Here is a review of the New York Jets passing game against the New Orleans Saints in week 9, with a focus on Stephen Hill’s lack of production. Make sure to check back later for a deep dive into the Jets offense heading into their final seven games.
This was not a pretty game when it came to passing the football. The Jets came out with a relatively conservative game plan that was exacerbated after quarterback Geno Smith started off ice cold. To be fair, three of Smith’s top targets weren’t even on the team when the season started (Zach Sudfeld, David Nelson and Greg Salas). Sudfeld and Salas played extensive reps for the first time all season in this game.
A frequently discussed topic on this site has been the use or misuse of Stephen Hill, along with his lack of production. From this game, his struggles can be attributed to a combination of three things: a lack of trust from Marty Mornhinweg, a lack of trust from Geno Smith and continued poor route running.
The Jets faced two 3rd and 10s in the first quarter. Here is the first one:
On this play, Stephen Hill is all the way at the bottom of the screen. He runs a clear out route along with David Nelson, to open up the option route for Jeremy Kerley who is tight to the formation in the slot. Zach Sudfeld is isolated backside, where he runs a take-off route. Kerley is the primary option on this play, while Sudfeld provides a potential secondary option if he gets singled up backside (he doesn’t). Hill is an afterthought here on the play design. This isn’t too troubling considering how effective Kerley is on third downs. Here is the second 3rd and 10:
The front-side duo of Hill and Kerley is basically window dressing. This play is drawn up to go to David Nelson backside (at the bottom of the screen) who is 1 on 1. He runs a deep comeback route and gets himself open but Geno sails it over his head. Again, it is Nelson who is the designated primary target while Hill is left to run a clear out route front-side.
Later in the game, the Jets faced a 3rd and goal from inside the 5 yard line. They put David Nelson and Greg Salas out to the right and rolled Geno Smith to the right. This a very common play called “X-Window.” Basically, the outside receiver (Nelson) releases and works the back-line to find an open window and the inside receiver (Salas) runs a speed out at the goal-line and then works to find an open spot. The Saints were more than prepared for this play and had both receivers smothered. Hill was placed backside on this play, making him a complete afterthought with Geno rolling right.
With each passing week, Hill is the primary receiver on less and less routes. Along with his overall playing time starting to decrease, his opportunities to be a playmaker are starting to decrease. Mornhinweg is showing more faith in Nelson, Kerley and even Salas to be playmakers, while relying on Hill to run clear out routes and use his blocking skills on running plays.
There were a few chances for Hill to make a big play on Sunday but Geno Smith showed a lack of trust in him. Where does this lack of trust come from? My guess would be the New England game when Hill failed to attack two deep balls at the highest point and drew a highly questionable offensive pass interference call in the end-zone. I’m not saying the lack of trust is justified but I’m saying it does appear to be present. Here is the Jets on 2nd and goal:
This play is designed for Hill, who beats his man to the inside. He may not look open but with both Saints linebackers flat flooted at the goal-line, Smith should be floating the ball to the back line for Hill right now. Instead, he hesitates for an extra second and is flushed from the pocket, forcing him to throw the ball away.
Later in the game, Geno made a disastrous throw into triple coverage to David Nelson. Fortunately, Nelson does a GREAT job of breaking up the interception.
If you look closely below, Hill is breaking open at the 15 yard line, about 6 yards deeper than Nelson. He was likely the primary option on this play. To be fair to Geno, he has a ton of pressure in his face and likely didn’t see Hill breaking open. He should have taken the sack regardless but it is still intriguing that this pass ended up going to Nelson in triple coverage instead of Geno just launching it as far as he could to Hill, who he knew was running a deep route in the same area when he saw so much pressure.
Hill is still struggling with his route running. On the play below, it is 3rd and 4 and Hill is smothered on a crossing route that he needs to push deeper. Instead of ripping through the defender or finding another way to avoid him, he lazily leans into him and posts up 2 yards short of the first down. After seeing this, Smith was forced to tuck the ball and attempt to run.
Earlier in the game, the Jets were looking to run a curl route to Hill. However, he smashes into the defender at the 20 yard line here, throwing off the timing and precision of his route. Look inside at the 22 yard line at how cleanly Jeremy Kerley rips by his defender while Hill almost looks like he is trying to block the defender over him.
Moving beyond Hill, here is a quick look at two of the Jets biggest pass plays of the day. Below they hit Zach Sudfeld for a 20+ yard gain on a simple slant/flat combination. Geno takes three steps and delivers the flat with perfect timing to Sudfeld despite getting hit, Sudfeld does a great job getting around the corner and turning upfield for a big gain. Hill draws the defender inside with his slant route from the outside.
Later in the game, Geno hit David Nelson for a 19 yard gain. This was a well designed play by Mornhinweg, good patience from Smith and excellent protection from the offensive line. Nelson works a crossing route all the way from right side of the formation, cutting his route in-between a short curl from Sudfeld and a flat route from Bohanon. The Saints lose track of him and Geno waits until he clears into open space, hits him stride and then watches Nelson turn it up for a big play.
We’ll get into this more in our deep dive into the Jets offense but it will be interesting to watch how Mornhinweg calls plays going forward. How will the return of Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow Jr be handled? Will we see shades of the Jets 2009 approach on offense? Stay tuned…