The New York Jets ran this successful personnel package for a few weeks in 2022
Through the first six weeks of the 2022 season, the New York Jets appeared to have found their winning formula: a dominant defense and Breece the Beast Hall running behind Alijah Vera-Tucker. Then, in Week 7, it disappeared in an instant. Within one quarter, both players went down, and the team’s offense crumbled.
Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Hall had been part of a successful duo in a particular personnel alignment. Michael Carter‘s 2022 struggles have been addressed ad nauseam, but putting Hall and Carter on the field together seemed to yield positive results. Although the sample size was small, it’s fair to wonder what would’ve been had Hall remained healthy.
Heading into 2023, the Jets may carry up to five running backs. One of their current backs is probably on the way out, but there is still a tantalizing mix of backfield talent. What better way to keep teams guessing that to put different mixtures of backs on the field at the same time?
The Jets thrived early out of 21 personnel
In 2022, the Jets did not carry a fullback on the team. Ostensibly, that would have meant that they did not use 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) that often. Surprisingly, though, they ranked 18th in using it 3.6% of the time.
Of the 17 teams who used 21 personnel more often than the Jets, 12 of them carried fullbacks. Among 19 NFL teams who did not carry a fullback, the Jets used 21 personnel at the sixth-highest rate.
Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Jets ranked 13th in running this personnel grouping 7.0% of the time. After Hall’s season-ending injury, they essentially did away with that package, running it just 1.1% of the time (25th).
The results from their 21 personnel grouping in Weeks 1-7 were promising.
- EPA per play: Jets 0.417, NFL average 0.008
- Success rate: Jets 51.5%, NFL average 44.1%
- Explosive play (20+ yards) rate: Jets 12.1%, NFL average 4.0%
On just 33 plays out of 21 personnel in those seven weeks, the Jets generated four explosive plays. In two of the cases, the personnel grouping contributed in some way toward the explosive result. They also had another 16-yard run out of 21 personnel in which the two-back set was a factor.
Michael Nania broke down in detail (after Week 6) how the Jets were successfully using 21 personnel to spring both of their backs. In particular, this 79-yard pass play to Hall was caused by play-action to Carter followed by the wheel route to Hall behind it.
As stated before, the Jets ran 21 personnel the sixth-most out of teams that did not carry a fullback. One of the teams ahead of them? The Green Bay Packers.
With their two-headed monster of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, the Packers ran 21 personnel 9.5% of the time. They were not nearly as successful out of it as the Jets were. Still, they eclipsed the league-average efficiency numbers for the entire 2022 season on their 100 attempts.
- EPA per play: Packers 0.049, NFL average -0.017
- Success rate: Packers 49%, NFL average 43.4%
- Explosive rate: Packers 3%, NFL average 4.2%
The explosiveness wasn’t there, but the consistency was to a far higher degree than it was leaguewide.
Although Nathaniel Hackett was not the Packers’ offensive coordinator in 2022, this was part of the gameplan for Rodgers. Incidentally, Hackett’s 2022 team, the Broncos, did not use 21 personnel as much. Despite carrying a fullback (Andrew Beck), Denver ranked 20th in using this package 3.1% of the time. Still, with the Jets’ talent at running back, it makes sense that they would continue to use it on a Rodgers-led squad.
The Jets’ newest backfield acquisition, Dalvin Cook, could be a dangerous threat in two-halfback sets. He actually did not play a single 21-personnel rep with another halfback in 2022; all 84 came with a fullback. Still, his threat on screen passes and dump-offs could make the misdirection threat lethal.
In 2022, Cook ranked seventh among running backs with eight receptions of 10+ yards on screen passes. He had two explosive plays (20+ yards), including a 64-yard touchdown against the Colts. His 5.41 yards per reception ranked ninth, and that was with 30 of his 39 receptions coming at most one yard past the line of scrimmage. In a pretty decent sample size, Cook generated some buzz.
Putting Cook in the backfield with Hall could present an incredible mismatch for defenses. If the combination of Hall and Carter was enough to be a serious threat, the sheer speed and twitch between Hall and Cook could send linebackers into a panic. Combine that with Rodgers’ penchant for throwing to running backs and ball fake skills, and the explosive play potential is enticing.
Fullback or halfback?
After landing on injured reserve in 2022, Nick Bawden appears on track to make the Jets’ 2023 roster. Hackett has utilized a fullback at every stop where he called the plays. Therefore, it makes sense that Bawden would be on the field.
Still, with all the talented halfbacks on the roster and the early success that the Jets had with it, I would expect to see a mix of two-halfback sets and the traditional I-formation looks with a fullback leading the halfback. Rodgers is accustomed to playing with two halfbacks. He also had success with a fullback when John Kuhn was with the Packers. With how he likes to throw to running backs, it makes sense to have them on the field, anyway.
For all of Mike LaFleur’s faults, he did find a way to creatively utilize his running backs in the early going. It will be interesting to see if Hackett can capitalize on his talent in the same way.