After a promising game in Cleveland, Mike LaFleur’s New York Jets offense crashed down to earth in Week 3
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.
With the New York Jets, it has been rhyming a lot over the past ten years.
And it’s not a pleasant rhythm.
After beating the Cleveland Browns in a miraculous fashion in Week 2, fans expected that this revamped, young, and talented Jets team would come out firing against the desperate Cincinnati Bengals at home.
That wasn’t the case, as the Jets lost another one by double-digit points.
The focus will be on the offense and what went wrong to cause a touchdown-less performance at home.
Last week, after a good performance against Cleveland, I wrote that Mike LaFleur’s offense was finally taking shape. I said that for two reasons:
First, despite the injuries, the Jets’ offensive line was creating push in the ground game. That’s the first step toward success for this offense (this remains true, despite the current Jets run/pass split) and it was a result of very good play calling and execution from the players.
Secondly, New York mastered the Browns’ secondary with their hi-lo concepts. Joe Flacco played with proper timing, the routes were crisp, and the passing game was on point.
It seemed, for once, that this offense was about to take off, shaping into the quarterback-friendly scheme that everyone talked about after the Jets hired Robert Saleh and his staff.
Against the Bengals, it all came down to earth again.
It’s harder to call plays when playing catch-up football. That seems to be the case with LaFleur every game, as the Jets simply can’t start fast.
Still, there’s no way this team is going to function with its current run/pass split. The Jets lead the NFL with 52 pass attempts per game while ranking 30th with 19 rush attempts per game.
I understand: Max Mitchell was originally a backup and George Fant is playing hurt, but neglecting the ground game makes life harder on them as well – especially if the plan is to call the amount of longer developing plays that the Jets did against the Bengals.
When you don’t run (or don’t present any threat of it), pass rushers don’t have to guess. They just go. And that was the case with Trey Hendrickson from the beginning of the third quarter to the end of the game. It’s almost like LaFleur only runs the ball because he’s forced to.
I understand he’s got a passing game background (he was the passing game coordinator in San Francisco), but he cannot stop showing a rushing threat to the defense from time to time during the game. Especially if he continues to call a lot of longer developing routes.
The Jets’ offense turned around last year when LaFleur started to use Braxton Berrios as a jet guy more often. New York needs to go back to it, especially on early downs (even if it means leaving one of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, or Garrett Wilson on the bench for a play or two).
With Zach Wilson returning, a good ground game will be even more crucial.
Besides that, there’s room for more creativity outside of the scheme. The Jets would be wise to manufacture touches for Elijah Moore, for example. Also, using more isolated (lone receiver) formations to manufacture 1-on-1s for Garrett Wilson would be wise, as would getting Corey Davis inside as a blocker. And the list could go on forever.
What I view as the main issue with the Jets’ play calling right now is this:
LaFleur has a lot of scheme stubbornness, hence why he doesn’t use players specifically, but instead plays them into specific roles. Still, at the same time, his scheme stubbornness only stands a chance if the team runs the ball.
That’s the reason his receivers run a lot of crossing routes and he uses condensed splits.
There’s no marriage between what they want to do and what they are actually doing, which makes the unit look out of sync.
Besides LaFleur, Joe Flacco also came down to earth. As I broke down in preseason, Joe Flacco is still the same player he’s always been, with even less mobility.
And one flaw Flacco’s always had throughout his career is his pocket awareness.
The former Super Bowl MVP has no pocket awareness, which is amplified by poor tackle play. He never feels outside pressure, and when it gets home constantly, he panics in front of any slight resemblance of pressure.
That happened a few times, as the film shows below.
Flacco, in my opinion, is still a better decision-maker than Wilson (from what has been seen thus far, not accounting for potential progress), but Zach’s mobility and decision-making will already be a plus for this offense.
What can be done differently
The offensive line had pass protection woes, but, again, they had no chance in a game where the Jets ran the ball 20 times and Joe Flacco attempted 52 passes.
If Mike LaFleur wants to get things back on track, he must present a rushing threat to the opposing team early in games.
He doesn’t need to establish the run, especially considering today’s pass-happy rules, but considering:
(i) This injured offensive line, (ii) the scheme he runs, and (iii) and the possible return of Zach Wilson, the Jets will need to have something on the ground to keep the opposing team’s pass rush honest and to open up some easy intermediate passing lanes.
If they don’t, it won’t matter that Zach Wilson moves better than Flacco.
Pressure will get home. And the franchise’s most valuable asset will get hit constantly.
In the clip below, I examine a few plays that help show what went wrong with the Jets offense against Cincinnati.