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How did NY Jets’ new-look OL perform in its debut?

Mekhi Becton, NY Jets Left Tackle, Stats, Film
Mekhi Becton, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets may have found the right combo for the offensive line

It took a Duane Brown injury to facilitate it, but the New York Jets went bold and sent out a massively re-shuffled offensive line combination on Sunday:

To replace Brown, Becton slid from right tackle back over to his preferred left tackle spot. Vera-Tucker kicked out to right tackle, where he started his final three games in 2022. Filling in at right guard was Joe Tippmann, the Jets’ second-round pick in this year’s draft who has mostly played center but also offers the ability to play guard.

Jets fans were unaware of the combination until the news broke early Sunday morning, as the coaches seemed to hint throughout the week that Billy Turner would simply fill in for Brown at left tackle. It turns out Robert Saleh was just trying a little bit of gamesmanship, as reports indicated the Jets had been practicing with this new combination since the beginning of the week.

The announcement of this combination excited the fanbase. Thanks to Tippmann replacing Brown, the overall talent level of the unit had risen significantly, taking its ceiling to a new level.

Did the unit live up to the hype in its debut? Let’s dig into the Jets offensive line’s performance against New England.

Pass protection

From my review of the film, I thought the pass protection was quite good. There were a ton of clean pockets created in this game. Unfortunately, Zach Wilson usually failed to capitalize on them. His inability to get the ball out made it seem like the offensive line was struggling when it really wasn’t.

The Jets’ pass protection gets the job done on all of these plays, but each play results in failure due to Wilson’s mistakes.

PFF’s breakdown of the Jets’ pass protection directly lines up with what I saw on film. While Wilson was pressured on 47.5% of his dropbacks (fourth-highest in Week 3), that number was largely his own fault. Wilson averaged 3.19 seconds from snap to throw, ranking second-highest among all quarterbacks in Week 3 behind only Justin Fields. This tells us he had plenty of time to get the ball out but often held it too long, thus creating his own pressure.

If Wilson consistently got the ball out when somebody was open, many of the plays charted as “pressured” would have been marked as “clean” instead, since Wilson was usually well-protected at the moment receivers broke open. But whenever Wilson decided to start running in circles instead of targeting an open receiver, defenders would eventually disengage from the offensive line and pressure him, causing a well-protected dropback to turn into a “pressured” dropback.

PFF’s grading system accounted for this to paint a more accurate picture. As a team, the Jets received a pass-blocking grade of 77.0 in this game, which is a very good mark. It’s the Jets’ third-best mark since the start of 2022, trailing only the 2022 wins over Buffalo and Chicago.

These two sacks taken by Wilson are perfect examples of how he made the offensive line look bad in situations where they were actually good. Neither of these sacks is the offensive line’s fault. The first sack occurs 4.8 seconds after the snap and the second occurs 5.2 seconds after the snap. On both plays, he’s still unpressured after three full seconds, which is an eternity in the NFL.

Looking at individual players, Tippmann and Vera-Tucker were the stars of the show. Tippmann was credited with zero pressures allowed on 42 pass-blocking snaps. Vera-Tucker allowed one pressure.

Tippmann did get called for a holding penalty late in the fourth quarter that called back a Zach Wilson scramble that moved the chains. However, I actually think it was a heads-up play by Tippmann. Unfortunately, Tippmann got stepped on by Vera-Tucker, causing him to get run over by his defender. Tippmann decides to take a penalty to prevent a likely sack, clamping the defender with his legs. I consider this a good move on Tippmann’s part.

Other than that play, Tippmann and Vera-Tucker were nearly flawless at protecting the right side.

For Vera-Tucker, he is starting to build an excellent resume in pass protection at right tackle. Vera-Tucker has now started four games at right tackle, and in those games, he has allowed three total pressures on 101 pass-blocking snaps. That’s a pressure rate of 2.97%, which, for perspective, would have ranked fifth-best among qualified right tackles in 2022.

All three of those pressures were QB hurries. Vera-Tucker has yet to allow a sack or a QB hit while playing right tackle.

Becton, Tomlinson, and McGovern were credited with allowing four pressures apiece. Considering the league-average pressure rate for tackles (5.55% in 2022) is higher than guards (4.65%) and the league-average for guards is higher than centers (3.37%), this means McGovern was the least impressive of the trio, followed by Tomlinson and then Becton.

Becton allowed an untimely sack-safety to Matt Judon in the fourth quarter, but overall, I thought he was decent in pass protection. Not good, not bad – just decent. While he suffered a handful of losses, he also had a lot of quality one-on-one wins (many seen in the clips above). The Jets didn’t scheme up many easy plays for the offensive line in this game, so they had to face a high rate of true pass sets, and Becton handled it pretty well.

As for Tomlinson and McGovern, though, the Jets need them to provide more consistency on the interior. Four pressures in a game can be excused for a tackle, who often is by himself on an island, but guards and centers should not be getting beat that frequently because of how much help they have around them at all times.

Another important note is how frequently the Jets used their skill-position players to aid in pass protection. The Jets’ skill-position players logged a combined total of 23 pass-blocking snaps, which is more than double their total over the first two games combined (11).

Michael Carter shined, playing eight pass-blocking snaps and making a ton of key blocks, some of which can be seen in the clips above. Breece Hall followed Carter with six pass-blocking snaps and also performed well.

Run blocking

The Jets’ running backs ran for 36 yards on 20 carries (1.8 yards per carry), suggesting the run blocking was abysmal. However, judging the true quality of the Jets’ run-blocking in this game is difficult for a number of reasons.

Because the Patriots had absolutely zero respect for Zach Wilson, they were loading the box all game long, meaning the Jets usually didn’t have enough blockers to account for all of the defenders in the box. In addition, the box defenders were typically very aggressive at playing the run, showing no hesitation to dart toward the line of scrimmage. They were consistently able to play one step faster in the run game since they had no fear of getting caught biting on play-action.

And why should they? The Jets ran the ball 83% of the time on first-and-10 prior to the fourth quarter, and they only averaged 1.9 yards per carry on those runs. Nathaniel Hackett did a poor job of mixing up his play calls to make the Patriots pay for their ultra-aggressiveness. He played into their hands all game long, making life miserable for his offensive line.

Last but not least, Hackett again refused to utilize Mecole Hardman or Xavier Gipson to spread the defense out and create natural running lanes through pre-snap motion.

All of these factors made it extremely difficult for the Jets offensive line to create running lanes no matter how well they blocked. There were a lot of plays in which the blocking actually looks respectable if you analyze the effort of each individual blocker, but the run still gets stuffed because the Jets are outnumbered.

Seen below are four first-and-10 run plays where the Patriots had eight men in the box. These plays resulted in 0.8 yards per carry. Notice not only how many players are in the box, but also how aggressively they are playing. How are you supposed to clear a lane when you’re outnumbered against a bunch of players coming at you full-throttle with little restraint?

While the blocking on these plays isn’t perfect, the most damaging issue is the amount of congestion the Jets are dealing with. Even the greatest offensive lines would struggle to make things happen in these predicaments.

I don’t necessarily think the Jets’ run-blocking was good in this game, even when grading on a curve. Still, despite the ugly results on paper, I cannot say the blocking was bad considering the circumstances. I thought the blocking was fine enough to lead an average rushing attack if there were one less defender in the box on each play.

Going forward, Hackett needs to give the run game a better chance to thrive by trusting Wilson to throw the ball on first down, especially off play-action. Until he does that, the run game is probably going to get the same results every week. Defenses aren’t even slightly afraid of the Jets’ passing game, so they’re allocating all of their resources to the run game.

Throwing on first down will open more space for the run game – even if the passes aren’t successful. Regardless of the results, if you simply show defenses that you are willing to pass the ball on first down, it will make them think twice about selling out against the run.

It’s time for the Jets to stop hiding Zach Wilson if they trust him as much as they claim. If they’re lying to the media and actually do not trust him (which seems to be the case according to their game plans), they need to get him off the field and find someone they can trust before the season is beyond saving.

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8 months ago

Good article. I suppose the OL gets overly mailgned b/c of how poorly the whole operation performed, but that is obviously more a function of ZW than the linemen. More and more I’m losing faith in this coaching staff. What seems so obvious is completely unseen, or ignored, by the coaches. Why was Brown such a lock at LT? He’s 38 and has been largely injured or ineffective for most of his tenure here. Why stick with CJ at tight end over Ruckert? Why stick with Zach for THREE years when he’s not capable of starting in the nfl? Why cut Morestead for your below-ave punter just because you drafted him so highly? Just play the best damn players already. You deserve to be a loser team if you make dumb decisions.
Toughest job in sports is to be a Jets fan.

8 months ago

Really good piece Michael. So when Duane Brown is healthy does that change anything? At the very least Tippmann needs to be in the starting lineup at center or either guard position. However, based on Saleh’s affinity to his higher paid veterans Tomlinson will probably stay at LG so Tippman stays at RG or center. I think even when Brown is healthy he should just remain as a backup and let’s see where this current line takes us. None of it matters though unless we replace Zach, who’s absolutely lost as an NFL QB.