Lichtenstein: Metrics Showed Where Adam Gase Failed To Live Up To Cutting-Edge Offense Hype

Steve Lichtenstein
January 14, 2020 - 2:03 pm
Categories: 

If you’re a Jets fan who hasn’t given up watching NFL football after suffering through New York’s wasted 7-9 season, you probably noticed that these playoff games look like a different sport than what the Jets were playing. The talent on display over the weekend in the Divisional Round—namely the speed and the execution of the offenses—was far beyond Gang Green’s capabilities this past season.

Listen to your team news NOW.

Still, even if Jets general manager Joe Douglas stuns us by bringing aboard an influx of skilled offensive players, including linemen, this offseason, how many of you feel confident that coach Adam Gase would know what to do with them? 

By now it’s obvious that owner Christopher Johnson had zero evidence beyond Peyton Manning’s hearsay to back up his claim when he crowed that Gase “coaches to where football is going” upon his hiring.

I warned you about the false hype in a post last offseason that detailed how Gase was just as conservative, and sometimes more so, in his three seasons at the helm in Miami than the Jets bumbling prior coach Todd Bowles.     

Adam Gase
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

A Jets fan who goes by the Twitter handle @DrewfromJersey had a fabulous take on Gang Green’s offensive incompetence during the 2019 season.  Drew opined that the best thing to happen over 17 weeks that saw the Jets place dead last in yards gained and 31st in points scored (only because New York’s six non-offensive touchdowns bumped them over Washington) was that quarterback Sam Darnold took the initiative after a Week 8 loss in Jacksonville to confront Gase about his garbage playbook. During the Jets’ 6-2 run to close the season, they were far less inept, ranking 16th in the league in points per game.

Now, I’m sure Darnold approached the subject with more respect.  Gase even praised his 22-year old sophomore QB for providing feedback.

Still, Gase has a long way to go before he can call himself a master of the modern game, never mind the future.  For the following analysis, I’m going to ignore the three games that Darnold missed last season due to mononucleosis.  They never happened.  For these purposes, Luke Falk might as well be the secret identity of a DC Comics character.    

With that caveat in mind, here are two areas of modern football where Gase’s offense fell behind the curve:

1) Play-action

The results are in—adding play-action to a call generally adds on average about two yards per pass attempt, per ProFootballFocus.com.  Of the 34 QBS with at least 50 dropbacks, only five had negative differentials in yards-per-attempt between play-action versus straight dropbacks.  Only two (Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph) were worse by more than half a yard using play-action.

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold leaps to avoid a tackle against Buffalo Bills Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Darnold was 2.2 yards per attempt better when using play-action.  You’d think Gase would have had more of those calls on his chart from the onset given how heavily he was feeding running back Le’Veon Bell at the time.    

You’d be incorrect.  Only 19.4% of Darnold’s dropbacks in the Jets’ first eight games were off play-action.  That rate ranked 30th among 34 QBs with at least 30 play-action pass dropbacks.  All nine of his interceptions in that span occurred following straight dropbacks.   

In the season’s second half, however, Darnold’s play-action rate rose to 27.3%, the 13th-highest in the league, despite playing the entire time with ligament damage in his left thumb that may have hindered his ballhandling abilities.

Gase still has room to install more play-action schemes.  Not including Jackson’s ridiculous 59 pass attempts, with only six using play-action, as his Ravens were getting routed by the Titans, the other seven QBs over the weekend totaled 207 throws, with 30.4% coming off play-action.  In the aggregate, play-action netted about 1.6 more yards than straight dropbacks.

A modern football coach should be well aware of this.    

2) Second-and-long runs

I don’t think anything frustrated Jets fans more than all the times when Gase would virtually give up on a series after a negative play on first down.  An incompletion, sack, run stuff, or penalty would send Gase turtling. 

The Jets handed off on 49-of-108 (45%) second downs of ten or more this season, per SharpFoootballStats.com. Only the Ravens — by far the most dominant rushing team in the league — and the Vikings ran more often. Again, I’m ignoring the Falk games, where Gase and everyone watching preferred that he kept the clock running.

Jets coach Adam Gase
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Since opponents pretty much figured out that the ball was going in Bell’s hands on those snaps, the Jets averaged only 3.2 yards per carry on second-and-long rushing attempts, well below the 4.3 yards per carry league average for those situations.

Unfortunately, this strategy was not adjusted in the second half of the season. To the contrary, it got worse, with handoffs on 52% of second-and-longs in the last eight games. The success rate on those runs was similarly miserable, with the Jets gaining a measly 3.1 yards per carry.

Gase would likely point to the scoreboards in those contests as proof that he knew what he was doing. According to modern metrics, however, that won’t be sustainable when the Jets face heavier competition next season.    

Darnold’s got to get in Gase’s ear about that.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

Related: