American Football

New York Jets: Identifying a potential area of improvement in first down runs

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NFL: New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

First down running plays have been a trouble area for the Jets

The 2022 New York Jets won less games than they lost, finishing with a 7-10 record. Like any team that loses more than they win, the New York Jets have several areas of potential improvement.

One such area of improvement may be how the Jets handle first downs.

As shown within Warren Sharp’s work, the Jets had among the league’s highest number of unsuccessful first down runs that gained less than 2 yards. While this is likely at least partially due to the ineptitude of the Jets’ passing game that necessitated more first down runs, this still means that the Jets offense experienced a higher than typical number of second and longs following running plays. As outlined by Robert Simpson of 33rd team, avoiding second and long is important because it makes it more difficult to achieve beneficial third and short situations:

Having early-down success is critical for the offense, as third-down conversion rates are much higher when the yards needed are lower. It gives the offense more flexibility in play-calling. In 2019, when facing third-and-2 or less, NFL teams converted on an average of 65% of plays. When facing third downs needing 5-7 yards to convert, the conversion rate dropped to 39%. The difference of just a few yards can make it 25% harder to convert a third down. That is why early-down success is so important.

This means the New York Jets could stand to improve their odds of success if they can be more successful on first down runs. Data suggests running game success is largely a function of offensive line play, which was generally considered poor for the New York Jets last season. Hopefully the return of tackle Mekhi Becton and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker from injury will help the Jets to achieve better success in this regard, en route to a generally more effective offensive performance overall.

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