This clip from Adam Gase’s postgame press conference on Sunday has generated some attention.
Adam Gase says the Jets "moved the ball early" in the first half, but injury issues caused the offense to stagnate. pic.twitter.com/kDfR0TYsnM— Jets Videos (@snyjets) September 20, 2020
In the clip Gase refuted the notion the Jets’ offense was unsuccessful early in the game. He noted that the Jets moved the ball and suggested the failures of the offense were based on red zone execution.
On some level his point makes sense. The second Jets drive of the game lasted 13 plays. The Jets settled for a field goal after a sack stalled it. The third drive went 11 plays before the Jets were stuffed on a fourth down run.
If we are speaking in literal terms, Gase is right. The Jets did move the ball and failed to score touchdown once they got near the red zone.
However, analyzing issues this way for the Jets neglects the way touchdowns are scored in the NFL.
The Pro Football Reference Play Index has data on every NFL drive since 1999. The average touchdown drive has taken 7.1 plays. The average gain per play on touchdown drives is 8.9 yards.
Only 17.9% of touchdown drives take 11 plays or more.
There is a good reason for this. Executing on offense consistently isn’t easy. Every additional play the offense runs on a drive is an opportunity for somebody to make a mistake. Even the best players are eventually going to miss an open receiver, drop a pass, whiff on a block, or commit a drive killing penalty. It’s a lot to ask players to execute on 11, 12, or 13 plays in a row. We saw that on Sunday.
As Gase noted, the Jets did execute enough to drive into scoring range. Not so shockingly, bad plays eventually happened.
Since it’s tough for offensive players to produce ten straight times, play calls need to have higher upside than the 4 yards per play the Jets picked up on these drives. A modest gain on every play cannot be the objective or the measure of success. The fact the Jets’ output on these series was less than half of the average gain on the typical NFL touchdown drive probably helped contribute to the end results. The game plan raised the odds of failure.
It might be tempting to believe a team should aim for 3 to 4 yards on each play to keep third downs manageable. This isn’t the way to score, however. Offenses need big plays.
I think to be fair we must acknowledge that producing big plays is much easier said than done, especially with the Jets’ personnel. I’m not entirely sure how to do it.
But the Jets can’t produce big plays when the coach doesn’t understand how important they are. If he continues to think gaining 3 to 4 yards is the objective on every play, we will likely hear plenty more about how the players “failed to execute in the red zone” for the rest of the year.