Scapegoating Mike LaFleur is a lazy solution to the New York Jets’ problems
You know the old adage: When a play works, the coach is a genius, when it doesn’t, he’s an idiot. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Who cares about the thought process behind a play? Or the execution by the players? All that matters is the result. Successful play? The OC is good. Unsuccessful play? The OC is bad.
Now that the Jets have lost five consecutive games to fall from a promising 7-4 team to a listless 7-9 team that will miss the playoffs, Jets fans want someone to pay the price. And that’s fair. An implosion of this magnitude cannot go unpunished. To stand still and show no accountability for this disaster would be a foolish move for the franchise.
But LaFleur is not the guy who deserves the axe.
Many fans view LaFleur as a bottom-of-the-barrel OC. That is an exaggeration in my opinion. LaFleur is far from perfect, but he is best categorized as a middling coordinator rather than a bad one. I would place him in the 20-to-22 range out of 32 play-callers.
With more reliable quarterback play, I think LaFleur can establish himself as one of the league’s better coordinators. I think LaFleur deserves a chance to show what he can do with a full season of competent quarterback play before he loses his job.
Some of LaFleur’s critics tend to chastise him without citing many legitimate reasons as to why he deserves it other than the fact the Jets’ offense is not performing well. That’s not how it works. It is important to apply context and analyze deeper to understand what’s really going on. Is the offense failing because the play calls are ineffective? Or is the offense failing because the players are not doing a good job of executing?
When I watch the film each week, I find myself blaming the offensive woes on the players’ execution far more than LaFleur’s play-calling. That’s not to say LaFleur does not have his woes – he absolutely does, and we will touch on some of them later in this piece – but I see more instances of the players letting LaFleur down than the other way around.
LaFleur’s primary job is to create opportunities for his players to succeed. I think he is far better at this than given credit for. Watch the film. When the Jets’ offense stinks, it’s usually because the quarterback is constantly missing open receivers, not because nobody is open. LaFleur schemes people open at a solid rate. New York simply has suffered through the NFL’s least-accurate passing by a massive margin this season.
No team has gotten worse accuracy from their quarterbacks than the Jets in 2022. Here are some of the Jets’ accuracy metrics as a team:
- Completion Percentage Over Expected (Next Gen Stats): -5.4% (32nd)
- Adjusted completion percentage (Pro Football Focus): 69.4% (31st)
- Bad-throw percentage (Pro Football Reference): 22.6% (32nd)
- On-target percentage (Pro Football Reference): 68.1% (32nd)
The quarterback’s accuracy is one of the few variables that cannot be controlled by the play caller. It is the most important factor in determining the disparity between the offensive coordinator’s individual performance and the passing attack’s overall production, and since the Jets are the league’s worst team in this area, it means LaFleur is getting a raw deal.
Throughout the season, I have been releasing film breakdowns that showcase the best and worst of the Jets’ quarterback each week. Check out the film from any of Zach Wilson’s worst games and you will see a myriad of open receivers that Wilson flat-out missed.
I have yet to release my Mike White film breakdown for the Seattle game, but you will see the same thing in that game. People were open all day long but White kept missing them. From purely an accuracy perspective, it was equally as bad as any of Wilson’s performances this year. White should have had a field day with the opportunities LaFleur cooked up for him.
Here are plenty of open receivers schemed up by LaFleur that White could not hit, whether he misfired or didn’t see them/didn’t pull the trigger.
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To each their own, but when I see this many open receivers being missed, I cannot blame the offensive coordinator for the team’s lack of offensive production. LaFleur got plenty of people open. What more can he do?
I also think LaFleur had a decent gameplan in Seattle.
When we at Jets X-Factor were scouting the Seahawks ahead of this game, one of the things we suggested is that the Jets should heavily feature the tight ends due to Seattle’s struggles with stopping tight ends. We specifically pinpointed C.J. Uzomah, as he is a good YAC tight end and the Seahawks specifically struggled with allowing YAC to tight ends.
As it turns out, LaFleur and the Jets did come out and feed plenty of targets to Uzomah. White just kept missing.
This has been happening all year. While there were certainly a few games where LaFleur was out-coached and made things difficult for his offense (the Minnesota and Buffalo losses are probably the main examples), there have been far more games where his play-calling was effective enough to set the table for an average-to-good offensive performance but the quarterback botched it. Both New England games, the Detroit game, and the Seattle game are prime examples.
Another way the Jets’ poor quarterbacking hurts LaFleur is how it affects the run game. Due to their lack of respect for the Jets’ passing game, New York’s opponents have been leaning heavily toward stopping the run on a weekly basis this season. Scheming up a good run game has been difficult for LaFleur due to the constant numbers disadvantage in the box.
In addition to the numbers disadvantage, another problem is that defenders simply play more aggressively when facing the Jets’ run game than they do against the average team, as they are less fearful of what will happen if they get caught biting on a play fake. The goal of opposing front-seven defenders against the Jets is to maintain their focus on getting downhill to clog up the run game.
Despite these roadblocks, LaFleur still had the Jets’ run game functioning at an elite level when the offense was at full strength.
Prior to their season-ending injuries, the Jets called 90 run plays in which both Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker were on the field. New York ran for 503 yards on those 90 plays – a sparkling 5.59 yards per attempt. That mark would lead the NFL this season.
On all other run plays this season, the Jets have gained 983 yards on 255 attempts – a dismal 3.85 yards per attempt. That would rank 30th in the NFL.
LaFleur has struggled to find answers for the run game since he lost his best runner and best blocker. Any offensive coordinator would struggle to keep his run game afloat in this situation. But when LaFleur had the two core pieces who he planned to build his offense around, the rushing attack was dominant.
Mike LaFleur deserves one more shot
Bad quarterbacking has been hanging LaFleur out to dry all year. I firmly believe that a LaFleur-led Jets offense can be a formidable unit with good quarterback play.
In fact, the Jets’ offense did look formidable this year when the quarterback played well.
As I see it, the Jets enjoyed seven average-or-better quarterback performances this year:
- Joe Flacco at Cleveland (Week 2)
- Zach Wilson at Pittsburgh (Week 4)
- Zach Wilson vs. Miami (Week 5)
- Zach Wilson vs. Buffalo (Week 9)
- Mike White vs. Chicago (Week 12)
- Mike White at Minnesota (Week 13)
- Mike White at Buffalo (Week 14)
In those seven games, the Jets’ offense averaged 25.4 points per game and 377.6 total yards per game. Those numbers would rank seventh and fifth, respectively, among all teams in the 2022 season. New York also compiled a 5-2 record across those seven games.
Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of areas where LaFleur must improve.
He can be too scheme-stubborn – why did he run so many empty packages this year despite the lack of success?
He can do a better job of emphasizing the strengths of his skill-position players – why did it take so long to move Elijah Moore into the slot and Garrett Wilson to the outside?
He can make better in-game adjustments – why did he keep resorting to trickery in the red zone against Minnesota when that’s not what got the Jets into the red zone in the first place?
I do not think LaFleur is a “good” OC quite yet. As I said earlier, I would probably place him in the 20-to-22 range right now. He’s in the middle tier. But as a young OC who was hamstrung by awful quarterbacking and two devastating injuries, I think he has the potential to prove he can climb much higher.
My take is that New York should stick with Mike LaFleur for one more year. Give him a dependable quarterback and see what he can do.
Next Article: It’s obvious who the NY Jets’ 2023 QB should be
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