The New York Jets offense can force the issue for Buffalo’s defense
In a recent article, we broke down New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett‘s historical preferences with personnel usage. We found out that, in recent years, Hackett’s teams heavily favored the usage of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). The 2022 Broncos led the NFL with a 30.9% usage rate of 12 personnel while the 2021 Packers ranked second at 30.3%.
It remains to be seen whether the Jets will maintain those lofty numbers throughout the entirety of the 2023 season. But for at least one week, they would be wise to match Hackett’s recent 12 personnel usage rates – or even exceed them.
Using a heavy dosage of 12 personnel packages would be a fantastic plan against this particular Buffalo Bills defense. These packages can force the Bills out of their comfort zone and give the Jets a better chance of unleashing their vertical passing game.
Why would these packages make the Bills uncomfortable? It’s simple: They force the Bills into placing their least effective defensive lineup on the field.
In 2022, the Bills’ defense was at its best with only two linebackers on the field. Trouble arose when the Bills had to call upon a third linebacker.
When the Bills had fewer than three linebackers on the field, they allowed just 5.7 yards per pass attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the best mark in the NFL out of 25 qualified teams (min. 50 plays with ≤3 LBs). They also ranked fourth-best with -0.21 EPA allowed per dropback.
However, when the Bills had at least three linebackers on the field, they allowed 7.5 yards per attempt, ranking 21st out of 29 qualified teams (min. 50 plays with 3+ LBs). They also ranked 26th with 0.08 EPA allowed per dropback.
This makes plenty of sense when you consider the makeup of Buffalo’s roster. The Bills had a talented secondary, but they didn’t have great linebacker depth behind their two starters.
The Bills’ third linebacker in 2022 was Tyrel Dodson, who PFF graded as the 84th-best linebacker in the NFL out of 100 qualifiers.
Buffalo’s linebacker depth is even less promising as we enter 2023. The Bills lost one of their two primary starters, Tremaine Edmunds, in free agency. They still have a superstar at the top of the depth chart in Matt Milano, but he is now joined by Terrel Bernard, a 2022 third-round pick who hardly played in his rookie season (111 snaps). Behind them, the only backups are Dodson and Dorian Williams, a rookie third-round pick.
This is exactly why the Jets would be wise to utilize a heavy dosage of 12 personnel packages. When the Jets come out with multiple tight ends, the Bills would be forced to counter with a heavy personnel package of their own. Therefore, the more 12 personnel the Jets use, the more pressure they would apply on Buffalo’s questionable linebacker depth.
Forcing the Bills’ unproven linebackers into taking more snaps would simultaneously take snaps away from Buffalo’s solid defensive backs – ultimately making the Bills defense a less talented unit overall.
In addition to 12 personnel, don’t be surprised if we also see the Jets use some 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 TE, 2 WR) and 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR). They have the right people to run both packages.
With a fullback on the roster (Nick Bawden) and an intimidating one-two punch at running back (Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook), the Jets have the flexibility required for effective two-back sets. And with a three-deep tight end depth chart of Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, and Jeremy Ruckert, the Jets can confidently place three tight ends on the field, too.
Expect Nathaniel Hackett to utilize plenty of heavy personnel packages to exploit Buffalo’s concerns at linebacker.