A New York Jets weakness in 2022 may be exacerbated by a potential Competition Committee rule change
Remember Zach Wilson’s ill-fated fourth-and-two quarterback sneak against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021?
What about Mike White’s barely-there touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in 2022 that gave the New York Jets some remaining hope in the game?
In 2022, the Jets had a notoriously difficult time on third down. In fact, they were 28th in the league with a 34.58% conversion rate.
The only area in which they were worse? Conversion rate on third or fourth and short. On the money downs with two or fewer yards to go, the Jets converted for a first down just 34.1% of the time, which was dead-last in the NFL. With just one yard to go, the Jets were also last at 40%.
One of the reasons that the Jets couldn’t convert in short-yardage situations was their difficulty with quarterback sneaks. Across the league, quarterback sneaks had a success rate of 82.8% in 2022. The Jets, meanwhile, were tied for 31st at 60%.
More telling than their conversion rate, though, was their low number of sneak attempts. The Jets had just five QB sneaks in the entire 2022 season, converting three of them. The fact that they did not want to sneak was seemingly due to Zach Wilson’s small frame and fragility, as well as Mike White’s thin and injury-prone body.
The Jets and the rest of the NFL watched Tom Brady absolutely hound them with sneaks for two decades. In 2022, that mantle was passed on to Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, who facilitated their effectiveness in sneaking by performing what is being colloquially referred to as “The Tush Push.”
When fans would see the Eagles line up with multiple players right behind Hurts, they knew what was coming: a not-so-subtle push forward on a choice part of Hurts’s body. It worked 27 of 30 times throughout the 2022 season (playoffs included), a 90% success rate.
That was actually not the highest conversion rate of the season (Dallas and San Francisco were both 13-for-14, a 92.9% rate, while three other teams were perfect on more than 10 attempts), it was the sheer volume of those attempts that put the Eagles over the top.
Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia’s head coach, was named the most aggressive coach in the NFL compared to his peers by Football Outsiders’ Aggressiveness Index. Part of his ability to be so aggressive was the knowledge that he had a foolproof play.
Other NFL teams took notice and were angered by this play. Up until 2006, it was illegal to pull or push a teammate forward in an attempt to gain extra yardage. The NFL allowed the push play in 2006. Not until the 2022 Eagles was this taken advantage of so frequently and brazenly.
Therefore, the NFL Competition Committee is now contemplating a ban on the ‘Tush Push.’ It is unclear whether that ban would apply just to quarterback sneaks or to all pushing, as there were many other instances across the league of rugby scrum-style plays that resulted in crucial additional yardage.
Personally, I have always disliked the scrum play. In my opinion, football is different from rugby, notwithstanding its origins. The goal of football is not who can push whom the farthest.
Obviously, the Eagles feel differently. Sirianni and his staff have objected to the idea that a play should be banned just because they ran it better than everyone else.
However, the Competition Committee is usually looking to even the playing field. Ask Bill Belichick, who took advantage of every possible loophole in the rules to set up unorthodox and confusing formations, take additional penalties, and do whatever else it took to gain an advantage. There are many rules in the book that could be called the ‘Belichick Rule.’
Ultimately, the Jets have little control over whether the Tush Push is banned or not. They have one vote, just like every other team. But they must get better at the QB sneak, both in terms of having the confidence to run it and actually converting, as part of a greater focus on improving their short-yardage conversions and third-down effectiveness as a whole.