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NY Jets continue to seek elusive success in critical offensive facet

Mike Williams, NY Jets, TD, Red Zone
Mike Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Will the New York Jets finally find success in the red zone?

The postmortem for the 2023 New York Jets offense is nothing short of ugly. It was the worst offense in team history. That’s saying something for a franchise that has fielded many embarrassing offenses. How Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, and Trevor Siemian managed to outdo the Adam Gase/Sam Darnold outfits almost defies reason.

For a team that scored a pathetic 18 touchdowns the entire season, the offensive numbers across the board are abysmal. But that poor touchdown total was driven by an atrocious performance in the red zone. After posting the second-worst red zone touchdown rate in the league in 2022 (43.5%), they managed to outdo themselves in 2023 by a significant margin, cashing in on only 32.4% of their red zone drives. That was nearly 12% lower than the next-lowest team, the New York Giants (44.2%). It was close to the same distance between the first-ranked 49ers and the 15th-ranked Bears.

For the Jets to succeed offensively in 2024, they’ll need to find a way to reverse that trend. Aaron Rodgers obviously makes that a lot easier, but other aspects of the team are better suited to success, as well.

What went wrong in 2023, and how can the Jets reverse it in 2024?

Not getting there

In the first place, the Jets weren’t in the red zone that often during the season. They ran just 112 non-spike plays inside the opponent’s 20, 31st in the league. That doesn’t have anything to do with their success or lack thereof in the red zone. Still, it was a part of why they scored the fewest touchdowns in the NFL and ranked 29th in points per game (15.8).

Even in Rodgers’ down year, 2022, the Packers ranked 17th in the NFL with 156 red zone plays. That’s the floor of the Jets’ expectations for 2024, with the potential to go a lot higher.

By the numbers

In 2023, Jets quarterbacks had the second-lowest passer rating in the red zone at 77.5. Their -6.4% completion percentage over expected ranked 29th, and their 3.1 yards per attempt ranked 26th. They took 8 sacks in the red zone for a 7.02% rate, the worst in the NFL.

Between the inability to complete passes and moving backward, the Jets’ passing offense in the red zone was a mess. They had only eight passing touchdowns in the red zone for the entire season, ahead of only Pittsburgh (5).

The Jets’ 25.8% tight-window percentage in the red zone (29th) hints at two possible issues. Either the receivers couldn’t get open, or the quarterbacks didn’t see the open receivers. From the fact that Zach Wilson has just 23 passing touchdowns in 34 career games, it’s evident that the quarterbacking could have something to do with it.

The running stats aren’t any better. The Jets ranked 29th with -0.7 rush yards over expected (RYOE) per carry inside the 20, and their 37.5% success rate ranked 26th.

Possible improvements

For one thing, Rodgers was one of the most efficient red zone passers in the NFL from 2020-22. As Michael Nania detailed, he ranked second in the league with 84 touchdown passes during that time with just 4 interceptions. His 21:1 TD:INT ratio was nearly double the league average (10:1). He also ranked second-best with a 64.7% red zone completion percentage during that time. Rodgers led the league with a 29.9% touchdown rate on red zone throws. He also avoided sacks, as he had a second-best 2.8% sack rate over that time.

The Jets also brought in a true big-bodied red zone threat in Mike Williams. From 2021-22, he tied for 16th among receivers with 9 red zone touchdowns. Allen Lazard had 12 during that span (8th), and with Rodgers’ return, perhaps he can rediscover some of that chemistry. Here’s the kind of play where a throw to a bigger receiver may have resulted in a touchdown.

Furthermore, there was a tantalizing glimpse of what a Rodgers-to-Garrett Wilson connection in the red zone could look like. In Rodgers’ lone appearance of the 2023 preseason, he saw Wilson isolated on a cornerback and checked from a run play to a fade, which Wilson caught for the touchdown.

As a rookie, Wilson showed how dangerous he is out of the slot in the red zone, cooking the Browns for an easy touchdown.

Wilson has five red zone touchdowns in two seasons, but his connection with Rodgers could increase that significantly. There were several plays in 2023 where a better quarterback could have hit Wilson with anticipation for a touchdown.

The fact that Tyler Conklin had no touchdowns in his second season with the Jets is asinine. He had nine targets in the red zone in 2023 compared to four in 2022, but only one inside the 5-yard line. While Conklin’s career-high for scores in a season is three, Rodgers should be able to find him more often than Wilson did. Rodgers averaged 6.1 touchdowns to tight ends per season across his 15 years in Green Bay.

On the rushing side of the matter, better blocking should enable some more rushing touchdowns. Breece Hall had just two red zone rushing touchdowns in 2023, and one was a play where the Eagles intentionally let him score. With Braelon Allen and Isaiah Davis also in tow, both of whom had short-yardage success in college, the Jets’ running back room should be far more equipped to score in the red zone.

Overall, the combination of a far superior quarterback, better blocking, and more receiving threats should improve the Jets’ performance in the red zone in 2024. Their offensive success will likely bank on it.

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