There is always something to be learned from success
Was the 2022 season a successful one for the New York Jets?
Some would say that any season not ending in a ring is an automatic failure. Considering that even the winningest franchises in NFL history (the Patriots and Steelers) have won the Super Bowl in 10.5% of possible seasons, that would be an awfully narrow definition of success.
Ultimately, your view of the Jets’ season as a success or failure depends on whether you see it as a stepping stone for the future or a path to continued nothingness, rather like what happened to the Broncos in 2022.
Some will say that the explosion of the 2022 draft class, highlighted by both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year and another runaway OROY candidate, indicates that the future is bright.
However, others will point to the utter breakdown of all levels of the team in the second half as proof that the Jets are farther away from the playoffs than their first-half record may indicate.
Either way, heading into 2023, the Jets can take a look at the two teams left standing and try to gain some understanding of how a successful roster is created. Though there is no monolithic answer to that question—indeed, this year’s final pair is drastically different from last season’s—it is always wise to find the elements that may be worth emulating.
What can the Jets glean from Kansas City and Philadelphia?
It starts in the trenches
Following the Chiefs’ 31-9 loss to the Bucs two years ago, it became clear that the single biggest need on the team was the offensive line. GM Brett Veach attacked the task with singleminded focus, swinging a trade for tackle Orlando Brown Jr. while selecting Trey Smith and Creed Humphrey in the draft. Those three players have bookended an offensive line that has protected Patrick Mahomes enough to let him do his Mahomesian things.
The Chiefs’ line ranked 10th overall in Pro Football Focus’s pass-blocking efficiency metric at 86.9%. The only real weak link is RT Andrew Wylie, who yielded a 6.6% pressure rate (the average for tackles is 5.5%) and nine sacks.
Although Kansas City’s run-blocking isn’t quite as strong, protecting their passer has paid dividends overall.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, is dominant in both aspects of offensive line play. Their line ranked second in pass-blocking efficiency at 89.7%, fueled by the dominance of Lane Johnson (1.6% pressure rate) and Jason Kelce (1.7%).
Eagles non-QBs also ranked second in the league with a combined 1.89 yards before contact per rush attempt, causing them to rank first overall in EPA per rush despite ranking only 15th in yards after contact per attempt. The Eagles’ rushing success is speared by their run blocking.
The Jets have struggled mightily in trying to get their offensive line fixed. In 2022, they ranked 22nd in pass-blocking efficiency, and their non-QB rushers tied for 25th with 1.25 yards before contact per attempt.
While much of that was due to constant fluctuation on the line due to injuries, the team only has one reliable offensive lineman (Alijah Vera-Tucker) under contract heading into 2023. This is Joe Douglas’s second-biggest concern heading into the offseason, although becoming dominant is not as important as becoming solid up front.
The roster drives QB success
There is much hullabaloo in the NFL about finding a franchise quarterback, and rightly so. However, when considering which QBs actually become those difference-makers, it’s critical to look at the situations in which they were placed.
Patrick Mahomes could not have possibly dreamed up a better landing spot than the stacked Chiefs roster and a brilliant offensive mind in Andy Reid. He received essentially a redshirt rookie season to work on his mechanics, which were referred to as “ugly” by a Chiefs staffer at the beginning of the 2017 season.
This is not a knock on Mahomes in any way. The now-two-time NFL MVP is an otherworldly talent. But would we have seen that talent develop had he been drafted by the Bears?
I would argue that it’s far more likely we would have seen more of the college version of Mahomes—a talented but raw prospect forced to do it all on his own. His hero-ball tendencies do still occasionally dog him at the NFL level, but not nearly to the same extent because he is not asked to carry the team singlehandedly.
Jalen Hurts’s situation was slightly different, as the Eagles struggled offensively in his first season in the league and did not light up the league in his second, either. However, there is no doubt that his meteoric rise to MVP finalist is directly correlated to the weapons around him. A.J. Brown was that final missing piece that elevated the entire Eagles’ offense to a juggernaut.
We saw it from Tua Tagovailoa and Jared Goff this year, Matthew Stafford last season, Jimmy Garoppolo throughout his career, and countless others: most quarterbacks are system QBs and go only as far as the talent around them. Even Joe Burrow needed his elite receiver trio to take that next step.
The Jets have tried to do things the other way around throughout the last decade-plus. After Mark Sanchez failed to get a strong surrounding cast over the hump to the Super Bowl, the core fell apart, and the Sanchize was left exposed as one of the worst decision-making QBs in the league. Since then, Geno Smith was hung out to dry with a roster bereft of talent; Sam Darnold was drafted into a bare cupboard, as was Zach Wilson.
That is not to say that these players were not busts. Geno is a one-of-a-kind example of a former bust turning it around much later in his career. However, the point is that they set up their quarterbacks for as brutal an NFL transition as a player can possibly have, not even giving them coaches who actually knew how to develop a young QB.
If you want your quarterback to grow and develop, they need the weapons around them. Now that the Jets do have many of those weapons, there’s a better chance that a QB can succeed here.
Be ruthless about sunk costs
Howie Roseman used a second-round pick on a quarterback barely a year after giving his former No. 2 overall pick a large contract extension. He traded a first-round pick for A.J. Brown after whiffing on Jalen Reagor. That’s not giving in to sunk costs.
—Howie Roseman on sunk cost fallacy pic.twitter.com/m1vAONIR29
— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) January 31, 2023
With Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs made a different calculation. The sunk cost was the investment they already made into building their offense around Hill’s strengths. Instead of doubling down by signing their superstar receiver to a contract that would not allow them to keep the team cap solvent for years to come, they made the best of the situation and traded him for a draft haul.
Joe Douglas would be very wise to follow in these footsteps, particularly with Zach Wilson.
Offensive creativity matters
There are two approaches in the NFL: the old school of establishing the run, and the newer school of getting ahead of what the defense expects.
Although the former approach has worked, defenses have become better and better at keying in on a team’s tendencies and stopping them. Look no further than the explosion of two-high coverages throughout the league for evidence that this is the case.
What the best offensive coaches do is keep the defense guessing by breaking their own tendencies. Kyle Shanahan is the absolute master of adding constant wrinkles to his play-calling to confuse a defense. The linebacker will be absolutely certain that he has seen this on film before—only for the pass to zip in right behind him.
Brian Daboll utilized a quarterback with limited ability to read a defense, virtually no NFL-caliber receivers, and a leaky offensive line and managed to squeeze out a 10th-rated offense by DVOA. He and Mike Kafka did so by switching up their tendencies just enough that the defense did not know exactly what was coming.
Andy Reid has a different style of changing his offense, as he has evolved multiple times throughout his career. Going through nearly a century’s worth of offensive playbooks and utilizing his photographic memory for plays, Reid can be counted on for trick plays and unique concepts.
Shane Steichen of the Eagles has an easier task in mixing it up due to his quarterback’s dual-threat possibilities. The triple-option offense has long vexed defenses. Add in the threat of A.J. Brown on any part of the field and a dominant offensive line and you pretty much have no idea what the Eagles will do on any given play.
One of the biggest problems with Mike LaFleur’s play-calling in 2022 is that it left nothing for the defense to guess. According to Garrett Wilson, opponents knew what they were going to do offensively during the six-game season-ending losing streak. The film shows that Tariq Woolen was calling out the Jets’ plays during the 23-6 loss to the Seahawks.
Establishing the run is all nice and good, but it is old-fashioned for a reason. On the flip side, using shenanigans only goes so far. You need a balance of creativity and convention to win in the NFL, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
The Jets would do well to keep that in mind before they call yet another outside-zone run play from the shotgun.
Sometimes you need to get your man
The Chiefs traded two first-round picks and several mid-round selections to get Patrick Mahomes. The Eagles traded first- and third-rounders for A.J. Brown.
We’ve seen such trades backfire, such as in the cases of Mitch Trubisky, (thus far) Trey Lance, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson. However, we’ve also seen players like Tyreek Hill, Josh Allen, and Matthew Stafford change the fortunes of their new teams.
Most general managers do need to get aggressive when necessary to obtain that last difference-maker for their offense. It might be time for Joe Douglas to do that and obtain the difference-making QB the Jets have been seeking for over half a century.
What we need to be true for that to happen?
I think they would need someone like tannehill for ’23, a trade for Z Wilson just to shed the contract, let white go, and then consider the trade compensation, which would be what? #13 this year and next year’s #1?
Honestly I like the sound of that better than acquiring Rodgers, but if they had any ideas of such a scenario Hackett would not be here.