Mike LaFleur, NY Jets, OC, Offensive Coordinator
Mike LaFleur, New York Jets, Getty Images

Mike LaFleur must atone for a head-scratching decision in the New York Jets’ opener

While there are a few criticisms that can be directed at New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur for his role in the team’s bad season-opening offensive performance, I thought LaFleur did a decent job overall. Most of the team’s struggles had to do with poor execution by the players.

With better pass-blocking, better quarterback play, and no fumbles or drops, the offense would have produced respectable results. LaFleur schemed up plenty of opportunities to make plays. The run game was solid and receivers were frequently open in the passing game. He can’t make Joe Flacco throw more accurately or stop guys from dropping passes and fumbling.

With all of that being said, LaFleur did make one baffling decision that undoubtedly hurt the Jets offense – and he must avoid doing the same thing in the future.

We’re talking about LaFleur’s mismanagement of wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft.

LaFleur gave Wilson only 6 snaps in the first half. Yes, six. That’s out of 38 offensive snaps, meaning Wilson only took the field for 16% of the Jets’ offensive plays prior to halftime.

That number is inexcusable enough on its own, but it becomes even more outrageous when you consider who was playing over Wilson.

As a part of LaFleur’s effort to feature 13 personnel packages (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR), third-string tight end Lawrence Cager was a starter and ended up playing 10 snaps in the first half.

The Cager experiment went predictably poorly. Cager’s first-half highlights included a holding penalty and a botched route that led to an interception.

What is going on here? Why is a third-string tight end who barely made your roster playing more first-half snaps than a top-10 wide receiver who was your team’s splashiest skill-position pickup this offseason?

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To LaFleur’s credit, he righted his wrongs in the second half. Wilson played 35 of the Jets’ 46 offensive snaps in the second half (76%). Cager was put in the doghouse as he did not play a single offensive snap in the second half.

When on the field, Wilson showed there is no reason he should have been buried. Wilson caught 4 of 8 targets for 52 yards and two first downs. He also forced three missed tackles, tying Elijah Moore and two other players (Parris Campbell and Jarvis Landry) for the most among NFL WRs in Week 1.

Those numbers actually undersell Wilson’s performance. His route-running jumped off the tape and he should have amassed more production than he ended up with.

Specifically, there were three plays in which Wilson opened himself up for an easy touchdown pass, but unfortunately, he did not get a chance to make a play on any of those reps.

LaFleur’s management of Wilson in the first half of last week’s game is impossible to defend. Wilson needs to be a fixture in this offense. The Jets did not draft Wilson with the 10th overall pick to play Lawrence Cager over him.

Not only did the Jets spend the 10th pick on Wilson, but they elected to keep that pick instead of using it in a trade for a star wide receiver like Deebo Samuel, Tyreek Hill, or A.J. Brown. The wide receiver position was a prime need for the Jets entering the offseason, and Wilson ended up being the Jets’ only notable addition there.

Long story short: The Jets have invested a lot in Wilson. He should be playing, and he should be playing a lot.

It would be another story if Wilson was coming along slowly and did not look like he deserved playing time at this early stage of his career. But that’s not the case. Wilson was sharp in the preseason and then enjoyed a promising debut in which he provided the offense with juice when it was sputtering.

LaFleur tried to explain why Wilson didn’t play more, but I’m not buying the explanation.

“We didn’t get the rotation of personnel groups that we initially wanted. For Garrett, we can see how dynamic he is in the pass game … He’s not going to be just at one position. He’s gotta be at our F position, he’s gotta be at our Z, and just him being to operate every single play, not just the pass plays where he knows he’s getting the ball, but also when we’re running the ball, when he’s running the fake jet sweeps and stuff like that, that operation needs to get to 100%, and he knows that.”

I understand the importance of nailing the nuanced aspects the wide receiver position, but it feels incredibly finicky to bury one of your most talented weapons because of something as minute as how effectively he can fake a jet sweep – especially when your team barely ran those in this game, anyway. Plus, you re-signed Braxton Berrios to do that.

Stop overthinking it and play your best players. It’s that simple. If they can’t play because they are not perfectly mastering the minutiae of your scheme, then the problem is your scheme, not them.

LaFleur has shown a lot of promise in his short time as the Jets’ offensive coordinator. I think he can lead this offense to great heights and use it as a springboard to eventually become a head coach.

But there are times where he can be too scheme-stubborn. Sunday was a good example.

Let Garrett cook.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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6 months ago

The Princess Bride

6 months ago

According to Randy Lange, “Wilson unofficially became the Jets’ first rookie since 1996, their first rookie in a home game, and only the fourth different rookie overall to convert a fourth-and-12 or longer in franchise history.” We won on this pick. G. Wilson is going to be a super star. I see Lynn Swan greatness. When Zach gets back, I am hoping that he makes the 2nd year leap and the line gels. With time to separate, our WR’s Moore, Davis and Wilson; our TE’s Conklin and Uzomah and our receiving RB’s will actually score points. I know that it is hard to believe, but we are just average line play away from winning games.

6 months ago

Great article, puts it right where it is. Feed this young man, early and often. Play Mims or trade him, Green BAY? It’s too early to hit the panic button, but changes need to be made NOW! Is Flacco on a short leash? Just extend THIS season, for this young team and its long-suffering fans!

6 months ago

The 13 group was a botched opportunity at something that could have worked. That’s something to be used as a wrinkle not a base. It would be different if Wilson wasn’t performing. I’m also tired of the “he needs to know all the positions” excuse. You know what, if he’s good at one then play him at that one! Why sit him because he can’t yet do things you hope he will over time. That never sat well with me.

6 months ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

Looks like CJ is out so Cager will have his opportunities. Hopefully they can create a mismatch, when he’s split out vs. a CB he’s useless.