These two players must thrive if the New York Jets want to run the ball against Buffalo
They went out and added Dalvin Cook to a backfield that already features Breece Hall, they kept a fullback on their 53-man roster, and they seem poised to utilize a lot of two-tight end packages. Undoubtedly, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett wants to create a balanced offense that doesn’t put the weight of the world on Rodgers’ 39-year-old right arm.
Running the ball effectively will be particularly important in Monday’s season opener against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets proved how important it is to run the ball against Buffalo in their 2022 victory over the Bills.
In the Week 9 win, New York ran for 174 yards, which ended up being their second-best rushing total of the season. The run game made life easier for Zach Wilson and also chewed plenty of clock, which kept Josh Allen on the sideline and prevented the game from turning into a shootout.
While the Jets are now capable of winning shootouts thanks to Rodgers, you still don’t want to get into a shootout with the high-octane Bills regardless of who you are. In 2022, the Bills went 8-0 when scoring more than 30 points. Since 2020, Buffalo is 24-2 (including the playoffs) when scoring more than 30 points, tying them with Kansas City for the most victories while scoring more than 30 points.
With 30 points or fewer, the Bills are just 17-13 since 2020, including just 6-7 on the road.
Simply hold the Bills to 30 points or less, and you have a shot at taking them down. Controlling the clock through the run game is the easiest way to accomplish that feat.
Running the ball is a team effort that involves many factors. Not only does it take great playmaking from the ball carriers, but it also requires good blocking from the offensive linemen, good blocking from the skill-position players, savvy play calling, a cognizant quarterback who can properly adjust calls at the line, and even a good passing game to create favorable boxes to run against.
Because of the run game’s extremely multi-faceted nature, it seems silly to pinpoint just two players who will hold the keys to New York’s run game on Monday. Countless Jets will play a role in that phase.
With that being said, I still believe two particular players will be especially crucial for New York’s ground game against this Bills team: Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook.
Wow, what a groundbreaking take! The Jets’ top two running backs will be important in the run game. How did he come up with that one?
Allow me to explain the method to my madness.
Yes, the running backs are obviously an important piece of the rushing attack in any football game that has ever been played. However, I think there is a spectrum as to what their level of importance is. In some games, the most important factor in determining the run game’s success might be the offensive line. In others, it might be the play calling. And in some, it could be the running backs themselves.
All of these factors are important in every game, but the degree of each one’s importance will vary depending on the team and the opponent.
In this particular game, I think the running backs themselves will be the most significant X-factors in determining the success of New York’s rushing attack – rather than the offensive line, the play calling, or another factor. And it’s for one specific reason: The Bills really struggle to finish tackles in the run game.
According to PFF, the Bills had the second-worst missed tackle rate against the run in 2022, whiffing on 16.2% of their tackle opportunities in the run game. Buffalo had the fourth-most missed tackles against the run (90) but ranked last in total tackles against the run (466).
To make matters worse, the Bills lost one of their best run-game tacklers in free agency, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Now a member of the Bears, Edmunds was second on the team with 49 total tackles against the run, and he only missed three tackles in the process. Edmunds’ 5.8% missed tackle rate against the run was the second-best among 18 Bills defenders who played at least 100 run-game snaps.
Going into 2023, all of Buffalo’s worst offenders in the tackling department are still on the team. Each of their nine worst tacklers in the run game (among the 18 players with 100+ run-game snaps) based on missed tackle rate are projected to suit up on Monday:
- EDGE A.J. Epenesa (50.0% missed tackle rate vs. run)
- CB Kaiir Elam (27.3%)
- CB Christian Benford (25.0%)
- CB Dane Jackson (23.8%)
- DT Tim Settle (23.5%)
- S Damar Hamlin (22.4%)
- CB Taron Johnson (19.0%)
- LB Matt Milano (16.4%)
- S Jordan Poyer (15.6%)
Against a team that is loaded with poor tacklers, it will be especially important for the running backs to win their one-on-one opportunities in space.
Even if plays are blocked poorly, the Jets will still have chances to make things happen on the ground because of Buffalo’s poor tackling. Allowing defenders into the backfield isn’t as harmful when the defenders are going to miss the tackle at such a high frequency – but only if the running backs can exploit that poor tackling.
It’s on Hall and Cook to force as many missed tackles as they can. They will be presented with plenty of chances to outperform the expectations laid by the blocking.
Hall and Cook’s elusiveness will be most important on runs to the outside. Take another look at the list above. Six of the nine players listed are defensive backs, including three cornerbacks in the top four. It’s in the secondary where Buffalo’s tackling was particularly brutal.
If Hall and Cook can exploit that weakness by consistently dodging tacklers at the second level, they can create opportunities to unleash their breakaway speed and take off for game-altering runs. Cook did exactly that against the Bills last season, juking out Christian Benford on his way to an 81-yard score.
81 yard TD pic.twitter.com/q42FiHTROl
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) July 31, 2023
Keep an eye on Hall and Cook’s individual performances in the elusiveness department on Monday night. Don’t just judge them by the end result of their plays – watch closely to see how much they are creating on their own. Are they winning their one-on-one opportunities in the open field? That will be their primary job in this contest.
While the Jets’ offensive line will obviously be important in determining the run game’s success, Hall and Cook ultimately hold the keys in this particular game due to Buffalo’s woeful tackling. No matter how good or bad the blocking is, the Jets’ star RB duo will get plenty of favorable chances to force missed tackles and gain more yardage than what was blocked for them.
Whether or not they maximize those chances will likely be the biggest factor in deciding whether the Jets can run the ball efficiently.