The New York Jets’ two-back set is a problem for opposing defenses
When the New York Jets traded up in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft to select Breece Hall, they formed a two-headed monster in the backfield. New York had already struck gold with Michael Carter in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. Hall’s arrival gave the Jets a second running back they could depend upon.
Six games into the 2022 season, the Jets’ decision to pair Hall with Carter is paying dividends. Hall and Carter have combined for 914 yards from scrimmage: 609 from Hall and 305 from Carter. That’s an average of 152.3 yards per game from the duo.
While Hall has established himself as the team’s clear No. 1 back in recent weeks (playing 67% of the snaps over the last three games), Carter continues to play over 40% of the snaps in each game, remaining involved in the offense as the No. 2 back. The playmaking opportunities are split 68%-32% in favor of Hall over the last three games: Hall is averaging 21.7 carries-plus-targets per game while Carter is averaging 10.3.
The presence of Carter allows the Jets to avoid over-working Hall. They can give him a few plays off and replace him with a player who is still highly productive. It’s a much smaller drop-off than most teams have from their No. 1 back to their No. 2 back – which is a testament to Carter’s talent considering how dominant Hall has been (he’s 6th among RBs in scrimmage yards this season).
It’s nice that the Jets can rotate these guys to keep them fresh. However, perhaps the best aspect of this tandem is what the Jets have been able to accomplish when both players are on the field at the same time.
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is making an effort to get Carter and Hall on the field together. The Jets have employed a 21-personnel package (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR) on 27 plays this season, an average of 4.5 plays per game. They have used 21 personnel on 6.8% of their offensive plays, which ranks as the 13th-highest usage rate in the NFL.
The 21 personnel package is a matter of preference in today’s NFL. Some teams feature it as a fixture in their offense, such as the Ravens (33.0%), Dolphins (32.7%), and 49ers (27.0%). Many teams ignore it, though, as 11 of the league’s 32 teams have used it on fewer than 10 total plays while five teams have not even used it once.
Here’s what makes the Jets different than some of the heavy-21 personnel teams: Their 21 personnel package actually includes two running backs. Most of the teams that rank highly in 21 personnel are up there because they frequently utilize a fullback.
Fullbacks count as running backs when identifying the personnel package, so fullback-utilizing teams like Baltimore, Miami, and San Francisco top the charts when it comes to 21 personnel usage. But there aren’t many teams that put their two best running backs on the field together like the Jets do – and it is leading to fantastic results in New York.
The Jets don’t use 21 personnel all that often, but when they do, good things tend to happen. The 21 personnel package has been New York’s most effective grouping this season. Here is a breakdown of the top three personnel packages the Jets have used this year and their results when using them:
- 11 personnel (1 RB/1 TE/3 WR): 67% usage rate, 5.18 yds/play, 44% success rate*
- 12 personnel (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR): 20% usage rate, 5.22 yds/play, 46% success rate
- 21 personnel (2 RB/1 TE/2 WR): 7% usage rate, 8.89 yds/play, 52% success rate
*A successful play is defined as: At least 40% of the yards-to-go on first down, at least 50% of the yards-to-go on second down, or a conversion on third/fourth down.
The Jets are getting essentially the same modest results between their two most common packages: 11 personnel and 12 personnel. In the rare instances they pull out 21 personnel, they turn into a juggernaut, averaging nearly nine yards per play and achieving a successful result over half of the time. LaFleur is doing an excellent job of picking the right situations to pull out this secret weapon.
LaFleur’s creativity with 21 personnel is absolutely dazzling. He has generated big plays with this package in so many different unique ways.
Let’s take a look at the film.
Mike LaFleur’s 21 personnel wizardry
The Jets like to put the QB in the shotgun with Hall and Carter on either side of him, as they do here with Joe Flacco. On this play, Hall motions out of the backfield pre-snap. Post-snap, Flacco fakes the handoff to Carter. The strong safety bites hard on the play fake, and that opens up a throwing lane for Flacco to hit Corey Davis.
The Jets line up Carter out wide on the right side. Hall is in the backfield, one yard behind Flacco to his right. LaFleur fakes jet motion with Carter and then throws a swing pass to Hall in the direction Carter originated. It’s fantastic scheming. Carter’s motion clears out the right side, isolating Hall with a favorable one-on-one matchup.
On the first play above, the Jets motioned Hall out of the backfield, but didn’t throw it to him, instead going for the play fake. This time, the Jets build off that as they motion Carter out of the backfield and they do feed the ball to the motion man. They present him with a favorable situation as the Jets put him in a 2-on-2 situation with plenty of space.
Carter is in the backfield with Hall out wide. Hall comes in motion pre-snap. On an earlier play against Baltimore, we saw the Jets fake the jet motion to a running back, but this time, they show the defense that they are willing to actually hand the ball off in this situation. Hall takes the jet motion handoff and gets a good pickup. This will set up more plays going forward.
Both backs are in the shotgun once more. Hall motions out into the flat pre-snap. Post-snap, watch how the defensive backs on Hall’s side react. The slot corner and the strong safety both cheat up a few steps in reaction to Hall, as they remember seeing on film that the Jets have thrown this pass before. Their reaction opens up just enough space for Corey Davis to get behind them, and Flacco fits in a great pass.
The Pittsburgh game added a shockingly effective new wrinkle: Michael Carter as a lead blocker. The Jets get Hall going to the outside on this play with Carter leading the way, and the 5′ 7⅞” back manages to throw a stellar block. Check out Davis, too. His run-blocking this season has been nothing short of stupendous.
How about another? Hall takes another outside handoff behind Carter’s lead block for a sizable chunk of yardage.
The Jets’ 79-yard bomb to Hall worked directly off of what the Jets established with their two-back set against Pittsburgh. In that game, the Jets would keep their two backs in the shotgun with no pre-snap motion, handing the ball off to one of them while having the other lead. This play looks similar (albeit not identical, as C.J. Uzomah blocks back-side rather than front-side), and the Dolphins bite hard on the run. This allows Hall to break wide-open for the enormous reception.
Now LaFleur gets fancy, going with an empty backfield that features Hall in the left slot and Carter in a sort of H-back alignment on the right side. Zach Wilson is able to hit Carter in the flat for a nice gain on second down.
Carter out wide with Hall in the backfield. The Jets go back to the jet motion fake that they established earlier in the season. Carter’s motion gets the middle linebacker to slide just far enough to his right for Duane Brown to climb up and block him, allowing Hall to sprint by for the big gain.
Hall plus Carter equals success for the New York Jets
Should the Jets utilize their 21 personnel package even more? I certainly think so. I’m not saying it should be their base package or anything close to it – keeping the package to a limited usage rate aids its effectiveness – but a usage rate of 7% seems low for a package that has yielded such incredibly good results. Bumping that up a few notches couldn’t hurt.
LaFleur seems to be in his element when using 21 personnel. He’s shown a tremendous knack for setting things up in one game and building off them in the next. He is also extremely creative with the package, trying numerous different alignments and strategies.
To boot, the package fits LaFleur’s core philosophies. It emphasizes creating favorable angles in the run game, especially off of pre-snap motion. Then, the package creates good opportunities to work the pass game off the run game, as it gives the quarterback quick-and-easy reads to capitalize when the defense bites on the run.
This package also emphasizes the skill-sets of the Jets’ weapons. Hall and Carter are both two-way threats who have proven they can do damage in either phase. When they are on the field together, it forces the defense to be prepared for a wide array of possibilities. Additionally, the Jets almost always have Corey Davis on the field when they use 21 personnel, which is a great way to maximize his run-blocking and his ability to make tough catches over the middle.
LaFleur showed signs of increasing his 21 personnel usage in the Jets’ most recent game against the Packers. New York utilized 21 personnel on a season-high 8 plays, representing 15% of the offensive plays (also a season-high). The package produced wonderful results as the Jets averaged 8.25 yards per play with a 63% success rate.
I’d like to see the Jets stick with those numbers going forward. Using 21 personnel about 15% of the time seems like a healthy spot to be. It allows the Jets to rely more heavily on their best package without going overboard. Using it too much could take away the element of unpredictability that makes it so special, but using it too little feels like a missed opportunity.
Regardless of how much they decide to use it, the bottom line is that the 21 personnel package has been working wonders for the Jets’ offense. New York is reaping the benefits of having two excellent running backs.