One of my greatest frustrations this season with offensive Jeremy Bates has been a lack of creativity in the plays the Jets have run. Other teams in the NFL are manufacturing offense through unique personnel groupings and plays that utilize misdirection.
In Sunday’s game against the Titans, Bates finally provided some of these things on a critical third and 5 play coming out of the 2:00 warning. The Jets led 22-19, and a first down would have virtually sealed the win.
The Jets lined up with both Elijah McGuire (orange) and Trenton Cannon (red) in the backfield. To Bates’ credit, the Jets used them together quite a bit in this game. I spent months trying to figure out why Bates never put Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell on the field at the same time before Powell went out with an injury so at least this was something.
The play had Josh McCown faking a handoff to McGuire running left (right from your vantage point). Cannon started out running in the same direction but then would reverse his direction and receive the ball from McCown. Hopefully this could create some misdirection.
Indeed, you can see three Titans flowing in the direction of the fake to McGuire, while Cannon sets off in the opposite direction.
The play doesn’t work, however, and Cannon is tackled for no gain.
Was this just a case of bad luck? No, it wasn’t. It was a case of a bad playcall and a play that wasn’t terribly well-designed. I think there were flaws in the blocking assignments, and I don’t think McCown was used effectively enough selling the threat of keeping it to occupy a defender. Those concerns are secondary at the moment, though. It is a small victory that Bates at least made an attempt to do something creative. The greater issue is the situation.
Yes, I want the Jets to try to leverage personnel groupings to their advantage and come up with creative playcalls. But you have to understand how game situations mesh with the specific play you are trying to call.
Let me start out with a major quibble I have. This play design involves a rookie building up a head of steam as he receives the ball running directly toward the sideline. There were 2:00 left in the game, and the Jets were holding a lead. Bates called a play that maximized the odds of a mistake happening. The last thing you want to happen in that situation is for a player to go out of bounds, stop the clock, and not force your opponent to call a timeout. What play has higher odds of a player running out of bounds than one that has him set out on a path directly towards the sideline. And what player is more likely to make such an error than a rookie?
Derrick Morgan set the edge for Tennessee and forced Cannon to cut inside so there ultimately was no mistake, but I don’t think Bates could have possibly called a play more likely to create such an error. In the end, isn’t coaching about maximizing your chances of success and minimizing the chances of an error?
That wasn’t great, but the bigger issue is that there was no way this play was ever going to work. Look at how the Titans were lined up. Literally all 11 defenders were within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage. They are all in the hand-drawn quadrilateral in the picture below. (Yes, it was drawn by hand. Yes, I also know it’s shocking something that well-drawn was done by hand.)
What is the worst possible play you can run against a defensive front that compressed? It probably would be a long-developing East-West run play. Every second spent not pushing the ball forward is a second for extra defenders to converge on the ball. And even if a fake in one direction makes three defenders take a false step, there are still going to be plenty more in the area to make a play.
It isn’t like this should have come as a surprise. This was a third and 5 with 2:00 left and the Jets trying to run out the clock. Anybody could have told you the Titans were going to sell out to stop the run.
After three months of running a stagnant, predictable offense the Jets decided to try and do something creative, but it was neither the time nor the place for the play they ran.