The New York Jets are equipped to turn one of their greatest weaknesses into a strength
In 2022, the New York Jets were a team with clear strengths and clear weaknesses. They entered the 2023 offseason knowing precisely which issues needed to be fixed if they were going to become a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Thanks to their additions this offseason, many of these issues are poised to be turned around in 2023. Among the weaknesses that were addressed, it can be argued that none was a more troubling issue in 2022 than the red zone offense.
The Jets’ offense had a myriad of problems in 2022, hence its final rankings of 26th in DVOA and 29th in points per game. However, when you scan the statistical landscape and examine the various leaderboards of specific categories, there is no area where the Jets appeared to be further behind the rest of the league than red-zone touchdown scoring.
New York finished 31st in the NFL with a red zone touchdown rate of 43.5%. On 46 trips into the red zone, they only punched the ball into the end zone 20 times.
Not only did the Jets fail to finish red zone drives with touchdowns, but they also tied for second in the league with five red zone turnovers. If you add their four turnovers on downs in the red zone, they had nine scoreless red zone trips.
Oftentimes, the Jets’ terrible performance in the red zone served as the difference between winning and losing. Look no further than their Week 13 loss to Minnesota, when the Jets out-gained the Vikings by 199 yards but lost by five points after scoring one touchdown on six red zone trips.
It was really bad. Yes, the Jets’ offense had many issues, but this was the worst of them all.
To be more specific, the Jets’ passing in the red zone was their primary offensive weakness.
While the Jets ranked 24th in red zone rushing DVOA at -6.9%, they ranked 32nd in red zone passing DVOA with a much worse rating of -42.1%, per Football Outsiders. In other words, they were about 42.1% less efficient at throwing the ball in the red zone than the average NFL team. No other team was worse than -30.3% (Colts). As a matter of fact, the 11.8% gap between the 32nd-ranked Jets and the 31st-ranked Colts was the largest gap between any two teams on the leaderboard.
The Jets were in a completely different stratosphere of awfulness when it came to throwing the ball inside of the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Fortunately, the Jets made numerous additions this offseason that should help transform their previously abysmal red zone offense into one of the league’s best.
Aaron Rodgers will give the Jets a significant boost in many areas, quite obviously. But the red zone should be one of the areas where Rodgers’ impact is the most noticeable.
Since 2020, Rodgers ranks second in the league with 84 touchdown passes in the red zone. He’s only thrown four red zone interceptions, giving him a 21-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio that nearly doubles the league average (10.7-to-1). His 64.7% completion percentage in the red zone also ranks second-best over that span (min. 100 red-zone passes).
While Patrick Mahomes has Rodgers beat with 87 red-zone touchdown passes since 2020, Rodgers has been more efficient at producing touchdowns on a per-attempt basis. Mahomes threw 315 red-zone passes over the past three seasons while Rodgers threw 281. Rodgers leads the league with 29.9% of his red-zone pass attempts resulting in touchdowns since 2020.
Such fantastic efficiency would be a startling sight for Jets fans. The Jets’ 2022 quarterbacks had a red zone touchdown pass rate of 14.9% (10 TD on 67 attempts).
One of Rodgers’ most appealing traits in the red zone is his ability to avoid negative plays. He gets the ball out quickly and rarely allows the drive to be killed by a sack. Rodgers took only eight red zone sacks over the past three seasons, giving him a red zone sack rate of 2.8% that ranks second-lowest over that span behind only Trevor Lawrence’s 2.0%.
New York’s quarterbacks took seven red zone sacks in 2022 alone, resulting in an atrocious red zone sack rate of 9.3%.
Rodgers is not the only addition who will improve the Jets’ red zone offense.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should also provide a boost in the red zone. During his three years as the Packers’ offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021, one of Hackett’s primary responsibilities was designing the team’s red zone offense, and he generated excellent results. Green Bay scored a touchdown on 121 of 180 red zone trips in Hackett’s tenure, a rate of 67.2%. For perspective, that would have ranked fourth-best in the NFL last season.
Yet another former Packer who should help the Jets out in the red zone is Allen Lazard. Over the past two seasons, Lazard tied for eighth in the NFL among wide receivers with 12 red zone touchdown receptions.
With Rodgers and Hackett in place, the Jets should also be able to get better red zone results out of their returning weapons, too, not just Lazard.
Garrett Wilson caught only three red zone touchdowns last season, but he tied for ninth among wide receivers with 19 red zone targets. The fact that he was able to draw so many red zone targets as a rookie is impressive – it’s largely a testament to his route running. His abysmal efficiency on those targets had more to do with the poor accuracy of his quarterbacks than his own performance. With better throws, Wilson could have translated a much higher percentage of his targets into touchdowns.
Tyler Conklin is another player who seems likely to benefit from the new pieces. Conklin was only targeted in the red zone four times last season, yet he turned three of them into touchdowns. His unique route-running skills for the tight end position should make him a dangerous weapon in the red zone, but the Jets didn’t use him in that part of the field enough. Rodgers, who has thrown 6.1 touchdowns to tight ends per season in his career, should give Conklin the targets he deserves.
When it comes to the run game, the Jets didn’t make too many notable additions from the outside that could help their red zone performance. Rather, they will be counting on injury luck to improve their talent compared to last season. If the Jets are lucky enough to enjoy healthy seasons from Mekhi Becton and Breece Hall – who combined to play seven of 34 games last year – it would substantially increase the run game’s sheer power, helping them score touchdowns at the goal line more efficiently.
But even if Becton and/or Hall do not stay healthy, the threat of New York’s passing attack should raise the floor of the red zone rushing attack regardless of who is on the field. Defenses will no longer be able to sell out on the run due to their respect for Rodgers. This should naturally make it easier for the Jets to push the ball over the goal line than it was last year, when teams were stacking the box and daring the Jets to throw.
All of the right pieces are in place for the Jets to consistently finish off their drives with seven points instead of three (or zero).
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