Much has been made of the star power and pass catching ability Le’Veon Bell will bring to the Jets’ backfield, but one of his most important roles will come with far less fanfare, keeping the offense on schedule.
The Jets were constantly putting Sam Darnold into difficult third down plays a year ago because of their failures on early downs.
No team faced a higher percentage of third down plays requiring 8 yards or more to convert a first down. They accounted for almost half of Jets third down snaps.
In 2018 the average passer rating in the league on third down plays of 8 or longer was 78.8. The average passer rating on third down plays of 7 or less was 94.2.
Think about that. The average quarterback essentially turns into Blake Bortles if he has to pick up 8 or more yards on a third down play. Meanwhile he resembles Ben Roethlisberger if he has to pick up 7 or less yards.
The troubles started on first down. Many statistics use a 4 yard gain on first down as the measure for success. Jets running backs had the second lowest number of 4+ yard runs on first and 10 plays in the NFL last season. Only Arizona had less.
In Bell’s last full season, he finished third in the league with 64 such runs. Only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott had more in 2017.
While big plays do deserve our attention, staying on schedule has a role in determining the outcome of games. Third and long is the most favorable situation for the defense. The offense has to throw, and it is much easier to play defense when the other team can only pass. You can load the field with defensive backs. Pass rushers can fly upfield without needing to account for the run. Aggressive blitz packages come onto the table. If you have the Chiefs offense, you can overcome these situations coming frequently. More mortal offenses struggle quite a bit.
Le’Veon Bell will help the Jets in many ways. One will be keeping Sam Darnold out of difficult third down situations. The Jets got him into too many last season.
(All numbers came from the Pro Football Reference Play Index.)