The New York Jets aren’t playing modern NFL football
On Thursday, former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky put out a tweet where he listed three things that he believes every top offense in the NFL is using – each of them being a stylistic choice that is controlled by coaching.
The top offenses in the NFL
ALL OF THEM have plenty of
1) Pre & at the snap motion
2) personnel & formation flexibility
3) heavy use of play-action
Yet teams think they can run offenses that don’t have these elements and be successful? That’s on coaching 100%
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) November 16, 2023
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Jets have used pre-snap motion on 35.3% of their offensive plays, which ranks 29th in the NFL. The league average is 52.2%.
So, this is already one area where the Jets are severely behind the curve. While it is not true that every elite offense is motion-heavy – for example, the Eagles are 31st at 29.5% – Orlovsky’s point is generally correct. There is a strong correlation between pre-snap motion percentage and overall offensive performance. Teams that use motion more frequently tend to generate better results.
Each of the top six offenses in pre-snap motion percentage is currently ranked in the top half of offensive DVOA:
- San Francisco (80.3%): 1st in offensive DVOA
- Miami (77.1%): 2nd
- LA Rams (67.6%): 15th
- Kansas City (66.2%): 6th
- Detroit (66.1%): 4th
- LA Chargers (65.3%): 8th
Meanwhile, eight of the bottom 10 teams in pre-snap motion percentage are currently ranked in the bottom half of offensive DVOA:
- Tampa Bay (48.0%): 21st in offensive DVOA
- NY Giants (46.7%): 32nd
- Houston (44.0%): 9th
- Arizona (42.2%): 27th
- Denver (41.5%): 17th
- Carolina (41.2%): 31st
- NY Jets (35.3%): 30th
- New Orleans (33.2%): 20th
- Philadelphia (29.5%): 7th
- Tennessee (20.7%): 23rd
The Jets’ lack of motion is particularly baffling because of their own production with and without the usage of motion.
While the Jets rank 27th with 4.7 yards per play on plays that do not use motion, they are 11th-best with 5.3 yards per play when using motion. The Jets’ +0.6 YPP margin in favor of pre-snap motion is the second-largest disparity in the NFL behind only the Buccaneers (+0.9), who average 5.6 YPP with motion and 4.7 without it.
So, not only are the Jets behind the curve when it comes to pre-snap motion usage, but they also aren’t playing to their own strengths. Hackett must fix this immediately and start incorporating pre-snap motion at a much higher rate.
Personnel and formation flexibility
In terms of personnel flexibility, we’ve already been discussing the Jets’ issues in this area ad nauseam throughout the entire season. Whether it’s Dalvin Cook, C.J. Uzomah, or Allen Lazard, the Jets have stubbornly stuck with underperforming players instead of trying something different.
At long last, it seems like the Jets are finally seeing the light in this department, as evidenced by their release of Michael Carter to make way for Israel Abanikanda. It’s a good start, although there is still work to do at tight end and wide receiver.
This isn’t to say that the Jets’ secondary options are guaranteed to outperform the players they would replace, but they would at least give the Jets a chance to see better results. It’s time to try something new after watching the same players fall flat on a weekly basis throughout the season. That’s what flexibility is all about – being open-minded to trying new and ambitious ideas instead of sticking with the perceived “safe” options.
When it comes to formational flexibility, the Jets have remained stagnant in their philosophies, largely refusing to experiment with new styles of play. In many areas, their choices have been very linear on a week-to-week basis throughout the year.
As one example, the Jets haven’t experimented with boosting their usage of 12 personnel packages (1 RB/2 TE/2 WR) despite their success with them.
The Jets are ranked eighth-best with 5.7 yards per play when using 12 personnel, but they are only 19th in 12 personnel usage at 17.4% of their plays. In all nine games this season, their usage rate of 12 personnel has ranged from a season-low of 11% to a season-high of 23%. That’s a pretty small gap between the maximum and the minimum, which suggests a lack of willingness to be flexible and try different things.
The Lions offense embodies the formational flexibility that Orlovsky is talking about. Detroit leads the NFL with 7.3 yards per play when using 12 personnel, and they accordingly use 12 personnel at an above-average rate, ranking ninth at 24.3%. But they don’t abuse the package. While they use it at a high enough rate to maximize their success when using it, they have shown the flexibility to make significant changes when it is the right move for that specific game.
When you look through the Lions’ package usage rates on a weekly basis, you see a ton of fluctuation. The Lions’ usage rate of 12 personnel has ranged from as low as 7% to as high as 43%. That’s a 36% margin between their minimum and maximum, triple the Jets’ 12% margin. Detroit is doing it right – they’re emphasizing their strengths and staying flexible, not stubbornly adhering to one philosophy.
Hackett is not making adjustments based on the strengths and weaknesses of his own team or the opponents. He is doing essentially the same thing every week and hoping for different results. The Jets need to open their minds to new ideas. They must do a better job of building an offense that suits the strengths of their team, and they also must expand their willingness to bend the playbook to match the opponent.
Heavy use of play action
This is yet another area where the Jets are behind the curve. Zach Wilson has utilized play action on 17.8% of his dropbacks, which ranks 27th out of 33 qualified quarterbacks.
However, there isn’t a strong correlation between play-action usage and offensive success. At the top of the play-action usage rate list, you see a mix of good and bad quarterbacks. The top-eight includes Kirk Cousins, Tua Tagovailoa, Dak Prescott, Geno Smith, and Jalen Hurts, but it also includes Ryan Tannehill, Desmond Ridder, and Daniel Jones. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes ranks one spot behind Zach Wilson and Joe Burrow ranks two spots above him.
So, this is one area where Orlovsky’s point isn’t exactly cut-and-dry. While many great offenses use a lot of play action, there are also some great offenses who use it at a low rate. Heavily relying on play action is not a necessity for an elite offense.
What matters is using play action at a rate that makes sense for your team. And that is why New York’s play-action usage rate is a concern even if it’s not necessary for elite offensive teams: The Jets are surprisingly respectable when using play action. Yet, they insist on using it at a low rate.
Zach Wilson is producing like an average quarterback when using play action. Out of 33 qualified quarterbacks, Wilson ranks 17th in yards per attempt (8.5) and 16th in passer rating (103.4) when using play action. But when he does not use play action, he ranks 29th in yards per attempt (5.5) and 30th in passer rating (68.0).
Wilson’s +3.0 differential in YPA between play action and non-play action is the eighth-largest disparity among qualified quarterbacks. His +35.4 differential in passer rating is the fourth-largest.
With such a large disparity between his play action success and non-play action success, it’s clear that Wilson should be one of the league’s heaviest users of play action. Having him in the bottom quarter of the league in play action usage makes absolutely no sense.
Nathaniel Hackett is doing everything possible to minimize the Jets’ odds of success
In just about every way, Hackett’s Jets offense is behind the NFL curve. He is choosing not to do almost every controllable thing that would give the Jets offense a better chance of scoring touchdowns.
Hackett uses pre-snap motion at one of the lowest rates despite a strong league-wide correlation between motion usage and offensive success – in addition to the fact that New York has one of the league’s largest disparities between motion success and non-motion success.
Hackett uses 12 personnel at a below-average rate despite the Jets’ success with the package, and his minimal week-to-week variance in personnel usage suggests an alarming lack of willingness to make adjustments.
Hackett uses play action at one of the lowest rates despite Zach Wilson having one of the league’s largest disparities between play action success and non-play action success.
All of these issues fall directly on the coach and have little or nothing to do with players’ execution.
It’s clear as day: Nathaniel Hackett is the number one reason for the Jets’ offensive struggles, and anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t looking closely enough.
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