Watching the New York Jets offense in 2022 was painful enough, and this made it even worse
The 2022 New York Jets offense was a nightmare that most fans would prefer to forget. Injuries and atrocious quarterback play tore apart what once seemed like a promising season. The only plus side was that the season got bad enough for the Jets to make a drastic move.
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the expectation is that things will be very different. To rights, they should be. However, it’s important to note what exactly needs to change. That is not as simple as it seems.
There was one frustrating factor that came up in as many as seven of the Jets’ 10 losses in 2022. It was less discussed than the poor quarterback play but was likely attributable largely to the futility of the position. This must be different in 2023.
Explosive plays and scoring
The correlation between explosive plays and scoring in the NFL is abundantly clear. Having an explosive play (20+ yards) on a drive quadruples the EPA of the drive (3.01 vs. -1.18). Therefore, contrary to the ball-control mindset, gaining chunk yardage is vital to an offense’s success.
Sustaining drives by stacking first downs is difficult. The chance of gaining first downs on back-to-back series is 52%, and it only decreases from there. In fact, the Jets’ entire defensive philosophy is based on this principle: they want to force teams to drive methodically, which usually leads to failure.
While the Jets were not outstanding in generating explosive plays in 2022, they weren’t terrible, either. Their offense had 58 explosive plays, which tied with the Bears for 18th in the NFL. They tied for 20th with 49 drives that had at least one explosive play. Again, not great, but not bottom of the barrel, either.
However, it was what they did with those drives that was extremely poor. They ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring on just 65.3% of their offensive drives with an explosive play, including just 38.8% that resulted in a touchdown (28th). As much as a failure to move the ball was an issue for the Jets, finding a way to punch it in after a big play was an equally large problem.
Chief in losses
In their 10 losses, the Jets’ rate was even worse. They scored on just 55.2% of their explosive drives, including touchdowns on just 20.7%.
- Week 1 vs. BAL: 2 explosive drives, 0 TD, 1 FG
- Week 3 vs. CIN: 3 explosive drives, 0 TD, 1 FG
- Week 8 vs. NE: 5 explosive drives, 2 TD, 1 FG
- Week 11 @ NE: 1 explosive drive, 0 TD, 1 FG
- Week 13 @ MIN: 5 explosive drives, 1 TD, 3 FG
- Week 14 @ BUF: 2 explosive drives, 1 TD, 0 FG
- Week 15 vs. DET: 5 explosive drives, 1 TD, 3 FG
- Week 16 vs. JAX: 2 explosive drives, 0 TD, 0 FG
- Week 17 @ SEA: 3 explosive drives, 0 TD, 1 FG
- Week 18 @ MIA: 1 explosive drive, 0 TD, 1 FG
Against the Bengals, (first) Patriots, and Seahawks, at least two explosive drives came up empty. In the matchups with Detroit and Minnesota, there was one non-scoring explosive drive in each game. The bigger issue in those games was not converting explosive drives into touchdowns.
The simplest explanation is that the Jets struggled to move the ball at all. Therefore, even if they did manage an explosive play or two, their chances of scoring were still low. That explosive play had to be an actual touchdown or they were doomed.
That’s why it was so devastating when Garrett Wilson could not keep his toe in bounds near the end zone after a fantastic catch-and-run against Minnesota. The Jets had already struggled to score in the red zone all day, and that drive was no exception. It was ultimately the deciding factor in the game.
Red zone offense
Interestingly, the Jets did usually cash in when they had an explosive play that ended in the red zone. 11 of their 58 explosive plays ended within the opponent’s 20; they scored six touchdowns and four field goals on those drives with one turnover on downs. It wasn’t inherently their red zone offense that caused their ineffective scoring on explosive drives; rather, it was the need to continue marching down the field that did them in.
Although the red zone was undoubtedly an issue for the Jets in 2022 (they ranked 31st in the NFL in red zone touchdown rate), it was not the primary driver of this particular struggle.
The Jets drafted Breece Hall in the second round for his game-changing ability. Michael Carter played well in his rookie year, but the Jets coveted the explosive plays. They drafted Izzy Abanikanda and are interested in Dalvin Cook for the same reason.
In 2022, Wilson led the Jets with 13 explosive plays at a 15.1% explosive touch rate (12th among all offensive players). Hall had five explosive plays on 99 touches, a 5.05% rate (35/93).
Most explosive plays come in the passing game. That’s one of the reasons running backs are not considered that valuable. Of course, Christian McCaffrey was the top running back in generating explosive plays with 17, the ninth-most among all players. Still, on a per-touch basis, his teammate Brandon Aiyuk also had 17 at a far-higher 21.2%.
Therefore, if the Jets want to increase their explosive plays, it’s likely going to come via the air. Even if Hall is healthy and dominant, he can’t be their lone explosive player. Wilson, Allen Lazard (13 explosive plays, 21%), and Corey Davis (7, 21.9%) will need to lead the way.
Incidentally, Cook had seven explosive plays on 303 touches (3.01%), which ranked 21st out of 31 backs (min. 200 touches). While Carter (2.58%) and Zonovan Knight (1.02%) are not explosive, Cook isn’t enough of a game-changer to cover his deficiencies.
Fortunately for the Jets, Rodgers tied for fifth in the NFL with 53 explosive passes in 2022. His explosive rate was 9.72%, which ranked 12th. Although some were YAC-intended throws, Rodgers also facilitated them with touch. The Jets have a bunch of YAC-proficient players, headlined by Wilson and Mecole Hardman.
The Jets should have a more explosive offense in 2023. The question is whether they can score more as a result.
In the passing game, explosive plays take longer to develop. In 2022, there were 6.3 median yards per attempt on throws in under 2.5 seconds, compared to 7.9 YPA in over 2.5 seconds. The median rate of “big-time throws” (as charted by PFF) tells a similar story: 1.8% of throws in under 2.5 seconds vs. 5.4% of throws in over 2.5 seconds. Big pass plays often require time for the routes to develop.
The problem is that the Jets’ blocking is still highly suspect. That looked no different in their first joint practice with the Panthers. The tackle position has been a turnstile, as Billy Turner and Max Mitchell are not starting-caliber players.
In 2022, Rodgers was a more effective passer when he released the ball in under 2.5 seconds (97.3 rating vs. 84.4). Part of that was due to pressure rates: 47.6% of his over 2.5-second dropbacks (24th out of 39 passers) compared to 6.44% of his under 2.5-second dropbacks (second-least). Because he did not trust his offensive line, Rodgers often released the ball quickly, ranking 11th with 50.3% of his passes coming in under 2.5 seconds.
Although Rodgers likes to take deep shots (15.5% in 2022, sixth-highest), he won’t be able to without time. He tied for 18th out of 39 quarterbacks in facing pressure on 33.3% of his deep throws. By contrast, the Jets’ three primary passers faced pressure on 47.0% of their deep attempts, which would have been the fourth-worst rate.
Considering that the offensive line still looks like a mess, it’s fair to wonder how many shots Rodgers will be able to take. That could limit the ceiling of the offense.
It would be shocking if the Jets’ offense is not more explosive in 2023 than the year prior. How much so and what they do with those explosive plays could determine how far they go this season.