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Jets’ RPO rate is near the bottom

Nobody will ever confuse the phrase “ahead of the curve” with Nathaniel Hackett’s offense

NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think there’s any sort of silver bullet that can fix the New York Jets offense. That is true when we discuss play calling. Let’s face it. Criticizing the offensive coordinator is low hanging fruit. If a play doesn’t work, it’s easy to call it a stupid call. More often, the failure is about a lack of execution or a lack of talent.

I judge play callers on a few things. Are they putting their players in the best position to succeed? Are they playing to the skillsets their players have? Does the offense generate successful plays that are based on design? Is the offense staying on top of league trends? Is the offense outperforming its talent level? If you took this coach away, would the unit suffer?

I have other questions, but you get the idea.

Looking across some numbers on the Stathead database, something struck me. Stathead is run by Pro Football Reference, which compiles a lot of advanced stats. I noticed they have breakdowns for run-pass options.

RPOs took the league by storm 5-6 years ago. They generally require the quarterback to make a simple read, either before the snap or after the snap. Most of the time he is reading one defender who either has a run assignment or a pass coverage assignment. If the defender moves in at the snap to play the run, the quarterback throws it to the area the defenders should be in coverage. If he stays back, the quarterback hands it off. (This is an oversimplification for the sake of clarity; other varieties of RPOs exist).

Because these plays are generally simple for the offense to execute and put the defense in a tough spot, they tend to work.

So far this season (arrived after additional crunching in the database), offenses in the NFL are averaging 6.5 yards per play on RPOs. That matches the overall average of the San Francisco 49ers offense. I know this is an overly simplistic way to think about it, but the typical team turns into the 49ers offense when it runs an RPO.

The average on non-RPO plays in the league in 2023 is 5.1 yards.

Naturally that leads one to ask how frequently the Jets utilize RPOs. Surely an offense that has struggled to find any answer would be leaning into this play type, right?

As you can probably guess, that rhetorical question has a negative answer. The Jets rank third from the bottom in RPO rate.

Now of course such a small sample size wouldn’t be meaningful anyway. But you might be wondering whether there’s a reason the Jets stay away from these plays. Maybe they are worse than the league average.

The answer again would be negative. In their limited set of RPO plays the offense has averaged 6.4 yards, two full yards per play better than its overall average.

Look, I’m not here telling you more RPOs would magically turn the Jets into a good offense. They would still probably be close to the current historic level of futility. The talent isn’t good enough.

But that alone is a reason the Jets should probably be leaning into these types of plays more than your typical team, not less. The Jets need to lean on efficient playcalls and try to stay ahead of the curve to whatever extent they can. I don’t think it’s an accident that the teams with the highest ratios of RPOs run are among the most analytically inclined in the sport.

Maybe one day the Jets will join them.