One thing the Jets seemed to be really bad at over the past few seasons was executing a quarterback sneak; a move which seems to have been increasing in popularity with the increasing deployment of the potentially soon-to-be-outlawed “Tush Push”.
This raises plenty of questions for us to investigate:
- Were they actually as bad as they seemed?
- How did they compare to Jets teams of the past and other teams around the league?
- How much does the quarterback matter?
- How much does the center matter?
- How much does any of this matter with regard to the 2023 Jets?
Let’s dive in...
In 2021 and 2022, the Jets attempted 21 quarterback sneaks and were successful 12 times in gaining a first down or touchdown.
A failure rate of 43 percent seems high, especially on a play which is widely regarded as an almost certain way to convert in a short yardage situation.
In fact, looking back on some of the successful sneaks, even these were barely successful and in a few cases arguably only successful because of a generous spot. The numbers support the eye test here: The Jets were bad at this.
Recent Jets teams
How does this compare to previous Jets teams? The first thing to note is that 21 attempts in two years is a lot more than most teams of the past. They only had 18 attempts in the previous five years, for example.
Also, they only had one failure in those five years. That’s just a six percent failure rate.
Conclusion Number One? Less is more.
Looking at other teams
Is our above conclusion correct though? Data in fact seems to suggest that there’s usually a correlation between success rates and how often a team tends to run quarterback sneaks. In other words, teams that are good at it will keep doing so because you’re unlikely to stop them.
For example, Jalen Hurts and the Eagles ran 39 quarterback sneaks last year and were unsuccessful just three times. And we all know how successful Tom Brady has been over the years with a success rate of over 80 percent.
The study linked to above notes that the likes of Trent Green, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson have not had much success on quarterback sneaks and therefore didn’t do it very often.
When Favre was a Jet in 2008, the Jets ran just one quarterback sneak all season. That’s despite the fact they were in the same system that had run 30 over the previous two years (with a 70 percent success rate). In between 2007 and 2021, the Jets only ran more than five sneaks in two seasons, though.
So perhaps it depends who is under center. Right?
Does the quarterback matter?
As the above data suggests, some quarterbacks are better at this than others and when quarterbacks don’t have much success on sneaks, their teams will often not bother trying to pick up first downs and touchdowns this way.
Another factor is injuries. Patrick Mahomes suffered an injury on a sneak a few years ago and incidents like that could mean that teams start to shy away from doing it with star quarterbacks. The fear of this could be another reason why Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson didn’t do this very often.
Some teams have started to adjust by putting other players into this role. The Jets successfully ran two such plays where Tyler Conklin took the snap, for example. They could also consider using Chris Streveler in a specialist role, as is commonly seen where Streveler used to ply his trade in the CFL.
Some quarterbacks are just not big and strong and some might not be great at reading defensive fronts to easily find the soft spot to drive behind. There’s two reasons why Brady’s failure rate was below 20 percent while Zach Wilson’s is 60 percent so far.
Given that the Jets were successful on eight out of 11 non-Wilson sneaks in 2021 and 2022, it does seem to be something Wilson in particular wasn’t good at.
How important is center play?
Logically, you would assume that having a great center gives you a better chance of being successful on a sneak. That Hurts was so successful running behind all-pro Jason Kelce is testament to that. There are plenty of other variables though.
Connor McGovern may have been at fault on some of the Jets’ failures in these situations over the past few years, but there have been plenty of examples of plays where he handled his assignment fine but one of the guards let someone through or got shoved back into the quarterback.
As a good indicator of how elite center play isn’t everything in this area, the Jets had a 71 percent success rate during Nick Mangold’s career on quarterback sneaks, although admittedly this could have included some plays where he was out injured and Colin Baxter or someone was in there. Over the five years after Mangold retired, the Jets had a far superior 94 percent success rate on sneaks, though.
What does this mean for the 2023 Jets?
With Aaron Rodgers apparently incoming as the Jets’ starting quarterback for 2023, it seems unlikely that their season will hinge on how successful they are on sneaks. Nevertheless, this could still be another area where they upgrade themselves.
Rodgers, who you’ll note was in the middle of the pack of the infographic in that link we shared above, doesn’t run many quarterback sneaks (and it is probably advisable to keep this to a minimum).
In a gotta-have-it situation, though, it’s a play he can use. The Packers haven’t had an unsuccessful sneak since 2016, although they do this sparingly (just nine times since the end of that season).
As for the center position, although we’ve ascertained that it’s perhaps less important than you might think, it’s worth noting that the Titans were successful on 75 percent of their sneaks last year and 83 percent over the past three years, so if the Jets bring in Ben Jones as had been mooted, he has a solid track record in this area.
The Jets probably used the quarterback sneak too much over the past two seasons despite the fact they were obviously bad at it, but the fact they did speaks volumes about how much faith they had in anything else working if they tried that instead.
Getting a more experienced quarterback is going to be another positive step towards having an offense which is less predictable and will be more confident in their ability to have success in a wider variety of ways going forwards.
At some point this season, the Jets might need to rely on this play to win a crucial game. Hopefully, by then, they should be better equipped to do so successfully.