Mike LaFleur and the New York Jets are poised to fix a fatal flaw in their 2021 offense
New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur came into Florham Park looking to build an offense that relies heavily on the run game, just like the one he contributed heavily to as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
However, due to the team’s ineptitude on both sides of the ball, the Jets rarely got opportunities to establish their run game and frequently had to go into pass-first mode after falling into enormous holes on the scoreboard.
The Jets finished the 2021 season ranked eighth in pass-attempts-plus-sacks with 38.6 per game. They placed 32nd in rushing attempts with just 22.4 per game.
Ranking dead-last in rushing attempts is just not going to cut it in this offense.
It was a shame that the Jets couldn’t run the ball more often as they were actually fairly efficient when they did. New York ranked a respectable 13th with 4.4 yards per rush attempt. The Jets also placed 14th in the percentage of their rush attempts that resulted in a touchdown (3.7% with 14 TDs on 380 carries) and 11th in estimated points added per rush attempt (+0.041 EPA/rush).
Despite their rushing success, New York finished with the third-highest pass-play percentage of any team in the NFL (63.3%), trailing only Pittsburgh (63.4%) and Tampa Bay (66.5%).
The severe lack of rushing attempts was one of the most fatal flaws for the New York offense in 2021. The Jets cannot be passing the ball at such a high frequency if they want to run LaFleur’s offense to perfection.
Now, I’m not sure the perfect version of this Jets offense features them being an extremely run-heavy team. With a talented quarterback like Zach Wilson who offers far more upside than the limited Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, the Jets should not restrict the potential of their passing game by over-committing to the run.
In their peak form, I think the Jets will probably try to be a very balanced pass-run team, aiming to rank around league-average in their pass-run split.
For reference, in 2021, the league-average split between pass plays (pass attempts-plus-sacks) and rushing attempts was 57.9%/42.1%.
It makes sense to expect the Jets to end up somewhere around that ratio in 2022.
New York made substantial boosts to its running game. Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson is an excellent run-blocker who fits like a glove as he comes over from the San Francisco scheme. Tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin will greatly boost the team’s blocking at the tight end position. Finally, rookie running back Breece Hall will join forces with Michael Carter to create a formidable duo in the backfield.
With more talent also added to the defense, the Jets should be able to keep games closer than they did last year, giving them the opportunity to run the football deep into games.
The average NFL team accumulated 26.6 rushing attempts per game in 2021. I believe we’ll see the Jets finish somewhere in that neighborhood. About 27 rushes per game is what I’d expect.
On the flip side, their total of passing plays should see a slight decrease. If the Jets run the ball 27 times per game while holding true to the league-average 57.9%/42.1% pass-run split I mentioned earlier, then they would average 37.1 pass-attempts-plus-sacks per game.
This would give the Jets 64.1 total plays per game, a sizable improvement over their 28th-ranked average of 60.9 plays per game. An average of 64.1 plays per game would have ranked 12th-best in the NFL last year.
It’s time to establish the run
If LaFleur’s offense is going to take the massive jump that many expect it to, then LaFleur must do a better job of establishing the run. But accomplishing that goal is not all on LaFleur’s shoulders – everybody needs to pitch in so LaFleur can have the chance to do so.
Loading up on rushing attempts is a team-wide effort. The defense needs to be better. The passing game needs to be better. And of course, the run game itself needs to be even better.
Fortunately, New York has the pieces in place to get all of those things done. LaFleur will likely have the opportunity to execute his idealistic offensive vision.
Let’s see if LaFleur can concoct the harmonious pass-run balance that the Jets have been striving to achieve for years.