready for a little irritation. (Or, just actually pay attention to the guy delivering great blocks to pump up the Jets running game.)
The Jets will rely heavily on having a fullback on the field to get their valuable running yards on early downs. This means that they are going to run plenty of 21 personnel (two backfield players, which in the Jets’ case will be a FB and a RB, along with 1 TE and 2 WR).
The 21 personnel package will be a staple on early downs. In the preseason, 14 of the Jets’ 16 plays with the package came on first or second down. On first down, the Jets used 21 personnel 56% of the time.
After running 21 personnel on only 1% of the offensive snaps in 2020, the Jets are set to make the fullback a core part of their offense once more.
Wesco will be ultra-important on lead blocks, working as an insert on various runs such as inside zone, outside zone and wide zone come to mind immediately.
Besides that, after the unexpected release of Chris Herndon, expect more of Wesco at tight end, too, especially in play calls that allow him to motion from the backfield to the line of scrimmage.
The Jets used 21 personnel on 16 plays, 12 being pure runs. The other four, despite being considered passes, had the run as a key element to them. Breaking down the four passes, there was:
- A smoke screen alert to Corey Davis where the OL had a run block movement
2. A screen to Jeff Smith which functions as nothing more than an extended handoff (Wesco was in the slot on the play)
3. A check at the line from Wilson, who completed a flair to Tevin Coleman. So, it can’t be known if the original play call was a run
4. A play-action pass, where the run influence is obvious
Even though the Jets might not run 21 personnel 39% of the time in the regular season (last year’s leader was New England with 37%, followed by San Francisco with 33%), it’s safe to say that it will be the first or second-most used personnel by this year’s offense. A good estimate would probably have them near the 49ers’ 33% mark.
12 Personnel (27% – 11/41)
- Total Plays: 11
- Run Plays: 5
- Non-Play Action Pass Plays: 3
- Play Action Pass Plays (PAP): 3
- First down (used on 6 of 18 first downs): 1 run, 5 passes (3 PAP)
- Second down (used on 5 of 14 second downs): 4 runs, 1 pass
At last, there’s 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). One could say that it was the personnel package used in the most balanced way by LaFleur, who had an almost even split of run and pass attempts out of it (5 runs, 6 passes).
LaFleur used 12 personnel on 27% of the first-team offense’s plays. That would have ranked ninth-highest in the NFL last season.
Without Herndon, I expect to see more of Wesco in these packages, lining up in his original position as a move TE. Ryan Griffin, when healthy, will also be eased into the lineup.
The 21 package personnel is an option for the Jets to keep things honest when in the shotgun. Wilson’s highlight-reel connection with Corey Davis down the right sideline came on a play-action call out of 12 personnel, with Tyler Kroft working as the split blocker.
It seems likely that 12 personnel will be the third-most-used package this season by the Jets. That fact becomes even stronger after the Herndon trade.
The strength of this roster is not at the tight end spot. LaFleur’s scheme can function extremely well by depending on 21 personnel as its go-to heavy look.
Still, the 12 personnel look is a nice way to get both Elijah Moore and Corey Davis lined up on the same side of the field against a base defensive look.
With the roster seemingly set, it’s now up to LaFleur to pick the right actors to take center stage and support Zach Wilson’s quest to turn the Jets offense into a national hit.