I think it goes without saying that the Jets offensive scheme will look quite a bit different with Zach Wilson playing quarterback than it would have with Aaron Rodgers.
With the obvious caveat the offensive coaching staff was making things up on the fly and could change things with a week to gameplan, Week 1 could offer some indications of what we will see on offense going forward. If the Jets continue to follow the script of the Bills game, get used to a conservative offensive approach.
Factoring in scrambles, sacks, and kneel downs, the Jets run/pass ratio in Week 1 was just about 50/50. That gives them the sixth lowest rate of throwing the ball in the league which is even more striking when you consider they were behind for most of the game.
When the Jets did throw, the passes tended to be conservative. NextGen Stats calculated that Zach Wilson’s average pass went 4.3 air yards, third lowest of Week 1 ahead of only Desmond Ridder and Justin Fields.
Wilson had no passes travel more than 20 yards down the field and had just six passes go more than 10 yards. That was as many attempts as he threw behind the line of scrimmage.
Stylistically the Jets loaded the field with tight ends. First down is a good place to look at tendencies because it is a neutral situation. Obvious passing downs or short yardage situation can skew an analysis on tendencies. There are situations where a team has to throw or is incentivized to run. Everything is on the table on first down.
The website NFLEO keeps track of first down personnel groupings. They found the Jets were in either 12 (1 running back, 2 tight ends) or 13 (1 running back, 3 tight ends) on 51 percent of their first down snaps. Buffalo, Denver, and Tampa Bay were the only teams with higher usage of these tight end heavy groupings on first down.
This is a bit of an adjustment for the Jets as Rich Cimini noted.
When Rodgers went out, the Jets started using two- and three-tight end packages. In fact, they ran 10 times for 115 yards out of “13” personnel — one running back and three tight ends. That includes Hall’s 83-yard run, which doubled their total output from the entire 2022 season (36 yards) out of 13 personnel.
This is very much smashmouth football, and it is hit or miss. Breece Hall showed an ability to break big runs, but the Jets were stuffed for 1 yard or less on 11 of their 26 true rushing attempts.
Herm Edwards’ old saying that any drive ending in a kick being a good one seems to apply to these Jets. They play conservatively on offense. They hope to break big runs but live with it if they just have to punt. They rely on their defense and special teams to do the job.
How valid is this approach? Well it works if you get a lot of three and outs and/or force turnovers. The Jets certainly did their part with the turnovers the first week of the season, generating four.
It is worth noting that of the four scoring drives the Jets produced, one began on their 43 yard line and another began on the Buffalo 25.
Winning the field position battle like this matters quite a bit. It is common sense. You need less yardage and fewer successful plays to score the further down the field you get the ball. On the series the Jets took over on the Buffalo 27, the offense only generated 15 yards and still came away with points. It was only the sixth most productive drive of the game yet it was one of the four that produced points.
I think in many cases fans lean away from advanced stats such as expected points because they are presented in a totally unapproachable and incomprehensible way. But in many ways they tell you the obvious.
We have decades worth of data in the NFL. We know how many points the typical team scores with the ball at any given spot on the field. A drive that begins on the 25 yard line after a touchback will produce .61 points.
The drive the Jets started on their own 43 will typically produce 1.8 points. The drive from the opponent 27 will produce 3.8. Those add up to 5.6 points. Believe it or not, the two drives produced 6 points for the Jets. That’s the magic of winning the field position war.
The Jets are hoping to break some big run plays, but mainly they want Zach Wilson to avoid mistakes. They don’t want the other team to be handed good field position. The Jets defense is going to be very difficult to get points against on a long field. They can eventually flip the field position as long as mistakes are avoided.
Is this a viable long-term strategy? Eh.
Even for great defenses, turnovers can be volatile. Let’s put it this way. Are you expecting Jordan Whitehead to intercept three passes in any other game this season? Special teams can also be fickle. You can’t count on a return touchdown every week.
I’ll say this for the Jets defense. They should prevent opponents for putting together long drives. Despite some labeling the unit “bend but don’t break” a year ago, the Jets allowed the third fewest yards per drive in the league defensively.
They also will likely be able to suppress the pass as well. The passing game correlates directly to winning in the NFL. Therefore, shutting down the opponent’s passing game with a great pass rush and cover corners is a recipe for success.
But on the same note, passing on offense correlates with success. Not even attempting to make big plays through the air probably isn’t sustainable.
I think at best this approach is viable in specific short-term situations against specific opponents. The situation the Jets were in against the Bills was one. The upcoming game against Dallas actually might be another.
It is important to remember the Jets are trying to rebuild Zach Wilson’s confidence after it was shattered a year ago. The last thing the coaching staff needed to do was throw Wilson to the wolves against Buffalo after getting zero practice reps with the first team. They asked him to make a handful of clutch throws, which he did to help win the game.
This week a ferocious Dallas pass rush also is likely not the time to open things up. The Jets again might be better served keeping things conservative.
Still in the NFL it’s difficult to sustain an offense without explosive plays in the passing game. Defenses are too good and too sophisticated for it to work in the long haul. This is the mistake teams frequently make. They find themselves so desperate to avoid putting the game on the quarterback’s shoulders. Then they run such a conservative offense that their team gets behind on the scoreboard and behind the sticks so they have little choice.
The next few weeks should be spent trying to figure out a handful of passing concepts Zach Wilson is most comfortable with and letting him get those down to precision. The Jets can lean into the run and play conservatively more than your typical team because of Hall and their defense. They probably can’t take it to the extremes we saw against Buffalo for much longer, though.
This is the time to prepare for the next step.