Jets head coach Adam Gase was a controversial hire back in January 2019. To this day he remains a divisive figure in the fan base.
Things got off to a poor start for Gase in 2019 as the Jets started 1-7. This stretch was capped by an embarrassing loss to the previously winless Dolphins. The Jets had a strong second half of the season, going 6-2 over the final eight games to finish 7-9.
With such mixed results, it isn’t hard to see why debate about Gase continues. It isn’t entirely clear how hot his seat is entering 2020. It could probably be assumed that he is not necessarily under a mandate to make the Playoffs or lose his job. At the same time, he also isn’t likely to be guaranteed a 2021 return no matter what.
What then does Gase need to do in 2020?
The obvious answer is simply to win games. But a coach can’t solely be judged by his record especially in the short run.
Gase wasn’t the biggest problem with the Jets during their early season struggles last year. A poorly constructed roster, injuries, and the starting quarterback coming down with mono were bigger factors.
At the same time it’s difficult to give Gase the lion’s share of the credit for the 6-2 finish. A soft closing schedule, big individual performances from players like Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold, and some fortunate breaks in tight games likely had more to do with the wins than the head coach.
How can we judge the head coach then?
In some ways I think judging a coach comes down to answering two simple questions.
Is the team performing better than it would be if this coach wasn’t there?
Is the coach putting his players in a position to maximize their positive contributions?
There is a lot of subjectivity in these answers. I personally would argue that for Gase the answer to both of these in 2019 was generally no with a handful of exceptions such as a masterful gameplan in the win over the Oakland Raiders.
Over the course of 2020 there are certain things I will be watching to determine whether Gase is getting the most out of his team and whether he is making a positive difference. We will discuss them today. Many are things we have already discussed over the course of the offseason that we bring up again today.
Second and Long Runs
Calling consistent run plays on second and long is one of the damaging things a play caller can do to an offense.
The Jets were among the teams most likely in the NFL to run the ball on second and long last year. According to Sharp Football Stats, their run rate of 39% on plays of second and 8 or longer was the fourth highest in the league.
It’s one thing to go against the grain when your team is built to run the football. The Colts were one of the three teams to run the ball more consistently in these situations than the Jets, but they were running behind their elite offensive line. Indianapolis averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, and their plays had a success rate of 41%. The Jets were one of the least effective rushing teams in the NFL last year, and that carried over into these situations. Their average of 2.7 yards per attempt and a 17% success rate were league lows. Yet the Jets called these ineffective plays at a rate higher than twenty-eight other teams.
If you wondered watching the games why it seemed like Sam Darnold was so frequently in impossible third and long situations, this was a definite contributor. Gase needs to significantly cut back on his run calls on second down long yardage situations.
I spoke about this in an article in April. There is a mistaken belief the Jets did get Le’Veon Bell the ball enough last year.
In reality Bell got plenty of touches, but I do question the quality of these touches. The playcalls were not built around the run concepts that helped him have so much success in Pittsburgh, and the team did not do enough to utilize his receiving skills.
With so few playmakers and so little room to run inside, I thought there needed to be a more concerted effort both to manufacture touches in space and create mismatches against linebackers in coverage by flexing Bell to the slot and outside more frequently.
There are plenty of stories about how Gase didn’t believe investing so much money in Bell was the right move for the Jets in 2019. For whatever it’s worth Gase was probably right, but Bell is here for 2020. He should try to get the most out of what he has.
I also touched on the Jets’ relatively infrequent use of play action in the Bell article. To put it simply, the numbers show that play action works. It puts defenders into a conflict between their run assignments and coverage assignments. Getting them moving into the wrong place creates big windows and easy reads.
It is a tool at the disposal of undermanned offenses to create passing windows through scheme. The Jets’ rate should be higher in 2020.
The run-pass option is the next step in the evolution of play action. It is the league’s hottest offensive trend. On play action it is determined before the snap the quarterback will fake a handoff. The run-pass option leaves the decision up to the quarterback after the snap. Again a defender is left in conflict between his run and coverage assignments. If he commits to the run, the quarterback throws into his coverage area. If he stays deep, the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back who runs through the gap the defender was supposed to fill.
This is much easier for young quarterbacks to figure out than scanning the entire field. As we discussed a few weeks ago, smart teams like Baltimore and Kansas City have leaned heavily into run-pass options as offensive staples. These have helped their young quarterbacks thrive.
The news isn’t all bad for Gase and the Jets on this front. While data on run-pass options isn’t easy to find, I was able to come across some numbers that suggested the Jets’ run-pass option rate was at or even a little above the league median. The Jets haven’t totally ignored this trend.
With that said, the Jets’ usage lagged far behind that of the Ravens and Chiefs. If your head coach is an “offensive innovator” shouldn’t the offense lean heavily into the league’s hottest trend? Especially given the personnel issues on the team, the Jets should be committing to any scheme that makes success more likely. Gase should have the Jets near the top of the league in these calls.
This was the subject of a May article of mine. The Jets’ offense left some meat on the bone last year when it came to getting lined up. The Jets consistently played the same lineups. They barely used motion, which can create mismatches and get defensive players out of position. They also didn’t play with much pace.
These things are mutually exclusive to some extent. If a team is constantly substituting players in and out to keep the defense off balance, it can’t get to the line quickly. There is also less time left on the play clock to motion.
But offenses should be doing at least one or two of these things frequently to put pressure on the defense.
One of Vince Lombardi’s most famous philosophies was, “Run to daylight.”
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Inside runs aren’t easy to make successfully. It is easier to produce running the ball outside where there is less traffic. The more analytically inclined NFL offenses are running outside at a higher rate, and it is working.
As we discussed in February, the Jets were one of the least likely teams to run the ball outside last year. It certainly didn’t help a run game that struggled to get traction most of the year.
Many would say Gase was hired primarily to put Darnold on a track to NFL success.
It isn’t easy to judge the role of coaching. A lot of Darnold’s success or failure will likely be because of himself and independent of coaching.
Whether or not Darnold’s mechanics improve might be the biggest area to watch.
GGN’s superhuman wrote a great breakdown on the areas where Darnold needs work last December. I encourage you to check it out.
What bigger role does a coach have in developing an individual player than the fundamentals? If we see more consistent mechanics from Darnold, we will also likely see more consistent good results.
It isn’t easy. Some players just can’t change their mechanics no matter how hard coaches work with them. But since the Jets claimed working with Darnold was the biggest reason Gase was hired, on some level he has to be held responsible for the quarterback’s development.
Beyond wins and losses I think these are the areas where Adam Gase needs to show growth and improvement in 2020. These aren’t new expectations. As you saw, I already laid them out during the offseason.
As much as anything, progress in these areas might be the best indicators of whether Gase’s presence improves the Jets and whether he’s really getting the most out of the team.