The Jets need to see a drastic improvement in the efficiency of their run game. The offensive line has been one of the most maligned position groups on the team, and it’s in the run game more so than the pass game where their struggles have hurt the team most.
A huge issue has been the enormous amount of stuffs the offense has produced. Over the past two seasons, the Jets have gained two yards or less and no first down on 413 rushing attempts, the highest total in the league.
In 2018, the Jets ranked 29th in yards per carry (4.1) and percentage of rush attempts resulting in a first down (21.9%). They were the only team ranked in the bottom five of both categories. Altogether, the Jets ranked 30th in rush offense DVOA and 32nd in rushing EPA (expected points added).
Of course, the most notable addition the Jets made to their rushing attack was Le’Veon Bell. Adding the league’s all-time leader in scrimmage yards per game is certainly not a bad way to try and rejuvenate a sluggish run game, but what excites me most about Bell is that he has been great in the specific areas where the Jets have been awful.
Bell has done a tremendous job avoiding stuffs. He has been dropped short of the sticks for a gain of two yards or less on only 35.9% of his career regular season carries. That’s the lowest rate among the 26 running backs with 700+ rushing attempts since 2013. Comparatively, the Jets were dropped for a stuff on a league-leading 46.5% of their rushing attempts in 2018.
Obviously, this is a stat that can be heavily credited to the offensive line. It’s unlikely Bell replicates that number playing with a lesser group in front of him compared to the one he had in Pittsburgh.
However, there’s no doubt that the running back definitely has some part in producing that number. Bell’s trademark patience and vision help him do a great job of keeping the ball churning forward and avoiding prolonged stretches of stagnancy. Over his most recent three seasons, Bell ran for fewer than 3.0 yards per carry in only one game. In 2018 alone, Jets running backs ran for under 3.0 yards per carry as a group in a whopping six games.
RED ZONE OFFENSE
The Jets scored a touchdown on only 20 out of 44 red zone trips in 2018, a rate of 44.4% that placed them 30th in the league.
Both phases of the offense played a part in the ineptitude, but it was the rushing attack that was more at fault. The Jets picked up a first down or touchdown on only 21.2% of their rushing attempts in the red zone, which ranked 30th in the league. The passing efficiency was less inept, as the Jets converted on 30.2% of their passing attempts in the red zone, good enough for 22nd in the league.
As Sam Darnold caught fire down the stretch, the Jets showed signs of life in the red area. They picked up a first down or touchdown on 34.8% of their red zone passes over the final four weeks of the season, which ranked 11th in the league over that span. The Jets were one of only five passing offenses over that span to post at least five touchdowns and no turnovers in the red zone, along with the Texans, Steelers, Buccaneers, and Browns.
The Jets turned the ball over 30 times in 2018, the third-most giveaways in the league.
As was expected going into the year (and should be expected of any rookie), Sam Darnold had rookie bumps in the turnover department that pushed the Jets near the top of the turnover list. He had 15 interceptions, tying him for the second-most in the league.
Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that Darnold will become a solid protector of the football going forward. Perhaps the top reason is the strong set of hands he displayed. After entering the NFL with questions regarding his ability to hold on to the ball, Darnold didn’t fumble on a sack until the team’s last game of the season. Losing the ball only once all season is impressive for any quarterback, and especially so for a rookie.
Additionally, we saw Darnold drastically cut down on the interceptions near the end of the season. Following his return from injury, Darnold only threw one pick over the final four weeks of the season. He didn’t throw any over his final three games, and finished the season throwing 113 straight passes without an interception.
Darnold was not the only one at fault for the team’s turnover struggles. His teammates had immense trouble taking care of the ball. Jets running backs lost four fumbles, and the wide receiver group lost three. Josh McCown threw four interceptions in three games, a bad snap by Spencer Long led to a turnover, and Andre Roberts gave one away on a kickoff.
Here is yet another area where Le’Veon Bell could be of major assistance. Bell has lost only four fumbles in his entire career, equal to the amount that Jets running backs lost in 2018 alone. Overall, Bell has fumbled only eight times on 1,541 career regular season touches, a rate of 0.52% that stands as the second-lowest among the 18 running backs with 1,000+ touches since 2013.
The newly-signed Jamison Crowder has improved as a ball handler in the passing game. He hasn’t fumbled a single one of his 95 receptions over the past two seasons. That’s significant improvement over the earlier portion of his career, when he fumbled the ball twice in each of his first two seasons. He only lost one of those, however, so Crowder still has only lost one fumble over 221 career receptions.
On the other hand, the Jets probably shouldn’t feature Crowder at punt returner if ball security is going to be a primary emphasis. In 2017, Crowder let the ball hit the ground on five of his 27 return opportunities, leading to him losing punt returner duties for the Redskins in 2018.
The Jets ranked 29th in points scored per offensive drive last season. They scored 17 points or fewer in ten games. It’s safe to say that they need to get a lot better offensively in just about every facet — the numbers above illustrate just a few of the many areas where the Jets need to see drastic improvement if they’re going to be competitive in 2019.
How much do you think the Jets will improve in these three categories in 2019?