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It’s More Than the Offensive Line

NFL: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets offensive line was the team’s worst unit in the the opening loss to the Carolina Panthers. This game was lost in the trenches to a large extent. I gave right tackle George Fant my anti-game ball for Week 1, and I stand by it. The entire offensive line could have easily earned the dubious honor. The game was a blooper reel of whiffed blocks and failed assignments up front.

However, this was a team-wide effort. Some of the missed blocking assignments went beyond the offensive line. I’m going to show you a few of them.

Here you can see a perimeter run. Trevon Wesco has a chance to spring this for a big run. All he has to do is take out rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn. Wesco misses the block, however. This just can’t happen. A tight end/fullback should wipe a cornerback out every single time. C’mon man.

This next play might be considered a “Welcome to the NFL” moment for Zach Wilson. The Panthers load the line of scrimmage with potential blitzers presnap. This is one of the most difficult presnap scenarios to navigate for a rookie quarterback. You don’t see a ton of ambiguous looks in college. The quarterback working in conjunction with the offensive line needs to figure out which players are blitzing and which are dropping into coverage. He needs to make sure blockers are assigned to blitzers and he knows which outlet he will have open. This only comes from film study and experience.

The Jets set their blocking scheme to slide entirely to the left under the impression the players overloaded to the left are blitzers.

If this is the case, the Jets will be able to beat the blitz with a quick throw to the left. The area will be vacated by the blitzers without defenders in coverage who have the ability to make a play.

However, the players at the left side of the offensive formation are actually dropping into coverage. Brian Burns who will be unblocked on the right side of the formation (orange circle) is blitzing.

Because those defenders dropped into coverage to Wilson’s left, the quick throw he wanted isn’t open.

And Wilson needs to get it out because Burns is unblocked. The Panthers do drop Burns into coverage, and I assume this is why the Jets left him unblocked. They thought that’s what would happen. This isn’t a big deal for a quarterback in his first NFL game. In fact I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen a lot this year. It just isn’t something I think you can give a lot of blame to the offensive line.

On this next play the Panthers put eight men in the box presnap.

You probably hear the phrase “eight men in the box” frequently when you watch football. There’s a mathematical reason defenses do it. On a play like this the Jets have five offensive linemen. They also have a fullback and a tight end. That adds up to seven blockers. If you put and eighth defender close to the line, it means somebody will be unblocked against the run.

There are ways for an offense to combat this. The Jets use one of those methods here. They bring a wide receiver, Corey Davis, in tight. His job is to block the eighth defender, safety Jeremy Chinn. It’s a good idea. Davis just doesn’t execute his block very well.

Here’s another play where the Jets are at a numbers disadvantage. This time there are seven players close to the line of scrimmage, but the Jets have one tight end and no fullback. It is six against seven.

The result is predictable. One defender goes unblocked and makes the tackle. In a normal situation, the quarterback might have the ability to get out of this play with an audible. It’s going to be very difficult for this to be successful based on the presnap look. A quarterback in his first NFL game might not have this authority, however, and the offense might just have to live with the results on a call like this.

This is another instance of the Panthers loading the line of scrimmage presnap. Once again the blitzers need to be identified.

At the snap Mekhi Becton is focused on the guy on his left. Connor McGovern is focused on the guy on his right.

Unfortunately both of these players drop into coverage. It also leaves Alijah Vera-Tucker to handle two pass rushers.

Things go predictably poorly, although Wilson does a good job getting the ball out quickly to an outlet to at least give this play a chance of working. You might wonder why an article titled “It’s More Than the Offensive Line” would highlight a play like this where the offensive line crumbled. Well, this play was about more than the offensive line’s ability. This is the type of play the offensive line might have adjusted to better if there was more chemistry. I don’t view this as an “offensive line stinks” play. It’s more of an “offensive line is still learning how to play together” play. This should be handled better in time.

This next play is an RPO (run-pass option). Zach Wilson has the option to hand the ball off here. In fact, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea. It looks to me like the Jets have the blocking set up on this play. There is a blocker for every defender, but Wilson pulls the ball back and decides to throw.

Even here he has a guy open.

Originally I thought maybe there was an offensive lineman pushed into his face obstructing his throwing lane, but it looks like he has a clear view of the receiver to his right.

This is ugly blocking by Fant who is beaten clean. This still shouldn’t be a sack, however. Instead of handing it off or taking the short completion, Wilson tries to do too much. He attempts to evade the pass rusher in an attempt to make the big play and ends up taking a sack where he fumbles.

I’d like to see Wilson just take the easy play here instead of attempting the spectacular. Part of me feels like we are just going to have to live with plays like this, though. If you like some of the eye popping big gains Wilson produced in this game, you might have to accept there are going to be moments like this where he takes ugly sacks trying to make the big play.

Here is an absolute beauty from Ryan Griffin and Tevin Coleman.

Here you see Griffin whiff completely on a failed run. It’s always a giveaway that somebody has missed his block when he is chasing a defender into the backfield.

I could show you more. I don’t think you want to see it.

Some of this stuff is explainable. The Wilson plays are just life in the NFL with a rookie quarterback. There are learning moments.

Some is less easy to tolerate. It’s not debatable that the Jets need their offensive line to play better, but the failures of this game go beyond the line. Improving the blocking and keeping defenders out of the backfield needs to be a team effort.