clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why the Jets should embrace the outside run game

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Offenses have the most success when they force the other team to defend every blade of grass on the field. Stretching out the defense creates space. Space is good for the offense. When there is space, tacklers aren’t near the football. That is just common sense.

These concepts are frequently discussed in the passing game. Route combinations are designed to stretch out the defense vertically and horizontally to open up windows for the QB to throw the ball.

Stretching the defense out is also important in the run game. A well-designed run game threatens the defense from sideline to sideline.

In the NFL the distinction between running backs and wide receivers is shrinking. Many running backs have become part of their team’s passing game. Additionally, receivers are starting to get carries. It is a way to threaten the defense with outside runs. Get a speedy receiver the ball with a head of steam outside.

The 49ers utilized this in the Super Bowl with Deebo Samuel.

Samuel had 3 rushing attempts in the game and 6 in the Playoffs for San Francisco.

The goal is ultimately to stretch the defense out. An effective outside run game makes it easier to run inside.

One of the 49ers core plays is the stretch run. The back takes the ball on an angle running outside. If there is a lane at the end, he takes it. Defenses try to counter this by sticking guys out wide to protect the edge.

When the defense gets rattled by outside runs, sometimes defenders overpursue, leaving cutback lanes inside.

The back then has the option to take the ball back inside. Using the entire field benefits the entire run game. It also helps the offensive line out. The offensive line doesn’t need to throw much of a block on the linebacker for it to be effective.

Sharp Football Stats charts the direction and success of plays in the NFL. It should come as no surprise that outside runs are typically the most successful run plays. At the snap, the defensive front is in the middle of the field, and space is outside.

Crunching their numbers for the 2019 season shows that runs to the edge averaged 5.3 yards per carry while runs behind an offensive lineman averaged only 4.2 yards per carry. While outside runs accounted for only 24.9% percent of run plays in 2019, they produced 38.1% of “explosive” runs gaining 10 or more yards.

Combining the numbers from Sharp Football Stats with the Pro Football Reference Play Index, I further crunched some numbers. I took a look at the percentage of run plays went outside for each team.

The top six was hardly surprising. Arizona topped the league at 38.9%. Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, Kansas City, and Minnesota were the next five. Aside from Washington, these teams have some of the most analytically-inclined coaching staffs in the league.

The logic is simple enough. Since outside runs are more effective, call them more frequently.

The Jets were one of the teams that fell to the bottom of the rankings. Only Cleveland (52) had less outside runs than the Jets (53). Only Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland had a lower percentage of outside runs than the Jets’ 13.9%. The Jets were also within 0.6% of those three teams so the difference was low.

This makes even less sense when you consider how poorly the Jets run blocked in 2019. If there was ever a team that should have looked to minimize the role of the offensive line by running to the edge, it was the Jets.

According to Sharp Football Stats’ numbers, the Jets did indeed average 5.0 yards per outside run and only 3.1 yards per run behind an offensive lineman.

Never was the philosophy more confusing than the Week 13 loss to the Bengals. Cincinnati was allowing over 6 yards per attempt on perimeter runs. The Jets only had one such rushing attempt in a game where the offense largely stalled. It went for 7 yards.

Perhaps this is a philosophical thing with Adam Gase. His Dolphins teams in 2017 and 2018 had a low rate of outside rushing attempts (in the 18% range both seasons). Is this another area where Gase is just set in his ways?

It sure looked that way in 2019, but it should be noted that Miami was over 30% in Gase’s first season of 2016.

Either way I think this is something the Jets should look to adjust heading into 2020.