The Jets often move the ball but then get set back by a big negative play
Sustaining drives is one of the key ingredients to winning football games.
The Jets have struggled mightily in this area over the course of the 2022 season.
Many factors go into the Jets’ 26th-ranked drive success rate (measuring the percentage of drive series resulting in a first down or touchdown, per Football Outsiders). You can point to quarterback play, offensive line fluctuation and regression, disappointments from the receivers and tight ends, injuries to Alijah Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall, and various other issues.
All of these are certainly true. Despite all that, though, the Jets have found ways to move the ball at times. Even against Jacksonville, they had the ball in or near field goal range on several drives but did not score. This was true against Detroit, Buffalo, and Minnesota, as well.
The biggest issue the Jets have faced on those drives are first down drive-killers. Whether by a sack, rushing play for a loss, or penalty, New York seems to constantly find ways to dig themselves into a back-breaking hole. How many 2nd-and-15+ plays have we seen from the Jets in recent weeks?
Statistically, the Jets are tied with the Jaguars for the most loss plays on first down in the NFL with 77. That includes 27 penalties (second-most), 13 sacks (T-8th), and 37 tackles for loss (third-most).
When you wonder about the Jets’ abysmal third-down conversion rate, those first down plays for loss can be pointed to. They are 28th in the NFL with a 34.1% rate, which would correlate with the fact that they have the fifth-highest rate of third-and-long (7+ yards) plays in the league at 50.4%.
It’s tempting to say that Mike LaFleur is responsible for the Jets’ fugue on first down. However, he has been about average in the predictability of his play-calling on that down. Once again, let’s refer to the nflfastR metric called XPASS, which tells us the probability that any given play will be a pass based on game situation and historical play-by-play data.
On plays that have an XPASS of either greater than 55% or less than 45% (meaning, definite tendency plays), LaFleur has gone with the expected play 70.2% of the time (out of 245 play calls in this situation, with an NFL average of 236), which is dead center in the NFL – 16th out of 32 teams. It’s hard to blame the offensive coordinator for such disastrous results when he’s not tipping his hand on his run/pass ratio any more than you’d expect.
The easiest answer is simply lack of execution from the offensive line. The Jets have allowed the eighth-most sacks in the league on first down (13) on the ninth-highest pressure rate (28.2%). The most common first-down penalties are false starts and holding, and those account for 19 (most in the league) of the Jets’ 27 first-down penalties. It doesn’t help that the Jets have five false start penalties called on wide receivers (two each by Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson and one by Denzel Mims), four of which occurred on first down.
However, NFL Next Gen Stats has the Jets ranked seventh-best in the NFL with 1.3 yards before contact per attempt on first down. Since Week 8, that number is actually better at 1.5. That means that the offensive line is likely getting some sort of push.
The answer, though, isn’t in the total yardage, but in the sheer number of run stuffs on first down. The Jets have the second-highest rate of first down run-stuffs in the league at 24.4%, defined by NGS as no gain or a loss. Prior to Week 8, that number was at 16.1%, which equaled the league average.
Though most would probably point to the loss of Breece Hall as the primary reason for that difference, I would argue that Alijah Vera-Tucker’s injury is the single biggest factor in the offensive line’s drop-off in that area. Vera-Tucker is a mauler in the run game. Jets’ backs can still make people miss, especially Bam Knight (who ranks first in Pro Football Focus’s elusiveness rating among 64 backs with at least 50 carries), but there’s only so much they can do when they’re repeatedly getting hit in the backfield. They got hit much less often when AVT was leading the way.
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One proposal I would submit is that Mike LaFleur needs to turn on the creativity. Being about average in predictability is fine, but when your team is struggling to get going, you need to pull out all the stops.
It’s possible that things will open up somewhat with Mike White once more at the helm. Defenses must respect White’s newfound ability to beat them when they play an eight-man box. Unlike Zach Wilson, White will not allow defenses to play press-man with a single high safety. As much as his arm is not special compared to Wilson, he has shown that he can hit a 20+ yard route with pinpoint accuracy (see his throw to Elijah Moore against the Bills).
Furthermore, it may be time to shake things up on the offensive line. While Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was out of football up until a few weeks ago, he is on the active roster and could hardly be worse than Nate Herbig and Laken Tomlinson have been in recent weeks. It might be time to give LDT a shot at guard.
At tackle, the Jets may have the option of playing the returning Cedric Ogbuehi for George Fant. Although the interior offensive line is far more responsible for the line’s woes than the tackles, Fant still hasn’t done a good job setting the edge in the run game. Ogbuehi was not necessarily any better, particularly against the Patriots, but it might be worth a shot to see if he can give them any sort of spark.
Both of these moves can be made with a short leash. It’s an experiment of sorts to see what works. Throwing darts at the board is better than what the Jets have put on film the last few weeks.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in an earlier article about some of the Jets’ mental lapses, it might be time to see what Jeremy Ruckert can bring to the table in the run game. C.J. Uzomah, in particular, has missed way too many blocks in the run game. Since he’s often the lead blocker on the play, his misses have stuffed some otherwise good blocking.
If the Jets do not find a way to improve their output on first down, they’re likely looking at a one-way ticket to the offseason. It’s time to crank the urgency up to 100%.
This is sad to see, but not surprising since I have watched most of the games. This article reinforces the many ways this season has not gone as planned, some for better, some for worse.
The offensive line was projected to be a strength this season. I understand the line was decimated with injuries, which I can understand, but poor performance is a different story. It is possible that only 1 of the 5 original projected starters will return next season.
The defense was projected to be a question mark but has for the most part exceeded expectations. The running game was projected to be a strength, but has not performed as expected, most likely due to injuries. The QB play was supposed to see improvement, but, other than Mike White, has been a massive disappointment and has regressed.
The pre-snap penalties, as you pointed out, are a killer, particularly given Zach Wilson’s struggles moving the ball.
Regardless of how they finish the season, the Jets have some hard decisions to make after the season ends.
I think we were all a little too high on the OL based on projection. There was no way to know that Tomlinson would be this bad, but the tackle situation was shaky coming into the season.
I think so much of what has gone wrong on offense goes back to the OL, starting with Becton’s injury.