It’s time for the New York Jets to start positioning themselves for success — on both sides of the football
The New York Jets struggled in many areas during their 4-13 campaign in 2021, but one of their most overlooked weaknesses was their complete ineptitude in the field-position game.
New York was consistently obliterated in the battle for field position. Both the offense and defense were frequently placed in unfavorable positions.
Offensively, the Jets’ average starting point was their own 27.5-yard line, ranking sixth-worst in the NFL. Defensively, the Jets’ average starting point was the opponent’s 31.7-yard line, ranking second-worst in the NFL.
The net difference between the Jets’ offensive and defensive field position averages was a ghastly minus-4.2 yards. That ranked third-worst in the league, beating out only the New York Giants (-4.5) and the Carolina Panthers (-5.2).
Winning football games is difficult when your offense consistently has to march a longer distance to score touchdowns than the opponent’s offense. It’s almost as if your team is playing on a differently-sized field than the opponent.
Robert Saleh’s squad needs to play better complementary football in 2022 if it wants to climb out of the NFL gutter. All three phases must work together to ensure the Jets’ offense and defense are presented with favorable opportunities.
Here are a few ways the Jets can improve their field-position performance in 2022.
1. Punt return coverage
The Jets were actually quite good in most areas of special teams last year. They ranked first in yards per kickoff return (27.4), second in yards per punt return (12.1), and second in fewest yards allowed per kickoff return (17.8). Braxton Berrios was a star in both phases of the return game while the kickoff coverage team did a phenomenal job.
New York still has plenty of room to improve in the punting game, though. The Jets allowed 10.6 yards per punt return, which ranked fifth-worst in the league.
Despite the coverage unit’s shaky ranking, second-year punter Braden Mann shook off an opening-week injury to have an improved sophomore season. He finished the season ranked 14th out of 32 qualified punters with an average of 41.6 net yards per punt.
Still, the former Ray Guy Award winner has the talent to be even better than that.
One area where Mann can improve is forcing fair catches. Mann forced only six fair catches on 41 punts in 2021. That’s a 14.6% rate, well below the 2021 NFL average of 26.4%. Creating more fair catches will take away chances for opposing punt returners to do damage.
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer has been getting great results out of his punt return, kickoff return, and kickoff coverage units for quite a while now. Two conquests remain: Obviously, the kicker position is the most glaring one, but the punting unit is also seeking to take a leap.
2. More takeaways defensively
Special teams is the first thing that comes to mind for many people when they hear the term “field position”, but field position is just as much about offense and defense as it is about special teams.
Takeaways are extremely important in creating high-quality offensive field position. Few things are more energizing for an offense than starting a drive in opponent territory after a takeaway by the defense.
The Jets had the second-fewest takeaways in the NFL last season with only 14. In turn, the offense was rarely granted opportunities to begin drives in opposing territory. New York tied for third-worst with only 13 offensive drives that began on the opponent’s side of the field.
Armed with more talent in their pass-rush and secondary than they have had in a long time, the Jets are hoping that their improved defensive lineup can create some short fields for the offense.
3. Fewer turnovers offensively
The flip side of the coin is equally important. Turnovers by the offense can put the defense in some unfair situations.
New York had the fifth-most turnovers in the NFL last season with 27. Largely because of this, the Jets’ defense started a whopping 29 drives on its own side of the field, ranking as the second-most in the NFL behind only the Panthers.
The Jets had 22 of their 27 turnovers within their first nine games (2.4 per game). Over their final eight games, the Jets only had five turnovers (0.6 per game). This was thanks to Zach Wilson, who took great care of the football after returning from injury (3 turnovers in 7 games).
If Wilson can carry that progress into 2022, he will improve not only the production of the Jets offense, but the production of the Jets defense as well.
4. Plain and simple: Play better
There are some specific ways the Jets can improve their field-position margin, but, ultimately, winning the field position battle just comes down to playing good football. It’s that simple.
If your offense keeps going three-and-out, the other team is going to keep getting the ball in prime positions.
If your defense keeps giving up long drives, you are going to keep allowing one of two things: kickoffs (which usually do not surpass the 25-yard line) or punts in “pin” territory (landing inside the 20-yard line).
But if your team is the one in control of the game, then, naturally, you are going to dominate field position. Every yard gained by one offense is a yard of field position lost by the opposing offense. The field position battle is constantly playing out – it’s not just determined by special teams and turnovers.
The Jets ranked 26th in total offense and 32nd in total defense last season. With rankings like that, it’s no wonder that they ranked third-worst in net field position despite performing at an elite level in three facets of special teams.
Simply put, the Jets’ best bet at improving their field position is… playing better on offense and defense. Gain more yards, disallow more yards, and the good field position will come. This isn’t a groundbreaking formula; it’s just the harsh truth.
With that being said, the Jets can still focus squarely on their punting unit, takeaway production, and turnover minimization as the top three specific goals that would help them improve their net field position in 2022.