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Will this be the year Robert Saleh finally sheds NY Jets trend?

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, NFL, Head Coach
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

Robert Saleh still has a mindset that could be detrimental to the New York Jets

In 2023, the Super Bowl may have come down to fourth-down decision-making.

If New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh finds himself in that position in 2024, there’s no reason to believe he would do anything differently than Kyle Shanahan did. Kick the field goal, give Patrick Mahomes the ball, and rely on your defense to win you the game.

Sounds like a Jets plan, right? This is the same head coach who said that a game with the Raiders would be a race to 20 points. The guy who punted down 20-6 in the fourth quarter with playoff hopes on the line. The coach who was skewered for punting on national TV.

The Jets have many obstacles to overcome in their quest for a championship. While health takes the forefront, coaching is certainly in the top three. Nathaniel Hackett comes to most Jets fans’ minds when discussing the coaching aspect of the team, but Saleh is equally culpable.

At Jet X, we hammered this point home over and over again in the 2023 offseason. If Saleh wants to be a winning coach, he must join the 2020s in his fourth-down decision-making.

By the pure numbers, Saleh improved in this area from 2022 to 2023. Aaron Schatz (now of FTN Fantasy) calculates the Aggressiveness Index each season, which measures a head coach’s aggressiveness (or lack thereof) on fourth down compared to other coaches in the same situation. In 2022, Saleh ranked dead last in that category, but he improved to 21st in 2023.

While that could theoretically be a good sign, Saleh’s decisions against the Browns in Week 17 say otherwise. Punting on 4th-and-10 from the opponent’s 44 when trailing by 17 points tells the story loud and clear. Doing so on two consecutive drives is a whole different level of cowardice, as the Surrender Index points out.

Perhaps you can argue that Saleh felt the Jets had no chance of conversion due to their starting quarterback (Trevor Siemian) and makeshift offensive line. Maybe Saleh will be more aggressive in 2024 with Aaron Rodgers under center. But his conservative, keep-away, defense-first mindset seems ingrained more than situation-specific.

More interesting is the spread of head coaches who are more aggressive or conservative. Of the top 10 coaches in aggressiveness, six coached playoff teams in 2023 (Dan Campbell, Nick Sirianni, Kevin Stefanski, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel). However, in the bottom 10 were Sean McVay, Mike Tomlin, and John Harbaugh, also coaches of playoff teams. Andy Reid was 20th, Demeco Ryans 22nd, and Todd Bowles 23rd. So it does seem that fourth-down aggressiveness is not the be-all and end-all in winning.

Still, playing the advantages is one way a team can defeat a superior opponent. When the Jets were down for the count, they had even less to lose by going for it. The fact that Saleh did not may portend an even more conservative approach when the game matters.

This season is likely Saleh’s last chance in New York. Moving away from a scared mindset and toward and aggressive approach could be one way for him to earn another year.

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18 days ago

I found it a little disturbing a few weeks back when it came out that Woody Johnson said Saleh would concentrate more on offense. The details were kind of murky, but it sounded like the ownership/management had sat Saleh down and ordered him to do something he wasn’t necessarily willing or excited to be doing of his own accord. I can’t understand why someone would take a job as a head coach and not think he should be deeply engaged on both sides of the ball. I lived in the Bay Area during the Walsh/Montana era, and I remember distinctly that Bill Walsh was very involved in the defense, and very passionate about it, at the same time that he was running the offense at a high level of detail. I just don’t know where Saleh is coming from. Very strange.

Jonathan Richter
18 days ago
Reply to  DFargas

Walsh is a HOFer, while Saleh hasn’t had a winning season yet.