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A typically solid NY Jets unit deserves more blame for Patriots loss

Michael Carter, NY Jets, Stats, After Contact
Michael Carter, New York Jets, Getty Images

New York Jets needed more from one of their most reliable units vs. New England

Quarterback Zach Wilson is drawing most of the ire for the New York Jets‘ 10-3 loss in New England, and rightfully so; as shown by the film.

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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Michael Blackwood
1 year ago

As always, a superb analysis! All parties are exacerbating our difficulties with our run-game. Our RBs without Breece Hall seem to be looking for someone to take the Alpha-dog position. I’m anxious to know what is preventing us from bringing Bam up from the PS? Doing so would seemingly add some juice & elusiveness to our RB and Special Teams rooms devoid of talent.

Michael Blackwood
1 year ago

Our O-line coach deserves the brunt of the blame here as he’s doing a great job of piece-mealiing our fill-in lineman but seemingly not preparing them to be aggressive competent pieces of our weekly success. We are most likely the NFL’s only unit that has O-lineman & players that are getting worse because of a scheme we are insistent on running despite the talents of our personnel. It’s clear to me that our beloved Jets’ offensive success is directly proportional to the line enabling/ establishing the run-game to setup the pass-game.

1 year ago

I agree but…I have been saying this even when they had Hall that as much as I like LeFleur (and I know he’s taking some heat but you watch that film and there were many plays to be had last week) I don’t like his usage of the RB’s.

It seems to me he has plays designed for certain RB’s or RB groups and inserts them into his play sheet but he hasn’t allowed any single one of the RB’s to get into a “flow.” I see MC make a 7 yard run on 1st down then we don’t see him for the next 3 or 4 plays.

Robinson got going vs. the Bills and they rode him a bit but he doesn’t get consistent chances.

I think he treats them more as “specialists” designed for certain situations based on their skill set but I think they need less play-by-play rotating and more series-by-series usage.

The other thing is they are not all created equal. Based on what’s happened I think they need to lean on MC more. Treat him as a feature back. Then mix Robinson in there but they have to let MC get some flow, touches and hits. I don’t need to see Ty Johnson, nothing against him but he’s “just a guy” kind of like Jeff Smith. The coaches like these guys but really what do they do that some other guy can’t?

The thinking needs to change a bit with how these guys are being deployed. Just my opinion.

Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
1 year ago
Reply to  Jets71

I agree MC should be getting the Majority of the touches. He’s very shifty and can make players miss more than Robinson and Johnson. MC can be a better threat in the passing game as well. Robinson seems more of a downhill Runner. Straight forward for a yard or two. Preferably out of single back with QB under center. He needs that space going forward to build up speed since he’s a little slower of a RB.

1 year ago

There are some players that to date this regime seems to have a perplexing affinity for. Dan Feeney seems to be one of those. Is there anyone on this site who did not see the poor display coming if he had to get into any games? Either as a Center or Guard. There’s got to be at least one other C/G in the NFL universe that can exceed his level of play. LDT’s arrival signals JD finally gets this. We had the same issue with McDermott. These QBs will only go as far as the OL will let them. Unfortunately these RBs appear to be in the same boat (without Hall). This OL continues to be an anchor around this team and is still not fixed…albeit somewhat injury induced. In 2023, LT, LG and C has to be upgraded. Perhaps AVT goes back to LG if they view Herbig as an answer at RG. Since you cannot count on Becton, another LT likely needs to be drafted.

1 year ago
Reply to  Psi

I agree with you on Feeney, but he did get it together last year and was serviceable. You have to remember this is the 3rd string guy. I mean how much can we really expect from a 3rd stringer? I think they get it and I think having someone like Feeney with NFL experience isn’t the worst thing as the last resort. I’m not sure they could do much better.

That said, I like that they brought Larry back, he’s far better than Feeney. This will sound like an excuse but really, the line has 1 guy they brought in after the season started, 1 guys who was singed as a stop gap playing with a torn rotator cuff, they are playing their 3rd string G, and they have gone through 5 different starting OT’s. At some point a group like that is going to be a problem. At best you can hope they keep it together and have a game like they did against Buff, but over time, this is not a game in and game out group that will be consistent. It’s not a recipe for success.

I don’t think it’s that Joe didn’t/doesn’t realize it, but you can’t have a team with 10 starting level OL’s.