Mike LaFleur, NY Jets, Scheme
Mike LaFleur, New York Jets, Getty Images

Mike LaFleur and the New York Jets should decrease their usage of empty formations

“Why are you in empty? At least show the threat of a run…”

It feels like New York Jets fans are barking this statement extraordinarily often in 2022.

And the data backs it up. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur loves to use empty formations – i.e. an offensive formation in which the QB is alone in the backfield. In fact, the Jets use them more than any other team in the NFL.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Jets have used an empty formation on a league-high 14.1% of their offensive plays. They have gone empty on a league-leading total of 133 plays, an average of 8.9 plays per game. For comparison, the league-average team goes empty on 8.2% of their plays and 5.1 plays per game.

Here’s the major problem: New York is not generating the required results to warrant such a heavy reliance on empty formations.

The Jets have a success rate* of 33.8% when using empty formations, which ranks sixth-worst in the NFL and is nearly 10% below the league average of 43.5%.

*A successful play is defined as gaining at least 40% of the required yardage on 1st down, at least 50% on 2nd down, or getting the conversion on 3rd/4th down.

LaFleur is particularly fond of empty formations on third down. New York has gone empty on 30.0% of its third-down plays this year, almost double the league average of 15.2%.

Yet, the Jets’ empty formations are even more terrible than usual on third down. The Jets have a 23.8% success rate when going empty on third down, which ranks sixth-worst and is nearly 14% below the league average of 37.6%.

The Jets’ empty formations are at their least effective on first down. The Jets have gone empty on 6.1% of their first down plays, ranking seventh-highest (NFL average is 5.0%), but their 33.3% success rate on these plays ranks fifth-worst and is almost 16% below the NFL average of 49.2%.

These are some staggering disparities. It’s malpractice to utilize something at a league-high rate despite continuously getting poor results out of them.

Even Mike White has been unable to facilitate good results out of empty formations. During White’s tenure as the starter from Weeks 12-14, the Jets still had a success rate of 30.0% when using empty formations, which is worse than their season average of 33.8%.

No matter who is at quarterback, the Jets’ empty formations are not working. It’s time to scrap them.

I would encourage Mike LaFleur to significantly decrease his usage of empty formations going forward. Keep someone in the backfield alongside the quarterback. Maintain the threat of a run. This passing attack isn’t nearly good enough to beat a defense that knows a pass is coming.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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Robert725
Robert725
30 days ago

Totally agree, when you keep a running back in you make the defense play honestly Just extend THIS season!

Psi
Psi
30 days ago

MLF appears to be better than many prior Jet OCs (a low bar), but he’s been exposed imo when playing against better teams. The QB limitations doesn’t help, but he appears to have a stubborn streak that this article demonstrates. If he’s here next year, it should be his last absent dramatic improvement.

Jim G
Jim G
30 days ago

This is good information. But it raised two questions. First, why do you think he uses the empty backfield so often? Is it because they are behind in the score and need to catch up? Is it because the running game is no serious threat against the teams they played this season? Second, why do you think the scheme is not working?

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
30 days ago
Reply to  Jim G

This. Box scores always tell you the 3rd down conversion rate, but they don’t tell you what the average yards to go is on those 3rd downs. Averaging 3 yds to go is a lot different than averaging 8 yds to go. However, I’ve seen MLF go empty even on 3rd and 2s or 3rd and 1s. Stupid.

Last edited 30 days ago by Jonathan Richter
Bird9
Bird9
1 month ago

This site needs more comments. One suggestion I would make would be to have the number of comments for each post displayed on its graphic on the home page. If I saw that one particular post had a lot of comments, for example, I might go there to see what people are talking about. Just trying to help here because this is by far the best Jets site.

Rivka Boord
Editor
30 days ago
Reply to  Bird9

The main reason we don’t have more comments is likely because you need to be logged in to comment.

Michael Blackwood
Michael Blackwood
1 month ago

Mike Lafleur is primarily responsible for our offensive difficulties!

DFargas
DFargas
30 days ago

He’s also been primarily responsible for whatever success the team has had over the past two years. But he’s just not good enough and he doesn’t seem up to the job of running an offensive with inexperienced and sub-par QBs. He seems to me a lot like Adam Gase in that respect: he keeps on calling plays that should work with a proficient QB and when they don’t, he’s got nuthin’. The organization made a bad mistake in pairing a rookie OC with a rookie QB.