New York Jets 2021 Team Study

Part 3 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 2 here: Buffalo Bills. Part 4 now available: Miami Dolphins.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.36 -0.52 29th

Offensive Eff. Rating (green and white) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
28th 18th 10th

I’ll start with the obvious bad news: the Jets fielded one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2021. After a promising showing in the preseason, Zach Wilson struggled throughout the regular season with decision-making and consistency. The game seemed to move too fast for him as defensive linemen were constantly in his face, forcing him into situations where it was very tough to make a positive play. In fact, the Jets’ best offensive performance on the season came in an upset against the Bengals with Mike White at the helm. It wasn’t the season Jets fans wanted to see from the #2 overall pick.

But I think he had valid excuses. Right out the gate he faced three of the more complex and high-pressure defenses in the NFL in Carolina, New England, and Denver. Belichick and Vic Fangio in particular employ confusing defenses that notoriously fluster inexperienced quarterbacks, so his slow start was to be expected. They also dealt with meaningful injuries from the outset, losing tackle Mekhi Becton for the season and skill players that were in and out of the lineup all year. In the two games he had to play without his other starting tackle, George Fant, and rookie standout receiver Elijah Moore, the Jets played two of their worst offensive games down the stretch against the Dolphins (-0.89 Adj. Rating) and Bills (-1.95).  

The coaching staff also gave him no easy outs, insisting on putting the game in his hands. Even factoring out their high volume of passing in garbage time, they passed at the 10th-highest rate on first and second down with the game in reach. With Robert Saleh emerging from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree and a rookie quarterback behind center I expected a more run-heavy approach. They did run the ball fairly well, finishing 14th in yards per carry and 18th in rushing EPA/play. They just didn’t lean on the ground game much at all. Although rushing success has almost no correlation with winning Super Bowls, the Jets weren’t going to win a Super Bowl this year. Rushing volume can help a rookie quarterback with the NFL’s steep learning curve, the way the Patriots helped out Mac Jones, for example.

Despite all that, the Jets showed vast improvement from their abysmal 2020 showing. Their average Adj. Eff. Rating improved from -1.10 to -0.52, which means they ended up halfway between their 2020 showing and a league-average offense. Wilson was able to make throws when he had a clean pocket, putting receivers in position to turn catches into additional yards, another staple of a Kyle Shanahan offense. They ended up with the 7th-highest yards after catch per completion, which is one way to offset the disadvantage of a young quarterback under constant pressure. It also demonstrates an important and overlooked aspect of quarterback accuracy: the ability to put the ball in spots where defenders can't make an immediate play. For comparison, the top four offenses in yards after catch per completion were the 49ers (Shanahan), Bengals (Burrow), Chiefs (Mahomes), and Packers (Rodgers). Pretty good company.

Even under pressure, Wilson did a fairly good job of avoiding sacks, as the Jets had the 11th-lowest rate of sacks per pressure. This, in part, excuses his league-worst on-target percentage, as many of his throws were either throwaways or desperation passes. Taking incompletions over sacks doesn’t pad a quarterback’s stat sheet but it does help reduce third-and-long situations, which can help a bad offense out. But without being able to consistently complete passes, the Jets could not get much going on offense. Chart A shows how the Jets performed with Zach Wilson, ranking each opponent by its completion percentage allowed on the season.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent completion % allowed on the season.
*Omitted four games that the Jets played without Zach Wilson.

Through a combination of pressure and coverage, the Bills, Patriots, Broncos, Dolphins, Saints, and Titans all finished top-7 in completion percentage allowed. These teams held the Jets to an average -0.91 Adj. Eff. Rating (which measures performance relative to opponent strength). By contrast, the Jets averaged -0.53 against teams that permitted a higher completion percentage. Still not great, but materially better.

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