When the Jets hired Mike LaFleur as their offensive coordinator, I figured based on his influences that the team would install an offense that looked to establish the run as its first priority.
In the early part of the season, that proved to be the case. It seemed to be to the team’s detriment. A focus on establishing the run can make sense in certain circumstances. Those circumstances all include being able to run the ball effectively, which the Jets were not able to do.
There is something to be said for using the run game to protect a rookie quarterback, but when the run game is inefficient, it puts the rookie quarterback into difficult situations. I began to wonder whether LaFleur was too stuck in his system and unable to adapt to the realities of his roster.
Then something changed. That something coincided with Zach Wilson leaving the lineup.
Let’s take a look at the Jets’ play calling on first and ten through the season. This is as neutral of a situation as you can find. I eliminated game situations where one team led the game by more than two scores where the margin can alter playcalling. I also eliminated the fourth quarter of games where time management can also alter playcalling.
The results have been placed below in an elegant-looking GGN chart.
The figures here seem rather striking. What has the productivity been from the offense? The answers are below in an elegant-looking GGN chart.
The strategy with Wilson has been to run to make it easier to throw. However, one could interpret the numbers to suggest that throwing the ball a lot has opened up the run game.
There is some evidence the Jets have also focused more on the run on second down plays with Wilson under center. To keep the comparison stable, I separated the second down playcalls into groups based on distance needed to pick up the first down. Again I only took plays with the margin two scores or less and not in the fourth quarter.
Here are the calls on second and between one and three needed to pick up the first down in an elegant-looking GGN chart.
Here are the second down play calls when between four and six yards are needed to pick up the first down in the form of an elegant-looking GGN chart.
Now the Jets aren’t universally running it on second down with Wilson in the game and throwing it when he’s not. The tendency to run goes away once it gets to second and long. Here are the ratios on second and between seven and ten and second and eleven or longer respectively in two elegant-looking GGN charts.
So it doesn’t seem like LaFleur is afraid of letting Wilson throw if the situation dictates it. However, in neutral situations such as first down or second and short or medium, he is more likely to hand the ball to a back when Wilson is in there.
I do wonder how much of this goes to wanting to protect his rookie and how much of it goes into trust or a lack of it.
Now there’s a pretty good argument that handing it off on second and short is the sound play, and the Jets have been effective in running the ball in those situations.
However, once we get to the second and between four and six situations, things have been very dicey. Here is the productivity breakdown in an elegant-looking GGN chart.
Clearly the Jets have been better off in these second and moderate situations when they have been throwing the ball more with other quarterbacks in the lineup.
Does LaFleur just not trust Wilson?
This might speak to the balancing act the Jets’ coaching staff has to do this season. There are numerous objectives. Among them are developing Zach Wilson, developing the rest of the team, establishing a culture, and yes, winning games.
Some of these are aligned. For example, it’s difficult to establish a good culture unless you are winning games.
Some of these are at odds with each other, however. Developing Zach Wilson might mean living with inefficiency and mistakes in the short term as he learns how to play the position.
It might be easy to say that developing Wilson should top all other goals, but in practice that isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world. Coaches tend to not be excused for losing games because their young quarterback plays poorly and shows his inexperience.
That said, I think these numbers suggest the Jets would be well-advised to open the offense up. On first downs and second and moderates, their heavy run approach simply isn’t working. If winning and developing Wilson are competing goals, the team is currently doing neither.
And if they trust Wilson so little that they remain this adamant about running the ball inefficiently, it gets to a point where you have to wonder why he’s still in there.