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Second and LaFleur: A Look at Jets Long Yardage Play Calling

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

In recent weeks, one of the biggest criticisms I have seen of Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is about a tendency to call running plays on second and long.

I decided to take a look to see the extent of the issue. I ran a search of every play run in the NFL this season on second down with seven or more yards to gain for the first down. The results might be a bit surprising.

The Jets have only run the ball 27 percent of the time so far in the 2022 season. That is only the 21st highest run rate in the league on second and long.

Those are only season long rates. Perhaps certain splits can give us more insight into the team’s play calling tendencies.

Indeed, there are some pretty stark differences based on the quarterback under center.

In games started by Joe Flacco, the Jets’ second and long run rate is 18.5 percent. That would be the second lowest rate in the league.

In games started by Mike White, the run rate jumps slightly to 20.8 percent. That would still be the third lowest rate in the league.

In games started by Zach Wilson, we see a large discrepancy. The Jets’ run rate rises all the way to 38.1 percent, which would be the seventh highest rate in the league.

So the approach clearly changes with Wilson under center. The Jets go from being one of the least likely teams to call a run to in the top quarter of most likely teams.

Generally speaking, a second and long run is a low percentage play. That is in a vacuum, however. There are certain situations where it makes sense for a team to run the ball, mainly when the offense has a dominant rushing attack.

This made me wonder whether things looked different when Breece Hall was in the lineup. Hall was having a fantastic rookie season before he suffered a season ending injury in an October victory over the Broncos. Indeed Hall did seem to have an impact.

Looking at the three game stretch where he was at his peak, the games against the Dolphins, Packers, and Broncos, the Jets’ second and long run rate was 34.2 percent. That means the Jets were actually less likely to run on second and long during Hall’s hot streak than they were in other games with Wilson. The lean into the run game in these situations thus did not seem to be based on Breece Hall’s dominance.

It seems clear the Jets altered their approach to playcalling when Zach Wilson was under center. It could be a signal that they just lack faith in the quarterback. It could also be a signal they viewed this approach as a way to take pressure off Zach.

Regardless of the reason, the approach might have some justification. Wilson had the lowest completion percentage on second and long of any quarterback with at least 20 passing attempts and the third lowest yards per attempt average.

In any event based on these trends it seems likely we will see the Jets throw the ball more aggressively this Sunday with White back in the lineup.

(Hat tip to the Stathead database for helping me compile the numbers.)