Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Offense, Rank, Stats, 2021
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

A drive-by-drive analysis of the New York Jets’ offensive performance in 2021

It’s no secret that the New York Jets offense has left a lot to be desired for years, and 2021 was no different. Despite the energizing additions of Zach Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Michael Carter, the unit mustered just 306.4 yards per game (26th) and 18.2 points per game (28th). While there were plenty of confounding variables to blame, it’s evident that improvement is necessary.

With the 2022 season on the horizon, I decided to investigate how the 2021 unit performed and improved throughout the year. My analysis was focused on three indicators of offensive success:

  • Time of Possession
  • Plays Run
  • First Downs

Additionally, I decided to compile performance based on the in-game time. Could they find success on opening drives? Were they able to move the ball in crunch time? Did they adjust successfully at halftime? My analysis aims to answer these essential questions, so let’s dive into the numbers.

How did the Jets perform on opening and final drives?

The opening drive is the tone-setter for the game as an offense. Finding success with the scripted game plan establishes your presence early on and highlights what will be successful throughout the game. Additionally, with a rookie quarterback, you want to settle in and build some confidence right away to build scoring momentum on every drive.

In reality, the Jets were subpar when it came to finding early success. The offense averaged 7.26 plays per drive overall, but only 5.18 plays per drive on opening drives. Five plays is hardly a fresh set of downs, keeping the young players from building any momentum or getting comfortable in the playbook.

The offense was far more successful when shifting emphasis to the performance on final drives. On the last go-around, they averaged 8.12 plays, significantly greater than their opening drive or even average drive performance in terms of plays run.

The figures below illustrate the number of plays on opening and closing drives each week for the Jets’ offense. The overlayed trendline represents the average throughout the season.

It’s important to consider Week 16, a massive outlier in the final-drive data. The team finished in victory formation against the Jaguars, dragging the average play count down with a 1-play drive. Additionally, the Jets were regularly playing from behind in games, allowing for more “garbage time” plays where the game is effectively decided and the defense isn’t fully engaged.

Another important trend to notice is the post-bye adjustments by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The difference is especially visible on opening drives. The Jets’ offense averaged just 3.6 plays before the bye, but after some adjustments, they averaged 5.83 plays for the rest of the season. While the number is still lower than it should be, LaFleur was able to get more out of his personnel and improve on slow starts as the season went on. Ideally, the team can be hot right out of the gate in 2022.

Was the offense able to effectively adjust at halftime?

With a team as young and inexperienced from top to bottom as Gang Green in 2021, struggles were inevitable. A rookie quarterback, a rookie head coach, and a rookie offensive coordinator were a recipe for growing pains. It is important to investigate how these pains were alleviated as the new pieces settled into their coaching and playing roles throughout the season.

Below is a group of plots illustrating the first downs achieved by half for the 2021 Jets offense each week. Within each week, each block represents a specific drive with a corresponding number of first downs.

One trend continues to stand out at first glance, which is the success of LaFleur’s post-bye adjustments to combat slow starts. The team went from averaging 5.4 first downs in the first half pre-bye to averaging 9.2 first downs in the first half post-bye, a 70% increase.

The reason I also keep focusing on data from earlier in the game is that late-game situations have many other confounding variables. Garbage time, playing from behind, clock-chewing, and other issues can lead to data that isn’t as reliable. The early-game offense is when teams are close in score and the game is most competitive, making for data truer to the actual performance on the field.

Up to this point, the dominant stretch of offense between Weeks 8 and 13 also stands out. LaFleur seemed to settle in nicely after moving up to the booth to call plays. Rookies Michael Carter and Elijah Moore began to hit their stride before both suffered late-season injuries, and the offense seemed to gel nicely despite a revolving door at quarterback.

This stretch was a great exhibition of what this offense could do in future years if healthy, and if all their talented young players fully tap into their potential.

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Were the Jets able to keep the ball away from opposing offenses and give their defense rest?

The third and final statistic of this analysis is the time of possession. Running lots of plays is one way of measuring offensive success, but keeping possession of the ball goes farther than just the offense.

By creating long, sustained drives, you are able to keep the ball out away from the opponent (fewer scoring opportunities) and give your defense more time to rest. When you factor in high-scoring opposing offenses or excruciating weather, reducing the wear and tear on your defense can go a long way by sustaining offensive possessions.

The following figures display the Jets’ offensive time of possession (in seconds) for each week of the 2021 season, separated by quarter. Each segment within a column represents a specific drive.

The Jets were incredibly poor at sustaining drives on offense last year. The team averaged just 161 seconds of possession per drive, less than 3 minutes of game clock. For reference, the league average was 215 seconds.

They failed even to surpass the 200-second average mark in any quarter of play.

When looking at each quarter individually, there are some even worse looks. Their highest mark was in the fourth quarter, averaging 185 seconds per drive (14% below the NFL average). Their worst mark was in the third quarter, averaging just 137 seconds per drive (36% below the NFL average).

You would expect the team to be playing their best football in the final quarter. Despite having three of them to figure out the opponent, the Jets were unable to give their defense any rest to make clutch stops. This was likely part of the reason they were consistently losing any games that were close, like Tom Brady’s comeback touchdown drive to win in Week 17.

Overall, the Jets did show improvement throughout the year in the first quarter. They were able to increase the time of possession and sustain drives for longer from one week to the next. As Wilson continued to develop and make better decisions, the offense as a whole was able to construct longer drives.

Ultimately, these findings should not be surprising. 2021 was a year with plenty of new pieces in the mix, and it was evident that it would take time for the team to gel and make improvements. They did, but not to the magnitude that many expected.

The organization has made leaps and bounds throughout the offseason to change things. The offense welcomed several new playmakers, while the defense saw the secondary overhauled and pass-rush bolstered. All the new players will play a role in both keeping the offense on the field and getting the defense off the field.

If the Jets wish to see Wilson turn into the franchise quarterback they so desperately need, that will take scoring plenty of points, keeping the offense on the field, and keeping opponents from pulling away early. It will truly be a communal effort by the green and white to see their vision materialize.

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Oliver Cochrane is a Jets X-Factor news and social media contributor. Email: olivercochrane[at]icloud.com

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hh11212
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hh11212

Good info, I know you are only looking at offense. But I am sure you will likely do something on the defensive side of the ball. Curious if the poor run defense and offense numbers contributed to the offense struggles. Because sitting on the sideline for long stretches will certainly affect offense more negatively than Defense.