New York Jets needed more from one of their most reliable units vs. New England
But Wilson certainly wasn’t alone in New York’s offensive struggles.
After Wilson, the Jets’ second-biggest issue on offense was a dormant run game. If you exclude Wilson’s three scrambles for 26 yards, the Jets rushed for only 33 yards on 20 carries (1.7 per carry). The rushing attack was embarrassingly poor.
While the offensive line undoubtedly deserves a lot of blame for the rushing woes, I also think the running backs deserve some blame. I thought it was a disappointing performance from New York’s backfield.
Jets’ running backs could not cook up their own production
First off, let’s be clear: The Jets’ offensive linemen are not off the hook. They provided terrible run-blocking in this one.
New York’s running backs averaged 0.1 yards before contact per rush attempt, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked third-worst among running back units in Week 11. There were not many plays (if any) in which a gaping hole was created. The Jets felt the loss of right guard Nate Herbig, as Dan Feeney was a liability in his place.
But the Jets’ running backs did not do a good enough job of overcoming that poor blocking by creating their own yardage.
You want your running backs to exceed the quality of the blocking regardless of whether it is good or bad. If the blocking is good, they must maximize the blocking and then try to make the play even better by forcing a defender to miss. If the blocking is bad, they must find a way to generate a respectable result by grinding out yardage after contact.
In New England, the Jets’ running backs only gained 31 yards after contact on 19 carries, per PFF. That’s an average of 1.6 yards after contact per rush attempt, which ranked third-worst among RB units in Week 11.
Some might think that running backs should be excused for not gaining much after-contact yardage when they are given so little before-contact yardage, but that’s really not true. It is very doable for running backs to overcome bad blocking and have a good rushing performance by making their own plays.
Week 11 provided a couple of great examples. Baltimore’s running backs were only given 0.4 yards before contact per carry against Carolina, but they led the NFL with 4.1 yards after contact per carry. Cleveland’s backs averaged negative 0.7 yards before contact against Buffalo but still managed to average 3.4 yards after contact per carry.
Here are the specific before-contact and after-contact numbers for the Jets’ three running backs vs. New England:
- Michael Carter: 8 rushes for 19 yards (2.4 YPC) – 3 yards before contact (0.4), 16 yards after contact (2.0)
- James Robinson: 7 rushes for 10 yards (1.4 YPC) – 2 yards before contact (0.3), 8 yards after contact (1.2)
- Ty Johnson: 4 rushes for 4 yards (1.0 YPC) – negative-3 yards before contact (-0.8), 7 yards after contact (1.8)
- 2022 NFL averages for running backs: 1.4 yards before contact, 3.0 yards after contact
All three backs fell at least one full yard below the league average for yards after contact per carry (3.0). Based on that mark, the league-average RB unit would have gained 57 yards after contact on the Jets’ 19 carries. The Jets’ group only picked up 31, meaning their lack of after-contact production essentially cost the offense a total of 26 yards versus the league average. Who knows how much differently the game could have gone if those extra 26 yards after contact led to a handful of drive-extending short-yardage conversions?
Carter has had some excellent games this year, so he deserves some slack. Johnson doesn’t have the highest expectations since he is the Jets’ third back. But Robinson is a guy who the Jets need more from.
Over his three games as a Jet, Robinson is averaging only 1.8 yards after contact per carry. That is the worst mark in the NFL among 46 qualified running backs (min. 20 carries) since Week 8. This is the same player who averaged 3.2 yards after contact per carry over his first two seasons; ranking top-12 in the category out of 60-plus qualifiers in each season. Robinson is capable of much better than what he has given the Jets so far.
Rookie running back Breece Hall remains third-best in the NFL out of 39 qualified running backs (min. 80 carries) with 4.1 yards after contact this season. The Jets are missing their 21-year-old phenom.
NFL Next Gen Stats was similarly critical of the Jets’ running backs. According to the metric “Rushing Yards Over Expected”, which evaluates the expected number of rushing yards that a player should gain on a play based on the quality of the blocking (calculated using player tracking data), the Jets’ running backs averaged 1.6 fewer yards per carry than they were expected to. That ranked third-worst in Week 11.
When you combine bad blocking with a backfield that does not create anything on its own, you get a rushing attack that produces less than two yards a pop.
Both the offensive line and the running backs need to be better in Week 12 when the Jets face a dismal Bears defense that is ranked eighth-worst in yards allowed per rush attempt (4.7).
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