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By: Rivka Boord
Rather than putting up gaudy statistics, this is what the New York Jets should be focusing on offensively
During the New York Jets‘ offseason, it’s easy to fall into the statistical prediction trap. 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 1,000 rushing yards, 1,300 receiving yards, and other lofty numbers are thrown around.
There is an inherent fallacy of looking to such benchmarks with a 17th game and a changing offensive landscape. However, another, more insidious trap is laid by these statistics. To be an effective offense, more than putting up big numbers, efficiency is critical.
Long-time readers of Jet X will know that we often list rate or unit statistics. Knowing that a running back rushed for over 100 yards in a game or 1,000 yards in a season tells us only that he likely took a bunch of carries. How did he get there, though? Was it with one 50+ yard run and a bunch of stuffs? Did he consistently get the tough yardage? For that matter, how many yards per carry did he pick up, as a bare baseline?
For the Jets’ 2023 offense to tick, there may not be many big-number players. However, as individuals and a collective unit, efficiency will be key. Some specific efficiency measures can determine the difference between winning and losing.
Avoiding third down
Despite the notion that offenses must play well on third down to sustain drives, the hidden but far more important factor is to avoid third down altogether. One reason is reducing the predictability of the offense.
An offensive play is highly predictable if its pass probability (called XPASS) is greater than 55% on a pass play or its XPASS is less than 45% on a run play. Here is the 2022 NFL average rate of predictable plays by down.
- First down: 66%
- Second down: 66.4%
- Third down: 76.8%
This applies even when you include only plays from when the game result is still in doubt. On plays with a win probability between 20-80%, 62.1% of first-down play calls were predictable, compared to 63.8% on second down and 76.9% on third down.
Having a third-down situation makes play-calling more predictable, regardless of distance. In a second-and-long vs. third-and-long situation, the changes are equally stark: on a second down play with eight-plus yards to go, teams ran predictable plays 68.4% of the time. On third down, it was 81.4%.
This is critical because unpredictable play calls are generally far more successful. On play calls with a win probability between 20-80%, teams averaged -0.037 EPA per predictable play call, compared to 0.059 EPA per unpredictable play call.
In 2022, the Jets were one of the worst teams in the NFL in avoiding third down. They gained a first down on 22.2% of their first- and second-down plays, ranking 30th. Under Aaron Rodgers in 2022, the Packers were more efficient, ranking 13th at 26.7%. Though the run game contributed, Rodgers was particularly productive on second down, ranking sixth with 0.647 EPA per pass.
If the Jets can avoid third down, they will set themselves up for a far more productive offense.
Drive success rate
The field position game has been a big part of the Jets’ offensive struggles in recent years. In 2022, they ranked 23rd in average starting field position, beginning their drives at their own 27.2-yard line. Their defense, meanwhile, had to deal with a 30th-ranked 29.7 average starting field position.
This was largely due to the Jets’ poor offensive drive success rate (DSR), which measures the rate of series that result in a first down or touchdown. They were 28th with just a 64.8% rate. Playoff teams averaged a 73.1% rate, and the league average was 68.0%. Obviously, this is related to their failure to avoid third down, but it contextualizes the effect of series failure on field position.
Avoiding negative plays
In 2022, the Jets constantly lost yards on first down. They were last in the NFL with 81 first-down plays for loss, which amounted to 18.1% of their first-down plays. Those are drive-killers, forcing a team into a predictable play-calling situation.
Overall, the Jets ranked 28th in the NFL with a 15% rate of offensive loss plays. The entire offense will need to improve for that number to decrease. 13.8% of the Jets’ rush attempts resulted in a tackle for loss, which ranked 28th in the NFL. Although they ranked just 17th with 42 sacks allowed, the quarterbacks faced pressure on 35.7% of their dropbacks, which was 26th in the NFL.
Not only is it incumbent on the offensive line to protect Rodgers and open holes for the running backs, but it is critical for the whole team to reduce their penalties. For example, Jets skill position players were called for seven false start penalties in 2022, the third-worst mark in the NFL. In total, the Jets tied for 24th with 22 false starts. Although the Jets ranked 19th in total offensive penalties with 50, the way those penalties came was at times indicative of a lack of discipline.
DVOA is an efficiency metric, considering game context and opponent quality. The Jets ranked 26th in offensive DVOA in 2022. Ironically, that was worse than in 2021 when they were 22nd in offensive DVOA.
Rodgers was not that much better in 2022, ranking 21st among qualified quarterbacks with just a 0.3% DVOA. However, he ranked 16th in DYAR (a measurement of yards gained above a replacement-level quarterback and adjusted by opponent).
An injured Rodgers also cleared the Jets’ 2022 quarterbacks, as Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco were below -15% (and Mike White, who did not qualify, was at -5.1%). While the Jets obviously did not acquire Rodgers to be merely better than Wilson and Flacco, his worst was still far better than their best.
In 2022, here were the average offensive DVOA rankings of NFL playoff teams:
- Total offensive DVOA: 9.8
- Offensive passing DVOA: 8.7
- Offensive rushing DVOA: 14
Two teams in the top 10 in offensive DVOA did not make the playoffs (the Lions and Browns), while two teams outside the top half made it (the Chargers and Vikings). However, the worst pass DVOA among playoff teams was 17th (Chargers). Only Detroit was in the top 10 in passing DVOA and did not make the playoffs.
Rushing DVOA is not as important, as teams like the Vikings (28th), Seahawks (23rd), Chargers (22nd), and Jaguars (20th) made the playoffs despite bottom-half rushing efficiency. More than putting up big passing numbers, the Jets need passing efficiency. That is related to success rate and moving the football.
Overall, while the betting lines and fantasy football may expect big numbers from the Jets and Rodgers, it’s efficiency that will get them to where they need to be. That is where the team’s focus should lie during training camp.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor