Now that Mike LaFleur is gone, a more critical New York Jets concern is brought to the table.
It’s a football pastime as old as video games themselves: Criticize your team’s offensive coordinator because, after all, you know what you’d do on third down en route to digital gridiron glory.
Going play-action on first down? What? Calling a draw on third and long? Are you nuts? Each team’s offensive play call is scrutinized to death on Sunday, and this naturally includes the New York Jets.
The Jets—featuring a 2022 NFL offense that finished 25th in yards (318.2 per game) and 29th in scoring (17.4 per game)—decided to “part ways” with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur on Wednesday. The reports come after days of rabid speculation and numerous rumors surrounding the future of the Jets’ young offensive mind.
Forget whether or not firing LaFleur is the right call for a moment. The fact that he’s now gone, coupled with the reports that ownership and/or certain front office individuals wanted it to happen, while head coach Robert Saleh fought for his guy, raises a much more prudent and dangerous concern here.
If this Joe Douglas-Robert Saleh-led regime is no longer operating of its own volition—in regards to handling Mike LaFleur’s future with the organization—then things have taken a turn for the worse.
For years on end, one of the top complaints coming from Jets fandom was that the football hierarchy presented itself in a muddled manner. Once Bill Parcells left town and Woody took over, the Jets’ deployed a hierarchy that saw both the general manager and head coach report to ownership.
The system often allowed the circus a one-way ticket into Florham Park, with leaks pouring out of the building and back channels aplenty. It was a system that starred the stranger marriage that was Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan, as well as the uncomfortable pairing of Rex Ryan and John Idzik.
Finally, after getting it so wrong so often, Christopher Johnson made Joe Douglas the chief boss. Once Adam Gase left the state (we think) and Robert Saleh entered, the hierarchy featured a clear and appropriate setup with G.M. Joe atop the football program.
So far, so good, under the Douglas regime with him atop the org chart. The Jets possess a seriously talented roster and the circus (and leaks)—for the most part—have left town.
Today, however, after the LaFleur news, we’re left with more questions than answers.
Saleh, 43, is as loyal as they come. Remember, Jeff Ulbrich, the very same fella who resided over the NFL’s worst defense a year ago, survived last offseason. Poll Jets fans after Week 1’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens to get a peek into their thoughts about the defensive coordinator (and the rotation … oh, that pesky defensive line rotation).
Now, Ulbrich is Buddy Ryan, having presided over the league’s fourth-best defense (311.1 yards allowed per game). Did the magical football fairy come to town with amazing pixie dust, only to sprinkle it all over the former hard-nosed pro football linebacker? How in the world did he lift his coaching game to such a wild extent over the course of a short few months?
The truth is so much simpler than Jets Twitter would have you believe: New York’s defensive roster is drastically improved. Sauce Gardner’s arrival was as impactful as anything in Jets land this season. Couple that with Quinnen Williams’s insane emergence, and suddenly, things are cooking.
Let’s also not forget about the lack of defensive injuries—something that could not be said offensively.
LaFleur, 36, on the other hand, dealt with his fair share of issues this season.
First, Mekhi Becton goes down for the year. (As luck would have it, the most recent version of Mount Mekhi looks a lot slimmer, yielding no help in LaFleur’s direction, now that he’s obviously gone.) Then, Zach Wilson appeared to have torn his knee up in a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
New York’s offense is forced to coax Duane Brown out of retirement and roll with Joe Flacco. It then deals with a mind-boggling offensive line situation that saw Brown, George Fant and Max Mitchell all miss time due to injury. Free-agent acquisition Laken Tomlinson underperformed severely, and then the Denver game happened.
The rushing game was humming with Breece Hall and the Jets were 5-2 after a victory over the Broncos—the very same game the team’s heart and soul was lost for the season. Once Alijah Vera-Tucker was lost, that was it. The patchwork offensive line, led by this team’s offensive version of Joe Klecko, lost its identity and leader. (And, of course, losing Hall was just as rough.)
There’s no doubt that criticism is warranted, especially in the QB development area, but he wasn’t the top/only culprit here. It’s lazy to blame the OC, and it’s been done to death by fans for decades on end. https://t.co/0UXahL6eqa
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) January 12, 2023
Saleh’s conservative, defensive-first gameplan is doubled down upon from that point forward, and Zach Wilson eventually reaches a confident low point of no return upward. On top of that, at 4-2, after a huge win in Green Bay, sophomore receiver Elijah Moore makes noise via trade request.
Anything else we’re missing here? Oh yeah, let’s not forget about Corey Davis’s injuries and the fact this Jets offense went through a grand total of seven quarterback changes throughout the season (Wilson, Flacco, Wilson, Mike White, Wilson, White and then Flacco one final time).
Sorry, folks, but very few offensive coordinators will succeed under these circumstances.
Quite literally, the only offensive improvement for the 2022 Jets was that of rookie Garrett Wilson. As a whole, via injuries and overall talent, the offense took major steps back (as compared to 2021).
Then again, there is an argument that LaFleur didn’t deserve a third season. However, the idea that the call was too close to make meant that it needed to err on the side of caution and, more importantly, cohesion.
In other words: When it’s close, do not flirt with a change. It’s just too dangerous.
The continual changing of the offensive guard does nobody any good. The last Jets offensive coordinator to last more than two seasons was Brian Schottenheimer, all the way back during the Ruthian days of Rex.
#Jets fans wanted Ulbrich gone not too long ago. Now, thanks to fewer injuries and more talent, he’s Buddy Ryan.
Fans loved LaFleur at 5-2. This isn’t complicated. MLF being here or not isn’t what I care about most. What matters is that this regime has full freedom to operate.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) January 12, 2023
Yet, the actual deed that is moving on from LaFleur isn’t the greatest issue at hand. Although we don’t (and probably won’t) know who led the charge, if ownership overruled this regime’s wish to keep LaFleur in tow, the Jets just took several steps backward as a whole.
It’s more critical that this organization is willing to allow the Douglas-Saleh regime to succeed or fail on its own devices as opposed to choosing a scapegoat in the face of appeasing the mob. And yes, this mob is Jets fandom. And although fans will be fans, and fans should never receive the big red “X” on the front of their home-white T-shirts, it’s also undoubtedly important to raise awareness.
Play-calling in football is highly overrated. Sorry, folks, that’s simply the truth.
Schemes in the NFL are extremely overrated. Sean McVay, a master offensive chef at work, finished dead last in yards per game this past season (280.5 yards per contest). Did the magical football fairy suddenly strip him of his powers?
Nah … He was simply dealt a horrendous hand in 2022.
In spite of the very real idea that play-calling is overrated, the importance of coaching in this sport trumps any other. But coaching in this sport is also much more impactful beyond what happens on the field. Various critical areas of football coaching include every aspect that deals with “building the best culture in sports,” what Joe Douglas told the world he set out to accomplish as general manager of the Jets.
If Jets ownership stripped the regime’s ability to decide LaFleur’s fate on its own, then all of that culture talk becomes a little more meaningless.
Granted, Woody Johnson has every right to make any move he’d like. But that doesn’t mean making any move he’d like is the right move—en route to getting what he wants most, a winning football team on the field.
Yet again, another New York Jets offensive coordinator bites the dust in the face of near-fictional challenges. And yet again, we do not officially know who led the charge on this decision.
For those old enough to remember, #Jets fans treated Paul Hackett as if he had a third eye growing out of his ear. And yet, his offense still ranks near the top in team history over last two decades.
It’s the same story: Blame the OC because I know what play I’d call in Madden. pic.twitter.com/S2nq0ExnVz
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) January 12, 2023
The only thing we know is the following:
- There are many Jets fans who parade around as Madden stars that are incredibly happy Mike LaFleur is gone.
- This decision creates many more questions than answers.
- They better have a home run replacement in mind.
- If LaFleur is gone due to anybody other than Douglas or Saleh, the New York Jets just took many steps backward—no matter the conviction on “correct or incorrect decision.”