For Jets fans, watching the Adam Gase-led offense in the first two games of the season has been, well, offensive on the eyes. New York ranks last in the NFL in points per drive with 1.43, a figure that would plummet to 0.84 if not for a pair of garbage-time touchdowns in their two blowout losses.
The most apt word I’ve heard to describe Gase’s offensive philosophy has been “afraid,” heralded by the adage, “Make sure every drive ends in a kick,” even if that means giving up on possessions with safe third-down calls or playing for field goals in opponents’ territory.
Sure, turnovers are to be avoided at nearly all costs, but the way this league is designed, manufacturing points shouldn’t be this difficult. When asked after last Sunday’s 31-13 loss to San Francisco about testing the 49ers’ injury-depleted defense, Gase responded that the plan was to wait until the second half, but then deep threat Breshad Perriman exited with an ankle injury. Talk about taking the cake!
Among 34 qualifying QBs, only Drew Brees has a lower average intended yards to target than Sam Darnold’s 6.0, per NFL Next Gen Stats. The way the game is called, why not take some shots that might not connect, but might also draw some flags?
I get that Gang Green’s wide receiver corps is decimated beyond recognition to most NFL fans, but there are ways for Gase to maximize what he has. Here are three:
1) Go Left, Old Man
This adjustment admittedly is courtesy of NFL Network announcer Brian Baldinger, who gushes over Jets rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton the way Homer Simpson looks at donuts. Baldinger obviously cherry-picks clips from the “All-22” tapes he shares on Twitter, but those clearly show Becton dominating in the run game. ProFootballFocus.com grades Becton as the league’s eighth-best tackle in run blocking (100 snap minimum) and the results bear witness. Per PFF, the Jets average nearly a yard more per carry going left versus right. Unfortunately, the attempts have been about a 50/50 split in the two games.
With running back Le’Veon Bell out for at least the next two games, the burden has mostly fallen on 37-year-old Frank Gore, who is more of a “get the handoff and plow straight-ahead” type of runner than the patient Bell. Gore left many yards on the field on Sunday by failing to take advantage of gaping holes cleared by Becton on the left side of the line, because the play called for dives up the middle.
Up next for Becton is Indianapolis edge rusher Justin Houston, who is more of a threat rushing the passer than against the run. Gase obviously wants the Jets to be a running team, yet they are fourth worst in the league in average yards per carry (3.5), slightly better than last season’s NFL-worst 3.3 average. Run more behind Becton and those numbers should go up.
2) Play-action Works
My apologies for obsessing over this, but it bears repeating: No team has used play action less than the Jets (15.1 percent) this season, per PFF. It’s absolutely mind-boggling, considering that Darnold averaged 2.2 yards more per attempt when faking a handoff last season.
The Jets’ offensive issues against the 49ers were mostly on second downs, since they averaged 6.6 yards on 1st-and-10 plays (including 4.6 yards on run plays). Only three teams had a higher first down “success rate” in Week 2, as defined by SharpFootballStats.com.
Ah, but when it was 2nd-and-7 or less, Gase dared not open up his playbook. In the first three quarters before the game was effectively gone, the Jets ran it six times for 11 yards and had one measly three-yard completion in three short pass attempts in these situations, picking up exactly one first down.
These are the calls that beg for play-action passing, when you can get the linebackers to bite on the fake and sneak a tight end down a seam behind them. Unfortunately, not one of Darnold’s three targets was to a tight end. Which brings me to…
3) Double Down On Tight Ends
With Perriman, Jamison Crowder, and Denzel Mims all expected to remain sidelined on Sunday, the Jets are “down to whoever has a pulse,” as Gase stated in Thursday’s pre-practice press conference. So, who wants to bet that the majority of Gase’s plays against Indianapolis will still call for “11” personnel package (one running back, one tight end, three receivers)?
All training camp, the Jets hyped tight end Chris Herndon, and they extended backup Ryan Griffin in the offseason for three years at $9.55 million. But, they’ve been largely absent in the two games, with Herndon’s Week 1 fumble and Week 2 end-zone drop not the sort of highlights we expected. The few times they’ve played together, it was mostly to provide additional blocking.
The idea that double tight ends are exclusively for running downs is antiquated. Per Sharp, the personnel packages that produced the highest average yards per pass play (100 snaps minimum) in the NFL last season had two tight ends. In the two-game small sample this year, the Jets are averaging 6.6 yards per pass attempt when using two tight ends and 6.0 yards out of 11 personnel. Yet only 10 of their 121 offensive snaps have been passes using “12” (one running back, two tight ends) personnel.
Gase’s game plans have been heavy on wide receiver screens and other passes that barely travel past the line of scrimmage. Per PFF, Herndon has one reception on three targets over 10 yards downfield, while Griffin’s sole passing game sighting anywhere on the field was a long gain negated by offensive pass interference.
In my old hedge fund world, we would call these opportunities “value plays.” If only Gase was wise enough to bend to the research.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1