The New York Jets should be wary of this one issue that their top quarterback targets fell into
When can too much of a good thing be bad?
The New York Jets had a luxury this season that they’ve never known in their history: not only did a first-round wide receiver have a terrific rookie year, but Garrett Wilson actually took it all the way as the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
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Mike Greenberg of ESPN went so far as to say that Aaron Rodgers could turn Wilson into Davante Adams.
As exciting as that comparison sounds, it’s also something to be wary of. Let me explain by going back to Rodgers’s last game with Adams in the Packers’ 13-10 Divisional Round loss to the 49ers in 2021.
In that game, Adams had nine receptions on 11 targets for 90 yards. He had 2.73 yards per route run, and Rodgers put up a 100.8 rating when targeting him. All great so far.
However, the film from the game also shows that the Rodgers-Adams connection likely cost the Packers the game.
Specifically, Rodgers’s final play with the ball involved a heave to Adams into double coverage.
Watch Rodgers on the play: he had made up his mind presnap that he was going to Adams. His back foot hits the ground on his drop, and the ball is out deep.
Now, the decision was questionable to begin with considering that the cornerback had outside leverage on Adams, clearly funneling him inside to the waiting safety.
However, it’s equally clear that Rodgers trusted Adams to win against double coverage—and that’s where the issue began.
There’s a reason that Rodgers struggled so much without Adams in 2022. He was simply overwhelmingly inclined to get the ball to No. 17 no matter where he was on the field or how many defenders were around him. Considering how elite Adams is, that inclination makes sense.
However, defenses can use that to their advantage. If they know that the quarterback has eyes for only one player, no matter how dominant that player is, they can use excess resources to contain him.
Nine catches for 90 yards sounds like a strong stat line, but it’s nothing special for Adams. The 49ers beat the Packers simply by not allowing Adams to beat them when it mattered.
Watch Rodgers’s eyes on this sack, despite the fact that it’s evident fairly quickly that Adams’s route didn’t work.
Rodgers was looking to go to Adams on every single play. Almost a quarter of his targets went that way in the game. In fact, Adams’s 27.6% target share from Rodgers in 2021 was the second-highest of any pass-catcher (min. 200 QB attempts and 25 WR targets), trailing only Cooper Kupp.
Now, part of this was that the Packers’ pass-catchers past Adams weren’t all that robust. Indeed, Adams’s overall receiver score of 83 (via ESPN Analytics) was the second-best among pass-catchers in 2021, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling (50) and Allen Lazard (44) ranked 69th and 80th, respectively.
However, part of it was also that Rodgers had such good chemistry with Adams that he did not want to look elsewhere. Ultimately, this cost him in the playoffs.
In 2022, Carr faced some of the same problems as Rodgers with Adams now in his camp. Adams had 30.3% of Carr’s target share, which was the highest among QBs with at least 200 attempts and receivers with at least 25 targets.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a high target share. When a receiver is targeted at a high rate, it’s usually because they’re elite.
But for Carr, as for Rodgers, it became a problem when he became laser-focused on Adams to the exclusion of all other players. This was particularly true when Mack Hollins, the Raiders’ presumed No. 2 receiver with injuries to Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller, put up a very similar receiver score (60) to Adams (66).
This score may seem strange, although it places the onus more on Adams than Carr. Adams’s 81 open score was ninth-best, while his 45 catch score was 82nd out of 111 pass-catchers.
Still, Carr would often forgo other options to heave it up to Adams, simply force the ball in when it was unwarranted, or predetermine where he was going before the snap. This is one of the reasons that Adams had six interceptions thrown in his direction, which was tied for the second-most picks toward any pass-catcher.
Adams didn’t necessarily help Carr on this score as much as he could have, either. He caught 15-of-34 contested targets, a 44.1% rate that ranked 35th out of 68 qualified WRs. But it begs the question of why Adams had the fourth-most contested targets in the NFL when his open score was the ninth-best of all pass-catchers.
Whichever quarterback comes to the Jets could end up in the same situation with Wilson as they did with Adams. Rodgers showed signs of it with Christian Watson in 2022.
When a receiver tends to get open a lot, it’s natural to want to feed them the ball. That’s generally a good thing; Wilson should get far more targets than he did when Zach Wilson was at the helm for the Jets.
Still, it’s important to be cognizant of the fact that there are multiple weapons on the field. Not only are many plays designed with different primary targets in mind, but the very fact that the defense keys so much on the top player should give opportunities to the team’s secondary receivers.
Fortunately for the Jets, they have quite a bit of talent beyond Wilson. Elijah Moore showed that he is still shifty if used properly, and Corey Davis (if he is still on the team) uses subtle moves to create space. Meanwhile, Tyler Conklin‘s rocker step and the abilities of Breece Hall, Michael Carter, and Bam Knight out of the backfield give the team a deep supply of targets.
Can Rodgers or Carr do a better job of looking beyond their first options? This has particularly been an issue for Rodgers in recent years.
Now, this may seem like a bit of a reach considering the putrid quarterbacking that the Jets put on the field in 2022. It’s easy to say that the team will be satisfied with someone who can just get the ball to Wilson when he’s open and forget about the other players.
However, the Jets would not be bringing in either quarterback to settle for mediocrity. The goal with Rodgers or Carr would be to compete for a championship. Championship-level teams usually have multiple receiving threats available and can utilize them even if there is a clear No. 1 option.
Look no further than the Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster tandem on Kansas City, together with their other weapons, and Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedart trio.
While this is a common concern among quarterbacks, being a good distributor of the football and seeing the whole field is critical in the key moments. It’s something to keep in mind for whichever quarterback the Jets end up bringing on board.
OK, so your QB is doing this thing that is understandable but not ideal. That sounds like the coach’s responsibility to fix it, right? I get the impression no one is telling Rodgers what to do. Do you suppose Carr is more coachable?
Yes, absolutely. This is not exclusive to Rodgers and Carr, either: I noticed it with Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress back in the days when I started watching football, and later with Eli and OBJ. Patrick Mahomes had a bit of it with Tyreek Hill, too.
I 100% think Carr is more coachable, and I also think it was less of an issue pre-Adams. Even with Amari Cooper, Carr wasn’t looking for him on every play. He’s better at distributing in general. It just showed up a lot with Adams specifically, so you wonder if he’ll continue doing it with another potentially elite WR.
Had the same thought